THE BRAILLE MONITOR
Vol. 44, No. 8, August/September, 2001
Barbara Pierce, Editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
MARC MAURER, PRESIDENT
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
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Vol. 44, No. 8August/September, 2001
2001 Convention Roundup
by Barbara Pierce
by Marc Maurer
The 2001 Scholarship Class
Independence and the Necessity for Diplomacy
by Marc Maurer
The 2001 Awards
Presented by the National Federation of the Blind
Research and the Organized Blind Movement
by Fredric K. Schroeder, Ph.D.
What Was New, Interesting, or Different
by Brad Hodges
The American Council of the Blind
Unwilling to Cooperate
2001 Convention Resolutions Report
by Sharon Maneki
National Federation of the Blind
Copyright © 2001 National Federation of the Blind
[LEAD: Toward the close of the convention session on July 4 during the report on our capital campaign, everyone in the audience received a hard hat. For each of us, accepting the gift represented individual personal determination to "Build it now!"]
CAPTION: Mary Ellen Jernigan at the podium with President Maurer beside her, both wearing hard hats
CAPTION: Everyone in the audience donned hard hats as soon as they were passed out.
CAPTION: Linda Gwizdak and her guide dog Jacob, wearing hard hats
CAPTION: Bruce Gardner with his hard hat perched on top of his cowboy hat
CAPTION: Marie Cobb also sporting the layered look
CAPTION: Noel Nightingale, her husband Jim Peterson, and their baby daughter Leila all wearing hard hats]
The 2001 Convention Roundup
by Barbara Pierce
The 2001 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind was filled with all sorts of surprises. Perhaps we should have expected that last fall when the Detroit Marriott proved unable to meet its contractual obligations for hosting the event and President Maurer was forced to find an alternate facility at more or less the last minute. With the benefit of hindsight we can now say that the shift to the Philadelphia Marriott could not have been better. This hotel was in a wonderful location, enabling Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Maryland to send large delegations. The facility was ideal for our convention: easy access to all the meeting rooms, fine food on-site, lots of beautiful sleeping rooms in the hotel and nearby, and a remarkable range of food and shopping choices available by skywalk to the mall and Reading Terminal Market.
The Pennsylvania affiliate rose superbly to the occasion of hosting a national convention with only a few months' notice. Jim Antonacci, President of the NFB of Pennsylvania, and his members were warm and friendly hosts. The Pennsylvanians were grieved and we were all deeply saddened when, on Friday morning, June 29, Ted Young, the longtime leader of the NFB of Pennsylvania, died following a long struggle with lung cancer. Ted had hoped to attend this convention, and he had done what he could to help plan it. His final contribution was arranging for tickets to a Phillies baseball game on June 30. The seats were splendid, and the group thoroughly enjoyed the game, as Ted would have wanted them to.
More than 3000 Federationists began pouring into Philadelphia on Friday, June 29, even though the official pre-convention activities did not begin till Sunday, July 1. Only after President Maurer actually arrived on Thursday did we discover that the hotel had double-booked our suites, and we were forced to notify people as they arrived that the listings in the pre-convention and convention agendas were incorrect. This might have been a problem, and it certainly presented a challenge, but everyone took note of the changes and passed the word along to others so that in the end very little confusion occurred. One of the many small services the 130 cheerful and helpful volunteers from UPS performed was to spread the word of these changes to new arrivals.
By Sunday morning, July 1, well over a thousand people had checked into the hotel, and more were arriving every hour. The first large-scale set of activities are those sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. This year over a hundred families registered for activities, and many more took part without being counted. During registration and family welcome, blind kids had fun with an ice-breaker in which names of historic blind people written in print and Braille were pinned to their backs, and their job was to discover who they were by asking questions of others in the room. Meantime parents were registering for various activities, and everyone was enjoying a light breakfast. Just before the group broke up to go to various specialized activities, Barbara Cheadle, President of the parents division, and Sheila Koenig, a blind teacher, led a discussion among the kids, and the whole group listened to a panel presentation by blind kids about what freedom meant to them.
Parents then took kids to meet their Braille buddies for the Braille Carnival. Interested blind teens went to discussion groups for young men and young women, and parents regathered for the parents seminar, "Let Freedom Ring."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Eileen Kelly, Joe Portillo, Ryan Osentowski, and Timothy Kelly are seated at a Braille carnival table with a Brailler.]
The Braille Carnival this year included a room with quieter activities as well as the active games and Braille fun we have come to expect. Thirty-six kids pre-registered for the fun, but lots more came to enjoy face painting, Braille Twister, coloring, and following Braille mazes. Each year the Carnival gets better thanks to Melody Lindsey and her staff. Sheila Koenig's crew of volunteer Braille buddies also added a good deal of security and inspiration to the mix of learning and fun.
The afternoon workshops for parents proved to be extremely popular. They were "Make Your Own Tactile Storybook," "Words and Wheels," "What Do You Do When...?," "From Helpless to Helper," and "Living in a Visual World."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Amanda Jones (TN) and Renee Neddo (MI) sign up for scavenger hunt with Brad Weatherd (MT)]
Family Fun Night is always a hit because it gives parents and kids a chance to get to know others from across the country who are dealing with the same sorts of challenges as face their families. The scavenger hunts for older kids and teens were particularly popular. Forty-one kids from nine to twelve took part in one, and thirty teens scoured the hotel in the other. Teens of all ages flocked to the Monday-afternoon drop-in room sponsored by Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM) and the teen-hospitality room, where they could gather at various times later in the week to hang out with other kids.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Kids play a circle game at NFB Camp.]
A word here should be said about NFB Camp, the childcare component of NFB conventions, which is run by Board member and Montessori-school owner and operator Carla McQuillan and her dedicated staff. Our space was limited this year, so NFB Camp enrollment had to be cut off at seventy-seven, and even that was a bit much for the size of the rooms we had. This year a number of small groups of kids and blind and sighted chaperones throughout the week took excursions to points of interest around the city. The program continues to give blind teens the chance to work with children under supervision, and blind adults continue to come in from time to time to work with the children. All in all, it is a wonderful program and a great opportunity for blind and sighted kids to play together.
The Sunday-afternoon annual Job Opportunities for the Blind (JOB) seminar sponsored by the JOB Targeted Jobs Initiative Program provided three hours of interest-packed discussion about getting and keeping jobs that matter. Independent blind businesspeople, valued employees, and dedicated employers extolled the virtues of working hard, dreaming big, and preparing carefully. The seminar will be available later on cassette tape and is well worth purchasing from the JOB Program office at the National Center for the Blind.
The National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs conducted an all-day seminar on Sunday. It was titled "Step Right Up," and over fifty attendees learned helpful hints and useful perspectives for independent business owners.
Lots of other seminars, workshops, committee meetings, and forums took place on Sunday. These included a seminar for blind musicians; a forum on the Unified Braille Code led by Braille Authority of North America President Eileen Curran; discussion about the coming NEWSLINE® for the Blind national service; NFBNet and Internet seminars; capital campaign discussion and training; and meetings for ham radio enthusiasts, office professionals, and guide dog users.
By that evening everyone was ready for some fun, so the Pennsylvania affiliate hosted a dance that had all on their feet or at least tapping their toes. BLIND, Inc., and the Minnesota Association of Blind Students jointly sponsored a Karaoke night again this year, and it drew crowds of those who like performing and those who would rather watch their friends do so.
Bright and early Monday morning scores of volunteers met for last-minute instruction and then deployed to staff the exhibit hall and the all-day registration process, which saw well over 2,000 convention attendees pass through the remarkably efficient registration process. Ninety-five exhibitors, thirty-two from within the Federation and sixty-three from other groups, provided displays. Thirteen of these were new exhibitors. All manner of amazing information and technology was available for hands-on exploration, including a talking automatic teller machine in the Diebold booth and another talking ATM, complete with money, provided by Bank of America.
Again this year the Safari Club International provided and staffed a Sensory Safari for the enjoyment and education of blind children and adults. It was open Monday and Tuesday, and hundreds of Federationists took advantage of the opportunity to examine wild animals with the expert assistance of knowledgeable guides.
Also Monday morning Joe Cutter and Louisiana Tech/Louisiana Center O & M master's degree students made themselves available to blind children, youth, and their parents to work on cane-travel skills. All morning long kids using canes worked on escalator, elevator, and crowd techniques with alert, patient teachers supervising and quietly telling the rest of us not to step back and wait. "We're just working on. . . , and we need to practice with crowds around us." What a wonderful experience for the kids, and what an inspiration to the rest of us!
During the afternoon the Resolutions Committee considered twenty resolutions, seventeen of which were later acted upon by the Convention. The texts of the resolutions passed by the Convention appear elsewhere in this issue.
Following the Resolutions Committee meeting was this year's mock trial, presented by the National Association of Blind Lawyers. This was the fourth year for this event, and it is becoming one of the fixtures of registration day. The case examined this time was the ValleyFair Amusement Park suit. Park officials actually settled the case, yielding on every significant point, before the case came to trial, so this was an enactment of the proceeding that might have taken place if the case had gone to trial. As usual the judge hearing the case was the Honorable Charlie Brown, and the court bailiff was Peggy Elliott. Also taking part were the defense legal team of Guy Badd (Ray Wayne) and D. Fender (Bennett Prows). The plaintiff's team of attorneys was Hugh Manright (Scott LaBarre) and C. Justice Done (Anthony Thomas). Testifying for the defense were Ginger Wheels (Marie Kouthoofd), Senior Executive Vice President of ValleyFair, J. Rider (Dan Frye), and the safety-conscious park manager (Steve Benson). Testifying for the plaintiff were Curtis Chong playing himself, Scott LaBarre (Doug Elliott), and Ms. I. B. Righteous (Diane McGeorge).
The audience thoroughly enjoyed the presentation, but it is doubtful whether they could have had as much fun watching as the cast did improvising their lines and developing their characters. This is probably the most painless way of learning something about Federation history and the hard-won rights we have achieved for blind people. Those who would like to learn more about the actual ValleyFair case should consult the March 1991 and May 1994 issues of the Braille Monitor.
The remainder of Monday and Tuesday afternoon and evening offered ample opportunity for intellectual stimulation and frustration since it was physically impossible to attend every gathering that looked interesting. The student division seminar always takes place on the evening of registration day, and it's a place where you can count on inspiring presentations, unbridled energy, and a full house. But musicians, seniors, and deaf-blind people were also holding division meetings at the same time. In addition six committees took the opportunity to conduct their convention business.
If anything, Tuesday afternoon and evening were more of a problem. Fourteen divisions, two interest groups, and two committees met during the afternoon. That evening three more divisions, three committees, one interest group, and one seminar also convened meetings.
In addition Jerry Whittle's moving musical play and tribute to the indomitable spirit of the National Federation of the Blind and its leaders, In Everything That Matters, was performed twice by the Louisiana Center Players.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Joanne Wilson]
The first official session of the convention each year is the public meeting of the Board of Directors, which took place this year on Tuesday morning, July 3. President Maurer began by announcing Ted Young's death the previous Friday. Everyone rose for a moment of silence in recollection of all those who are no longer among us. Following the pledge to the flag and recital of the NFB pledge, Dr. Maurer reviewed the board positions up for election this year. He had already made the joyful announcement that Joanne Wilson had just been named as the Commissioner Designate of the Rehabilitation Services Administration. (Her appointment was actually confirmed by the Senate on July 19.)
Joanne sought the floor and said: [soundbite 1]
Fourteen years ago I had the greatest honor of my life when I was elected to the Board of the National Federation of the Blind. Today I have to do one of the hardest things I have ever done, that is, to submit my resignation to the Board of the National Federation of the Blind. Tennyson once wrote, "I am a part of all that I have met."
One of my earliest memories is of when I was five years old. I was sitting on the kindergarten floor. The nurse came in and was doing eye tests with all of us children. She raised her fingers and asked, "How many fingers am I holding up?" I couldn't tell. I felt embarrassed. I looked around to see what the kids next to me were doing. I was ashamed; I knew that I was not in the mainstream of things.
"I am a part of all that I have met." I struggled for the next fourteen years, trying to understand what it was like to be blind. I didn't know any other blind people, and it was a struggle. I was alone, and I didn't know what to do.
Fourteen years later my parents and I were sitting in an office, and once again I was given the finger test. Dr. Jernigan raised his hand and said, "Joanne, can you see how many fingers I am holding up?"
All those five-year-old memories came back, and again I felt embarrassed and ashamed, trying to hide the fact that I couldn't see. He started me on a journey. He said, "Joanne, you are blind, but it is respectable to be blind." I soon became a student at the Iowa Commission for the Blind, and I learned that I had choices. Then I became a member of the National Federation of the Blind, and the Federation taught me that as an NFB member I had the power to make those choices stick. I know what it is like to be free, and I want to give that opportunity to other blind people.
In a few weeks I will be raising my hand in a swearing-in ceremony to become the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration. It is not just my hand that will be raised; it will be all of your hands as well. My hand will be raised in that ceremony because of all of the work that you have done and because of the work of the thousands of blind people that have gone before us.
I will no longer serve on the Board of the National Federation of the Blind, but I will continue to serve blind people. "I am a part of all that I have met."
Tonight there is going to be a play that will be a tribute to the Federation and to our Federation leaders: Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer. The name of the play comes from a quote from Dr. Jernigan. It also expresses the way I feel today. The title is, In Everything That Matters We Are One. Thank you for the honor of serving you for the past fourteen years.[prolonged applause]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Wayne Davis]
When the room had settled down again, President Maurer called on Waynes Davis, Board Member from Florida. Wayne then said: [sound bite 2]
Following you, Joanne, is sort of like following the Beatles. President Maurer, it has been an honor and a privilege to serve on the Board the last six years. We have some situations in Florida in which we are trying to raise funds, and we have some major legislative issues that I think are going to keep me in the state during the next year or two. So I respectfully wish to withdraw my name from nomination. It's been a real honor to have served. I have learned a lot, and whoever sits in this chair has a great experience coming to him. As always, Carmen and I are team players. We love you and Mrs. Jernigan, the entire Federation, and the memory of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. Thank you.
President Maurer then spent a few minutes reviewing the convention agenda from the 1963 convention, which was the last time we were in Philadelphia. Convention registration was $1, and the banquet cost $4.50. Convention tours cost $1, and commercially provided ones ranged in cost from $1.50 to $6.
Mrs. Jernigan next came to the podium to make several announcements. She mentioned that those interested in helping on the work crews of convention volunteers should let her know that fact before January. Be sure to mention if you read Braille, are an accurate and rapid typist, have a loud voice, or have other such useful skills.
President Maurer announced that Erik Weihenmayer's book Touch the Top of the World, his autobiography up to his Everest climb, was for sale at the convention for $20. We have prepared a special cassette recording of the book with an introduction by Erik, a letter from Dr. Maurer, and the text of the entire book. This recording would be given to each purchaser of a print book. The book is still available from the NFB Materials Center. The cost of either edition is $20, but purchasers of the print version will be given the cassette edition as well. To order, contact the Materials Center at 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, fax: (410) 685-5653, or e-mail: <email@example.com>. The cassette edition will be sent Free Matter, but add $3 to cover the cost of handling if you are ordering the print.
During the session Steve Benson presented the Blind Educator of the Year Award to Edwin Vaughan of Missouri. Sharon Maneki introduced the 2001 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children to the Board meeting. This year's recipient was our own Denise Mackenstadt of Washington, who is the first paraprofessional to be so honored. The final award presentation of the morning was the NFB's Distinguished Service Award, which Bruce Gardner presented to our convention volunteer nurse, Linda Hindmarch. All three presentations appear in full elsewhere in this issue.
Ron Gardner, President of the NFB of Utah, challenged everyone from other states to make gifts or pledges to the capital campaign as soon as possible and certainly before the close of the opening-day session. He announced that Utah was prepared to make an additional gift to the campaign of up to $50,000 to match gifts or pledges from other members or Federation groups of up to that amount. This matching gift certainly spurred activity at the capital campaign table and in the Jernigan suite.
Following the introduction of this year's scholarship class, Peggy Elliott moved that a scholarship program of the same number and amounts of scholarships be conducted in 2002. The motion was seconded and carried unanimously.
Those who chair the NFB's fund-raising committees made reports about Shares Unlimited in NFB (SUN), the Pre-authorized Check (PAC) Plan, the Jacobus tenBroek Fund, and the Jernigan Fund. Allen Harris, chairman of the Jernigan Fund committee, announced that with part of the interest from this fund the committee was able to bring twenty-one people from seventeen states to the convention, most for the first time.
Perhaps the highpoint of the morning was the presentation of certificates to candidates who had met standards of excellence by the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB). Jim Gashel is the president of this new, independent board, and he made the presentations. Those receiving certificates at the convention were all people who have met performance-based standards in the orientation and mobility field. With the support of the Rehabilitation Services Administration a program was established at Louisiana Tech University several years ago, which teaches blind and sighted people the methods blind people use to teach travel. Until now there has been no body to certify the credentials of professionals who use these methods. The NBPCB now does so.
The first certificate was presented to Dr. Fred Schroeder, who in 1981 was the first blind person to complete an O & M program and was denied certification because he was blind. After Jim Gashel presented the certificate, this is what Dr. Schroeder said: [soundbite 3]
Thank you very much. I cannot begin to express how much this means to me. When I went into the orientation and mobility field as a young man and faced the discrimination that all of us in one way or another have faced, I have to tell you that it was very tough on me. It was the support of all of you and of all the others who came before us that gave me the courage to stand up and do what was right. I was not denied certification solely; we were all denied certification. We were denied opportunity based on myth and misconception about blindness. This certification that I hold in my hand today certainly means more to me than the legitimizing of my right and ability to teach travel that could ever have come from some professional organization. I thank you deeply and sincerely.
Dr. Maurer then interrupted the proceedings with the following: [soundbite 4]
I cannot let this opportunity pass me by. The time that the denial of the certification was made, serving as a lawyer, I attended a meeting at which Dr. Schroeder appealed that denial. I went to a convention where the meeting was to take place. Dr. Schroeder and I were meeting with this one and that one as we ran across them in the hotel. I said to him, "Would you like to go swimming?"
"He said, "No, but I'll go down there and watch you." So we did; we went down to the pool, and I got into the water. Several people asked me who I was. I told them, and one by one they got out of the pool, and pretty soon I was alone. Somehow they didn't seem as friendly when they found out who was in their midst. Dr. Schroeder and I have laughed about that since. It didn't seem like the right way to react to us. But we get it done in the final analysis.
Dr. Schroeder was invited to present the certificates to the seventeen other instructors in and graduates of the Louisiana Tech/Louisiana Center Program and other O & M instructors who qualified to receive certificates. They were Roland E. Allen, O & M Instructor in Louisiana Tech Graduate program; Douglas C. Boone, O & M Instructor in Louisiana Tech Graduate program; Ronald Brown, Louisiana Tech program graduate; Roxann M. Buller, Louisiana Tech program graduate; Ronald R. Burzese, passed O & M exam; Priscilla P. Ching, Louisiana Tech program graduate; Edward Culp, passed O&M exam; Arlene Hill, passed O&M exam, Richard F. James, Louisiana Tech program graduate; Jane E. Lansaw, Louisiana Tech program graduate; Nicholas R. Schmittroth, Louisiana Tech program graduate; Summara Shakeel, Louisiana Tech program graduate; Michael A. St.Julien, Louisiana Tech program graduate; Patrick J. Thibodeaux, Louisiana Tech program graduate; Emily A. Wharton, passed O&M exam; Gerald L. White, Louisiana Tech program graduate; and Harold Wilson, passed O&M exam.
En-Vision America is a company that makes a product called ScripTalk, an audible prescription identifier. Its president, Philip Raistrick, explained to the audience that it uses radio frequency identification (RFID). A participating pharmacist has an RFID printer, which prints special labels with a microchip imbedded in the paper. When one of these special labels is printed and afixed to a bottle, the user can hold it close to a small, hand-held device, which transfers the information in the microchip to radio waves, and can then read it by listening to a clear, digitized voice.
Luchy Jones of Wall Street Institute, a division of Sylvan Learning Systems, next invited interested Federationists to sign up to be matched with international e-friends, first from Spain and then from other countries. Consult the June issue of the Braille Monitor or the NFB Web site for more information.
Scott LaBarre, President of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, then introduced Dan Sutherland, who has been with the Department of Justice and is now an advisor to the President on disability policy. Mr. Sutherland explained that he was at the convention to address the lawyers during the afternoon and to report to them on the Administration's New Freedom Initiative, which will extend the reach of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The final business of the morning was the report of the Associates Program Committee. Probably because of the capital campaign, Associates activity has been down recently. A new turquoise ribbon was introduced this year, and its only recipient was J. Webster Smith of Ohio with 145 Associates. Art Schreiber of New Mexico won both gold ribbons, one for the most Associates, 339, and the other for the largest amount of money raised, $3,534. Dr. Jernigan was the only other person to have earned both gold ribbons during the same contest year. The Board voted to conduct an Associates program and contest again next year. At the completion of this business Dr. Maurer adjourned the meeting.
It is safe to say that the opening general session of the 2001 convention was an absolutely unique event in Federation history. It took place on the morning of the Fourth of July, so the hotel had only a skeleton staff on hand to deal with unusual problems. The day before, when the meeting of the Board of Directors took place in the ballroom complex, we had used only half the available space, but for the opening session we clearly needed the entire ballroom. On Tuesday evening the hotel engineering crew assured Mr. Gildner, who records our conventions, that they had set all the switches properly so that the public address system could be heard in the full room. But, when President Maurer gaveled the convention to order at 9:45 a.m., on Wednesday, July 4, it gradually became clear that he could be heard in only half the room. None of the hotel staff present knew much about the workings of the sound system, and they were at first convinced that the problem must be somewhere in our equipment.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: The mummers' band that paraded through a sea of delegates on opening day]
President Maurer attempted to carry on with the agenda even though it was nearly impossible for the audience to hear even the names of those who had won door prizes. Jim Antonacci, President of the NFB of Pennsylvania, welcomed the group and a mummers band, which is composed of costumed musicians playing only stringed and reed instruments, paraded around the hall playing "I'm Looking over a Four-Leaf Clover."
With a crowd as large as ours it turned out to be impossible to conduct the program with no amplification in half the room, so reluctantly President Maurer recessed the session at about 10:45 a.m. and announced that we would reconvene at 1:00 p.m. sharp and conduct the entire day's agenda beginning then.
Happily, by the time we gathered again, an engineer who knew his way around the hotel sound system had been called to come in. He walked in and flipped the switch that had not been set correctly the evening before, and presto, we had sound. The roll call of states was conducted in record time, and for the first time in memory, the roll was called in reverse order. Here are a few of the brief announcements that presidents made during their reports. The Pennsylvania convention will take place this fall November 9, 10, and 11 in Wilkes Barre, where the NFB was born on November 16, 1940 at the Jenetti Hotel, now part of the Best Western chain. During the convention a bronze plaque will be mounted on the Hotel commemorating that historic event. The text of the plaque appears in both print and Braille.
When Louisiana was called, Joanne Wilson told the convention that, when she asked whom she should thank for her nomination as RSA Commissioner, the Bush administration representative replied, "You had broad-based, bipartisan support," which she recognized to mean that the NFB had worked long and hard to garner support for her nomination. Cathy Jackson presented Kentucky's check to the capital campaign for $25,000, which went a long way itself to meeting the Utah pledge.
As soon as the roll call was complete, the Hon. Bob Borski, Representative from the third Congressional district of Pennsylvania, spoke to the convention on the subject, "The Blind Are Heard in Congress." Before he began, President Maurer made sure he understood that he had come to address the organized blind and that we come to Capitol Hill to speak for ourselves and are interested in establishing our own relationships with Members of Congress. Mr. Borski reviewed recent Congressional activity and expressed interest in working with blind people in the future.
Only a little later than usual on opening day, Dr. Maurer delivered his 2001 Presidential Report, which appears in full elsewhere in this issue. It has clearly been an exciting and productive year for the National Federation of the Blind, and the future is bright with promise and filled with challenge for all of us.
Addressing the convention immediately after Dr. Maurer's Presidential Report is not easy. The task this year fell to Ida Castro, Chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Her title was "Enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act on Behalf of the Blind in Employment." She reviewed recent EEOC successes and some court cases that have made employment progress more difficult for blind and other disabled people. She also pledged the EEOC's continued commitment to do everything in its power to protect the rights of blind people to get employment opportunities and to succeed in the jobs they have. Ms. Castro was full of passion and found a responsive audience.
Richard Scribner, President and CEO of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic next delivered his "Report from RFB&D." He began by making a pledge of an additional gift of $40,000, which with the $10,000 gift of last February brings the RFB&D support of the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind to $50,000. He then described RFB&D's central role in the negotiations to keep print-disabled readers in the electronic-book audience. It is working hard to protect the rights of publishers and writers while making sure that blind people can get digital books as soon as possible, played on equipment which is sturdy and affordable. By late 2002 RFB&D's Learning through Listening collection of 3,500 titles will be generally available to students. These will be either audio-plus or audio-plus-text books. He assured us that those who will continue to need analog recordings will be able to get them for as long as possible. The rapport that has been developed between the NFB and RFB&D over the past few years is a vital and nourishing force for progress in our field.
The next agenda item was the "Hard Hat Report." This was the progress report on the capital campaign to construct the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind. The first speaker was Mary Ellen Jernigan, Director of Operations at the National Center for the Blind. She called attention to her new hat--she always wears a new hat to the convention--but this year Dr. Maurer was so impressed with her hat that he arranged for everyone present that afternoon (who dared to take one) to join her in her sartorial choice. Hers was a hard hat with the words emblazoned on it, "Let's Build It Now." She warned people not to accept a hat unless they were prepared to work hard to finish soliciting the funds to build the Institute and then to search for the funds to staff it and fund the programming that will put it on the map.
Ramona Walhof, Secretary of the NFB and an active leader in identifying and recruiting campaign gifts, recounted the times in her own life in which the Federation had challenged her to stretch beyond her abilities and demonstrate what she and the NFB could do when challenged. This moment, she said, is such a time for all of us.
Wayne Wilhelm, President of Wilhelm Commercial Builders, described what the Institute will look like when it is completed and promised to do what was necessary to see that the construction goes efficiently.
Following these presentations, President Maurer took a few minutes to accept pledges from groups and individuals interested in supporting the capital campaign. When the dust had settled, we had raised another $163,300 that afternoon.
The final item on the afternoon agenda was a brief statement by President Maurer about the recent attacks on the NFB by the American Council of the Blind. The text of this statement appears elsewhere in this issue.
Wednesday may have been the Fourth-of-July holiday everywhere else, but at the NFB convention it was just one more twenty-four-hour period to fill as full as possible. By the time the extended afternoon session recessed, we were already running a bit late for the evening's offerings: a seminar for prospective guide dog users, a meeting of the fairly new National Association of Blind Rehabilitation Professionals, a discussion of etiquette issues of particular interest to blind people, a drop-in IEP workshop for parents, the tenBroek Fund Auction with Curtis Chong making his debut as auctioneer, and the National Association of Blind Musicians' Showcase of Talent. Twenty-seven acts took part this year, and as usual everyone enjoyed the program.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mary Jo Wells and her son Adam and Macy and Madison McClain, all from Ohio, dance up a storm.]
The Pennsylvanians were determined, however, that no one should find it easy to engage in nothing but work. They threw another party: "Funk, Freedom, and Fireworks," with the Philadelphia Funk Authority providing music indoors, the city offering fireworks outside, and free beer. We always recognized that the Pennsylvanians knew how to party, and they made sure that everyone else had a chance to join the fun.
The partying went late, but at 8:45 exactly Thursday morning general session began with the annual election. Those whose positions were not open this year were President, Marc Maurer (Maryland); First Vice President, Joyce Scanlan (Minnesota); Second Vice President, Peggy Elliott (Iowa); Secretary, Ramona Walhof (Idaho); Treasurer, Allen Harris (New York); and Board members Steve Benson (Illinois), Charlie Brown (Virginia), Sam Gleese (Mississippi), Diane McGeorge (Colorado), Carla McQuillan (Oregon), and Gary Wunder (Missouri). Elected to two-year terms were Don Capps (South Carolina), Joe Ruffalo (New Jersey), Priscilla Ferris (Massachusetts), Bruce Gardner (Arizona), Noel Nightingale (Washington), and Ron Brown (Indiana).
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Joe Ruffalo]
Elected for the first time on the Board was Joe Ruffalo, President of the NFB of New Jersey. After the votes had been cast for him by acclamation, this is what Joe said: [soundbite 5]
Dr. Maurer, members of the Board, Nominating Committee, my brothers and sisters in the Federation: I come to you today with a tear in my eye, joy in my heart, and a quiver in my voice. To be considered for this position is a dream. Dr. Jernigan talked about dreams. Thirteen years ago I joined the Federation, not because I wanted to. I was called six times to go to a meeting, and six times I found excuses not to attend. Jerilyn Higgens's persistence got me to a meeting. All I knew about the Federation was that they were a militant, radical group [laughter], which is not true. I envisioned blind people in the downtown area of Newark stationed at the hotel doors armed with machine guns and assault rifles. The weapons they had were wisdom and truth about blindness. [applause]
I entered that room determined not to join. Ten minutes into the meeting they played a tape, a Presidential message from Marc Maurer, "Greetings, fellow Federationists." I sat and listened to that presidential message. In that message were accomplishments I thought I could never achieve or even attempt. At that meeting people were moving about the room safely, getting their own coffee and tea. I sat there and said, "I need this organization; I need the mentoring of these people." I pledged that day to get involved. Everyone in this room must get involved. [applause]
That was 1988. In 1998 I graduated with a certificate in massage therapy and was hired by our local hospital, First Occupational Center of New Jersey, as an independent contractor. The grand opening of the massage therapeutic center was going to be in October. A lot of plans went into it. There was to be a ribbon-cutting with some dignitaries coming from the hospital. And don't you know it, the day of the ceremony was the day the service held for Dr. Jernigan was to be held in Baltimore. What was I to do? I called Dr. Maurer and told him that I was going to try to cancel the grand opening, which was then two days away--it had taken three months to arrange. He said these words to me; "Dr. Jernigan would want you there at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Be there." [applause]
As the hospital administrators would have it--they were about an hour late (they don't know NFB time)--the ceremony pretty much coincided with the time of the service that was going on in Baltimore. As I was cutting the ribbon, I felt Dr. Jernigan's presence on my hand. I felt him in the room, smiling, saying to me, "You have made it, which means that we have all made it."
It's a privilege and honor to be standing before you in the City of Philadelphia, where our forefathers yelled the word "independence," which is what we yell in New Jersey with the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. We have a partnership--Independence: Believe and Achieve. Let freedom ring! [applause] The freedom I am talking about is Feeling Respectable with Enthusiasm, Energy, Determination, and Opportunity for the Movement--Freedom: Let freedom ring! Thank you.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ron Brown]
When Ron Brown was elected, he said: [soundbite 6]
Mr. President, I feel like the new kid on the block. It's great! Mr. President, fellow Federationists, at seventeen years old I lost my sight; at eighteen years old I found the National Federation of the Blind. How fortunate for me.
Mr. President, I accept this honor humbly; I take my responsibility seriously.
After the election The first presenter of the day was an old friend, Frank Kurt Cylke, Director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress. In introducing him, Dr. Maurer called attention to a fascinating new book compiled by NLS called Braille into the Next Millennium, to which a number of Federationists and friends of the NFB have contributed. Mr. Cylke's title was "We're Almost There." The there in question is the transition to the new digital Talking Book machine, which will probably use flash-memory technology--in other words, no moving parts. In another seven years we should have players and a significant number of books to read with the players using this new technology. NLS will gather digital versions of 2,000 books a year from now till the transition date and will be converting about 1,000 already-existing books to add to this new collection.
Richard Chandler, Chairman and President of Freedom Scientific, Inc., was the next speaker. His title was "The Future of Technology to Enhance Opportunities for the Blind." Mr. Chandler began by outlining what he sees as the areas for enhanced access technology in the coming five years. He sees suites of software programs being bundled together in notetakers that will increasingly provide seamless interface between these and our PC computers. He thinks that lower costs are on the way. He also hopes that we will have a universal remote control for all household equipment within a few years. Accomplishing this will take coordinated work on the part of all the groups and manufacturers involved.
He also reiterated Freedom Scientific's absolute dedication to working with and supporting the programs of disabled people. The company has improved its response and repair time and is working to increase its capacity to enable potential buyers to try using its products without having to travel long distances. Freedom Scientific has just announced a scholarship program for fifty students worth $101,000. The National Federation of the Blind will be one of the groups administering the program. The company will continue to listen to, hire, and support blind people and their programs.
Next Andrew Freeman, an attorney with our law firm of Brown, Goldstein, and Levy, described the NFB and vendors' victory last April in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in which military mess halls were confirmed as falling under the priority established by the Randolph-Sheppard Act.
Perhaps the most surprising item on the entire convention agenda came next. The title was "The National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC): Thirty Years Later and a New Executive Director." The presenters were Steve Hegedeos, NAC Executive Director, and Steve Obremski, President of the NAC board. The presentation they made demonstrated that some things have changed at NAC and some have not. In the end President Maurer said that a committee consisting of himself, Peggy Elliott, and Jim Gashel would meet soon with a group of three from NAC to determine whether we can find any common ground for discussion.
Kris Cox, Assistant Director for Governmental Affairs, introduced a panel of speakers discussing our efforts to insure that new voting-machine technology can be used independently by people who cannot read print. Mrs. Cox pointed out that no existing federal legislation guarantees access to voting machines. She is fairly optimistic that any laws passed by Congress will give us protection, but she urged everyone to work energetically with state governments as well to be certain that individual legislatures do not pass laws that will lock us out.
The other members of the panel were Deborah Phillips, President of the Voting Integrity Project, and Thad Hall, Director of Programs for the Century Foundation and a member of the staff of the National Commission on Federal Election Reform. Ms. Phillips warned that reforms have a way of bringing unexpected consequences. The real protection for us as we work to be included in voting reform is to keep election officials and state and federal legislators mindful of what we want as the process unfolds.
Mr. Hall is currently working with the Commission chaired by Presidents Ford and Carter to recommend federal election reform. The technology is available to make voting machines accessible to blind and other disabled people as well as those with language barriers. He commented that the NFB has been a forceful voice in testifying before the Commission; in fact, the consensus on the Commission was that Jim Gashel had been the single most effective voice during the hearings that have been held. He is hopeful that federal legislation will protect blind voters, but reform will not come overnight; it will take time, and we must remain vigilant.
The final speaker of the morning was an old friend. J. Kenneth McGill has been coming to NFB conventions since 1984. He is now Associate Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Office of Employment Support Programs. He reviewed the efforts his office is making to assist people in the Ticket-to-Work and Workforce-Development programs. He clearly understands the importance of guiding disabled people to take responsibility for their own decisions and to give them the assistance that can enable them to do their jobs right.
Thursday afternoon a number of Federationists took the opportunity to enjoy the greater Philadelphia area with various tour groups. But lots of people stayed right at the hotel to take advantage of a wonderful array of special opportunities. Of course one could learn more about NEWSLINE® or the capital campaign. The Job Opportunities for the Blind 2001 Job Fair brought together almost 200 blind job-seekers with representatives from thirteen companies actively looking for employees. Parents could sign themselves and their kids up to work with a technology-savvy blind adult in the exhibit hall or ask questions about Braille and label games in Braille or drop in to talk with the experts about cane travel. Recipients and advocates had the chance to talk with other experts about their Social Security problems.
Later some people enjoyed a Descriptive Video film while others attended a National Association of Blind Merchants reception. The Deaf-Blind Division met, as did the Research and Development Committee. Those interested in learning more about the Colorado Center for the Blind had a chance to meet the staff and students and become acquainted with the program. And when all that concluded, the students were still going strong at Monte Carlo Night with cards and games for everyone.
Following what was for some an all too brief night of sleep, the Friday morning session of the convention was gaveled to order at 9:00 a.m. We discovered that a bit of cattle rustling had taken place over night. At the beginning of the convention Wisconsin had hung an inflatable Holstein cow from its state flag, but in the dark of the night the cow had moved to Texas and was adorning that flag instead. In short order, however, Wisconsin cowboys had conducted a raid and reclaimed their property, which stayed put after that.
The first item of business for the morning was titled "The Federation in the World: A Perspective from Twelve Years of International Service." The first speaker was Dr. Euclid Herie, former president and treasurer of the World Blind Union and president of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Dr. Herie called attention to the ongoing struggle to protect the Free-Matter priority around the world. Already nine countries have opted out of it and others may. He also said that the World Blind Union is working to have January 4 declared Braille Literacy Day. He then introduced Terry Kelly, a professional singer/song-writer who has written a song capturing the themes that Dr. Herie has been preaching for years. Terry came to the microphone and performed the song. The lyrics follow; unfortunately, only the readers of the cassette edition will be able to enjoy the performance, which was very powerful and drew an enthusiastic response from the audience. [soundbite 7]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Terry Kelly holds his guitar and prepares to sing a song he composed.]
The Power of the Dream
by Terry Kelly
Copyright, Terry Kelly; reprinted with permission.
1.Look, see there, movement,
Hear 150 million tongues, one clear voice!
From the land down under
A song, the sound of thunder
Singing the dream to opening ears
All over the world!
There's a buzz in the air,
And the people from far and near
Have made a choice; the choice is clear!
Changing what it means to be blind
Step by step, one day at a time,
Still much to do, but it shall be
That the sighted eyes of the world
Will be able to see,
And there will be changes.
The power of the dream,
Due diligence by you and me
Changing what it means to be blind.
2.Women of every nation
Are rising to the occasion
To change humankind, by movement and mind
We shall be as one.
And what of youth and children?
Empowerment is their freedom
And we must convey by example so they
Can say, "No big deal; I'm blind."
And the eyes of the earth
Will acknowledge the person first
Through our vision, by knowing our worth!
3.Many drops of rain grow forests
And bring big mountains down.
Hands across all borders, boundaries, and nations
Take walls down.
Lift the veils, unfurl the sails,
New journeys will abound.
No one but ourselves can stop us now!
Changing what it means to be blind.
Look, see there, movement
The second speaker was Monthien Buntan, first vice president of the Thailand Association of the Blind. Mr. Buntan reviewed the employment and education situation of the blind in Thailand, which is bleak. Ninety percent of blind people are illiterate, and not many work. Selling lottery tickets is the most frequently held job. When the government tried to impose a policy of replacing these people with machines, the Association went to the barricades and was able to protect the jobs. Mr. Buntan is a fiery speaker and a passionate believer in the right of blind people everywhere to an education and a chance to hold a good job. It was a joy to have him with us.
As the final part of this international segment of the agenda, President Maurer appointed Dr. Fred Schroeder as NFB Research Ambassador to the Blind of the World. He will work to encourage research on blindness that is initiated, planned, and often conducted by blind people. As he said to the convention, if research in this field is to benefit blind people, blind people around the world must organize. That activity is what he hopes he will be able to stimulate as a result of this appointment.
Russell Smith, Managing Director of Pulse Data International, Ltd., was the next speaker. His title was "A New Personal Data Assistant for the Blind." He began by briefly listing the companies in the Pulse Data International family, once again including HumanWare. He then reviewed an impressive list of products that the company has developed over the past twenty-five years. The most successful of these has certainly been the BrailleNote, which has been out a year now, and production has doubled every three months. This notetaker interfaces easily with the Windows operating system.
Introduced at our convention was a version of the notetaker with a refreshable Braille display but a typewriter keyboard. Spanish/ English and French/English versions will be available soon, and the company is working on other-language versions. Mr. Smith assured the audience that his group recognizes the importance of listening to users and solving the problems that they identify in ways they find useful.
NFB of Idaho President Larry Streeter then delivered remarks titled "Dispute Resolution: One Profession for the Blind." Larry is Dispute resolution Coordinator for the Bureau of Special Education of the Idaho Department of Education. He tries to settle disputes between school districts and parents of disabled students before they must resort to formal proceedings. He has headed a task-force working to improve the skills of teachers working with disabled and blind students. Recently he was instrumental in getting a grant for educational training for teachers in a five-state area. Idaho has already filled the first year's classes.
Larry concluded by thanking the Federation for the understanding he has acquired about blindness and for the love of a family that is supportive in good times and bad. He called on his audience to stand firm for the right and be prepared to do what it takes to set blind people free.
"Accessible Machines for Commerce: First the Bank Machine" was the title of remarks by Walden O'Dell, Chairman of the Board, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Diebold, Incorporated. Mr. O'Dell reviewed the history of the talking ATM, looked into the future of talking voting-machine technology, and urged the Federation to move forward with building the new National Research and Training Institute.
A panel of two then dealt with the subject, "Electronic Publishing: The Book of the Future for Everybody Including the Blind." The first to speak was Patricia Schroeder, President of the Association of American Publishers, Inc., and an old friend from her days as a Member of Congress. Mrs. Schroeder explained the history of the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act, which is the agreement hammered out among the parties trying to find a way to make textbook copy available quickly to students who need it in alternative formats. She is convinced that the time is right to establish a national depository for electronic texts in a single format of every textbook purchased by any school district in the nation. Such an arrangement would guarantee immediate access to text materials for every special-needs student in the nation. She called on members of the Federation to pressure Congress to pass this legislation as soon as it is introduced.
Following Ms. Schroeder was Steve Stone, general manager, eBooks Business Unit, Microsoft Corporation. Mr. Stone reported that he and President Maurer first established rapport through their shared love of books, and making books of every kind available to and accessible by everyone everywhere is the dream of his group. His assistant demonstrated the Microsoft Reader software on a desktop computer, reading an eBook out loud. The speech is remarkably good, and the system has a number of search and movement functions that seem to be working pretty well. Microsoft isn't there yet, but the company is making clear progress.
The final item of the morning session was "Braille Is Beautiful," the new late-elementary and middle-school curriculum developed by the National Federation of the Blind with the financial support of the United Parcel Service Foundation in conjunction with the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, NFB Director of Special Programs, and Claudia Bosworth, an elementary-school teacher from Maryland, were the presenters.
Dr. Zaborowski described the curriculum and played a bit of the video made as part of the project. Jake and the Secret Code is the name of the video, and it stars a mother and her sighted son from Baltimore and Curtis Chong of our Technology Department. Ms. Bosworth reported that her class was very enthusiastic about the unit on Braille, and she urged Federationists to encourage school systems across the country to invest in this program. It is ideal for helping students prepare to welcome a blind student into their classroom or school.
On that high note the morning session drew to a close. The lunch hour was filled as usual with meetings and the opportunity to visit the exhibits. But when 2:00 arrived, delegates were back in their seats for what many agreed retrospectively was one of the most exciting and inspiring convention afternoons they could remember. The first speaker was Kathy Bushkin, President of the AOL Time Warner Foundation. She admitted that AOL's relationship with the NFB did not start in warm understanding, but she went on to say that the company now recognizes that access to the Internet for everyone, including disabled people, is essential.
She then introduced Tatiana Gau, Senior Vice President for Integrity Assurance at AOL. Ms. Gau commented that in the past year AOL has made more progress in achieving improved accessibility of its products than it had done theretofore in its whole corporate history. She then reviewed the accomplishments of the past year and played tape recordings of two demonstrations of accessible AOL products. The first was AOL by phone, and the second was a talking set-top box for use with television.
When they finished their presentation, Dr. Maurer said candidly that we are serious about the need to achieve accessibility for AOL products. He was pleased to hear that they too are serious, but he has some qualms about whether corporate commitment will continue. He wanted them to know that ours will and that we are prepared to find other means to encourage them if their enthusiasm wanes. Ms. Bushkin assured him that AOL is in for the long haul. She said that they had discovered that millions of people will benefit from increased access, and that is good reason to continue. But they have also discovered that the increased market makes this decision a sound one from a strictly business point of view.
"Technology for the Blind: Current Challenges and Future Visions" was the title of Dr. Raymond Kurzweil's speech, which was the next agenda item. Dr. Kurzweil assured his audience that the exponential growth of knowledge in every field means that disability as an important issue in life will become increasingly unimportant. He stated again his pleasure in his long and fruitful relationship with the National Federation of the Blind.
Dr. Robert Massof, Founder and Director of the Lions Research and Rehabilitation Center, a division of the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute, was the next speaker. His title was "Exploring New Ground in the Blindness Field: Johns Hopkins and the Organized Blind." As a researcher Dr. Massof is keenly aware of all the ways in which research projects can fail; timing and solid grounding in the nature of the problem and effective solutions are two necessary components for success. He hopes that the new National Research and Training Institute will provide an excellent opportunity for blind people to shape the research that we need and that will extend beyond us to assist the rest of society.
The next speaker was our own Fred Schroeder. Dr. Schroeder's topic was "Research and the Organized Blind Movement." Since ceasing to be the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, he has been a research professor at San Diego State University, and he talked about productive and unproductive ways to go about doing research. The audience response to this presentation was a standing ovation. His remarks appear elsewhere in this issue.
Taken together, the final three presentations of the afternoon created an unforgettable experience for those lucky enough to have been present. Steve Marriott began by talking about "How I Help the Marriott Corporation." Steve is losing both sight and hearing, but he spent the month of June working on blindness skills at the National Center, and, though he recognizes that he still has a long way to go to master those skills, he now understands that blindness does not need to ruin the quality of his life. He serves as Senior Vice President for Culture and Lodging, Sales, and Recruiting for Marriott. His job is to insure that the very special Marriott culture reaches across all the 2,100 hotels in the entire corporate family. We already know from firsthand experience that Marriott is a great place to stay, and we are learning that it's also a great group of people with whom to do business.
Next Stanley Wainapel, M.D. M.P.H., talked about "Losing Sight, Gaining Skills: A Doctor's Odyssey." Dr. Wainapel explained that he chose to attend medical school even though he knew he would eventually become blind. Though his vision was significantly impaired, Dr. Wainapel became a very successful and respected physician, but he eventually suffered a failure of nerve. He left his job and took another, less demanding one. By 1994 he was sick in body and mind in addition to losing more vision.
On the recommendation of Adrienne Asch, one of his only blind friends, he came to an NFB convention. That gave him the inspiration and courage he needed to stay the course. He has now taken a position as Director of Rehabilitation Medicine of the Montefiore Medical Center and finds that his disability often enhances the care he gives his patients. His gratitude to the Federation was deeply touching and encouraging.
By the time the final speaker of the afternoon came to the podium, the audience was wound tight. We had been waiting for this moment for the entire convention. The title in the program, which had gone to press in early May, was "The Blind Climber on Mt. Everest." Dr. Maurer, of course, did not know at that point whether Erik Weihenmayer would be successful in his bid to climb the highest mountain in the world. By the time Erik came to the podium after doing interviews all day and signing copies of his book, everyone knew that on May 25, 2001, Erik and eighteen other members of his team had reached the summit of Everest and then had safely returned home again. The crowd went a bit out of control, rhythmically clapping and shouting his name. When order was restored, Erik told the audience what it had been like to be a part of a team that had successfully tackled the most challenging mountain in the world.
By the stroke of five we were out of the ballroom, which had to be transformed into a banquet space ready for the group's return at seven that evening. The 2001 banquet was the largest in history, and it was exciting and moving in the way that only an NFB banquet evening can be. Three awards were presented. The International Braille Research Center presented its Louis Braille Award to Dr. Tim Cranmer. Dr. Maurer presented the Jacobus tenBroek Award to Jim Gashel and Betsy Zaborowski, and Allen Harris presented the Newell Perry Award to Erik Weihenmayer. All three presentations appear in full elsewhere in this issue.
As always President Maurer's banquet address was the high point of the entire convention. The title was "Independence and the Necessity for Diplomacy." It was vintage Federation philosophy and inspiration, and the audience responded in classic Federation style. The entire text of the speech appears elsewhere in this issue.
Following the banquet address, Peggy Elliott came to the microphone to present the 2001 scholarships. A complete report of this year's program appears elsewhere in this issue. Michael Brands, a tenBroek Fellow, won the $10,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship.
When Allen Harris gaveled the banquet to a close, the evening changed gears but continued with great enthusiasm. A number of Federationists gathered in the Pennsylvania suite to sing Federation songs written by Ted Young and remember our colleague who was no longer with us. Others gathered in the lobby bar and conducted their own impromptu song fest much to the enjoyment of other Federationists within earshot.
The final day of the convention began with President Maurer's annual financial report. Much of the morning was taken up with funding matters. The various fund-raising committees made final reports, and the Honor Roll Call of States gave affiliates and divisions an opportunity to make gifts and pledges to the organization. The final total of funds raised for the Campaign to Build It Now was $350,000.
During the Report from Washington Jim Gashel and Kris Cox reviewed legislative activities during the past year and reported our current efforts in Congress. The coming year will be busy, and Kris and Jim will be contacting us in the coming weeks as our help is needed.
We devoted the afternoon to debate on resolutions interspersed with announcements and last-minute reports. When the gavel fell for the final time, we streamed out of the convention hall reinvigorated and inspired again for another year of changing what it means to be blind. We had deepened old friendships and discovered valued new colleagues. For over a week we had marched together, sharing a common vision of the future and singing one song of ultimate victory. Now the time had come once more to return home to the solitary walk of our individual witness to the truth about blindness. Louisville is eleven months away; that gives us time to touch the lives of many more people who need to join us there. Plan now to be part of the 2002 gathering.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dr. Maurer delivers his presidential report.]
National Federation of the Blind
July 4, 2001
The National Federation of the Blind has had a year of unprecedented growth and progress. During the past twelve months we have accepted greater challenges than ever before in our history, and we have found a way to meet those challenges with results exceeding the expectations of us all.
Nevertheless, we have remained the same organization that we have always been--growing, developing, moving forward. We are the blind: the blind students, the blind teachers, the blind factory workers, the blind lawyers, the blind medical professionals, the newly blinded, the blind in the sheltered workshops, the blind vending-stand operators, the blind musicians, the blind in governmental agencies, the blind who have not yet found jobs, those who have become blind as senior citizens, and all other blind people who, along with our colleagues and friends, possess the imagination to dream of a day when our lives can be lived to the fullest and our talents employed as they deserve to be. From every state, from every segment of society, from every economic or educational background, we are the blind, and our strength comes from the combination of us all. We are the blind--the organized blind movement--the National Federation of the Blind.
In the mid-1970's the National Federation of the Blind began working with Dr. Raymond Kurzweil on the first reading machine for the blind. This invention demanded optical scanning technology, which became as useful for the sighted as it is for the blind. This was only the first of many inventions created by Dr, Kurzweil. A number of them came from the reading machine. Dr. Kurzweil currently believes it is possible, using techniques developed in speech recognition, to build an automatic language translator.
This past year I, serving as President of the National Federation of the Blind, nominated Dr. Kurzweil for an award offered jointly by the Lemelson Foundation and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). On April 25, 2001, I attended a gathering of scientists and other professionals held at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Each year the Foundation gives a Lifetime Achievement Award. This year's recipient was Raymond V. Damadian, the inventor of magnetic resonance imaging technology. However, the highest honor of the Foundation is the Lemelson-MIT award, the best-funded technology award being offered anywhere in the world. As the nominator of Raymond Kurzweil, I was (along with my wife Patricia) recognized publicly by the delegates. The 2001 recipient of the Lemelson-MIT award--a man honored for the work he has done on the reading machine for the blind and other related technologies--is Dr. Raymond Kurzweil, who received from the Foundation a cash grant of $500,000.
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) is that part of the Library of Congress that operates the Books for the Blind Program. Established in 1931, NLS has become one of the most effective programs for the blind in the nation. Its director is Mr. Frank Kurt Cylke, who is committed to excellent library service for the blind.
In the year 2000 NLS published a book entitled Braille into the Next Millennium. This book collects articles about Braille on virtually any topic. Some of the names of the writers who have contributed to this volume will be familiar to members of the National Federation of the Blind. They include Abraham Nemeth, Euclid Herie, Tim Cranmer, Fredric Schroeder, Curtis Chong, Ruby Ryles, and Marc Maurer.
The foreword is by Frank Kurt Cylke. The preface begins with these words: "This book on the value and history of Braille symbolizes the times in which we live. It highlights the importance of Braille in the life of every man, woman, and child who is blind and points the way to the future--a future of promise and hope." The preface, which appeared for the first time in the fall of 2000, was written by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, the most outstanding leader and teacher of the blind of the latter part of the twentieth century. This book, which has been put into Braille, will encourage the learning of this vital skill for generations. It will provide not only hope but the opportunity for achieving the dreams that are part of that hope as well.
Equal access to information is as important for the blind as it is for the sighted. A little more than a year ago we told the banking industry and bank-machine manufacturers that the automated teller machine (ATM), which was fast becoming a standard for electronic commerce, must become accessible to the blind. In the intervening months we have worked with the premier manufacturer of ATM equipment, Diebold, Incorporated, to assure access to the electronic commerce of our nation. We will assist with the development of ATM machines that are accessible to the blind, and we will encourage the installation of such equipment. We are working with Diebold, Incorporated, to make the fastest, most broadly usable machines in the nation and to have them deployed in businesses, government agencies, and other public places. We recognize a spirit of common interest and generosity in Diebold, and we are joining with the computer developers within that company to design inexpensive, effective machines.
They also believe in us. They want to support enhanced technology for the blind, and they have promised to help us build the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind with a gift in the amount of one million dollars. The president of Diebold, Incorporated, Mr. Walden O'Dell, will be with us at this convention.
In 1994 we initiated the NEWSLINE® for the Blind Network, a telephone-based newspaper-delivery system capable of providing the text of newspapers to blind people in local service areas. For the past seven years this service has expanded steadily until it has reached more than seventy cities, providing daily newspapers by touch-tone telephone to tens of thousands of blind people each day.
Late last year Congress appropriated four million dollars in the budget of the Institute of Museum and Library Services for the purpose of expanding NEWSLINE® to every part of every state of the nation. To provide services on a nationwide basis requires a redesign of the network itself. The target date for the redesigned service is March 1, 2002. Continuation of the nationwide service beyond the first year depends upon the development of funding mechanisms to support it in each state. However, just as we will find a way to build the technology, so will we find a way to fund the continuation of the service. Blind people everywhere will be able to read all of the newspapers on the network--the seven national papers and dozens of local ones.
We have continued with a number of other efforts to expand access to information. We have revised our publicly distributed document describing adequate Web accessibility, and a number of companies have asked us for assistance. Among these are the Gap, Intuit, H&R Block, election.com, and votehere.net. At one time it was not possible for a blind person using screen-access technology to make online purchases through the Gap's Web site. Officials at the Gap noticed the legal challenge we had brought against AOL, and they were eager to work with us. Today shopping on the Gap's Web site is possible because of the close cooperation between the Gap and the National Federation of the Blind.
The working relationship with the Connecticut Attorney General to make Web-based tax filing services accessible to the blind has brought positive results. If we must pay taxes, we said, make the forms so that we too can read them. By the end of January 2001, the blind could file independently.
Members of Congress have decided (with the evidence of the last presidential election fresh in their minds) to pursue election reform. We have asked them to include nonvisual access to voting, and they have agreed. Several companies are coming out with voice-guided electronic voting systems, and many of them are seeking our help to ensure that these systems are usable, not only by the sophisticated blind computer user, but by the blind person who simply wants to vote without having to learn how to run a computer. We are in the process of obtaining all of the nonvisually accessible voting systems for display and evaluation in the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind.
The International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind has experienced significant growth during the past year. Many of the computers housed in the Center are being upgraded. We have embarked upon a project to replace old DOS computers with newer ones. We have acquired twenty-three Pentium computers running Windows 98 or 2000, and there are a number of other machines. During the past year we have acquired in the IBTC thirteen electronic notetakers with refreshable Braille displays, two electronic notetakers with voice output, two Braille embossers, eight tape tutorials for Windows and Windows applications, one commercial Windows-based calendar/organizer program, two refreshable Braille displays, two screen-reading program upgrades, three scanners, one talking globe with tactile markings for the continents, one solid state MP3 player with memory-stick technology, one talking numeric pager, one computer keyboard with Braille-entry capability, three upgrades to print reading systems for the blind, two low-cost self-voicing print reading systems for the blind, two commercial optical character recognition programs for converting print to text, one self-voicing calculator program for Windows, two force feedback mouse units for the blind, two Braille-music-translation programs, two voice-activated television remote control units, one voice-recognition program, one digital audio recorder, one internal speech synthesizer, one King James Talking Bible (using Road-Runner technology), eight audible traffic-signal demonstration units, one talking GPS system with laptop computer, one demonstration Diebold talking automated teller machine, one talking Diebold machine with money--the real thing, one Web search and summarization program, one self-voicing document reader program for Windows, one screen-magnification program, and all of the peripherals, cables, and other computer-related attachments to make them function.
We have made considerable progress with America Online (AOL) during the past year. AOL's online services were completely inaccessible to the blind, and AOL officials seemed indifferent to our need for information until we brought suit in federal district court in November of 1999. Suddenly there was an interest in discussion. After we agreed to withdraw our lawsuit, developers from the AOL accessibility team came to visit the National Center for the Blind for the purpose of learning how their software could interact with screen-reading programs--in other words how they could give AOL speech. The AOL 6.0 software, released last fall, demonstrated modest improvements in nonvisual access. It appears that the people working on the accessibility project know what needs to be done, and the team has already begun the work. Although AOL is slow, it may have gotten the message. If not, we will provide it once again.
We have also continued to maintain our Web site, with increasing numbers of people gaining access to information about blindness through it. Within the past twelve months people from sixty-three nations have received Web site information.
On January 19, 2001, the United States Department of Education adopted a final rule redefining "employment outcome" under the Vocational Rehabilitation program to exclude those placed in sheltered workshops. This advance in the rehabilitation program (drafted by Dr. Frederic K. Schroeder) was strongly supported by the National Federation of the Blind, which submitted more than 1,500 comments in support of the proposed rule. Rehabilitation is expected to assist individuals with disabilities to obtain high-quality employment in the integrated, competitive labor market. Because sheltered shop employment had not provided high pay, career choices, integrated work, opportunities for advancement, and the chance to learn transferable skills, continued vocational rehabilitation services should be available, and this progressive rule determines that they are.
A number of operators of sheltered shops have opposed the rule. Nevertheless, we believe that blind people should receive pay as high as sighted people receive for comparable work, and we believe in opportunities for advancement. Consequently we will continue to support the rule despite the attacks of those in the sheltered shops.
The National Federation of the Blind continues to be in the leadership of programming for the blind in the United States. On January 18 and 19, 2001, the Millennium Symposium on improving services for the blind was convened at the National Center for the Blind. Rehabilitation professionals from more than a dozen states participated along with leaders of the organized blind from those states. Working independently, we can accomplish a great deal, but joint effort between consumers of services for the blind and providers of those services can create greater programs with more positive results than have ever existed in work with the blind. This was true of rehabilitation in the state of Iowa when Dr. Jernigan served as Director of the Commission for the Blind, and the principle is equally applicable today. There will be more such seminars, and the National Federation of the Blind will continue to coordinate interaction and joint support of programming for the blind.
At our convention last year we heard a report of the establishment of specialized services for the blind in the state of Nebraska--a commission for the blind was created. However, in the Nebraska legislature this spring a bill was introduced to eliminate separate identifiable programs for the blind, and the blind moved into immediate action. By March 5, 2001, the bill to eliminate the Nebraska Commission for the Blind had met its fate in committee. The reason is straightforward and uncomplicated. The bill was killed because of the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind.
Pat Summerall conducts a daily television program in which he talks about entities that have helped to build America. Last fall on the Summerall program, in the segment designated "Captains of Industry," a two-minute feature appeared depicting the work that we in the Federation do. Among other things there are pictures of me standing next to the barbecue grill and others that show me with a chainsaw in my hand. Videos of the "Captains of Industry" program are available for use by individuals and chapters throughout the Federation.
One of our objectives within the Federation is the support and promotion of Braille. We cause more Braille to be produced than anybody else except the Library of Congress. We have created the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, drafted model Braille bills, written language to ensure the teaching of Braille that has been included in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, distributed Braille material to individuals throughout the nation and the world, created videos about the importance of Braille, taught dozens of classes on the subject, and taken other steps to encourage production and use of Braille.
During the past year we have received support for the notion that Braille would become more widely used if it were more readily accepted. To promote this acceptance, we have created a program called "Braille is Beautiful," including videotapes on Braille with teaching materials and lesson plans for students to use to learn the code. If the sighted learn Braille, Braille will be accepted. Those who use Braille--the blind--will also be accepted. The techniques used by the blind are often as effective as those used by the sighted. If they are regarded as commonplace, there will be much greater emphasis on teaching them. Today the Braille literacy rate for blind students in school is in the neighborhood of ten percent. With the "Braille is Beautiful" project we believe Braille literacy will increase.
During the summer and fall of 1998 we began the planning for the construction of the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind. In 1999 we discussed the Research Institute at the convention, and we dedicated our 2000 convention to the building of the Institute. A full report of the progress of this initiative will be included later in the convention. However, fund-raising has gone well. We have received more than 18,000 gifts ranging in amount from a few dollars to one million. We have obtained outright gifts and pledges of more than ten million dollars, and the groundbreaking for construction will occur on October 19, 2001, at the National Center for the Blind. Following the groundbreaking there will be a gala celebration of the work of the Federation. Federation members and our friends are encouraged to participate--especially those who have dreamed of a new kind of research and who have worked to make our Institute come true.
In November of 2000 the National Federation of the Blind participated in the quadrennial General Assembly of the World Blind Union in Melbourne, Australia. Kicki Nordstrom of Sweden, who spoke at our convention last year, was elected to the presidency. She is a woman of spirit, and she will work diligently. However, the world organization is rarely unified in its objectives, and the progress it makes is often slow. Nevertheless, the National Federation of the Blind will continue to be a part of it and will put energy and resources into the world body to promote programs of self-organization of the blind.
Then there is the National Federation of the Blind Everest Expedition. Two years ago we decided to support a blind mountain climber, Erik Weihenmayer, in his dream to reach the highest spot on the globe--the summit of Mount Everest. Erik Weihenmayer will be making a full report later in this convention. However, our dreams combined with our support and the efforts of a climbing team have been successful. Erik Weihenmayer is the first blind man ever to stand on the top of the world.
Part of the reason for supporting the Everest Expedition is to let people know about the work of the National Federation of the Blind. When he returned from Nepal, Erik Weihenmayer's exploits were reported on CNN, "The Today Show," "Good Morning America," "CBS This Morning," and "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno. There were dozens of newspaper and radio interviews, and our expedition was featured as the cover story in Time magazine. It is estimated that there were something in the neighborhood of 500 million media hits for this expedition, and featured prominently was the National Federation of the Blind.
We have renewed our effort in Congress to eliminate the work disincentives caused by the Social Security earnings limit. Congressman Robert Ehrlich of Maryland and Senator John McCain of Arizona have introduced identical bills which would raise the current blind persons' earnings exemption from just under $15,000, where it is now, to $30,000 per year--$2,500 per month--toward the goal of its eventual elimination.
These bills have strong bipartisan support in Congress and a solid majority of cosponsors in the House. The battle to remove the economic penalties placed on blind people who go to work began decades ago, and much progress has been made. However, in this Congress we may be able to make a very substantial change for the blind of today and those of generations to come.
We have initiated an effort in Congress significantly to expand financial support for meeting the training and adjustment needs of blind people age fifty-five and older. This is by far the largest segment of the blind population, and the current level of service available is far from adequate to meet the growing need. Therefore our proposal would expand covered services under Medicare to include independent living services for older blind individuals. This proposed amendment would allow state vocational rehabilitation agencies to be reimbursed for at least a portion of the cost of services provided.
Three years ago we started the Jobline® service in partnership with the United States Department of Labor. This service provides convenient access to America's Job Bank by means of a standard touch-tone telephone. America's Job Bank is the largest database of job listings available anywhere in the world. Now we have created the technology to make this service available nationwide. Everybody in the United States--blind or not--can now reach the National Federation of the Blind Jobline***. So here is the toll-free number: 1-800-414-5748.
In July of 1998 the National Federation of the Blind, with substantial support from the United States Department of Labor, began an ambitious second generation of Job Opportunities for the Blind. The new initiative targeted competitive jobs for the blind through intensive training in our three NFB training centers and placement with both public and private employers. Prominent private companies such as the United Parcel Service, IBM, the Gallup Organization, Marriott Worldwide Reservations, and others have accepted our invitation to become partners in the JOB program. As a result of this work, through March of this year 125 additional blind people have been enrolled for services from this program and sixty-one have found competitive jobs since our last convention.
There have also been a number of legal cases this year. We have successfully represented the blind vendor program in a conflict with sheltered workshops over the operation of military mess halls as cafeterias under the Randolph-Sheppard Act. NISH (formally National Industries for the Severely Handicapped) is a conglomerate of workshops that employ persons with severe disabilities. The ongoing dispute involves attempts by NISH and its affiliates to claim a priority over the blind in being chosen to fulfill contracts for food service in military mess halls. There is a priority for such food service, but contrary to the assertions of NISH, it does not apply to them. It is created in the language of the Randolph-Sheppard Act, and it applies to the blind.
On April 18, 2001, in the only published and precedent-setting decision issued so far, a case involving food service at Fort Lee, Virginia, titled NISH v Cohen, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed with us. Mess halls are cafeterias as defined in the Randolph-Sheppard Act, the Court said, and the blind have a statutory priority to operate them.
Building on the victory in the Fort Lee case, we are representing a blind vendor seeking to become the operator of the mess halls at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Although the Air Force fought us for a time, it has recently recognized that the Randolph-Sheppard priority applies, and a blind vendor should be employed soon.
Janet Mushington is a certified teacher whose job offer from the Baltimore City Public School System was withdrawn when the school system learned that she is blind and uses a guide dog for travel. The refusal to hire on these grounds is a violation of law, and the Department of Justice has agreed to bring her case in the Federal District Court with our help. Already negotiations have begun, and it appears that Janet Mushington will be properly compensated for the discrimination she has undergone. It is good to have friends in the National Federation of the Blind. Janet Mushington is with us at this convention.
Darlene Barker was a consumer credit counselor with Amerix Corporation who had received glowing personnel reviews. Amerix acquired new software and decided it would be too much trouble to make the new computer system accessible. Without discussing accessibility issues with her, Amerix fired Darlene Barker. Yet they tell us there is no discrimination--that the blind are treated equally with others. She was terminated without the opportunity to discuss the matter. We are filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Darlene Barker, and we will take the matter to court if necessary. We are not prepared to let discrimination be unchallenged. We will talk if we can, but we will fight if we must.
Before last year's convention we sued Chevy Chase Bank, whose ATM locations (all of them inaccessible to the blind) include all the leading transportation, business, and tourist venues in our nation's capital, along with a number of locations in Virginia and Maryland. We have now reached a settlement. After a pilot program to deploy accessible ATMs at the airports and other public places, Chevy Chase will have accessible ATMs at each of its more than 700 locations. The entire rollout of accessible machines will occur within three years.
DeKinyon Baldwin was a Missouri high school student who wanted to attend the summer program at the Colorado Center for the Blind last year. The school system refused to pay for the program. The Federation made it possible for DeKinyon to attend and sued the school system. The school system backed down, paid for the program, and paid our legal bills. Proper training at an early age is vital for success, and we insist on it. If you need to know how it is done, ask DeKinyon Baldwin.
The Federal Communications Commission has promulgated a rule requiring broadcast television entertainment to have a portion of its programming audio-described so that the blind may know what is on the screen. At the same time the FCC failed to require audio description of text messages on the screen, such as weather alerts, emergency announcements, and other critical information. We have challenged the rule as arbitrary and capricious in the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and we expect to win.
Dennis Lindsey is a blind man living in Denver, Colorado, who is a member of the National Federation of the Blind. With a former wife, Tonya Lindsey, he had two children, Garry and Taylor. His ex-wife has had a history of mental illness. Furthermore, she physically assaulted Dennis last September and got arrested for it.
Shortly after the assault Tonya Lindsey filed an emergency ex-parte motion with the Court requesting that a restraining order be entered against Dennis Lindsey prohibiting him from seeing his children except for a brief time on the weekends. The reasons for the motion were that Dennis Lindsey is blind and diabetic and that blind diabetics cannot (according to Tonya Lindsey) care for children. The motion was granted.
We appeared on Dennis Lindsey's behalf, and the judge's order was vacated. Today the children are living full-time with Dennis Lindsey. Although permanent orders have not yet been entered, we expect them soon, and we will not permit the Court or anybody else to prohibit Dennis Lindsey from exercising his parental rights because of his blindness.
Mary Cullum is a member of the National Federation of the Blind living in Springfield, Missouri. She is a client of Missouri Rehabilitation Services for the Blind, RSB. She requested that RSB sponsor adjustment to blindness training for her at the Colorado Center for the Blind, but RSB denied the request. The reason for the denial was that no contract existed between the Colorado Center and Missouri Rehabilitation. The contract had been terminated in 1997 because the Colorado Center for the Blind routinely announces that meetings of the Denver chapter of the National Federation of the Blind will take place and encourages its students to participate in the Federation.
We filed an appeal, and a hearing occurred late in May. Missouri rehabilitation has violated the provisions of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended. Shortly before this convention a decision was reached. Mary Cullum's right to free choice has been violated by RSB. She will be receiving her adjustment-to-blindness training at the Colorado Center for the Blind. The decision was made because of the work of the National Federation of the Blind.
Tammy Pettyjohn is the mother of a blind child, Isa Hullender, now eleven years old. They live in Georgia, and they have been attempting to obtain Braille instruction for Isa for the past five years. Although the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act contains provisions which declare that Braille will be taught if a parent wants it taught, Isa Hullender has not been receiving instruction. Isa's mother insisted that Braille instruction be included in the education plan. But there was no teacher. When a teacher was found, she objected to teaching Braille.
Because of these circumstances the school system decided to eliminate Braille as part of the education curriculum for Isa. Isa's mother called for our assistance. Tammy Pettyjohn asked if we could identify a bright, well-qualified teacher of the blind to perform an independent assessment. We did; the assessment was performed; and the conclusion was unequivocal. Braille is a must for Isa Hullender.
When the hearing with the school district came to a conclusion, the education plan was as unequivocal as the assessment. Braille would be taught every single day. We know that Braille is an essential skill. The evaluators may fight us, the administrators may try to avoid us, and the teachers may object to us. But we will continue to insist on Braille. If Isa Hullender does not receive instruction in Braille, we will find a way to charge the school district with liability for its failure to give her the education she needs. It is that serious, and we are that determined.
There have also been Social Security cases. Kathryn Freetman, from Lincoln, Nebraska, contacted us in October 2000, concerning her application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. Despite the fact that she was making less than the current exempt earnings amount for blind individuals, she was told that she would not qualify. We immediately initiated an appeal, citing the regulations pertaining to blind recipients. In March 2001, Kathryn Freetman received a check in the amount of $21,700 in back benefits, and her monthly checks have begun to arrive.
We have continued with a great many educational programs, teaching classes for students of ophthalmology at the University of Maryland, for teachers of the blind at the University of Louisville, for rehabilitation professionals, and others. Leadership seminars have been conducted for students at the Colorado Center for the Blind, the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions. Community leaders and business executives have attended a number of transformation seminars conducted at the National Center for the Blind to give them a notion about what blindness is, and especially what it is not.
A record number of individuals have visited the National Center for the Blind this year, more than 2,500 people from the United States and twenty other countries. We hosted librarians who have visited the Library of Congress in an international program sponsored by the Soros Foundation to encourage international understanding and cooperation. They came to us from the countries of Georgia, Russia, the Czech Republic, and the Slovak Republic.
In 1991 we initiated a program to distribute Kernel books, small volumes containing firsthand accounts of the meaning of blindness intended to take the mystery from the subject and encourage the public to comprehend us as we are. Last fall we released volume nineteen in the series, entitled I Can Feel Blue on Monday, and at this convention we release number twenty, Reaching for the Top in the Land Down Under. With a circulation approaching five million, these books that describe the real-life experiences of the blind are attracting attention from a growing number of individuals and are making blindness interesting and exciting for a perceptive audience. With these volumes we are altering forever the meaning of blindness and the future for blind people.
There are also the other ongoing programs of the Federation. We continue to print and distribute the Braille Monitor, the most widely read general interest magazine about blindness, with a circulation in the neighborhood of 35,000 per month. The Voice of the Diabetic, our magazine for blind diabetics and their friends, has reached a circulation of well over a quarter of a million. Future Reflections, the magazine for parents and educators of blind children continues to stimulate teachers and parents, being circulated to approximately 14,000 people per quarter. And there are the other publications, the recorded edition of the American Bar Association Journal, The Student Slate--a publication of the National Association of Blind Students, and state and local newsletters and publications.
The Federation is on the move, tackling more and bigger problems than ever before in our history and expanding our programs and activities. Despite our growing diversity, we are the same Federation that came into being in 1940 to plan for our future and dream of a time when our talents would be recognized. We gain our spirit from our positive philosophy and from each other. Sometimes, when we undertake an ambitious new program that will stretch our imagination and tax our resources, we wonder if it can be done. When we have completed the ambitious effort, we cannot imagine a time when it would have been beyond our powers. In just this way we expand our horizons and increase our opportunities for ourselves and for those who come after us.
In 1986 you gave to me the highest honor the Federation can bestow--you elected me president. I have tried to lead the organization with imagination and firmness. I promised my predecessor, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, that I would do my best to continue to lead the movement as long as the Federation wanted me to do so.
We have a bond in this organization of love and trust which spans the generations and does much to make us what we are. I will do my best to lead with all that I have and all that I am. I will not shirk or dodge or avoid hardships and confrontations. I will not imagine that the work is too hard or the challenges too great. And I will come to the daily tasks with as much optimism and imagination as I can muster. I will believe in our future, and I will believe in you, the members of the Federation.
But you too must do your part. When the attacks come and the setbacks occur, you must support the Federation, its leaders, and me. When the challenges to our methods and morals are made, you must tell me that you believe in our cause and in our people as much as I believe in you. Building our movement will not be easy or simple. It demands everything within us--our faith, our energy, our willingness to give, our capacity to comprehend, our commitment to care. However, whatever is demanded we will give. Whatever is needed we will provide.
With such a commitment, with such a shared responsibility, with such unshakable determination, with such an outpouring of love--our movement is unstoppable and unbeatable. We are the blind, and we will decide for ourselves what the future will be. Our movement cannot be hindered or slowed or turned back. As I have worked with you, the members of the Federation, during the past year, this is what I have had confirmed yet again with absolute certainty. This is the meaning of the National Federation of the Blind. This is my report for 2001!
[PHOTO/CAPTION: The Scholarship Class of 2001: (left to right) back row: Rodney Barker, Marsh Smith, Michael Brands, Douglas Trimble, Nicholas Truesdell, Albert Spooner, Carey Supalo, Daniel Brown, Adam Rushforth, and Allison Hilliker; Middle Row: Ronit Ovadia, Wesley Majerus, Elizabeth Medina, Romeo Edmead, Vasthi Perez
Jimenez, Jarrell Lyles, Laura Lia, Melissa Green, James Fetter, Jennifer Kotaska, and Jamie Dean; Front Row: Elizabeth Phillips, Catherine Mendez, Jennifer Kennedy, Susan Feazell, Christina Wheeler, Summer Salz, Lynn Gosling, Rosalba Carranza, and Cheryl Fogle.]
The 2001 Scholarship Class
of the National Federation of the Blind
From the Editor: With every passing year we recognize the increasing value of the NFB Scholarship Program to our national conventions. Members of previous scholarship classes stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done. Everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing and planning to do with their lives.
On banquet evening, while we are still sky-high after listening to President Maurer's address, Peggy Elliott comes to the podium and presents the year's winners, giving an academic and personal sketch of each, and announces which scholarship the person has been awarded. This year each winner crossed the platform and shook hands with Dr. Maurer and Dr. Raymond Kurzweil, whose foundation presented each with an additional $1,000 scholarship and the latest version of the Kurzweil-1000- reader-software. In addition each winner received a year of AOL service from AOL, and the grand scholarship winner received a Basic S Braille embosser from Sighted Electronics.
The final scholarship awarded in this year's scholarship extravaganza, which took place at the banquet on July 6, was the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship of $10,000, which was presented to Michael Brands. Michael, whose wife and two children were in the audience, then spoke briefly to the group. His remarks appear later in this article.
But earlier in the week, at the meeting of the NFB Board of Directors, each 2001 scholarship winner came to the microphone and spoke directly to the Federation. Following is what they said about themselves. Each speaker is introduced by Peggy Elliott saying first the student's name and then both the home and school states. This is what was said:
Rod Barker, Oregon, Oregon: I am a law student at the University of Oregon School of Law, and my vocational goal is pretty obvious, attorney. I would like someday though to be able to present a case in front of the United States Supreme Court. Thank you very much.
Michael Brands, Minnesota, Minnesota: Thank you, Peggy and Scholarship Committee. I am working on a Ph.D. in Biblical theology. One of my research interests is the connection between the Biblical hope for justice and hopes for justice in society and culture today. I grew up in the 70's in the Me Generation and always wishing that I had grown up in the 60's because I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. I wanted to protest. For example, when I wasn't allowed to throw my wicked curve ball in Little League baseball just because I was blind, I began to think that maybe justice and equal opportunity might be a good idea in the world.
As I grew and learned of the Civil Rights Movement and the vision of Martin Luther King, Jr., a vision of deep spiritual inspiration that could really improve the lives of thousands of people, I said, "That's the kind of thing I want to be a part of." I want to thank the NFB Scholarship Committee and all of you for giving me a home in this movement that cares about civil rights, justice, and equal opportunity; for friends to march with and laugh with. I hope to see you all at least the next forty or fifty Washington Seminars. I'll meet you on Capitol Hill in February. Thank you.
Peggy Elliott: I neglected to mention that the first two people you have heard from are tenBroek fellows. Rod Barker and Michael Brands have each won a scholarship in a previous year. They reapplied this year and were successful in receiving a second scholarship. that's what a tenBroek Fellow is, somebody who is winning a second scholarship. These two gentlemen and one more later in the pool are tenBroek Fellows.
Daniel Brown, New Jersey, New Jersey: My major is psychology at Kean University of New Jersey. My vocational goal is to be a rehabilitation counselor. When I was a young boy, I learned to read at an early age. I showed my father the dictionary, and I said "Daddy, look at the word 'can't.'"
He said, "Son, there's no such word as 'can't.'"
I went away thinking, "Daddy doesn't read too well." I didn't know that later in life his words would come to fulfill my life and help me find a home in the NFB. To me NFB means "Never felt better." Thank you.
Rosy Carranza, Louisiana, Louisiana: I am a junior at Louisiana Tech majoring in elementary education. I am president of the North Central Chapter of the NFB of Louisiana. I grew up feeling very ashamed of my blindness. I remember one day asking my mother, "Why me? Why do I have to be the blind one in the group?" I will never forget what she told me.
She said, "Rosie, it is better to have a face with many wrinkles than to be a book without a story." My struggle with my blindness has not always been painless or easy. Our struggle in the Federation has not always been painless or easy. But because of the Federation I am proud of my wrinkles. I am proud of our history. I am very proud to be here with all of you. Thank you.
Jamie Dean, West Virginia, North Carolina: Good morning. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to be with you. I'm a future freshman at Wake Forest University, where I am planning to study pre-law, and eventually specialize in entertainment law. Eventually I would like to be in the field of music production.
Romeo Edmead, New York, New York: Good morning everyone. I am truly honored and flattered to be here. The idea that I could be chosen one of thirty out of four-hundred and some odd applicants is mind-boggling. I would just like to thank a couple of people who I feel are responsible for my being here, close friends and family and all the great individuals I have met ever since I joined the Federation in 1998. You guys know that you have had as much to do with this as I have, if not more. Thanks.
Susan Feazell, Florida, Florida: Good morning, everybody. I just graduated from Daytona Beach Community College, and I am getting ready to go to the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. I am studying to be a math teacher. I want to teach high school math and hopefully college math some day. I have been in the NFB forever, and I'm President of the Florida student division and Secretary of the Daytona Beach Chapter.
J.T. Fetter, Virginia, Georgia: This fall I will be an entering freshman at Emory University. I plan to major in classics or philosophy. I have a goal of going on to law school and becoming an attorney.
Cheryl Fogle, Arizona, New Mexico: Good morning. I am a graduate student working on a Ph.D. in archeology and anthropology. I will be the first blind archeologist, and I would like to thank you for your support because for the first time in my life I am in a room full of people, every single one of whom believes that I can do it. This is liberating, I will tell you. Thank you.
Peggy Elliott: I can't resist. Cheryl had a great line last night. I have to repeat it. she said, "I'm a blind archeologist because I dig the past."
Lynn Gosling, Illinois, Illinois: I am in my last year of a master's-in-social-work program. I am doing an internship this fall in the police department in a town nearby. I hope to go into crisis intervention and mediation. I want to thank the NFB for allowing me to be blind; I hid for thirty years. I have a feeling that many of you know what that was like. It takes a lot of energy and a lot of memorizing, and I really didn't fool anybody. I am proud to know that it is acceptable to be blind. My family is very thankful to you for allowing me to have this gift so that now they don't have to pretend anymore either. Thank you.
Melissa Green, Colorado, Colorado: Good morning, everyone. I am a master's student at the University of Northern Colorado. So go Bears. I am a graduate of the Colorado Center for the Blind, and I am currently the President of the Northern Colorado Chapter of the NFB of Colorado. I would like to thank my family, friends, and Federation family as well as Diane and Ray McGeorge. Thank you very much.
Allison Hilliker, Michigan, Michigan with an intermediate stop in Louisiana: Good morning: I would like us all to think back to how we got to where we are now. When I do this, I go back to 1994, the convention in Detroit. I was eleven. I was fortunate to have been a part of the NFB that early in my life. I am where I am today because of the work of people like Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer and the efforts of countless other Federationists who constantly encouraged me to succeed and challenged me to do more.
In the fall I will be a freshman at Hope College in Michigan. I will be majoring in elementary education. I am a recent graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, one of our NFB training centers. I am also the current president of our newly formed Michigan Association of Blind Students, which I am very proud of, and a newly-elected Board Member of the National Association of Blind Students. Thank you.
Jennifer Kennedy, Ohio, Ohio: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I would first like to thank you all for sponsoring this glorious convention and the wonderful scholarship program that you all created. A story used in the Alcoholics Anonymous program is about a tandem bike ride, which is the journey of life. I sit in the back, and the leader guides. I tell him I can't go up the hill, and he turns around and says, "Just pedal." We continue through the mountains and valleys, which are life's obstacles.
I tell him, "I can't do it."
He smiles and says, "Just pedal." We pause on the journey, and "Now it's your turn to drive," he tells me.
"But I can't," I say.
He looks at me and says, "Just pedal." Now I am the driver, following my own destiny, and I discover that the driving force is behind me, and that driving force in those trying times smiles and says, "Just pedal." I am the driver, and the NFB is the force behind me, telling me, "Just pedal." Thank you.
Jennifer Kotaska, North Dakota, North Dakota: Thank you for that wonderful cheer. I am a junior at the University of North Dakota majoring in early childhood education with a minor in special education. I never thought that I would be in an organization like this. You guys are a second family, and you allow me to be myself and have the confidence to do what I want. I really appreciate being up here. Thank you.
Laura Lia, New York, Massachusetts: Hi, everybody. I just finished my first year at Holy Cross, and before this week I was undecided what I wanted to do. But after a couple of conversations in the past two days, I am strongly considering education and philosophy. This is my first National Convention, and I am really excited. The past few days have been great, and I hope they only get better.
Matt Lyles, Arkansas, Connecticut, with an intermediate stop in Louisiana: Good morning, Federationists: I am currently a graduate student at Yale Divinity School, where I am earning a master's with an emphasis in history and liturgy. I would like eventually to be a seminary professor or at some church-related school. It gives me great joy to stand here at this opportune time along with my fellow Federationists and hail your achievement, Dr. Vaughan. Speaking for all of those who will follow in your footsteps, we are forever grateful.
Wes Majerus, Nebraska, Nebraska: Currently I am a sophomore at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, where I am studying computer science. Go Huskers. Yes. This is my first convention. It's a very eye-opening experience. I have had the opportunity to learn a lot. I am also serving as the vice president of our Nebraska student division, which has opened a lot of opportunities.
Elizabeth Medina, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Good morning, everybody. Thank you for being such a warm and huge family that welcomes me. In such a few days I have learned so much from you, and I am hoping to learn much more because I know that you have the power. I am at the University of Pennsylvania, and I am pursuing a major in international business and marketing with a minor in French. I don't know how I'm going to do that--I'm still struggling with my English. That's about it. Also, I am working in a local chapter at state college. It's called the Happy Valley Chapter. We have started that chapter so they know our power.
Kate Mendez, New York, New York: Good morning, everyone. Applying for and receiving the phone call about this scholarship was really the first major contact I ever had with the NFB, and to tell the truth, when I found out I had to go to the convention to receive the scholarship, I had no idea what to expect. I was really nervous. I had no idea. I just want to thank everybody for making me feel so welcome and for showing me such a new and unique facet of life as a blind person. I find it really fascinating, and I just want to thank you all. This fall I will be starting as a freshman at Cornell University. I hope to major in international relations with a concentration on Southeast Asian studies, and eventually I hope to work in the foreign service.
Ronit Ovadia, California, California: Thank you. I am very pleased to be here with all of you this week and to be honored as a scholarship winner. This fall I will be a freshman at Scripps College in Claremont, California. I will be majoring in biology with a minor in psychology, and I hope to eventually get my master's degree and become a counselor. I just want to tell a small story. This year, while I was job-shadowing a group of genetic counselors for a senior project, my mentor, who was the leader of this group of genetic counselors, had a little conversation with me and asked me if I really thought I could do this kind of work. I said, "Why not?"
She said, "Well there are plenty of times when vision is required."
I said, "Well, I intend to show you that I can do it." I intend to show her as well as everybody else who may not believe that I can do it. Thanks.
Vasthi Perez, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico: Good morning, everybody. My vocational goal is to become a lawyer. I have completed my first year in college in the University of Puerto Rico at the Mayaguez campus, where I am taking my bachelor's degree in political science. This is my first time at convention, and I am very honored. I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity.
Elizabeth Phillips, California, California: Hi, everyone. I would just like to thank all of you for your support, and I am so honored to have received this scholarship and be up here today. I am a child advocate. I speak out for children who don't have a voice. I am a national spokesperson for the National Center on Shaken-Baby Syndrome. Next year I am going to be a freshman at Stanford University, and I am planning to continue studying foreign policy and children's rights, speaking out on behalf of children. I want possibly to be a bio-ethicist or a physicist. I am still a little undecided, but I know that with your help I can do anything. Thank you for believing in me even though you might not know who I am and supporting me just because I am here. Thank you.
Adam Rushforth, Nevada, Nevada: I kind of feel like a pioneer, the only one from my state. As we know, leaders lead by example. Through my life I am an Eagle Scout. I have competed on city swim teams, gymnastics, high school track team, and the National Honor Society. I have also participated in one of my high school plays. I graduated valedictorian of my class, and I went on a two-year mission, fully paid by myself, to Charlotte, North Carolina. Right now I am pursuing a degree in business finance. I will be at the University of Nevada as a sophomore, and I will major in finance and minor in Spanish. It is my intention to lead by example. I am currently on the board in Las Vegas of the NFB. I want to show others that just because I cannot see does not mean that I cannot accomplish ordinary things.
Summer Salz, New York, Massachusetts: Hi. I am going to Harvard in the fall to get my master's in arts and education. My secret, not so secret right now, fantasy is to revolutionize the way we educate and the way we learn. What that means for me practically is to give individuals a voice and to give the world a receptive attitude to everything that we all have to say.
Marsh Smith, Kentucky, Indiana: Hello. I just found out that I have something in common with Dr. Maurer because I go to Indiana University. I will be entering my senior year. I am majoring in public relations and advertising. I would just like to thank the NFB because, when I told my friends from Kentucky that I wanted to do a semester at sea, I wanted to sail around the world, they said, you can do it, you can do it. You know what, I did it, and I had the best time in my life. I just want to say thank you to them.
Al Spooner, Idaho, Idaho: Thanks, Peggy. Thanks to all of you. I am currently a sophomore attending North Idaho College in Coeur d'Alene. I am pursuing a master's degree in communications. My vocational goal is to become a speech instructor. My personal goals have changed over the years. I closed a chapter in my life about two-and-a-half years ago. I am forty-two years old. I have three young, biracial children ages eight, six, and four, so I have a lot of things to do yet, including playing baseball.
So anyway, a new chapter in my life started about a year and a half ago when I attended a state convention and I received a thousand-dollar scholarship there. I attended my first National Convention in Atlanta last year and changed a lot of things. We immediately started a local chapter in the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, area. I am currently also second vice president in the state, and I have spoken to numerous organizations in our community about blindness, including my school and college. It's helping me pursue my personal goal, public speaking.
Cary Supalo, Illinois, Pennsylvania (tenBroek Fellow): Good morning fellow Federationists. As you know, I am a second-year graduate student at Penn State University working on my Ph.D. in chemistry. I hope some day to change what it means to be a blind chemist. I have had plenty of opportunities to do that with my sighted colleagues at Penn State University as well as at National American Chemical Society conferences. I hope some day to win a Nobel prize, and on that platform I'll be glad to thank the Federation for all the support that you've given me up to this point and for the rest of my life. I hope to be the first blind man to go up in space and work on the new space station. Thank you very much.
Doug Trimble, Washington, Oregon: Good morning. Thank you for the past seventeen years. The Federation has changed my life, and it keeps changing. My wife and new baby daughter Camille are here. I am proud of that and of winning a scholarship this year. This summer I started my teaching certification program at Portland State University. I hope to be a teacher of blind children and give the children the love and support in the Federation for years to come, maybe thirty years as Mr. Harris did. Thank you.
Nicholas Truesdell, Virginia, Virginia: Good morning, fellow Federationists. This coming fall I will be a senior at Newport University in Newport, Virginia, studying computer engineering with a minor in leadership studies, both of which I am sure I can use somehow giving back to the NFB, so it's going to be quite a good experience. (Peggy is saying, "Darn right.") Also I am going to do something along the lines of adaptive technology, so I am trying to get some exposure to that field in the near future.
Cristina Wheeler, Texas, Texas: Good morning. This fall I will be attending Southwest Texas State University, where I will be pursuing a business degree in management and a minor in communications. With that degree I plan to be an advocate for the blind community as well as the cancer community. I feel it's extremely important to have a strong force behind this group, and I want to be that force.
Peggy Elliott: And there, Dr. Maurer and fellow Federationists, is the 2001 scholarship class.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Michael Brands addresses the banquet audience while Peggy Elliott looks on.]
At the banquet on July 6, Michael Brands addressed the audience as follows:
Words could never do this justice, but maybe a preacher can find a few. President Maurer, fellow Federationists, and cherished friends of the NFB, I want to thank God and the Lord Jesus Christ for this tremendous gift, the National Federation of the Blind. I want to thank my wife and children for believing I can do it. I am privileged to be part of the heritage of Dr. tenBroek's initiative and Dr. Jernigan's great wisdom. I am privileged to benefit from your leadership, Dr. Maurer. Peggy and the Scholarship Committee, I want to thank you for your trust. I shall do my best to honor this, and Joyce and my teachers at BLIND, Inc., thank you. I could not be here without you.
One of my favorite proverbs was penned by C.S. Lewis: "We are often like children who think they are having fun stomping around in a mud puddle in the backyard, when all the while what is really being offered us is a grand adventure at the seashore." I haven't found very many mud puddles. In fact, I haven't found any in the NFB, and it's time that we continue a fight to end all such custodial muddles.
What I have found in the NFB is a place in a crew aboard a ship that is always sailing the high seas of hope with a compass of justice and a destination of equality and a meaningful life. The ocean coast is ours; we can reach the furthest destinations; the waves are calling us onward; and, where there is no map, we will make one. My friends, let us reach beyond the horizon. Let us chase the sunset of every good day until it becomes the glorious morning of our new day. Thank you.
Concluding the scholarship presentation ceremony, Peggy Elliott said:
Scholarship winners, we have just built up your treasury pretty effectively. We have just done a real nice job of making your wall a lot nicer with your certificates and plaques, and we've also given you tools and technology that will help you. We have given you a lot that you can build on. But we think that we have also given you something much greater than any of these things. During this week we have talked with you, laughed with you, cried with you, played tricks like cattle rustling, eaten ice cream with you. We've won or lost poker with you and hoisted a brewski every now and then. In other words, we have given to you of ourselves, of our knowledge, of our experience, of our perspective. And to us all of that adds up to giving you the National Federation of the Blind.
We have built our own lives, and we have built our Federation on hope and trust and belief in one another, and we offer all of this to you as the greatest gift that we have to give. All we ask is that you too build, that you build with the same care and devotion to blind people that we have tried to bring to the task. We have built on the foundation of love for one another, and we ask that you do the same. The love we bear for one another is that unshakable commitment that says that we can build if we do it together; we can build an edifice that no one can destroy. Build with us, scholarship winners, build with us, and we can make the future we now dream for all blind people. Congratulations, 2001 scholarship winners.
Here is the complete list of winners and the awards they received:
$3,000 NFB Scholarships: Daniel Brown, Romeo Edmead, Lynn Gosling, Melissa Green, Jennifer Kennedy, Jennifer Kotaska, Wes Majerus, Elizabeth Phillips, Vasthi Perez, Marsh Smith, Al Spooner, and Cristina Wheeler.
$3,000 NFB Computer Science Scholarship: Nick Truesdell
$3,000 NFB Educator of Tomorrow Award: Summer Salz
$3,000 NFB Humanities Scholarship: J.T. Fetter
$3,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship: Susan Feazell
$3,000 Michael and Marie Marucci Scholarship: Elizabeth Medina
$3,000 Lora E. Dunetz Scholarship: Ronit Ovadia
$3,000 Frank Walton Horn Memorial Scholarship: Cheryl Fogle
$3,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship: Catherine Mendez
$3,000 E.U. Parker Scholarship: Adam Rushforth
$3,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship: Jamie Dean
$5,000 Jennica Ferguson Memorial Scholarship: Allison Hilliker
$5,000 NFB Scholarships: Laura Lia, Matt Lyles, and Doug Trimble
$7,000 Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Rosy Carranza
$7,000 NFB Scholarships: Rodney Barker and Cary Supalo
$10,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship: Michael Brands
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Marc Maurer delivers the 2001 Banquet Address.]
Independence and the Necessity for Diplomacy
An Address delivered
by Marc Maurer
President of the National Federation of the Blind
July 6, 2001
The science fiction writer Robert Heinlein wrote that the primary diplomatic question is shall there be talk--or war? In the struggle of the blind to achieve first-class citizenship and equal treatment within society, diplomacy has been an essential tool, and in a number of cases its practice by the National Federation of the Blind has risen to a high art.
So what is diplomacy, who are the diplomats, what are the arenas for this art, and what are the objectives to be achieved? The dictionary tells us that diplomacy is "the art or practice of conducting international relations, [or] tact or skill in dealing with people." Ambrose Bierce, in a more pungent definition, says that diplomacy is "the patriotic art of lying for one's country." The Italian statesman, Benso di Cavour, questions the skill of diplomats. "I have discovered [he says] the art of fooling diplomats; I speak the truth, and they never believe me." The American comedian Will Rogers avers that "diplomacy is the art of saying 'nice doggie' until you can find a rock!" The old adage asserts that, when a diplomat says yes, this means maybe; when a diplomat says maybe, this means no. It adds, if a diplomat says no, he is no diplomat.
Such pithy statements suggest that there is an element of duplicity in diplomacy, but Dwight D. Eisenhower puts this suggestion in perspective when he observes that "the opportunist thinks of me and today. The statesman thinks of us and tomorrow." Incidentally, General Eisenhower also said at the end of the European campaign in World War II, "I say we are going to have peace--even if we have to fight for it."
From the point of view of the National Federation of the Blind, diplomacy is the art of persuading others that the philosophical foundation we represent should be considered and, after it has been understood, adopted. This point of view is forthright, distinctive, unmistakable. Although it has been expressed in many ways, it has remained the same since the inception of the National Federation of the Blind in 1940. We do not believe that we have learned everything there is to know about blindness, but we are certain that the principles which caused the Federation to be formed reflect reality; they serve as the bedrock of Federationism; and we the blind will not be deterred from their implementation.
The blind have the right to govern themselves. Nobody can represent the blind except those elected by the blind to do it. The blind have a right to equal treatment within society. The blind can be as independent and productive as anybody else, if there are acceptance and understanding by the public at large and by the blind themselves and if adequate training for the blind is available. The blind do not want custodialism or mollycoddling; we can and will stand on our own feet and do our own thing. Perhaps most important of all, we the blind will speak on our own behalf and will not let others declare our intentions for us, interpret our lives for us, or control our destinies--that is our responsibility, our right, our mechanism for liberation, our passport to freedom!
To one degree or another, each of us in the Federation is a diplomat--charged with the duty of persuading members of the public and blind people that the perspective about blindness represented by our philosophy is the way to independence. This is, in fact, one of the prime purposes for the formation of the Federation. If there were no need to spread the word about the philosophy of independence, much of the urgency for maintaining the organized blind movement would be gone. All of us are part of the diplomatic service. When we speak, we speak for the Federation with a unified and positive voice--the voice of the organized blind.
Who is it we want to reach with our message of freedom? The persuasive voice of the Federation is directed toward the public at large, the agencies established to serve the blind (both public and private), governmental bodies, corporations and businesses, other organizations of the blind, individual blind people who are not a part of any organization, and ourselves. Our message is clear and uncomplicated. We want to work in peace and harmony with anybody prepared to promote the interests of the blind. We are ready to commit our time, our energy, our financial resources, our imaginative effort, our enthusiasm, and our other talents.
However, we will not join forces with those who expect us to do all the giving and sacrificing so that they may share the benefits. Furthermore, we will oppose those who try to limit opportunity for the blind. We want peace and harmony, and in most cases this is precisely what we get. We who are blind enjoy enormous good will from members of the public and from the vast majority of officials in the field of work with the blind. However, there are exceptions.
Harmony is always worth having unless it is obtained at the cost of fundamental fairness or missed opportunity. In such circumstances harmony becomes an oppressive, intolerable burden. As President Woodrow Wilson said, "There is a price which is too great to pay for peace, and that price can be put into one word. One cannot pay the price of self-respect."
Some will argue that nobody could oppose this philosophical approach. After all, the elements of it are fundamental to democracy; they are an essential part of an independent life. Furthermore, some may tell us that the notion of the necessity for diplomacy among entities dealing with blindness is out of proportion. Diplomacy serves (they may say) to manage affairs of state between nations. Conflicts, recriminations, and wars cannot exist among organizations and programs dealing with blindness. To those who possess such a naive, uninformed attitude, I say, "Don't you believe it!" There are conflicts aplenty, and the need for diplomacy is urgent--especially because we the blind are so often misunderstood.
Consider, for example, the unfortunate situation in which certain individuals have attacked the National Federation of the Blind with statements that are both critical and false. Two such people are William Penrod and Kent Jones of Kentucky, who proclaim that they are certified orientation and mobility specialists (or as they abbreviate it, COMS). Penrod and Jones feel a strong attachment to being certified; it gives them status and makes them feel important. Furthermore, they have been attempting to persuade all other professionals in the field of blindness in Kentucky that their approach is the only one. Those who have been certified by their organization should be regarded as valuable and worthwhile, they tell us. Those who have not been certified may be dismissed as irrelevant. If you have been admitted to the old-boy network, you are all right. If you are not a member of the club, forget it.
In a paper circulated throughout the state last fall, these professionals charge that the National Federation of the Blind is in direct opposition to every practicing certified orientation and mobility specialist and that affiliation with the National Federation of the Blind means abandoning professionals in the field of work with the blind. Whatever it is that caused them to write such false accusations is unclear. However, the National Federation of the Blind has been working with the University of Louisville during the past few years, and these two so-called professionals appear to have been worrying that the influence of the Federation in university programs to instruct teachers of the blind might continue to increase. Apparently Messrs. Penrod and Jones fear such cooperation. Why would those who claim professional status object to working closely with the blind--especially the blind who have organized for collective action? Is there something about them that they don't want us to learn?
There are a number of other misstatements contained in the paper, but it is not necessary to list them all. It is sufficient to note that two allegedly prominent individuals in work with the blind are encouraging others to believe that professionalism and professional status are reserved to themselves and their organization. Association with the National Federation of the Blind, the unspoken implications repeatedly suggest, is unprofessional and unsafe. Their argument is that professionalism should be left to the professionals, and the blind (especially the organized blind) should keep out.
If they think they can prevent us from having major input into the nature of the programs that affect our lives, they are mistaken. This is the very essence of the problem we have had with a number of self-serving entities that have decided to tell us what is good for us. If we think the advice we get is wrong, we reserve the right to ignore it, reject it, or confront it. Furthermore, we expect to have a voice in the designing of the programs being established and conducted for our benefit--we expect it whether the designers like it or not. We have a right to participate in decisions that determine our future, and we will be heard!
It is essential that we be clear. Although the authors of the paper may feel uneasiness about working with us, we have no animosity toward them. We want to cooperate with them in harmony. We have been informed that they have been trying to organize opposition to the National Federation of the Blind, but we have no wish for conflict. Their paper is their own; it has not been adopted by any organization. Their effort at creating confrontation is their own; it has not been espoused by any group. We invite them to join with us in building programs that offer opportunities to the blind which have not yet become available. We shall use what diplomatic skill we possess to let them know that we are willing to join with them in mutual harmony and respect if they come to the effort with the same spirit.
Fashion designers do not often focus on the needs of the blind, but, when it happens, the results can be bizarre. An Indian designer has issued a line of clothing (known as a range) particularly manufactured to meet the specialized requirements of the blind. A Reuters wire story, sent from Bombay on April 10, 2001, gives details. Here are excerpts from the article.
"One of India's most innovative fashion designers, Wendell Rodricks, [the article begins] has launched a collection with Braille embroidery and bead-work designed specially for the visually impaired.
"The outfits have Braille embossed in the form of French knots and bead-work to make it easy for the visually impaired to know the color."
I interrupt the article to say that adding features to help identify color (while not absolutely necessary) seems like a good idea, provided that it is not done in such a way as to be obnoxious or obtrusive. However, there is more to the article.
"The collection, [it continues] mostly in white, black, and flesh colors, has been designed in washed cotton, silken crepe, rippled jersey, and stretch lycra to emphasize the feel rather than the look.
"Since putting buttons in the wrong button-hole [the article continues] is a common problem, the Goa-based designer has taken care to number the button holes in Braille.
"Rodricks held a preview of the range titled 'Visionnaire' in a leading Bombay fashion store on Tuesday with top models draped in his creations.
"`This is the most spiritually valuable collection I have ever designed. People say I have contributed internationally to the blind,' Rodricks told Reuters after the show.
"Leading Indian models [the article continues] sashayed before a media crowd in flowing, wispy, white tunics, sarongs, and halters looking chic yet mystical.
"`People are obsessed with how they look, but I wanted to put feeling in these clothes,' said Rodricks, forty."
That is what Reuters distributed all over the world less than three months ago. I ask you, as you prepared for this banquet tonight, did you have any trouble deciding which buttons should be inserted into what holes? Would it have helped to have the buttonholes numbered in Braille? Of course, the person who created these outfits is only a fashion designer and can't be expected to have any perspective about blindness, but he got the idea from a blind professor. How do you suppose the professor looks in class?
And another thing, what can it mean for clothing designed for the blind to be mystical or spiritually valuable? Though spirituality is both necessary and desirable, clothing should be made of physical matter, not spirit. The very thought of such clothing conjures up images that are at least as wispy as the items designed by Rodricks.
Undoubtedly he believes his efforts are helping, but they have caused misinformation to be printed in newspapers around the world. This misinformation could be amusing if it were not so damaging. However, if the public accepts the misleading suggestion that the blind are so lacking in ability that we can't even get the buttons in the right holes, how can we hope to receive equal consideration for education, employment, or other pursuits?
Despite the Rodricks portrayal of blindness, or perhaps because of it, our diplomatic efforts continue. At one time many, many people believed that the blind were incompetent. Assertions of our incapacity still exist, but they are fewer today than in former times and often less blatant. We will continue to provide the information about our talents and abilities, and we will never quit until the truth about us is known and accepted throughout our country and beyond our borders. This is the commitment we have made; this is the commitment we will keep; this is the nature of the National Federation of the Blind.
A woman who became blind in her retirement years, Frances Lief Neer, was discouraged and frustrated by blindness. She had not discovered the National Federation of the Blind, and information was lacking. She felt she had little left to contribute. Not knowing what to do, she signed up for a college course in what they call vision rehabilitation. With her personal experience of blindness and her new college education, she wrote a book entitled Dancing in the Dark.
Although there are a few passages in this book that contain genuinely good advice, and although the tone is often superficially upbeat, emphasizing the necessity for good cheer and persistence, the experience of this blind author is so limited and her understanding of blindness is so minuscule that her admonitions are, to say the least, fanciful. Nevertheless, she offers recommendations she urges others to follow.
Chapter seven of this book is entitled "Public Life: The Bank, the Post Office, and Public Restrooms." The public restroom section contains the following passage:
"This is, in all polite company, a delicate topic. But blind people must be brave! [That is what she says, brave!]
"You might need [she continues] a public restroom almost anywhere: in the waiting room of a railroad terminal or airport, in a restaurant, at a theater or museum, and so on. What to do? You ask someone to help and get yourself escorted to it. Generally a service person connected with the facility, a flight attendant or porter, for example, will be available to do this for you.
"Once you have been taken to the door, [she continues] unless you're sure of the layout inside, it's best to wait until you hear someone else entering and ask, 'Excuse me, will you please help me into the restroom?' After you go in, you can also ask to be shown to a stall."
The author continues with advice about what to do once inside the bathroom, recommending, among other things, that blind men not mistake the sink for a urinal. If she included that piece of advice to be funny, it isn't. If she really thinks we are likely to make such mistakes, she didn't learn much in college.
The book also includes a section on dining out. Here are a few excerpts.
"I used to dump food and water on myself, on tablecloths, and on the floor until I learned a few important rules [the author says].
1. Find out where your wine or water glass is. When you pick it up, return it to that spot.
2. Lean over your plate when you eat. Your posture will have to be a little less upright than you're probably used to, but your food and fork are over the dish.
3. Be generous with napkins. Get extras, and put a couple of them under your chin and a couple more on your lap. If you have a cloth napkin, spread it across your chest in self-defense. This may not look elegant, but it will save you a lot of cleaning bills and even more embarrassment.
4. If you've got a small plate of food, a salad maybe, put the plate on a larger plate so that what you spill falls on the big plate and not on the table or on you. (At home you could use a tray.)"
Or you could just eat in the bathtub so that you could rinse off afterward. I admit that I added this last piece of advice myself, but it fits in with the general tone of the rest of this mishmash of folderol.
It is tempting to dismiss this volume as the work of a nut. Nevertheless, this book has been circulated to a number of institutions, and its author has sought approval from individuals of note including, among others, Dr. Dean Edell, who praised the work as "compassionate" and "provocative" and as "a valuable source book for the visually impaired, for their friends and families, and also for professional workers." Is this really valuable? Who could seriously believe it? How about provocative? I can think of a number of blind people who will be provoked.
However, Frances Neer is not the only person capable of expressing an opinion about blindness; we also have the capacity to write. Sometimes our efforts at diplomacy take the form of exposing the ill-considered misrepresentation of our circumstances foisted off on the public by others. We will correct the misrepresentations with as much skill and tact as we can, but we will do it. We will no longer tolerate the lies about us to masquerade as the truth. The author recommends persistence; she will never meet an organization that personifies this quality more than our own. We never quit; we never give up; we never stop. We know it is respectable to be blind, and we insist that others recognize this. If they will not, they will meet the force of the blind organized to take collective action--they will meet the National Federation of the Blind.
It is not only members of the public or self-proclaimed experts who sometimes tell us that our blindness makes us strange or unusual. Occasionally individual blind people who are seeking to excuse outlandish behavior declare that blindness has created within them characteristics which have nothing whatever to do with the loss of sight. In 1997 we received a letter from a law firm requesting our assistance. It says in part:
"My client is seeking a divorce from her husband after over twenty years of severe spousal abuse. Her husband happens to be blind.
"The disturbing part of this case revolves around this man's current position that his blindness is somehow responsible for his abusive behavior. It is further complicated by the fact that he now claims, despite twenty years of commuting to Manhattan to work in a supervisory position and the earning of a doctoral degree, that because of his blindness, he cannot be a functioning member of society and needs someone to provide for his every need from cooking to typing, etc.
"His attorney is alleging [the letter continues] that a great majority of all blind persons are unemployed and that the disability of blindness causes people to become cruel, abusive, emotionally unstable, and [that they] often suffer from alcohol abuse rendering their lives a shambles. The husband now claims his expenses will exceed $10,000 per month in that no low-cost or free services are currently available to the blind.
"The blind are forced to hire a cook, chauffeur, typist, housekeeper, etc., or be banished to a life of misery."
These are excerpts from a letter written by a lawyer requesting our help. The arguments made by the blind husband are not merely a cruel, underhanded, and despicable fraud, but slimy as well. The man may have a warped soul, but blindness did not warp it. He may also be an abusive, besotted, miserable human being, but blindness did not cause the abusiveness, generate the misery, or induce the intoxication. We are prepared to support the blind who behave with decency and fairness, but such a man we cannot support.
We tell it like it is, and we do not countenance abuse. Those that would attempt to hide vile behavior under the cloak of blindness can expect nothing from us but opposition. Their effort at disguise will do them no good. There is far too much at stake to permit such twisted logic to stand unchallenged. Blind people are not as described by this man, and we will not permit him to bedevil our lives by the notion that we are. He may be miserable, but we are not, and no amount of flimflam can induce us to change what we have determined to be. This, too, is part of the National Federation of the Blind.
In a tolerant age toleration itself sometimes becomes intolerable. Freedom of speech and of the press are among the most fiercely protected rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, and they should be. However, there is no obligation to offer a platform to a dangerous crank.
Professor Peter Singer became the bioethics expert at Princeton University in 1999. He was appointed to this post despite his having published books in which he has advocated the killing of disabled infants. According to Singer, "The killing of a defective infant (he sometimes substitutes disabled for defective) is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all." Singer adds, "By a person I mean something like a rational or self-aware being." Because babies are not self-aware, according to Singer, and because disabled babies are a burden to society, again, according to Singer, killing them is, as he says, "not wrong at all."
When I first heard of the appointment of Professor Singer, I thought surely there must be some mistake. I am aware that a few people (both blind and sighted) hold the opinion that life for a disabled person is not worth living. I am also aware that there are those who view disabled individuals primarily as a burden upon society. According to such people, the disabled are to be tolerated at best, but not welcomed or loved. However, the major centers of learning have not, until now, espoused these views. To advocate that an entire class of human beings be the proper target for death is, I had believed, unthinkable in rational moral society. Yet Professor Singer was appointed as the bioethics professor in the Center for Human Values at Princeton. Singer makes an argument that there is a distinction between killing a disabled infant and killing an older person with disabilities, but the distinction is thin and the argument hollow. Singer would be the arbiter not only of our destinies, but of our very existence. He has arrogated to himself (at least in theory) the authority reserved for God to decide who shall live and who shall die, and he is doing it as a prominent professor at an eminent educational institution.
In Hitler's Germany the first group to be selected for extermination was the disabled. Only later was there a systematic effort to exterminate a whole race.
I find myself, as I am sure you do, morally revolted by this man's teachings. The very suggestion that death is the best alternative for the disabled will cause the misjudgments that so often occur to become more egregious--the suggestion itself is likely to cause death.
What can we do to stop this man? We can join with each other to denounce the depravity of his counsel. We can combine to assert our right to live and be free. We can offer a creed which has at its core the liberating comprehension of the normality and productiveness of the blind. We can spread the word about our independence and our unwillingness to be browbeaten by the professors in their halls of ivy. We can fight for the laws that continue to guarantee our right to an equal existence with others and to the liberty that they enjoy. And we can band together with the unshakable commitment that, if anybody--a bioethics professor, a doctor, or anybody else--if anybody lays a hand on one of us, at no matter what age, for destructive purposes, we will respond with absolute determination and fury. Our children are no less important to us than anybody else's. And even if blind children are not directly descended from us, their future is our future. In every meaningful sense they belong to us, and we will protect them. There is a time for diplomacy and a time to put it aside. When the academics plan for the killing of our children, the time for talk is at an end, and the time to act has come.
Last winter a man sent a letter to the National Federation of the Blind requesting our help because he himself is becoming blind. The fears and frustrations that often accompany the onset of blindness are expressed in simple, straightforward terms. Here, in part, is what the letter says:
"I am writing this letter because I don't know what else to do. My eye doctor has informed me that it is only a matter of a short time until I lose my sight. To be honest with you, I have never been frightened of anything in my life, that is, until now. I know that I will not be able to keep my job, but I might be able to stay in another position within the company."
Notice that this man is giving up at least a part of what might be his without a struggle. He is accepting the notion that his capacity to work is diminished because of blindness and that his talents will no longer serve him as they once had. But there is more to the letter.
"I don't have a computer, [he says] recently divorced, no family for support, and my ex is refusing to let me see my kids because they deserve a new daddy that can see them."
I interrupt to ask, did the divorce come because this man's former wife also thought she deserved a husband who could see her? As if sight were more important than the affection and love of a father for his own children. But we are not finished with the letter.
"Any information you might be able to send me [writes the man] will be greatly appreciated. How do I get to and from work? Do my laundry? Cook my food? Do the shopping? Pay my bills? Read my mail? As it becomes more and more difficult to see, I get more and more frightened. My biggest fear is ending up on the street or in a home for the blind where I will be forgotten."
These are the words of a man facing blindness. The fear of blindness is real. Finding a method to reach beyond that fear is necessary to establish the mindset for independence. His former wife has indicated that his children deserve a daddy that can see, which must be a blow to his feelings of dignity and self-esteem.
However, he has written for help, and we are prepared to give it. With the support and assistance of thousands of blind people, he will come to know what possibilities there are for him, and he will cease to feel despair. This too is an element of our diplomacy; this is part of the public education program we carry into effect everyday. This is one more reason for the National Federation of the Blind.
With all of the false information printed and distributed about the blind, with all of the pain and emotional heartache associated with becoming blind, and with all of the attacks upon our motives and programs, it may seem that the prospects for us are dim. However, there are also the other elements--the successes, the accomplishments, the triumphs--which give balance and perspective. The blind people who have found work, the blind parents who have gathered the resources and sustained the inspiration to raise children with promising opportunities, the blind students who have gained an education, the blind children who have learned to read and who are just beginning to explore the world of infinite possibility, the blind people who have entered public life, and those who have engaged in high adventure depict an entirely different comprehension of blindness and illustrate the hope and faith that we possess.
Two years ago, in 1999, we determined to support the efforts of Erik Weihenmayer, a blind mountain climber, to reach the top of the highest peak in the world, Mount Everest. At ten o'clock on the morning of May 25, 2001, Nepalese time, Erik Weihenmayer reached the spot on the globe where he had intended to go and where we had intended to help him go. He is the first blind man ever to stand so high. For him to get there required enormous courage, tremendous physical strength and sacrifice, and an undauntable mental attitude.
He did not go alone. He was accompanied to the top by eighteen other people, the largest team ever to reach the summit of the mountain. But he was accompanied in spirit by many, many thousands more--blind people from every corner of the United States, who had dreamed with him, hoped with him, prayed for him. It is not only that the tens of thousands of the members of the National Federation of the Blind helped to raise the money for the expedition--though that is, of course, important--but we also believed in him, in his capacity to understand the danger, to plan (along with others) the expedition, to carry his load and do his part in dealing with the challenges of the climb itself, and to bring the plan to its ultimate success. His faith is our faith; his spirit is our spirit; his extraordinary exploit exemplifies the organized blind movement--our movement. Not many blind people will ever climb Everest, but all of us have our own mountains to conquer, and we will.
We congratulate this pioneer for going where no other blind man has gone before. We welcome him back to our midst as the objective symbol of a pioneering organization dedicated to ensuring that blind people everywhere have the opportunity to go where no other blind people have been before. We welcome him back as a colleague; we welcome him back as a member of the National Federation of the Blind.
At the beginning of our organization, when a tiny group of blind men and women came together at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1940 to form the National Federation of the Blind, our founding president, the brilliant blind professor, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, described blind people as living "in material poverty, in social isolation, and in the atrophy of their productive powers." There were virtually no jobs, almost no education beyond the school for the blind, few programs to teach productive skills, only a small number of books, and practically no hope.
However, Dr. tenBroek and those few who joined with him believed that conditions could be changed and that a brighter, more productive future could be forged. Dr. tenBroek's words to that first gathering are equally applicable to us today. Part of what he said is: "We have long known the advantage and even the necessity of collective action. Individually we are scattered, ineffective, and inarticulate, subject alike to the opposition of the social worker and the arrogance of the governmental administrator. Collectively we are the masters of our own future and the successful guardian of our own common interests." The Federation would, Dr. tenBroek said, "unify the action and concentrate the energies of the blind, for an instrument through which the blind of the nation can speak to Congress and the public in a voice that will be heard and command attention."
Fifty years later, in 1990, the second long-time president of the Federation, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who was also the most brilliant builder of programs for the blind of the twentieth century, could say, "The blind are not psychologically or mentally different from the sighted. We are neither especially blessed nor especially cursed. We need jobs, opportunity, social acceptance, and equal treatment--not pity and custody. Only those elected by the blind can speak for the blind. This is not only a prime requisite of democracy but also the only way we can ever achieve first-class status."
These are the things that our presidents of the past have told us--separated by fifty years. To speak for ourselves; to plan for our own lives; to join with each other for the enhancement of opportunity; to believe in our own capacity; to take every reasonable step for the integration of the blind in our communities; to work in harmony with our sighted friends and neighbors; to share with one another the progress we have made; to teach our colleagues and ourselves the goodness of tomorrow, provided that we keep faith with Federation members who have begun our movement and built it, and provided that we do our own part--these are the things the Federation has always done. These are the things we will continue to do.
We insist that our fundamental humanity be recognized with all that this implies. We want the planners to think about us when they make decisions and not to ignore us as though we do not exist. Furthermore, we want them not only to think about us, but to consult us as well.
We must have books; we must have training in Braille, cane travel, and the other specialized techniques used by the blind; we must have programs which emphasize the positive opportunities available to the blind; and we must have laws that accord us equality of opportunity and equality of access to information. All of this we expect.
Despite the arguments of the so-called professionals who tell us that becoming affiliated with us is equivalent to abandoning professionalism; despite the representation of fashion designers that we cannot get the buttons in the right holes; despite the authors who tell us that we cannot eat with grace and require multiple napkins or that we might mistake the sink for the urinal; despite the claim by certain blind people that blindness causes cruelty, abusiveness, and alcoholism; despite the teachings of the professors who believe that, in certain instances, we do not even have a right to continue to exist--we will find a way to succeed, and our sighted friends and colleagues will join with us in celebrating our success.
More of us are employed today than ever before in history, and in a broader array of endeavors. Greater numbers of us are becoming educated, and the fields of study are as diverse as the curiosity of mankind. Many of us are establishing businesses of our own and becoming successful by every economic measure. Furthermore, our organization is growing and accepting ever-greater challenges. Among others, we have decided to build our own Research and Training Institute for the Blind, which will have a spirit much different from that encountered in certain corners of Princeton. We have decided to build it because one of the elements frequently missing from research is the experience of the blind themselves. We look to the future not with gloom, but with joy; not with despair, but with optimism; not with dispirited disgruntlement, but with a determination to build for ourselves and for those who come after us.
Some of us have been in the Federation a long time, going back half a century; some of us are new to the cause. Some of us are college-educated with post-graduate degrees; some of us are not. Some of us have financial security; others have barely enough to make ends meet. Some of us have learned cane travel and the other skills of blindness; some of us are only now becoming aware of specialized techniques. Such minor differences are of no importance whatsoever. In everything that matters, we are one--we are the blind--we are the people of the movement who have come together to make things happen, to create opportunity, to dream, to work, to explore.
Our diplomatic service is the force for change. Some may become discouraged; we will not. Some may be tempted to quit; we will not. Some may be encouraged to believe that the defeats which inevitably come to us all will end our journey; they cannot. Our organization will not be deflected from its course or turned from its purpose. The struggle for recognition of our basic humanity has been long--reaching back through more than half a century to the time of the beginning of our movement, and the effort to fulfill our dream of being able to use our talents to the fullest stretches ahead of us. But we are closer to it than we have ever been, and our momentum is accelerating.
When I look into the hearts of Federation members, I know that there is absolutely nothing that can prevent us from completing our mission. It will not be easy or simple. However, we know our business, we know the language of diplomacy, we are prepared to bide our time if we must, and we know how to work. We possess the dedication, the commitment, the courage, and the talent; nothing else is required.
Whatever the costs, we will pay them. Whatever the challenges, we will meet them. Whatever the sacrifices, we will make them. We have the capacity to wait if we must, but not forever. We are on the move; the opportunities are great; and the time is now.
Ours is an unquenchable spirit. We go to the work with joy, and we will not fail. Our future cannot be determined by others; the decision is in our own hands. Join me, and we will build our own tomorrow!
Life insurance constitutes a very special gift to the National Federation of the Blind. A relatively easy and direct form of planned giving is a new life insurance policy. You can make the NFB the beneficiary and owner of a life insurance policy and receive a tax deduction on the premium you pay.
For example, at age fifty you purchase a $10,000 whole life insurance policy on yourself and designate the NFB as beneficiary and owner of the policy. The premium cost to you is fully tax-deductible each year. You may even decide to pay for the entire policy over a specific period of time, perhaps ten years. This increases your tax deduction each year over the ten-year period and fully pays up your policy.
You may, however, already have a life insurance policy in existence and wish to contribute it to the NFB. By changing the beneficiary and owner to the National Federation of the Blind, you can receive tax savings, depending on the cash value of the policy. Your attorney, insurance agent, or the National Federation of the Blind will be able to assist you if you decide to include the NFB in your planned-giving program through life insurance. For more information contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, phone (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.
The 2001 Awards
Presented by the National Federation of the Blind
From the Editor: National Federation of the Blind awards are not bestowed lightly. If an appropriate recipient does not emerge from the pool of candidates for a particular award, it is simply not presented. At this year's convention six presentations were made. The first three took place during the Board of Directors meeting Tuesday morning, July 3. The first of these was presented by Steve Benson, who chairs the Blind Educator of the Year Selection Committee. This is what he said:
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ed Vaughan and Steve Benson are seated, and Steve displays the Blind Educator of the Year plaque.]
The Blind Educator of the Year Award
Thank you, President Maurer, and thank you, Judy Sanders, Adelmo Vigil, and Ramona Walhof for your participation on the Blind Educator of The Year Award Committee.
The Blind Educator of the Year Award is presented only to those individuals whose talent, teaching skill, contribution to the field of education, and leadership in the community and in the Federation merit such singular recognition. The recipient of this year's award has authored five books, has published more than sixty articles in professional journals, and has delivered papers and lectures in his area of study on three continents. In addition this educator has captured nearly three quarters of a million dollars in research and other grants for work in sociology. He has earned the respect of peers and university administrators alike. In fact, the dean of his school described this year's honoree as the best department chairman he ever had.
The winner of the 2001 Blind Educator of the Year Award has operated a building supply business, served on the city council, and run for mayor in his community.
Over and above his professional credentials and his community involvement, this Federationist has learned well the lessons taught by Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer. He has conveyed the Federation's message to the academic community and to the public clearly and concisely. He has stretched blind people beyond what society deems appropriate. He takes an active role in our organization's activities, including the Associates Contest.
The Blind Educator of The Year Award Committee has selected as this year's honoree Dr. C. Edwin Vaughan of Missouri. While Dr. Vaughan makes his way to the platform, I'll tell you that he earned a master of divinity at Union Theological Seminary and then master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Minnesota. He is currently a professor of sociology at the University of Missouri at Columbia, where he has taught for thirty years. He has also served as a visiting professor in Shanxi, China. Dr. Vaughan will shortly assume a post at Menlo College in California.
Dr. Vaughan, congratulations! Here is a check for $500, and here is a plaque that reads:
BLIND EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR AWARD
National Federation of the Blind
C. Edwin Vaughan
IN RECOGNITION OF OUTSTANDING ACCOMPLISHMENTS
IN THE TEACHING PROFESSION
YOU ENHANCE THE PRESENT
YOU INSPIRE YOUR COLLEAGUES
YOU BUILD THE FUTURE
JULY 3, 2001
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you C. Edwin Vaughan.
Thank you, Steve. I very much appreciate this honor. About twenty years ago Dr. Jernigan asked me to do my sociological research about the Federation and to try to publish it in outlets other than the Braille Monitor--in other words, to publish in the general media. So I have done that, and I have learned a great deal from the Federation and a great deal about the rigidity of organizations that resist the kind of goals we champion.
In the current issue of the Braille Monitor are the wonderful voices of Dr. tenBroek and of Newell Perry as they sent Dr. Jernigan off to Iowa. Dr. tenBroek describes the resistance there was at that time on the part of the American Foundation but also of a great many other agencies. He wished Dr. Jernigan well and asked him to see if he could show a new way that agencies could operate. He obviously did that in Iowa. The fruit of his work is in a lot of the national leadership here today. I became interested in studying the nature of the resistance to movements like ours and am pretty pleased about the development of our three rehabilitation centers, as well as the ascendancy of Joanne Wilson to continue her leadership at the national level. We have shown that organizations don't have to be paternalistic and regressive, and I am going to continue to try to shed a little bit of light on the rigidity of the throw-back agencies that still exist.
Thank you very much for this award. I appreciate it very much.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Denise Mackenstadt displays the Distinguished Educator of the Blind Children Award plaque while Sharon Maneki addresses the audience.]
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
Later in the Board meeting Sharon Maneki, who chairs the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award Committee, made her committee's presentation. Here is the way it happened:
Good morning, Mr. President, fellow Federationists. The committee of Jackie Billey, Allen Harris, Joyce Scanlan, and I are pleased to bring you a truly distinguished educator of blind children. Today we are recognizing one of our own, one of our fellow colleagues and friends. She is a member of the National Federation of the Blind and has been one for thirty years, a notable achievement. Today we are recognizing her for her role in education. Since the inception of this award we have recognized administrators of programs for the blind; we've recognized itinerant teachers; we've recognized orientation and mobility instructors and resource teachers. Today for the first time we are recognizing an instructional assistant or what they like to call a paraprofessional.
As the first in that class, she is truly a leader. Instructional assistants have a great deal of influence on the student or students they work with. They see the student every day. Frequently they see the student more than the actual vision teacher does. So they can help that student, as this person does, to be more independent. As she puts it, she wants to put herself out of a job so that the student won't need her services anymore.
But in typical Federation fashion she doesn't just influence the one individual that she works with. As a leader she has seen to it that all professionals in Washington State take a Braille literacy competency test. She is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Washington State School for the Blind, and her accomplishments really have had an effect on both Washington state and the nation. Join me in congratulating Denise Mackenstadt.
I have for you, Denise, a check for $500 and will hold up the plaque. I'm going to read the text, and don't criticize my Braille afterwards.
The National Federation of the Blind honors
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children
for your skill in teaching Braille
and the use of the white cane
for generously devoting extra time
to meet the needs of your students
and for inspiring your students to perform
beyond their expectations.
You champion our movement.
You strengthen our hopes.
You share our dreams.
Denise Mackenstadt then came to the microphone to speak for a moment:
I have been blessed by many things. I have been blessed by family, who tolerate my passion. I have been blessed by very dear friends, who help me. I have been blessed by this organization. I have been blessed by a mentor and a teacher whom I never properly appreciated or thanked; that would be Dr. Jernigan. This award is of such incredible importance to me because you are my peers, and to be honored by your peers is the height. I appreciate it and thank you very much.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Linda Hindmarch addresses the audience while Bruce Gardner looks on.]
Distinguished Service Award
Late in the Board meeting Bruce Gardner came to the podium to make a special presentation. Bruce chairs the Affiliate Action Committee, whose members work to resolve problems at national convention before they become problems. This is what he said:
Nineteen-eighty-seven was a memorable year for me. We in the Arizona affiliate had the opportunity to host our National Convention in Phoenix. That was the year of the Cactus Kid. [For those whose memories do not reach back to that convention, the Cactus Kid was a character that Bruce invented and played during the convention. He adopted a western accent that you could cut with a knife and a set of quaint expressions that made us all guffaw.] That was the year that I began wearing a big black hat to National Conventions. But 1987 is memorable and significant for a far more important reason.
In 1987 Linda Hindmarch began serving as the NFB nurse at our National Conventions. In 1987 our conventions had grown to the point that we felt it was important for us to have a full-time nurse on staff at our National Conventions to give peace of mind in addition to first aid and practical advice around the clock and twenty-four hours a day. In 1987 Homer Page was the chairman of the affiliate action committee, and he was asked to find someone who would be willing to donate his or her time to go to Phoenix, Arizona, in the middle of the summer and be on call around the clock to serve the blind. Homer Page contacted Linda Hindmarch, who at that time was living in Boulder, Colorado, and supervising a staff of licensed practical nurses at the Center for People with Disabilities. I think Homer may have been surprised when he described the tasks and the assignment and asked Linda, "Could you possibly have some recommendations or know of anyone who would consider doing such a thing?"
Linda said, "I would be interested in doing that." Linda brings to the National Conventions a unique blend of technical medical training, common sense, and genuine caring and concern for individual people. This is now the year 2001 and the fifteenth consecutive year that Linda Hindmarch has served as Unit 17 on the radio and served as our NFB nurse. [applause] This is the fourth convention at which I have had the pleasure of working closely with Linda and observing the way that she gives out first aid, practical advice, and TLC.
It is a pleasure for me on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind to present a token of our appreciation to Linda Hindmarch. Linda, I have here a beautiful plaque if you will turn it for the audience to see and for the cameras to photograph. The plaque reads:
Distinguished Service Award
presented by National Federation of the Blind
to Linda Hindmarch, RN
for outstanding selfless service to the blind.
We call you our colleague with respect.
We call you our friend with love.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 3, 2001.
When Linda Hindmarch stepped to the microphone, she said:
Thank you, Mr. Gardner, President Maurer, and all of you people. I should have guessed when you asked me to come up here that you had something up your sleeve. This is unusual for me to have to be up here. I am usually in the trenches and much more comfortable at that level. This is really an honor, and thank you very much.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Tim Cranmer displays his plaque.]
Louis Braille Memorial Award
Early in the banquet Master of Ceremonies Allen Harris called Professor Michael Tobin from the United Kingdom to the podium to make a presentation. Professor Tobin is a member of the International Braille Research Center Board and last year's recipient of the IBRC's Louis Braille Award. This is what he said:
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you. This is my second visit to the National Federation, and I am particularly pleased tonight to be with you because it is my very great pleasure to make presentation of the Louis Braille Memorial Medal. The recipient this year is Dr. Tim Cranmer.
Tim left school at sixth grade. He then had a variety of jobs including in the Kentucky State government. He became director, I believe, of the Kentucky Institute for the Blind in the 70's and 80's. He was director of research at the National Federation of the Blind and was the first chairman of its research and development committee. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Louisville. He is the inventor of numerous devices, and I understand that CBS's "Sixty Minutes" show last year called him the "Thomas Edison of technology."
Among his many inventions are the Cranmer abacus, the modified Perkins Brailler, the first audible portable Braille calculator, and also the pocket Brailler now known as the Braille 'n Speak. He was the president, chairman, and founder of the International Braille Research Center in Baltimore and was one of the principal developers of the Unified English Braille code. He was, I understand, also the mentor of Deane Blazie, so he has many great honors and achievements under his belt. Last year, of course, you in the National Federation of the Blind awarded him your highest honor, the Jacobus tenBroek Award. It is my very great pleasure tonight to present to Dr. Tim Cranmer this gold medal, which I am just about to open and award. For the sighted among us, I am holding up this glorious gold medal for everyone to see. It has in it, of course, the embossed letters BRL, which I think some of you will know what that means. In addition is this very lovely Braille plaque, which he will be able to hang up. It says:
Braille Research Center, Inc.
International Braille Research Center
Louis Braille Memorial Award
Dr. T.V. Cranmer
In recognition of outstanding contributions to research
Braille Literacy and education of the blind
Presented by the Board of Directors
July 6, 2001
I have great pleasure in presenting both the medal and the plaque to Dr. Cranmer.
Tim Cranmer then replied:
Thank you, Dr. Tobin. Thank you, International Braille Research Center. Thank you, fellow Federationists. This is the most coveted award that I could have selected because Braille is the most important tool ever invented for the blind.
So thank you very much. I appreciate being here, and I would point out that there is always a surprise or two at a Federation convention. Thank you.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: President Maurer addressed the audience while Betzy Zaborowski and Jim Gashel together display their Jacobus tenBroek Award plaque.]
The Jacobus tenBroek Award
Following the scholarship presentations at the banquet, President Maurer came to the microphone again to say:
The tenBroek Award, of course, is named for our founding president Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. It is given to those who have done significant work inside the Federation to build within the organization. It is intended to symbolize Dr. tenBroek's efforts and to recognize their continuance in those who have come after him and who have been inspired by him. We do not give this award every year. We give it only as often as we find that somebody within the organization deserves to receive it. This year we have to receive the award, not one individual, but two. And I say that because the two of them work together. Each of them is capable of independence and independent work, and they do make efforts on behalf of the organization in separate spheres. But the reality is that they are a team. They have operated as a team for some years now. Not only do they operate as a team, but they operate as an effective team. Membership in the Federation is not new to them; they go back awhile. But the work they do is often new to them. They take on new tasks. They undertake to build what has not existed in prior times. I would like to invite Jim Gashel and Betsy Zaborowski to the podium.
Jim Gashel joined the Federation before I did. He is one of those people who come out of the 60's. And, as we have observed at this convention, there are fewer of us from that era than there once were. Betsy Zaborowski joined later, but her commitment is as deep. At the beginning Jim Gashel looked upon the tutelage of Dr. Jernigan with mixed feelings. He wondered whether or not he was being expected to do what he should not reasonably be called upon to accomplish, but he came fairly shortly to know the meaning and the necessity for it. Then he began to try to teach others. Betsy Zaborowski wondered whether or not the organization was real when she came upon it. But she has come to be one of the most supportive human beings in the organization. And she is undertaking a task which nobody so far has done sufficiently, that is, to make us well known in corporate America. And she is accomplishing it with considerable skill.
Jim Gashel's talents lie in writing regulations and laws that can help to change the face of the world for the blind, then taking those regulations and laws and frightening the pants off people who didn't think they wanted to obey them. He also has skill in persuading people in various parts of the world to make substantial contributions to us, and Dr. Zaborowski has emulated this characteristic, helping to bring us during this past year an appropriation from the state of Maryland of one million dollars this year with a promise of five million more.
As I have said, they work independently, but they work effectively as a team, knowing when to take on their own responsibilities and when to share ideas, to have joint action in support of the Federation. I want to give to the two of you this plaque. I will hold it up so it can be observed. It says:
Jacobus tenBroek Award
National Federation of the Blind
James Gashel and Betsy Zaborowski
for your dedication,
sacrifice, and commitment
on behalf of the blind
of this nation.
Your contribution is measured
not in steps, but in miles,
not by individual experiences,
but by your impact on the lives
of the blind of the nation.
Whenever we have asked, you have answered.
We call you our colleagues with respect,
We call you our friends with love.
July 6, 2001
Jim Gashel was the first to respond.
You won't believe this: I am speechless. But I always have a speech with me. This is truly one of the two or three most incredible moments of my life: to stand before you and to be honored in this way when we are doing only what all of us ought to do--we're working for the movement. All I would ask is that all of you remember that it's all of our responsibilities to go out and work for the movement. We can't all go out and climb a mountain like Erik did, and we can't all do the wonderful things that every one of you do all the time or raise five or six million dollars like Betsy did, but we can all work for this movement. We all have a place in it, and we love every one of you. Other than that, I am totally speechless. I thank you. I love you forever.
Then Betsy Zaborowski made a few comments.
As a good wife I think I'll let my husband mostly speak for me. I can't tell you how touched we are. As Dr. Maurer was beginning to make this award, we were passing names back and forth at our table, never dreaming--because as Jim said, there are so many, many gifted and talented people in this organization, so many of us who give our heart and soul--so let us just thank you very much and share our gratitude with you tonight.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Allen Harris presents the Newell Perry Award plaque to Erik Weihenmayer.]
The Newell Perry Award
Near the close of the banquet Allen Harris made one final presentation. Here is what he said:
It is now my pleasure to present the next award which the National Federation of the Blind gives from time to time to people who achieve some significance, some salient goal beyond the Federation, individuals who in some way or another contribute to opportunity, security, and equality for blind people whether they have participated directly with us over a period of time or we've come to know them more recently in a specific activity. Whatever the case may be, there are those who, working beyond our Federation, accomplish deeds, achieve goals that are so significant that we in the National Federation of the Blind take the opportunity to honor them. The award that we are going to present now is the Newell Perry Award.
Some of you, like me, got to hear Dr. Perry's voice in the cassette edition of the June Braille Monitor. What a wonderful surprise it was for us to open the Monitor and have it begin with the voice of Dr. tenBroek followed by the voice of Dr. Perry. It was a wonderful treat. When Dr. Perry was referring to Dr. Jernigan as Mr. Jernigan and giving him advice about things he should do when he got to the Iowa Commission for the Blind, toward the end he said, "By the way, I am not that busy these days. If you have work, work that pays pretty well, I would be available. Give me a call." It was both very poignant and very much like the Federation. Dr. Perry really was a person who inspired Dr. tenBroek. Dr. Perry, Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, President Maurer, Jim Gashel, Dr. Betsy Zaborowski--all are people whom we associate with excellence within the Federation.
We present the Newell Perry Award to a person who has distinguished him- or herself working on behalf of the blind, but beyond our organization. It is our privilege tonight, yours and mine, on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind to present the Newell Perry Award to Erik Weihenmayer.
Erik is holding up the plaque. We are pleased and happy to be able to recognize Erik's feat of climbing the mountain. Let me read to you what the plaque says:
Newell Perry Award
of the Blind
in recognition of courageous leadership
and outstanding service,
the National Federation of the Blind
bestows its highest honor,
the Newell Perry Award
our brother on the barricades.
You support our progress;
you strengthen our hopes;
you share our dreams.
July 6, 2001
Erik then came to the microphone and said:
Thank you. This is the greatest honor anyone can ever receive. I am really touched. Thank you very much. To walk in the footsteps of so many great people is a huge honor.
I don't know if this is the right time, but I also have something to give to the NFB. I want to present this flag that we flew on top of the world, the National Federation of the Blind flag. To me this is a symbol of opportunity created and facilitated by the National Federation of the Blind in the hopes and dreams and accomplishments of so many blind people like me, who have benefited greatly from the many great blind people who have come before us and from the collective blind movement. Thanks.
Allen Harris: We accept the flag in the spirit of all those blind people who were with you on the mountain. We display the flag as a commemorative element of a tremendous exploit and the symbol of the climb all of us intend to make in the decades to come. Thank you, Erik.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Fred Schroeder]
Research and the Organized Blind Movement
by Fredric K. Schroeder
From the Editor: On Friday afternoon, July 6, Dr. Fred Schroeder, a past Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration and now a Research Professor at San Diego State University, addressed the 2001 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. It is refreshing, though in this case not surprising, to listen to a researcher with common sense. This is what Dr. Schroeder said:
Beginning in the early 1900's, Logical Positivism (or what we commonly think of as the modern-day method of scientific inquiry) emerged as the dominant mechanism for identifying and verifying fact or truth. Positivism asserts an objective reality that can be measured or quantified. In the field of blindness we have suffered decades of misguided research cloaked in the positivist tradition, which rather than expanding understanding has served to legitimize prejudice. The application of the scientific method with its assertion of objectivity has been used to lend credibility to research into various aspects of blindness by ascribing objectivity where none truly existed. In other words, the assumption that science is independent of attitudes and emotions is the very thing that makes modern-day positivism so dangerous.
Perhaps science should be independent of human frailty, but the mere fact that we wish it to be so does not make it possible. In fact, the very idea of independent objectivity within social science research creates the very pitfall that the positivist seeks to avoid. In my view rather than denying the presence of bias, we should acknowledge it, that is to say, disclose our biases and thereby create a context in which to understand the assumptions and thought processes guiding our research.
As you know, in 1980 I completed post-graduate training in orientation and mobility (O & M). At that time the idea of blind people teaching cane travel was controversial within the O & M profession. The source of the controversy is not difficult to understand. It was based purely and simply on myths and misconceptions about blindness--myths and misconceptions rooted in the assumption that the blind, by virtue of their blindness, are inherently unsafe or, at best, less safe than the sighted when teaching cane travel, in spite of the fact that prior to World War II the way blind people learned to travel with a cane was by learning the skill on their own or by asking other blind people. Nevertheless, with the advent of the orientation and mobility profession came the application of traditional societal views about blindness to the straightforward process of teaching a blind person to travel safely and efficiently.
As I said, I enrolled in a university program in orientation and mobility, which stimulated a national debate on the question of whether blind people should be permitted to do what we have done forever, that is, to teach each other how to travel independently. Eventually the profession turned to science to help settle the question. In the late 1980's a research study was initiated to see whether blind people could in fact teach cane travel with a level of competence and safety equal to that of sighted instructors. The study was crafted in the tradition of the positivist model; that is, the researchers identified various competencies and objectively measured them. The problem, of course, is that, far from being objective, scientific pursuit cannot extricate itself from underlying belief systems. The research question itself stemmed from an assumption. In other words, we would not have undertaken to test whether blind people could teach as well as the sighted unless there had been some doubt about it.
But the problem did not end there. In addition to the research question's revealing a negative assumption about blindness, the way in which the study was structured in an effort to answer the question also reflects bias. The researchers began with a series of discrete tasks routinely performed by sighted mobility specialists and then looked at whether blind people (parenthetically let me add, blind people who had never taught travel) could perform the tasks as well as sighted instructors. No allowance was made for the fact that blind people and sighted people might use different strategies in teaching. Instead, the strategies used by the sighted were presumed to be the standard. They were automatically regarded to be the only strategies or, at least, the best strategies for teaching cane travel.
As you can imagine, blind people did not fare well in the study, but what did the study prove? Perhaps Dr. James Nyman, former director of the Nebraska Services for the Visually Impaired, said it best when he remarked that the Western Michigan study proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that blind people do not see as well as sighted people.
The study was flawed, not so much by its failure to achieve objectivity, as by the misguided assumption that scientific inquiry is capable of complete objectivity. We are human beings; we are not capable of complete objectivity; nor is it helpful to pretend that we can operate free from bias and assumption. The problem with the positivist model is that it asserts a level of objectivity that is unrealistic. My complaint, however, is not simply that the positivist model is untenable but rather that positivism itself is self-perpetuating. We construct measurements and satisfy ourselves that they are proxies of truth, when indeed to one extent or another they are images of our own preconceptions.
Much of the contemporary blindness research is irrelevant in the lives of blind people, and that which is not irrelevant is often damaging. Recently I reviewed the current literature representing research efforts into a variety of issues concerning blind people. Among other things my review revealed that blind people use fewer visual gestures than the sighted and are less able to supplement hearing visually, that is to say, less able to lip-read than the sighted.
These studies and others certainly raise the question of relevance, but more alarming are the studies that apply science to solving problems that in truth are not problems at all. One study I reviewed created a structured mechanism for measuring progress in teaching route travel. The investigator never questioned whether route travel is the right way to prepare blind people to live independently. In my mind route travel is a vestige of society's assumption that blind people can only find their way by memorizing a pre-determined path. In truth the concept of route travel is not far removed from the age-old stereotype that blind people navigate by learning to count steps. As I looked through the body of literature representing the blindness field, I was struck by the lack of research rooted in a presumption of the competence of blind people.
If we are to make serious progress in assisting blind people in living productive, integrated lives, we must begin with a clear, well-articulated belief about what that future should look like. Much as they may wish to deny it, positivists incorporate traditional views of blindness into their research while arguing that attitudes and opinions have no place in scientific investigation. Whether they should or should not, they do, and rather than denying this fact, we should recognize and face it directly. I want to gain knowledge. I want to know more about ways in which blind people can be aided to live full and normal lives, and I want this goal to drive our research. I want our research to be relevant.
Many years ago I read a research article about what kind of footwear was best for blind people to use in snow and ice conditions. Believe it or not, the researcher had a blind person walk on snow and ice wearing various kinds of shoes and boots and counted the number of "body contacts" the individual made with the ground. In other words, the researcher measured how many times the blind person fell and, lo and behold, concluded that slippery soles, such as those made of leather, resulted in more body contacts with the ground than soles that were designed to grip, such as rubber soles.
This is not research. This is institutionalized prejudice. Far from being free of bias, such research presumes that the blind are dramatically different from the sighted and therefore require the intervention of the blindness profession to address their most basic needs. This is not objectivity but prejudice encased in a thin veneer of science. As you know, we are well underway to raising the funds needed to build a research and training institute on blindness, and of course the obvious question is why. Why should we use our time and resources on research, development of technology, and training?
To my mind the answer is the same as to the question why we use our time and resources in support of civil rights, in support of information technology, such as NEWSLINE® and Jobline®, in support of education and employment. It is because the future of blind people lies in self-determination. Our future will be as constricted or expansive as our collective will. We need research, not to know whether to wear leather or rubber soles on ice, but to learn how newly blind adults can learn to read Braille as well as they once read print. We need research to learn the best ways for blind children to master the same skills and concepts (particularly in math and science) as their sighted peers, and do it efficiently. We need research to explore ways in which information increasingly displayed visually can be best represented through speech, Braille, or other media or combinations of media.
As Dr. Maurer charged us last year, we need new technology that will allow us to drive; or, as Dr. Kurzweil discussed, we need a pocket-sized reading machine. And we need technology to allow us to do other things that are not currently practical. But, underlying it all, we need research that recognizes our inherent normalcy. I do not consider it a failure of scientific inquiry to presume that blind children can learn to read and write and acquire an education. I do not believe it is a failure of scientific inquiry to assume that blind people can be in charge of their own lives and can contribute to the social and economic well-being of their communities. In fact, I consider it a failing of the positivist model that a presumption of normalcy is viewed as unscientific while a presumption that normalcy is in doubt is viewed as objectivity. I do presume that we as blind people are normal. I do presume that we can learn and work and engage in the same range of activities as the sighted. I do not want our research to strive to separate itself from these beliefs.
We have labored too long under a system that has legitimized its low expectations for us under the guise of professionalism and research. This so-called objectivity has resulted in the development of methods to teach us how to take a sponge bath or sit in a chair. I want research that deals with the real problems of blindness--large and small problems such as the way to gain efficient access to information and transportation, equal access to education and employment: research that recognizes my fundamental humanity and seeks to support it by amassing knowledge.
For research to be relevant, it must address the problems about which we are concerned, not whether we use as many visual gestures as the sighted, not whether we lip-read as well as the sighted; for as Dr. Nyman put it, we know that the blind do not see as well as the sighted. What we need is what we have needed throughout our move toward social and economic integration. We need the National Federation of the Blind. We need the collective spirit and voice of blind people. In his report on Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Maurer enumerated the major accomplishments of the past year. The common thread was a belief in blind people; a belief that, given training and opportunity, the ordinary blind person can compete on terms of equality; a belief that we have the right to live free from the prejudice of others.
The National Research and Training Institute is the logical extension of our shared commitment to achieve first-class status. Civil rights, education, and employment have worked best and in fact have only worked well when we the organized blind have set the direction. Under Dr. Maurer's leadership, for the first time the blind of this nation and, for that matter, the world have the opportunity to have meaningful, relevant, respectful research, not based on outmoded, negative assumptions about us (while pretending objectivity), but based unashamedly on a positive vision of blindness, a positive philosophy of blindness driving our research, the development of new technology, and training in the field of blindness.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Brad Hodges]
What Was New, Interesting, or Different
by Brad Hodges
From the Editor: Hundreds, maybe thousands of people flock to the exhibit hall during our national conventions. Somehow I can never find the time I need to browse through all the displays. I am always on the run: I have to buy a cane; there's a cameraman wanting to video people reading Braille; the Ohio table has to be set up or taken down. My intentions are always good; this year I am going to see what there is to be seen in the exhibit hall. And every year I disappoint myself. Lots of other people find themselves in the same situation, and of course many more miss the convention altogether.
So this year I asked Brad Hodges of our technology staff to take a minute to tell us about some of what we missed. Here is his report:
In addition to the familiar categories of presenters--computer and technology vendors, state and local affiliates, and service organizations--the 2001 convention saw the debut of entirely new classes of exhibitors. For the first time a bank was among the booths and tables on the exhibit floor. Bank Of America displayed its accessible automatic teller machine (ATM). The availability of instant cash in the exhibit hall was well received by conventioneers, judging from the lines at the ATM.
Continuing the cash-machine trend, Diebold, Inc., demonstrated its own accessible ATM. As a result, many federationists now recognize the convenience of having accessible ATM equipment in locations such as convenience stores.
In recent months accessible voting machines have gained much attention. Two manufacturers brought their equipment directly to the largest group of potential users. Avanti International Technology and Shoup Voting Solutions each demonstrated voting equipment designed to provide access to blind voters.
Braille paper is not a topic which generally creates much excitement, unless you happen to run out. Despite the less than glamorous nature of Braille paper, Star Continuous Card Systems (800-458-1413) scored a solid hit with its line of Braille paper and cards intended for use with the computer.
In addition to these and other newcomers many old friends and familiar faces were to be found in our 2001 exhibit Hall. Here are some highlights:
The American Printing House for the Blind displayed a take-apart map of the United States. The map, made of a plastic resin, provides exquisite topographical detail. Each state can be removed from the map, and the name of the state read in Braille on the map's base. The Materials Center also sells the map for $250.
Enablink.com is an Internet portal designed to serve the blind computer user. The company was highly visible at this year's convention. <www.enablelink.com>
Freedom Scientific occupied several very busy booth spaces. In addition to a preview of JAWS version 4, as expected, the company unveiled the Braille Lite Millennium-40.
GHLLC is an Indiana-based company which produces Braille and tactile graphics. The company furnished maps of the Marriott, produced using its proprietary process. Many of those who used the maps were favorably impressed by their quality.
HumanWare is the U.S. distributor for the Braille Note family of notetakers. A version of the Braille Note with a standard typewriter-style keyboard and a thirty-two-cell display was announced and demonstrated.
Kurzweil Educational Systems made what may be remembered as the most significant technology-related announcement at this year's convention. Pending court approval, employees of the company are finalizing a plan to purchase the company. This effort, if successful, will pull Kurzweil out of the legal entanglement surrounding L&H, its current parent company. The continued operation of Kurzweil will help to maintain healthy competition in the reading system market.
Features of the Kurzweil 1000 version 6 were demonstrated. These include an enhanced voice quality, the ability to examine regions of a document, and an interesting approach to reading PDF documents, many of which are not now accessible.
Sighted Electronics announced plans to import the Braille Assistant. According to a press release circulated at the company's booth, the notetaker will be based on the Linux operating system. It will offer word processing, e-mail and full Web browsing, a database, and calendar organizer. The units are expected in early fall and will be available in both Braille-keyboard and typewriter-keyboard versions.
The American Council of the Blind
Unwilling to Cooperate
From the Editor: Just before recess on Wednesday afternoon, July 4, President Maurer took a few minutes to read a brief statement. Here it is:
The American Council of the Blind (ACB) came into being in 1961. It was formed as a splinter group of the National Federation of the Blind. Federation members decided during the 1961 convention that rules of democracy would be followed in the Federation; that votes of the national organization would be binding on the affiliates, the chapters, and the members; and that those who would not abide by such democratic votes could not continue to be a part of the Federation.
Some people inside the Federation wanted to control the organization, but they did not have the votes. They refused to recognize the will of the majority. When they were expelled from the Federation, they formed the American Council of the Blind. The primary focus of the ACB, from the time of its beginning, has been to attack the National Federation of the Blind. At least on the national level leaders of the ACB have felt bitterness toward the NFB. Their actions have suggested that they believe that they are in constant competition with the NFB, and they look upon progress within the NFB with annoyance because they believe that others will unfavorably compare them with the NFB.
In the beginning the ACB had an apparent purpose. In the late 1950's and early 1960's a combination of some of the more reactionary agencies for the blind was attempting to prevent the National Federation of the Blind from building strength because they did not want to have an organization in existence that could point out their shortcomings. When the National Federation of the Blind complained, for example, that agencies for the blind were threatening blind vendors with the loss of their vending facilities if they participated in the organized blind movement, the ACB said that the agencies weren't really that bad. The ACB became a front for the worst agencies for the blind in the nation. However, the standards for performance by the agencies have improved, and many of them are working closely with the National Federation of the Blind. The agencies rarely need a front today. Consequently the ACB finds itself struggling for a role within the blindness field.
In the mid-1980's and early 1990's Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, our long-time leader, began to work with a number of the leaders of the entities dealing with blindness to attempt to form harmonious and cooperative relationships. This effort was very successful, and it continues. The National Federation of the Blind has worked cooperatively during the last year with the American Foundation for the Blind, the American Printing House for the Blind, the Rehabilitation Services Administration, RFB & D (formerly Recordings for the Blind), the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and a number of others within the United States and beyond our borders. We have been talking about cooperation with other entities such as National Industries for the Blind if the proper conditions can be established.
The American Council of the Blind has not been willing to work with us. Its position has been to attack us. It divides its pronouncements between the "official, public" line and its other published remarks. Its "official, public" line is that it has considerable admiration for us and wishes to work with us. However, the true feelings of the ACB are expressed in public statements and documents distributed on the Internet and made in other public places.
The National Federation of the Blind established the NEWSLINE® for the Blind Network in 1994. We are now working to expand this service to reach every single blind person in the United States. Some four dozen newspapers will become available to every blind person with a touch-tone telephone totally free of charge. To redesign and deploy the system, we received a four-million-dollar federal appropriation, which the ACB tried to prevent. When they discovered to their annoyance that they had not done so, they lied about it--calling it "federal funding for [a] Jernigan memorial parking garage."
In case the reference is unclear, ACB members and leaders mischaracterized the appropriation. It is for NEWSLINE for the Blind. They said it was to fund the construction of the tenBroek Library at the National Center for the Blind, which is the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind. They have knowingly and deliberately mischaracterized this structure as a parking garage.
During the 2001 legislative season in Maryland the National Federation of the Blind asked for an appropriation from the state to fund construction of the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind. The 2001 request was for one million dollars with the understanding that there would be additional requests for the 2002 and 2003 budget years--two million dollars in 2002 and three million dollars in 2003. Leaders of the ACB of Maryland appeared at the legislative hearing to oppose the request. When I, outside of the legislative process, asked the president of the ACB whether it was the policy of the ACB to oppose funding of NFB programs, he said that the ACB would not oppose our fund raising unless we asked for funds from public sources. Once again the efforts of the ACB to prevent an appropriation for our programs failed. ACB members and leaders responded with diatribes against me, against the NFB, and against the memory of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan.
The ACB has supported mandatory descriptive video of television programming. Although we believe access to information is essential, and although we believe descriptive video is a good idea for entertainment, we oppose requiring it by law, believing that for purposes of entertainment it should be offered as a service if we can persuade people to do it. We expressed this opinion in federal court, and the ACB described our behavior as "treasonous, contemptuous, and irresponsible," saying "whatever respect may have existed for the NFB, can no longer be said to exist after this outright and arrogant betrayal of the interests of the clear majority of blind people." After calling us such names, the ACB urges the membership of the NFB to rise up and clean house. Since the writing and circulation of this document and a press release attacking the NFB the ACB has made a number of other direct and indirect attacks upon the Federation.
In the vituperative writings about the NFB by ACB members and leaders, many references are made to the life and work of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who was first elected President of the Federation in 1968 and served as the principal leader of the organized blind movement during much of the rest of his life. The attacks compare Dr. Jernigan to Jim Jones and Adolf Hitler. In other words, they are reckless, irresponsible, and deliberately provocative with no thought for courtesy or civility.
It is clear that the ACB hopes to increase its stature by becoming regarded as a suitable opponent for the NFB. It wants to start a war. However, it is not in the interest of the National Federation of the Blind to fight. We have not forgotten how to do it, and if the ACB becomes effective at hurting the interests of the blind, we will be forced to engage in combat. However, unseemly behavior and childish name-calling, though obnoxious and annoying, are not worthy of a major response. They will, of course, make it very difficult for interaction and cooperation to exist with the ACB.
The ACB has been cranky and cantankerous with the NFB for a long time, and its current habit of name-calling is not substantially different from its previous behavior. However, its deliberate attacks against programs and funding of the NFB, such as NEWSLINE and the Research Institute, are a departure and may demand a response. It would be unfortunate to permit unprincipled behavior by the ACB to cause such disharmony that the cooperation we have worked to achieve ceases to exist. If there is not respect among us all, that harmony will diminish and disappear. It is axiomatic that, to gain respect, one must be willing to give it. The ACB has demonstrated that it is not willing.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: (left to right) Jim Gashel, President Maurer, and Sharon Maneki sit at the Resolutions Committee meeting. Pat Maurer and Doug Elliott can be seen in the background.]
2001 Convention Resolutions Report
by Sharon Maneki
From the Editor: Sharon Maneki, President of the NFB of Maryland, chairs the Resolutions Committee. She and this year's committee secretary, Sharon Omvig, did an excellent job of keeping track of the committee's work during the convention. Here is Mrs. Maneki's summary of the resolutions considered by the Resolutions Committee and passed by the Convention:
At the change of the year Americans frequently talk about making resolutions for the coming year. We resolve to lose weight, get more exercise, or engage in other self-improving activities.
Statisticians tell us that by the end of January most people break or forget about the resolutions they made on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. Federationists may make resolutions at the start of each new year, but we also think about resolutions at the start of each National Convention. Federation resolutions have a better track record then those made by many individuals. Our resolutions are policy statements which remain in effect until another convention changes the policy.
The language used in resolution-writing is formal and stilted: "Now, therefore, BE IT RESOLVED in convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2001, in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that ..." However, each resolution clearly announces our policy on a given subject. The recipient of a resolution has no doubt about our intentions after reading the document. We praise past action, offer condemnation of actions, and urge future action. The Resolutions Committee carefully considers and debates each issue because we recognize the impact of each resolution.
This year the Resolutions Committee considered twenty resolutions. Eighteen resolutions came to the convention floor. Resolution 2001
03, which called upon Federation leaders to communicate with the membership using accessible formats as much as possible, was withdrawn by the author after committee discussion. Ed Meskys, President of the NFB of New Hampshire and the author of this resolution, withdrew it because President Maurer explained that he already responds in Braille when it is clear that this would be the most convenient format and agreed to make an enhanced effort to communicate with members using their preferred medium, including e-mail. During the convention Dr. Maurer encouraged state presidents to provide his secretary with e
mail addresses for themselves and their chapter presidents and then keep the list updated.
08 was defeated in committee. The resolution called upon appropriate agencies to provide a slightly steeper slope on the approach from the sidewalk into the street instead of resorting to tactile warning strips.
The convention passed seventeen resolutions. Resolution 2001
19 called upon Michigan State University to lift its moratorium on admissions and enrollments in its vision-teacher training programs. Fred Wurtzel, President of the NFB of Michigan and the author of this resolution, withdrew it on the floor of the Convention, with the permission of the Convention, so that a broader resolution on all vision-teacher-training programs could be introduced next year. The Convention decided that vision teacher training is a national problem and needs a broader focus than that expressed in resolution 2001
19. The seventeen resolutions passed by the convention illustrate both our accomplishments and our future objectives.
The convention passed three resolutions in praise of past actions. Noel Nightingale, a member of the National Board of Directors and President of the NFB of Washington, introduced resolution 2001
01. In this resolution we commend the Honorable Roderick R. Paige, Secretary of Education, for upholding the rule that redefines an employment outcome in the vocational rehabilitation program. We also applaud Dr. Frederick K. Schroeder for his leadership in developing the new regulation on employment outcomes.
In resolution 2001
12 we commend those agencies which are undertaking significant efforts to implement section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in both the letter and the spirit of the law. We also call upon Congress and the Bush administration to demand the cooperation of all departments and agencies of the federal government in adopting policies and procedures to ensure the fair and uniform government-wide application of this important law. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that all technology purchased, developed, or maintained by the Federal government be accessible to people with disabilities, including the blind. Gary Wunder, a member of the National Board of Directors and President of the NFB of Missouri, was the author of this resolution.
James Gashel, NFB Director of Governmental Affairs, introduced resolution 2001
18. In this resolution we praise the Association of American Publishers, the American Foundation for the Blind, the American Printing House for the Blind, RFB and D, and the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped for their efforts in working constructively with us to develop the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act.
We also urge Congress to pass this act before the adjournment of the current session so that blind students in elementary and secondary schools will have access to material at the same time as their sighted peers. The act will require textbook publishers to provide their products in a form of electronic text which could then be readily converted into Braille and other specialized formats.
The convention passed six resolutions opposing the actions of a variety of organizations. Peggy Elliott, Second Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind and President of the NFB of Iowa, introduced resolution 2001
05 which affirms our longstanding opposition to NAC (the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped--now Blind and Visually Impaired Persons). The resolution reads in part, "This organization declare[s] NAC to be an artifact of the past and not relevant to the needs of the blind in the twenty-first century."
James Omvig, a long time leader in the Federation, was the author of resolution 2001
11, which deals with certification of blindness specialists. The resolution outlines the reasons for our opposition to certification by the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Educational Professionals, which has now replaced in name but not intention the certification provided by the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER). The National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB) was established to serve as a positive, progressive alternative to AER/Academy certification. In this resolution we urge all state education and rehabilitation agencies to recognize performance-based certifying authorities such as the NBPCB.
In resolution 2001
14 we condemn and deplore opposition by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities to the legislative priorities of blind Americans such as the elimination of the sub-minimum wage. The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities portrays itself as the representative voice of all people with disabilities. It does not speak for the organized blind. The authors of this resolution were Brook Sexton, the newly elected treasurer of the National Association of Blind Students and a 2000 TenBroek Fellow, and Matt Lyles, a 2001 scholarship winner.
Scott LaBarre, President of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, sponsored two resolutions concerning recommendations by the Public Rights of Way Access Advisory Committee (PROWAAC) to the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (ATBCB). In both resolutions we demand that the ATBCB order the PROWAAC to halt the drafting of technical guidance until final regulations have been promulgated. In both resolutions we also urge the ATBCB to adopt the minority report filed by the National Federation of the Blind as its final regulations. Resolution 2001
09 outlines our objections to the PROWAAC requirements for installation of detectable warnings. Resolution 2001
13 outlines our opposition to the PROWAAC standard which would call for the installation of accessible pedestrian signals at every intersection that has a traffic-control device.
The civil rights of blind people who carry a white cane or use a guide dog are guaranteed by law. These protections include the right to use the streets, public accommodations, and public facilities. Suzanne Whalen, President; Eugenia Firth, Secretary; and Karla Westjohn, member, of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, sponsored resolution 2001
17. As the resolution states, experiments such as those being conducted by the Guide Horse Foundation in Kittrell, North Carolina, are not only demeaning and dangerous but could also jeopardize our civil rights.
The remaining eight resolutions urge numerous entities to take immediate action on various issues of concern to the organized blind. Two resolutions expand on the work that we began during our Washington seminar on Capitol Hill last February. In resolution 2001
02, sponsored by Jim Marks, a strong Federation leader from Montana, we urge Congress to expand Medicare coverage to include rehabilitation services for older blind Americans by passing the bill to be introduced by Congressman Towns and Congressman Frost. The resolution also describes our opposition to Congressman Capuano's bill, which treats rehabilitation of older blind people as a medical problem to be managed by physicians, rather than allowing these services to be "furnished or supervised by a designated state vocational rehabilitation agency to an older blind individual under Chapter Two of Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act."
Kristen Cox, Assistant Director of the NFB's Department of Governmental Affairs, sponsored resolution 2001
04. In this resolution we call upon Congress "to require that voting technology provide for both visual and nonvisual output as a condition for the receipt of any federal funds appropriated for the purchase of such technology." We also urge state legislators to ensure that voting technology is accessible to both the blind and the sighted.
Two resolutions called for improvements in the system for funding the Vocational Rehabilitation Program. Carlos Servan, President of the NFB of Nebraska and the Deputy Director of the Nebraska Commission for the Blind, sponsored resolution 2001
06 to address problems with reimbursements to state vocational rehabilitation agencies by the Social Security Administration for services to blind beneficiaries who become employed and leave the Social Security rolls. Current Social Security Administration policies can result in excluding some of the state agency's administrative costs for services. This reimbursement problem frequently occurs when clients exercise their right to choose a service provider that is not part of the state agency. In this resolution we call upon the Social Security Administration and the Rehabilitation Services Administration to develop policies and guidelines to ensure total reimbursement for vocational rehabilitation services.
Allen Harris, Treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind, and Mrs. Cox sponsored resolution 2001
10. In the current funding formula for vocational rehabilitation services, Congress provided for a cost-of-living increase. In practice some states end up losing money because of this formula. In this resolution we called upon Congress to make sure that every state receives the cost-of-living increase. Further, we call upon Congress "to appropriate an additional 10 percent above the cost of living for fiscal year 2002 in order to support new and needed vocational rehabilitation services."
Mr. Gashel sponsored two resolutions about medical issues of concern to the blind. In resolution 2001
07 we condemn insurance companies who refuse to sell long-term care coverage to blind people. We intend to bring this growing form of discrimination to the attention of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and to the states so that they may take immediate corrective action. In resolution 2001
20 we call upon the Food and Drug Administration to require drug manufacturers to provide tactile labels on prescription drugs.
The remaining two resolutions call upon various entities to work with the National Federation of the Blind to solve access problems. A long-time leader in the Federation, Harold Snider, introduced resolution 2001
15. In this resolution we call upon the Federal Communications Commission, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the U.S. Department of Education, and the broadcast industry "to develop a simple and cost-effective process for voicing all health, safety, education, and civic information printed to the television screen."
Deborah Brown, First Vice President of the National Association of Blind Musicians, sponsored resolution 2001
16. In this resolution we request support and assistance from members of the music publishing industry to secure a means of expedited approval of copyright whenever Braille transcription of musical scores is needed.
This information is merely an introductory description of the resolutions considered and passed by the convention. Readers should examine the complete text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects.
National Federation of the Blind
WHEREAS, the purpose of Title I of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, is to assist individuals with disabilities to obtain high-quality employment in the integrated and competitive labor market; and
WHEREAS, Congressional emphasis in the Rehabilitation Act on integrated and competitive employment is well founded since its opposite, sheltered employment, has consistently fallen short in providing individuals with career choices and social integration while in contrast integrated competitive employment is more likely to provide better pay, better career and advancement opportunities, and the chance to participate directly in the social mainstream; and
WHEREAS, on June 26, 2000, the Rehabilitation Services Administration in the United States Department of Education, then administered by Dr. Frederic K. Schroeder, proposed a change to the definition of employment outcome in the Vocational Rehabilitation program; and
WHEREAS, under the proposed rule state vocational rehabilitation agencies could no longer close the case of a person placed in a sheltered workshop, thus concluding services to that person, because sheltered employment could no longer be counted as an "Employment Outcome"; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind enthusiastically supported the proposed rule because it would assure continued eligibility for vocational rehabilitation services for individuals who choose to work in sheltered workshops until they obtain employment in the competitive labor force; and
WHEREAS, operators of sheltered workshops fought the proposed rule with a vehemence that could be motivated only by a significant financial stake in keeping their workers sheltered for the long term, going so far as to describe the proposed rule inaccurately to their sheltered workers by telling them that they would no longer be allowed to work in a sheltered setting should the rule be adopted; and
WHEREAS, the Honorable Roderick R. Paige, Secretary of Education, has announced that the Bush Administration endorses the new employment outcome regulation over continued protests from sheltered-workshop operators, and the regulation will become effective on October 1, 2001: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOlVED, by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2001, in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that this organization commend Secretary Paige for upholding the rule that redefines an employment outcome in the vocational rehabilitation program; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization applaud Dr. Frederick K. Schroeder for his leadership in developing the new regulation on employment outcome in the vocational rehabilitation program and thank Dr. Schroeder for his dedication to improving the lives of all blind people in America.
WHEREAS, over six million Americans aged fifty-five and older have severely impaired vision and more than half of all blind people are sixty-five or older, a population figure that doubled within the last thirty years and will double again in the next thirty; and
WHEREAS, the increasing number of blind seniors creates an overwhelming demand for rehabilitation services, which are critical to quality of life and independence, thus permitting older blind Americans to continue living independent and active lives; and
WHEREAS, these rehabilitation services are grossly underfunded, serving a mere 2 percent of seniors, and no long-range plans exist to remedy this intolerable situation; and
WHEREAS, the void in quality rehabilitation services for the older blind creates huge costs, such as those reported by the Alliance on Aging Research, which disclosed that visual impairment is one of the top four reasons why seniors lose their independence, contributing to medical and long
term care costs of $26 billion annually; and
WHEREAS, the Medicare program
Title XVIII of the Social Security Act
provides health insurance coverage paying for reasonable and necessary services consistent with the goals of rehabilitation services for older blind Americans, but does not cover rehabilitation services for blind individuals such as learning safe travel, daily living skills, and use of adaptive aids and devices; and
WHEREAS, Chapter 2 of Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act provides grants to designated state agencies to provide independent living services for the older blind, a well
established and accountable system for the delivery of rehabilitation services; and
WHEREAS, this independent living program for the older blind is sorely under
funded at its current allocation of $20 million, an amount which funds services to less than 5 percent of those who could benefit from these rehabilitation services; and
WHEREAS, Congressmen Towns and Frost have announced their intention to introduce legislation which amends Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to include Medicare coverage for rehabilitation services provided to older individuals who are blind and which defines rehabilitation services as those services furnished or supervised by a designated state vocational rehabilitation agency to an older blind individual under Chapter 2 of Title VII of The Rehabilitation Act; and
WHEREAS, Congressman Capuano announced his intention to re-introduce legislation amending Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to include Medicare coverage of rehabilitation service for the blind or "vision rehabilitation services," when such services are provided or supervised by a physician, thereby allowing medical practitioners to assert jurisdiction in the field of rehabilitation, which is far beyond the scope of medical training; and
WHEREAS, although the ability of medical doctors, ophthalmologists, and optometrists to help maintain, enhance, or restore sight is a component necessary in treating an individual's physical condition, learning to live as a blind person is not a medical condition but a confluence of skills and attitudes best learned from other blind people and qualified experts in rehabilitation: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2001, in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that this organization commend Congressmen Towns and Frost for their leadership in promoting legislation that will authorize Medicare to fund rehabilitation services through qualified state agencies designated under the Rehabilitation Act; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge Congress and the Bush Administration to adopt this legislation during the current session of Congress; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon Congressman Capuano to refrain from introducing his bill and instead lend his support to the consumer-supported Towns/Frost approach; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization vigorously oppose Congressman Capuano's proposal and promptly advise Congress that this legislation represents an ill-conceived and unacceptable approach.
03 was withdrawn by the sponsor.
WHEREAS, state and local political jurisdictions are increasingly updating their antiquated voting machines with electronic, computer
based voting systems; and
WHEREAS, the standards individual states develop and apply to approve or certify voting systems rarely address the needs of blind voters; and
WHEREAS, as a result virtually all electronic voting technology is unusable by as many as eight million people who are blind or cannot use a print ballot; and
WHEREAS, inaccessible voting machines and other traditional voting methods (such as paper ballots and mechanical lever machines) preclude blind voters from casting a secret ballot and independently confirming their vote; and
WHEREAS, in the wake of the 2000 Election many Members of Congress have introduced bills which seek to establish a federal grants program to modernize voting systems used in federal elections, and state legislators across the country are likewise considering various proposals to reform voting systems and procedures; and
WHEREAS, many of these bills include language requiring nonvisual access to voting technology purchased with the appropriated funds, thereby eliminating many of the barriers which discourage blind people from exercising the most fundamental right of citizenship
-the right to vote; and
WHEREAS, without requirements for nonvisual access specifically stated in applicable laws, many states and local jurisdictions will likely purchase inaccessible voting technology despite the availability of technology which provides for both visual and nonvisual output, a result that has already occurred in numerous jurisdictions such as the city of Philadelphia and the state of Florida: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2001, in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that this organization call upon the 107th Congress to require that voting technology provide for both visual and nonvisual output as a condition for the receipt of any federal funds appropriated for the purchase of such technology; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon state legislators quickly to enact legislation requiring that voting technology purchased within the state be accessible to blind and sighted voters alike.
WHEREAS, The National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving Blind and Visually Impaired Persons (NAC) was founded in the 1960's with great huzzahs from the professionals in the field of work with the blind and claims of intention to accredit the universe of agencies serving the blind numbering more than 500; and
WHEREAS, NAC was ballyhooed as the entity that would bring professionalism and high standards to the field of work with the blind, and many generous donors were duped into financially supporting NAC, even though for the blind NAC was really a wolf in sheep's clothing; and
WHEREAS, the organized blind have known all along that NAC was actually founded as a way for some professionals to validate one another in order to avoid listening to blind consumers and considering changes in services to the blind, which, in order to protect their professional positions, they saw as unacceptable alternatives; and
WHEREAS, thirty-four years after its founding, NAC has shrunk to the point that it accredits agencies in only twenty-three states while twenty-nine states are NACfree, and nearly one quarter of all accredited agencies are small city or countybased agencies in Florida; and
WHEREAS, no one has ever heard of an agency's failing to meet NAC's standards and being unaccredited for that reason, even though during NAC's existence there have been numerous instances of poor service to the blind far beyond reasonable and tolerable exceptions, including several findings of professional and criminal misconduct resulting from highprofile investigations of agencies accredited by NAC; and
WHEREAS, NAC's standards seem largely to consist of an agency's willingness to pay NAC's high membership fees although numerous instances exist of accredited agencies' ceasing their payment of dues and remaining accredited, leading to the question whether anything at all will cause NAC to unaccredit an agency since neither discreditable behavior nor nonpayment of dues appears to do so; and
WHEREAS, none of the state vocational rehabilitation agencies is accredited by NAC because the agencies choose not to associate themselves with NAC; and
WHEREAS, of the seventy-one schools for the blind, only eleven (15 percent) are accredited, and the rest choose not to affiliate with NAC; and
WHEREAS, of the eighty sheltered workshops for the blind, only thirteen (16 percent) are accredited, and the rest choose not to affiliate with NAC; and
WHEREAS, ninety agencies once affiliated with NAC have now terminated this relationship, leading to the absurd situation that twice as many agencies as are now accredited have affiliated and then voluntarily disaffiliated from NAC and to the preposterous condition that, thirty-four years into its existence, NAC accredits less than 10 percent of the universe it so proudly defined for itself at its inception; and
WHEREAS, despite this ludicrous list of failures and dismal performance NAC struggles on, continuing to pretend to its few adherents that they are getting something for the high fees they pay while over 90 percent of the field does not think of NAC from one year's end to the next and, when reminded, usually asks: "NAC? Are they still around?": Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2001, in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that this organization declare NAC to be an artifact of the past and not relevant to the needs of the blind in the twenty-first century; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this declaration
-"no more NAC"
-be proclaimed throughout the field of work with the blind since NAC now exists on life support only and provides no value whatsoever to the blind or the agencies that serve the blind anywhere in the United States.
WHEREAS, successful vocational rehabilitation of blind people in most cases includes pre vocational training in adjustment to blindness, including the alternative techniques and positive attitudes which are essential for achievement by capable blind people; and
WHEREAS, this pre vocational training can be provided by a state agency serving the blind as one of the many services offered by the agency or the same training can be purchased by the state agency from another program often known as a third party provider but, in either case, quality service costs the same, including the costs of administering the program; and
WHEREAS, blind people served by state vocational rehabilitation agencies are empowered by law to choose among providers available, but the exercise of a free choice can be inhibited if costs are computed differently for services provided by the state agency and by third party providers; and
WHEREAS, when beneficiaries who receive disability insurance or Supplemental Security Income benefits become employed and leave the rolls, the Social Security Administration can reimburse state vocational rehabilitation agencies for the cost of services provided, but the policies used can result in excluding some of a state agency's administrative costs from the reimbursement; and
WHEREAS, a common basis for comparing both direct and indirect costs of all providers of adjustment services is needed in order to support the choice requirements and also to assure that state agencies can obtain full reimbursement for the cost of services from the Social Security Administration: Now, therefore, BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2001, in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that this organization call upon the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) to develop policies and guidelines to assure that reimbursement for the cost of vocational rehabilitation services is fully paid to state agencies without regard to the individual's choice of a provider.
WHEREAS, insurance policies designed to pay long term care expenses for seniors have become a popular form of insurance protection in the United States; and
WHEREAS, long term care insurance is becoming more and more essential as life expectancy increases and the costs of care continue to rise, leaving far too many seniors financially destitute during the later years of life; and
WHEREAS, long term care insurance is needed by blind people for the same reasons that sighted people purchase this coverage, but outright refusal to sell this form of insurance to blind people is entirely too common throughout the insurance industry; and
WHEREAS, approximately thirty-four states have enacted laws or regulations intended to prohibit discrimination against the blind in insurance, including prohibitions on refusing to sell life and health insurance to blind people and prohibiting higher rates for this coverage; and
WHEREAS, these laws and regulations are based on a model fair trade practice regulation adopted more than twenty years ago by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners in a collaborative effort with the National Federation of the Blind; and
WHEREAS, regardless of the policy of prohibiting discrimination based on blindness in insurance, some state regulators have failed to compel insurance companies to sell long term care coverage to blind people, thus allowing the industry to practice discrimination against the blind in this particular area: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2001, in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that this organization condemn and deplore the practice of insurance companies' refusing to sell long term care coverage to blind people; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization bring this growing form of discrimination to the attention of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners with the request that NAIC and the states take prompt and effective action to prohibit discrimination against the blind in obtaining any form of insurance coverage, whether for long term care or otherwise.
08 was voted down by the committee.
WHEREAS, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (ATBCB) established the Public Rights of Way Access Advisory Committee (PROWAAC) to consider and propose new regulations to define the building and rebuilding of these rights of way such as streets, sidewalks, and other outdoor public areas so that individuals with disabilities can access them; and
WHEREAS, PROWAAC has issued its recommendations to the ATBCB in a final report called "Building a True Community"; and
WHEREAS, this report includes a definition and also a set of requirements for installation of detectable warnings, raised truncated domes in a strip two feet wide in the direction a person is walking and as wide as the curb ramp or the adjacent sidewalk and painted bright yellow (or some other color highly contrasting with the surroundings of the domes); and
WHEREAS, these raised truncated domes are thought by some to give the blind pedestrian a tactile warning underfoot that something hazardous lies ahead; and
WHEREAS, a majority of the PROWAAC members voted to recommend a standard calling for the installation of these bright yellow truncated domes at all intersections, alleyways, hazardous vehicular ways (whatever those are), and reflecting pools in America; and
WHEREAS, creation of a rule to require installation of these domes everywhere must rest on proof that blind people need and must have these truncated domes universally installed in order to use the public rights of way, rendering their compelled installation a civil right for blind people; and
WHEREAS, The majority vote for universal installation of truncated domes was cast in the belief that all public rights of way without such brightly colored tactile markings are unsafe for blind people and that taxpayer dollars must be devoted to universal installation of such colored domes; and
WHEREAS, blind people in America now use the public rights of way without difficulty most of the time, rendering the report's recommendation both wrong, as unnecessary, and grossly expensive, as out of proportion to the need which could bring the entire regulation, if enacted, under fire in the courts and city halls of America; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind filed a minority report advocating that detectable warnings be placed only at intersections at which the approach to the street is at a slope of one inch downward for every fifteen inches of sidewalk, commonly called a slope of 1:15 or flatter; and
WHEREAS, intersections with an approach to the street of 1:15 are virtually flat and are places where it is therefore difficult for a blind person to determine when the sidewalk ends and the street begins; and
WHEREAS, intersections with street approaches which slope at an angle steeper than 1:15 are readily detectable underfoot whether the blind person is using a cane, a dog, or no mobility tool whatsoever, and therefore do not require the installation of expensive truncated dome strips to insure that blind people detect the street; and
WHEREAS, the PROWAAC final report is not an enforceable regulation and will never be one unless the ATBCB and the United States Department of Justice choose to enact it or parts of it as a regulation; and
WHEREAS, the PROWAAC committee members are now drafting technical guidance documents as if the report had been adopted into final regulation: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2001, in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that this organization urge the ATBCB to reject the majority's position on truncated domes in the PROWAC report as unnecessary and therefore not required by law and to adopt the minority report filed by the National Federation of the Blind as its regulation with respect to detectable warnings; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that the ATBCB order the PROWAAC to halt the drafting of technical guidance until final regulations have been promulgated.
WHEREAS, Congress established the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Program to serve as the primary vehicle to assist individuals with disabilities to obtain high-quality employment in the integrated labor market; and
WHEREAS, ticket to work, welfare to work, work force investment, and other federal programs aimed at transitioning individuals with disabilities into the labor market have placed increased demands on VR programs; and
WHEREAS, other demands on the VR program such as assistive technology used to obtain and maintain employment, the dramatic rise in the cost of college tuition, and the higher expectations among individuals with disabilities to be gainfully employed have stretched current VR dollars beyond capacity; and
WHEREAS, the basic funding formula for the federal state vocational rehabilitation partnership is quite complex and sensitive to changing conditions including population and state per capita income; and
WHEREAS, Congress added what was intended to be a cost-of-living increase to the vocational rehabilitation program, but population and income changes have resulted in bizarre unintended consequences when the formula is applied to the annual appropriation, such as some states receiving less than the specified cost-of-living increases while others get a windfall and also resulting in some states receiving less in actual dollars than they received in the previous fiscal year while other states receive windfall funds that go far beyond the cost living adjustment; and
WHEREAS, without adequate funding, including Congressionally intended cost-of-living adjustments, vocational rehabilitation agencies cannot serve all the individuals with disabilities who want to work; and
WHEREAS, thirteen state directors of vocational rehabilitation have formed the Coalition on Federal Funding Issues dedicated to securing the federal dollars necessary to carry out the purposes of vocational rehabilitation; and
WHEREAS, when properly supported, the vocational rehabilitation program can result in work productivity, higher tax revenues, lower public assistance costs, and enhanced quality of life for people with disabilities; Now therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2001, in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that this organization support the efforts of the Coalition on Federal Funding Issues by calling upon Congress to ensure that no state loses actual federal dollars for vocational rehabilitation from one year to the next by implementing a "hold harmless" protection policy; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon Congress to provide a full cost-of-living adjustment to all state vocational rehabilitation programs and state agencies for the blind in future fiscal years and appropriate an additional 10 percent above the cost of living for fiscal year 2002 in order to support new and needed VR services.
WHEREAS, work with the blind in America is in urgent need of high quality blindness specialists who can inspire and empower all blind people, a need graphically demonstrated by the fact that between 70 and 80 percent of working age blind Americans are unemployed; and
WHEREAS, certification of blindness specialists by AER (the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually impaired) has been the only certification program available to blindness specialists throughout the United States; and
WHEREAS, the certification function conducted by AER has now been shifted to the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Educational Professionals (the Academy), which has replaced AER certification in name but not in substance, being nothing more than AER warmed over; and
WHEREAS, regardless of the name of the certifying body, the oppressive nature it represents has had a long history of practicing blatant discrimination against qualified blind O & M instructors-until recently, AER refused outright to certify any blind person as an O & M specialist, and most of those so far considered for certification still primarily rely upon visual methods for instruction, making the Academy a meaningless certification for aspiring blind teachers who personally use the alternative techniques of blindness and would teach those techniques to their students; and
WHEREAS, since AER was the only certifying body in work with the blind for many years, it must accept the responsibility (as it would surely take the credit if the numbers were different) for the high unemployment rate among the blind since, if its certification truly signaled high quality outcomes, the unemployment rate for blind people would be considerably lower; and
WHEREAS, despite the undistinguished record chalked up by AER certification and its equally long record of discriminating against the blind, AER has been successful in convincing some state education and rehabilitation agencies to require certification by AER and now the Academy as a condition of employment; and
WHEREAS, a need has long been felt in work with the blind for certification that does not have a record of discrimination and that does emphasize the capabilities of the blind to teach the blind so that they can be employed at the same rate as their sighted peers; and
WHEREAS, to offer a positive and progressive alternative to AER/Academy certification, a new certifying body, the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB), has been established and will begin by certifying O & M specialists who have passed a performance based certification examination, including two additional exams designed to demonstrate the candidate's positive philosophy of blindness and grasp of the professional body of knowledge in the field of O & M; and
WHEREAS, high quality specialists with National Orientation and Mobility Certification (NOMC) will automatically be barred from employment in programs which specify AER/Academy certification as the only acceptable certification: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2001, in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that this organization continue its long-standing support for professionals in the field of work with the blind who have a commitment to excellence in outcomes, regardless of whether these professionals are certified; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge all state education and rehabilitation agencies that rely upon nationally recognized certification to accept the principle that high quality service to blind people demands acceptance of all nationally recognized certifying authorities, particularly the performance based NBPCB, rather than continuing to rely exclusively on the AER/Academy process, which has distinguished itself by a dismal record of accomplishment for which its certified professionals are accountable.
WHEREAS, recognizing that the efficient use of technology is absolutely critical for employment and full participation by America's citizens in what has come to be called the Information Age, Congress enacted section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in 1998 to require that all technology purchased, developed, or maintained by the federal government be accessible to people with disabilities, including the blind, and
WHEREAS, this landmark legislation changes the previous emphasis in federal law from the separate-but-equal mentality embodied in providing alternatives to the blind without necessarily modifying the technology or programs so that they are directly useable, to recognizing that true equality in the information age means purchasing equipment and services designed for use by everyone, including the blind; and
WHEREAS, regulations to implement section 508 became effective on June 21, 2001, covering electronic and information technology purchased, developed, or maintained by federal agencies on or after that date; and
WHEREAS, in keeping with the spirit of these regulations many federal agencies are now not only updating their procurement procedures for new equipment but also making their Web sites and other information resources accessible even though some of these actions may not actually be covered in view of the effective date of section 508; and
WHEREAS, the enforcement and implementation of this Act are the responsibility of all departments and agencies of the federal government, with leadership, coordination, and technical assistance provided by the General Services Administration, the Department of Justice, and the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board; and
WHEREAS, the lack of centralized implementation and enforcement creates the very real possibility of widely varying standards and enforcement within the federal government with the potential to undermine both the intent and the implementation of the law: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2001, in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that this organization commend those agencies undertaking significant efforts to implement section 508 both in letter and in spirit and encourage all agencies to do so, not only in complying with mandated procurement changes, but also in updating their electronic and information technology so that it is equally accessible to the blind and the sighted; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the Congress and the Bush Administration to demand the cooperation of all departments and agencies of the federal government in adopting policies and procedures to ensure the fair and uniform government wide application of this important law.
WHEREAS, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (ATBCB) established the Public Rights of Way Access Advisory Committee (PROWAAC) to consider and propose new regulations to define the building and rebuilding of rights of way such as streets, sidewalks, and other outdoor public areas so that individuals with disabilities can access them; and
WHEREAS, PROWAAC has issued its recommendations to the ATBCB in a final report called "Building a True Community"; and
WHEREAS, this report addresses the issue of Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS's), which are electronic devices that alert the blind pedestrian in an audible or vibro tactile manner when the traffic signal has changed so that it is safe to walk; and
WHEREAS, a majority of the PROWAAC recommended a standard which would, in effect, call for the installation of APS's at every intersection where a traffic-control device provides visual information when a pedestrian may safely cross; and
WHEREAS, according to the majority standard each APS will be placed on a separate pole and will have a locator tone; and
WHEREAS, at a standard four-way intersection eight new poles and eight electronic devices will emit a high pitched tone into the intersection; and
WHEREAS, the Federation filed a minority report urging that the ATBCB adopt a much narrower policy defining when APS's should be mandated; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has passed two recent resolutions addressing the question of when APS's should be mandated; and
WHEREAS, in summary Federation policy states that APS's should be installed only when the built environment does not provide sufficient nonvisual clues to allow a blind pedestrian to know when to cross safely and that APS's should be vibro tactile only so that extra, unneeded noise will not be introduced into the environment: and
WHEREAS, creation of a rule to require installation of these accessible pedestrian signals everywhere must rest on proof that such devices must be universally installed in order for blind people to use the public rights of way, rendering compelled installation a civil right for blind people; and
WHEREAS, the majority vote for universal installation of accessible pedestrian signals was cast in the belief that all public rights of way without such signals are unsafe for blind people and that taxpayer dollars must be devoted to universal installation of such devices; and
WHEREAS, blind Americans now use the public rights of way without difficulty most of the time, rendering the report's recommendation both wrong as unnecessary and grossly expensive ($4,000 for a standard intersection) as out of proportion to the need, which could bring the entire regulation, if enacted, under fire in the courts and city halls of America; and
WHEREAS, the PROWAAC final report is not an enforceable regulation and will never be one unless the ATBCB and the United States Department of Justice choose to enact it or parts of it as a regulation; and
WHEREAS, PROWAAC committee members are now drafting technical guidance documents as if the report had been adopted into final regulation: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2001, in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that this organization urge the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board to adopt the minority report filed by the National Federation of the Blind as its regulation about when and how accessible pedestrian signals should be mandated; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the ATBCB to order PROWAAC to cease and desist the drafting of any technical guidance until actual regulations have been adopted.
WHEREAS, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) purports to speak for persons with disabilities in Washington and attempts to portray itself as the representative voice of everyone with disabilities, including the blind; and
WHEREAS, contrary to this publicly assumed persona, the CCD does not actually represent disabled Americans at all and adopts its positions without regard to the views of people with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, the CCD is composed of service providers and employers of disabled people, a worthy and socially functional role but not the same as representing disabled people any more than the executives of large car companies can claim to represent the workers at auto companies; and
WHEREAS, in expressly deciding to oppose legislation to prohibit subminimum wage payments to the blind, the CCD has demonstrated its true loyalty to service-providing agencies, including sheltered workshops, rather than being a strong advocate for blind people; and
WHEREAS, the CCD cannot fairly represent the views of disabled people when none of its leaders have been elected by the disabled and most of them are not disabled and are not legally or actually accountable to people with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, it is not reasonable to think that a single organization purporting to speak for the disabled can simultaneously represent the views of the providers and employers of disabled people while at the same time fairly and vigorously representing the views and concerns of disabled people themselves: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2001, in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that this organization condemn and deplore opposition by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities to the legislative priorities promoted by blind Americans; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly advise Congress that the policies and opinions of the CCD do not in any way represent those of the organized blind who, as demonstrated by this resolution, form our own policies and opinions in convention assembled--in fact, the opinions and policies of the CCD can be and in some cases are detrimental to the interests of the blind, as in the case of the subminimum wage.
WHEREAS, two broad categories of unspoken information are presented on television screens; and
WHEREAS, the first category includes essential facts such as health information in advertisements, identities of speakers in news broadcasts, and emergency weather and evacuation information; and
WHEREAS, the second category includes entertainment such as plot action, scenery, and costumes; and
WHEREAS, while the National Federation of the Blind has never opposed and does not now oppose described entertainment on television--maintaining only that the information beneficial to the safety, health, and well
being of blind people is of greater importance; and
WHEREAS, virtually all the informational text, including emergency announcements appearing on television screens, is created by a video character generator, a device (used by every producer of television material and every television broadcasting entity) which receives text from a personal computer; and
WHEREAS, with development of appropriate hardware and software, a personal computer could automatically and simultaneously send text to the video character generator for display on the television screen and the synthetic speech equivalent of that text to the secondary audio program (SAP) channel; and
WHEREAS, because providing information beneficial to the safety, health, and well
being of blind people is of greater importance than descriptions of entertainment, the National Federation of the Blind, the nation's largest organization of blind people, has sought a federal requirement that television stations broadcast spoken versions of emergency information and all other text information printed to the television screen; and
WHEREAS, in recognition of the urgent importance of the health, safety, and civic information printed to television screens, the National Federation of the Blind, while not opposing voluntary description of entertainment, has twice adopted resolutions opposing a federal mandate for described entertainment, seeking instead a federal mandate to voice described information such as the health, safety, and civic information printed to television screens; and
WHEREAS, the Federal Communications Commission regrettably failed to consider the health, safety, and civic interests of blind people more important than described entertainment and adopted a rule requiring networks and large cable companies to provide approximately four hours per week of described entertainment on the SAP channel by April of 2002; and
WHEREAS, while considerable private and governmental funding has been available for the description of entertainment on television, none has been provided for nonvisual access to vital information printed to television screens; and
WHEREAS, resources to provide nonvisual access to vital informational text displayed on television screens will not be brought to bear without either a federal mandate or voluntary industry wide compliance: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2001, in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that this organization call upon the Federal Communications Commission, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the U.S. Department of Education, and the broadcast industry to recognize the vital nature of the health, safety, and civic information printed to television screens and to work with the National Federation of the Blind to develop a simple and cost
effective process for voicing all health, safety, and civic information printed to television screens; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the Federal Communications Commission to engage in rule making which gives priority to and strengthens the mandate for nonvisual access to vital health, safety, and civic information printed to television screens.
WHEREAS, entities that produce Braille versions of musical scores and other material comprised in whole or in part of musical scores are required to seek copyright permission from publishers before transcribing such material into Braille and other specialized formats; and
WHEREAS, section 121 of the Copyright Act permits reproduction of nondramatic literary works in specialized formats without permission from publishers, but this policy does not apply to musical scores; and
WHEREAS, because of the copyright permission requirement, blind students and musicians report frequent delays in receiving needed material if they receive it at all; and
WHEREAS, music publishers maintain that copyright protection is essential to prevent piracy; and
WHEREAS, in a manner analogous to section 121 of the Copyright Act, the transcription into Braille of musical scores and related material containing musical scores can be accomplished in a way that also protects the interests of the copyright owners to the same extent that the publishers of non dramatic literary works are protected, even though transcription into specialized formats is allowed: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2001, in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that this organization request support and assistance from the National Music Publishers Association and other organizations and members of the music publishing industry in order to secure a means of expedited approval whenever Braille transcription of musical scores is needed; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization express its intent to secure further amendments to section 121 of the Copyright Act in the event that delays in the transcription of musical scores into Braille cannot be resolved by other means.
WHEREAS, through proper and effective training, the guide dog has provided blind people with a reliable means of mobility for more than 72 years; and
WHEREAS, using a guide dog, a blind person can move anywhere in pursuit of education, employment, or a better way of life; and
WHEREAS, at present guide dogs are the only animals that can be appropriately trained to meet the diverse travel and social needs of blind people; and
WHEREAS, in the past year at least one organization, the Guide Horse Foundation located in Kittrell, North Carolina, has proposed the use of miniature horses as an alternative to guide dogs; and
WHEREAS, guide animals must be able to function acceptably in diverse urban and rural settings, and the inability of guide horses to do so will necessarily limit the mobility of any blind user; and
WHEREAS, the Guide Horse Foundation maintains that an advantage of the guide horse over the guide dog is its 30 year life span, but to benefit from this so called advantage, the blind owner would be restricted to a limited environment, suited to the needs of a horse and not to the needs of a person; and
WHEREAS, the whole idea of an inappropriate animal like a horse being used as a guide animal threatens the universal applicability of access laws to protect the civil rights of blind people in public accommodations, including hotels, restaurants, busses and airplanes; and
WHEREAS, the organized blind have fought long and hard to secure access to public accommodations by blind people using properly trained guide dogs, and this investment must not now be squandered by the use of inappropriate animals: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2001, in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that this organization oppose the use of guide animals that cannot meet the diverse travel and social needs of the blind in the twenty-first century; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we reaffirm the fundamental right of blind people to use properly trained guide dogs and oppose any efforts, such as the use of inappropriate animals, which would degrade this right.
WHEREAS, during the second session of the 106th Congress, the National Federation of the Blind called for enactment of federal legislation to improve access to instructional materials for blind children in elementary and secondary schools; and
WHEREAS, this proposal called upon textbook publishers to provide their products in the form of electronic text which could then be readily converted into Braille and other specialized formats allowed under the Copyright Act; and
WHEREAS, the Association of American Publishers, the American Foundation for the Blind, the American Printing House for the Blind, RFB and D, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and other agencies responsible for preparing instructional materials in specialized formats all expressed interest in this proposal and joined in serious negotiations to achieve broad consensus on the specific language of the legislation; and
WHEREAS, this effort has now resulted in a draft bill entitled the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act of 2001, which is ready for submission to the Congress, including a commitment by publishers to place electronic copies of all textbooks and related instructional materials on file with a National Instructional Materials Access Center to be established by this legislation; and
WHEREAS, by creating a process which will lead to establishment of a national format to be used by both publishers and producers of specialized books for the blind, this historic agreement can also serve as a catalyst to promote greater access for the blind to all forms of published information far beyond materials used in the classroom: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2001, in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that this organization express high praise and commendation to the Association of American Publishers, the American Foundation for the Blind, the American Printing House for the Blind, RFB and D, and the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped for their particularly strong and sustained efforts in working constructively with the National Federation of the Blind to develop the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act, which should now be enacted by Congress; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge the Congress to acknowledge the need for improved methods of providing instructional materials to America's blind students by enacting the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act before this session of Congress adjourns; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we invite the organizations principally responsible for this legislation to continue this effort by working on other arrangements for access to electronic copies of books and other information published for general circulation.
Resolution 2001-19 was withdrawn by the sponsor
with the permission of the Convention.
WHEREAS, Congress is planning to consider legislation to offset the costs of prescription drugs needed by senior citizens; and
WHEREAS, if this legislation is enacted, the federal government will assume significant new responsibilities for health-care policy and coverage; and
WHEREAS, labels on prescription drugs prepared at the pharmacy counter are in print only and do not provide blind people with access to essential information such as identification information in order to tell one prescription from another and the directions needed for proper use of the medication; and
WHEREAS, microchip technology and synthetic speech can now be used to create audio access to labels, including specific directions for use of the medicine, and such technology is available for distribution on a large scale at a reasonable cost; and
WHEREAS, federal involvement in meeting prescription drug costs should include requirements for accessible information since doing so would meet an important need and would not impose unreasonable costs on providers or consumers: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2001, in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that this organization endorse and insist upon accessible prescription labeling to be included as a requirement in federal legislation to offset the costs of prescription drugs for seniors.
Ordering Braille Is Beautiful:
Those who attended the convention learned that "Braille Is Beautiful" is a Braille-literacy-awareness project developed by the Federation with financial support from the Annie E. Casey and UPS foundations. The objective is to educate sighted youth and their families about Braille and the capabilities of blind people. You can order this program through the NFB Materials Center in either of the following forms:
The "Braille Is Beautiful" Video Set contains two videos designed for shorter presentations to schools and civic groups. It includes the NFB video, That the Blind May Read, and a new video, Jake and the Secret Code, an engaging video depicting a mother and her ten-year-old son (both sighted) visiting the National Center for the Blind. While there, the two get separated, and the boy's adventures expand his and his mother's understanding of Braille and blind people. The set also includes a discussion guide, available in print and Braille, a slate and stylus for demonstrations, and a Braille alphabet card, all packaged in an attractive case. This set sells for $100, plus shipping.
The "Braille Is Beautiful" Curriculum Program consists of structured experiential learning activities for use in grades four through six. The program consists of five learning units outlined in a Teacher's Guide. They introduce basic Braille and accurate information about blindness. The program, packaged in one sturdy box, includes the Video Set, six slates and styluses, Braille alphabet cards, Braille paper, Kernel Books, a resource guide, student workbooks, instructions for a service learning project, Braille labeling sheets, and the complete Teacher's Guide. Pilot versions of "Braille Is Beautiful" conducted in public school classes this spring demonstrated that this program easily inspires and engages students.
Learning formats within this curriculum include large- and small-group work, fact sheets, quizzes, interactive games, and applied projects. Topics covered include biographies of famous blind people, frequently asked questions from kids about blindness, adaptive technology used by the blind, history of Braille, uses of Braille in daily life, learning to read and write Braille, story writing, and a service project beneficial to the blind.
The cost of the full curriculum program is $350, plus shipping. "Braille Is Beautiful" promotional brochures are also available from the NFB Materials Center.
To order either version, contact the NFB Materials Center at e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>, fax: (410) 685-5653, or phone: (410) 659-9314. Be prepared to give a credit card number or prepay by check made payable to National Federation of the Blind in the amount either of $110 for the videos only or $360 for the entire curriculum. These prices include shipping. Braille is beautiful; let's spread the word!
A number of NFB divisions have reported the outcome of elections conducted during their annual meetings at the 2001 convention. Here are the results we have received:
National Association of Blind Merchants:
Division President Kevan Worley reports that reelected to two
year terms on the division's Board of Directors were Kim Williams and Nick Gacos. Also elected to two
year terms were Robert Vick and Lorraine Magnussen. Check out the division's brand new Website <www.blindmerchants.org>.
The NFB Diabetes Action Network:
Elected July 3, 2001 were president, Ed Bryant (Missouri); First Vice President, Eric Woods (Colorado); Second Vice President, Sandie Addy (Arizona); Treasurer, Bruce Peters (Ohio); Secretary, Dawnelle Cruze (Virginia); and Board Members Gisela Distel (Hoskinson), (New York), Paul Price (California), and Sally York (California). We are sorry to report that on July 23 Gisela Distal suffered a serious heart attack.
The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children:
The Board remains the same this year except that Marla Palmer (Utah) replaces Samual Baldwin (Missouri) as a member-at-large.
The National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs:
The officers for the coming year are Marie Cobb, President; Paul Gabias, First Vice President; Barbara Esposito, Second Vice President; Billie Ruth Schlank, Secretary; Jim Bonerbo, Treasurer; Alice Gosse and Gerald Griggs, two-year Board Members; and Robert Jaquiss and Al Morgan, one-year Board Members.
The division voted to establish a registry of blind entrepreneurs. If you are interested in being listed on the registry, contact Marie Cobb at (410) 644-6352 or e-mail: <email@example.com>.
The National Association of Blind Musicians:
Officers elected at the 2001 convention are Linda Mentink, President; Deborah Brown, First Vice President; Karen McDonald, Second Vice President; Mary Donahue, Secretary; and Bea Hodgkiss, Treasurer.
The National Association of Blind Rehabilitation Professionals:
At the 2001 annual convention the National Association of Blind Rehabilitation Professionals elected the following officers: President, Shawn Mayo (Minnesota); First Vice President, Vickie Chapman (New Mexico); Second Vice President, Carlos Servan (Nebraska); Secretary, Chris McKenzie (Arkansas); Treasurer, Shelia Wright (Missouri); and Board Members Tony Lewis (California), Brian Bashin (California), Noel Nightingale (Washington), and Jane Lansaw (Nebraska)
Check us out in Louisville, and see how we are changing what it means to work in the rehabilitation industry.
The National Association of Blind Students:
At the 2001 convention the following officers were elected to serve: Angela Wolf, President; Jason Ewell, First Vice President; Thomas Philip, Second Vice President; Brooke Sexton, Treasurer; Kimberly Aguillard, Secretary; and Rod Barker, Robin House, Stacy Cervenka, and Allison Hilliker, Board Members.
The National Association of the Blind in Communities of Faith:
The new officers are Robert Parrish, President; Linda Mentink, Vice President; Kathy McGillivray, Secretary; Maureen Pranghofer, Treasurer; and Priscilla Ferris, the Rev. Sam Gleese, Nicole Gleason, and John Boyer, Board Members.
The Human Services Division:
The new officers are Julie Deden, President; Marie Kouthoofd, Vice President; Debi Delorey, Secretary; Douglas Elliott, Treasurer; and Stewart Prost and Melissa Lehman, Board Members.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Tell the world who we are with NFB information placards.]
NFB Information Placards for Sale:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
The Lorain County chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio created five full-color, eight-and-a-half-by-eleven table placards to sell at the convention. They are suitable for identifying an NFB display or information table. These signs will give a professional look to any display. The topics are NFB, Braille, NEWSLINE, parents of blind children, and blind seniors. The set of five costs $20. You can buy the NFB placard only for $5. For your convenience we can also provide a plastic easel for displaying one placard at a cost of $10. Most office supply stores also sell these easels, but they are usually more expensive.
Add $2 to cover the cost of mailing placards only or $7 if you want an easel as well. Make checks payable to NFB of Ohio. Send checks to Sherry Ruth, 6922 Murray Ridge Road, Elyria, Ohio 44035, phone: (440) 324-4218, e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Pennsylvania T-Shirts Still Available:
The National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania has a limited number of T-shirts left from the convention. These shirts show the skyline of Philadelphia with fireworks bursting above, the Liberty Bell, the NFB logo, and rowers on the Schuylkill River. The words "Philly fun in 2001" complete the design. The shirts picture is done in five colors on an off
white background. They are available only in adult small, adult extra large, and adult 2XL. If interested, send $12 plus $3 for postage and handling to the NFB of Pennsylvania, 42 S. 15th Street, Suite 222, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19002. Make checks payable to the NFB of Pennsylvania, and be sure to indicate which size you want and where we should send your T-shirt.
Among the Missing:
Among those missing from the convention this year were Brian and Priscilla McKinley Miller, one of our true Federation couples. Both Brian and Priscilla have been tenBroek Fellows in the NFB Scholarship Program, and both have been active leaders in the National Association of Blind Students, where they met, and in the NFB of Iowa. They were not able to be with us in Philadelphia, however, because on June 11 Priscilla received a new and very much needed kidney, which was donated by Brian. They report that they are still moving slowly but feeling good, Priscilla much better than she has felt in years. Our best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery go to both Priscilla and Brian.
Proposed Travel and Tourism Division:
Stephanie Scott of Georgia writes to say: "During the convention President Maurer spoke with me about an idea to start a new division titled the Travel and Tourism Division. I suggested this division to Dr. Maurer because I enjoy traveling and discovered that many other blind people enjoy it as well. If you are blind and enjoy traveling, become a member of the Travel and Tourism Division. Contact Stephanie Scott at (404)763
1551 or by e-mail at <email@example.com>."
The South Fulton Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia is sponsoring a bus trip to the 2002 NFB Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. If Atlanta is on your way to the convention next summer, you might want to look into hitching a ride with the chapter. Everyone is welcome while the seats last. A donation of $100 will cover round-trip bus accommodations, refreshments to and from Kentucky, and admission to an after party following the NFB Banquet. A $50 non-refundable deposit is due by October 1, 2001. For more details call Stephanie Scott, President, at (404)763
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ted Young, March 2, 1942 to June 29, 2001]
NFB of Pennsylvania President Jim Antonacci wrote the following tribute to Ted Young, the longtime leader of the Pennsylvania affiliate.
I first met Ted Young in 1990 when he invited me to attend an NFB chapter meeting. Prior to that time the only blind people I knew seemed to be timid, retiring, and somehow small. At about six foot four inches, Ted surely did not fit that mold. In fact, one person described him as "larger than life." Whenever Ted entered a room, everyone knew it.
He was loud and boisterous with an almost unparalleled love of life. He was a workaholic who expertly juggled the needs of the NFB of Pennsylvania, his wife Eileen, his daughter Susan, and his business. Ted first joined the NFB in the late 1960's and is the author of many of the protest songs which we sing today. In fact, many were actually written on picket lines. If you wanted to find Ted, you did not look in an office behind a desk but where the work was being done. Invariably he was the first to arrive at a work site and the last to leave.
Whether we were folding and stapling newsletters or relaxing with a beer at one of Ted's infamous Labor-Day parties, there was always talk of past accomplishments, current trends, and future expectations, as well as songs and stories. He was always able to offer hope and enlightenment where it was needed. He had faith in our abilities and offered encouragement when we doubted ourselves. An example of this occurred in 1999 when, having been NFB of Pennsylvania President himself for eleven years, he suggested that I run for the office with his support in the November election. He told stories about Dr. Jernigan and often commented that he wished we all could have known him. But more than all of this, Ted made us feel special. He helped us to achieve full independence and learn for ourselves that it was ok to be blind.
Ted was diagnosed with small
cell cancer only days after returning home from the 2000 National Convention in Atlanta. He underwent chemotherapy, and as recently as last February we dared to hope that he had won the battle. Unfortunately, the cancer had actually spread, and there was little hope for recovery. Ted, however, fought until the very end. He reviewed plans for the 2001 convention in Philadelphia and made phone calls to arrange for baseball tickets and help to secure funding for the grand prize of $1776 at the banquet. Every one of us in the NFB of Pennsylvania wanted Ted to be well enough to attend even one day of the convention, but it was not to be. He died the day before we attended the ball game for which he had arranged tickets.
I believe Ted was present at the convention in each of us who had known him. As I went through the week, attending to the various duties of the president of the host affiliate, I heard phrases from others which were things Ted would have said to me. We are all better for having known him and for having had our lives touched by such a wonderful man. Thank you for being there, Ted, and for the battles which you helped to win for us. I trust we are strong enough to take over where you left off.
One of our newer Federation leaders, writing under the name of Donna Blake, sent the following little piece shortly after the close of the convention. It is a bit longer than Miniatures usually are, but it captures one element of our national conventions so accurately that it seemed appropriate to close this convention report with it. Here it is:
The dictionary defines independence as freedom from control by another. Independent is defined as not depending upon the support of another for survival, self–supporting. These two very powerful words are both part of the normal vocabulary of the National Federation of the Blind. It is no surprise to me why our conventions are held each year over the July-Fourth Holiday, the celebration of independence for our nation. The convention this year held special significance for me, not only because it was held in Philadelphia, the home of our nation's earliest beginnings, on its two hundred twenty-fifth anniversary, but also because it marked my fifth year of renewed personal independence.
My first time at an NFB convention was in New Orleans in 1997. It was there I learned that being blind was not going to be anything like I had imagined. At that point I still had some useful vision and watched as three thousand of my fellow Federationists went about their day-to-day lives without any concerns. Blindness did not mean a life of dependence, loss of freedom, and isolation. The convention inspired me to remain active in both my personal and professional lives, to continue to strive to meet the high standards I had always held for myself. I had a wonderful time, but I quickly realized the importance of learning the skills that I would need to get along as a confident blind person; this was the first challenge to meet. I left the convention with a feeling of hope and confidence that, in spite of the loss of my vision, maybe things would be okay.
As soon as I returned home, I contacted my state rehabilitation agency and became very active in working with my rehabilitation counselor to establish a plan and set the goals that I wanted to achieve. My counselor was a bit surprised that I was so knowledgeable for a newly blinded person. I responded that I needed to be informed about all my options if I was going to complete my IPE (Individualized Plan for Employment) successfully.
With my renewed sense of self-confidence and commitment to personal independence, I knew I could not permit others to determine my future. I became fully aware, whatever my counselor might have been thinking, that my personal needs for independence were always going to be more important to me than what others might believe my capabilities could be. I may not have had all of the best ideas in mind, but if the result were to be successful, it would be up to me alone and no one else. By the same token I would be just as responsible for my lack of success if I entered this partnership unprepared or unwilling to work hard to achieve those goals. As fate would have it, I am now my counselor's boss. I am pleased to report that we actually have a very good working relationship.
This year I had to leave the convention early because of another commitment. I had no sooner walked through my front door upon my return home than my phone rang. My caller was the spouse of a person who had lost sight to glaucoma. The couple had called me in desperation because they were at a complete loss about where to turn for help. Was this coincidence? I think not. I call it divine intervention. We talked for a long time on the phone, I supporting, advising, and encouraging. The following day they were on a plane to Philadelphia to attend their first NFB Convention and also on their way to creating their own Declarations of Independence.
Since this experience I have had the opportunity to reflect upon the renewed sense of what I fondly think of as patriotism to the Federation. Each year new speakers attend and new members join, new topics are discussed, new resolutions are ratified; and, most important, the force of the Federation resonates in each of us. The Federation instills in us the recognition that our inner strength and self-determination will carry us forward.
As I write this, fewer than twenty–four hours have elapsed since the close of the 2001 Philadelphia Convention. It is mid afternoon, and my phone is ringing. It is the couple I talked to earlier calling to recount their first experience with the NFB. Their story is one of which many Federationists have personal experienced. It demonstrates that hope prevails. It reaffirms the desire for independence, gives us the enthusiasm to begin learning the alternative skills we need to continue life as independent people.
We hold these truths to be self-evident....
National Federation of the Blind
as Amended 1986
ARTICLE I. NAME
The name of this organization is the National Federation of the Blind.
ARTICLE II. PURPOSE
The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is to serve as a vehicle for collective action by the blind of the nation; to function as a mechanism through which the blind and interested sighted persons can come together in local, state, and national meetings to plan and carry out programs to improve the quality of life for the blind; to provide a means of collective action for parents of blind children; to promote the vocational, cultural, and social advancement of the blind; to achieve the integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality with the sighted; and to take any other action which will improve the overall condition and standard of living of the blind.
ARTICLE III. MEMBERSHIP
Section A. The membership of the National Federation of the Blind shall consist of the members of the state affiliates, the members of divisions, and members at large. Members of divisions and members at large shall have the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities in the National Federation of the Blind as members of state affiliates.
The Board of Directors shall establish procedures for admission of divisions and shall determine the structure of divisions. The divisions shall, with the approval of the Board, adopt constitutions and determine their membership policies. Membership in divisions shall not be conditioned upon membership in state affiliates.
The Board of Directors shall establish procedures for admission of members at large, determine how many classes of such members shall be established, and determine the annual dues to be paid by members of each class.
Section B. Each state or territorial possession of the United States, including the District of Columbia, having an affiliate shall have one vote at the National Convention. These organizations shall be referred to as state affiliates.
Section C. State affiliates shall be organizations of the blind controlled by the blind. No organization shall be recognized as an "organization of the blind controlled by the blind" unless at least a majority of its voting members and a majority of the voting members of each of its local chapters are blind.
Section D. The Board of Directors shall establish procedures for the admission of state affiliates. There shall be only one state affiliate in each state.
Section E. Any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division of this organization may be suspended, expelled, or otherwise disciplined for misconduct or for activity unbecoming to a member or affiliate of this organization by a two thirds vote of the Board of Directors or by a simple majority of the states present and voting at a National Convention. If the action is to be taken by the Board, there must be good cause, and a good faith effort must have been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If the action is to be taken by the Convention, notice must be given on the preceding day at an open Board meeting or a session of the Convention. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause," or whether the Board made a "good faith effort," the National Convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the Board's action is reversed by the National Convention, the ruling of the Board shall continue in effect.
ARTICLE IV. OFFICERS, BOARD OF DIRECTORS,
AND NATIONAL ADVISORY BOARD
Section A. The officers of The National Federation of the Blind shall be: (1) President, (2) First Vice President, (3) Second Vice President, (4) Secretary, and (5) Treasurer. They shall be elected biennially.
Section B. The officers shall be elected by majority vote of the state affiliates present and voting at a National Convention. Section C. The National Federation of the Blind shall have a Board of Directors, which shall be composed of the five officers and twelve additional members, six of whom shall be elected at the Annual Convention during even numbered years and six of whom shall be elected at the Annual Convention during odd numbered years. The members of the Board of Directors shall serve for two year terms.
Section D. The Board of Directors may, in its discretion, create a National Advisory Board and determine the duties and qualifications of the members of the National Advisory Board.
ARTICLE V. POWERS AND DUTIES OF THE CONVENTION,
THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS, AND THE PRESIDENT
Section A. Powers and Duties of the Convention. The Convention is the supreme authority of the Federation. It is the legislature of the Federation. As such, it has final authority with respect to all issues of policy. Its decisions shall be made after opportunity has been afforded for full and fair discussion. Delegates and members in attendance may participate in all Convention discussions as a matter of right. Any member of the Federation may make or second motions, propose nominations, and serve on committees; and is eligible for election to office, except that only blind members may be elected to the National Board. Voting and making motions by proxy are prohibited. Consistent with the democratic character of the Federation, Convention meetings shall be so conducted as to prevent parliamentary maneuvers which would have the effect of interfering with the expression of the will of the majority on any question, or with the rights of the minority to full and fair presentation of their views. The Convention is not merely a gathering of representatives of separate state organizations. It is a meeting of the Federation at the national level in its character as a national organization. Committees of the Federation are committees of the national organization. The nominating committee shall consist of one member from each state affiliate represented at the Convention, and each state affiliate shall appoint its member to the committee. From among the members of the committee, the President shall appoint a chairperson.
Section B. Powers and Duties of the Board of Directors. The function of the Board of Directors as the governing body of the Federation between Conventions is to make policies when necessary and not in conflict with the policies adopted by the Convention. Policy decisions which can reasonably be postponed until the next meeting of the National Convention shall not be made by the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors shall serve as a credentials committee. It shall have the power to deal with organizational problems presented to it by any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division; shall decide appeals regarding the validity of elections in local chapters, state affiliates, or divisions; and shall certify the credentials of delegates when questions regarding the validity of such credentials arise. By a two
thirds vote the Board may suspend one of its members for violation of a policy of the organization or for other action unbecoming to a member of the Federation. By a two
thirds vote the Board may reorganize any local chapter, state affiliate, or division. The Board may not suspend one of its own members or reorganize a local chapter, state affiliate, or division except for good cause and after a good faith effort has been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause" or whether the Board made a "good faith effort," the National Convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the Board's action is reversed by the National Convention, the ruling of the Board shall continue in effect. There shall be a standing subcommittee of the Board of Directors which shall consist of three members. The committee shall be known as the Subcommittee on Budget and Finance. It shall, whenever it deems necessary, recommend to the Board of Directors principles of budgeting, accounting procedures, and methods of financing the Federation program; and shall consult with the President on major expenditures.
The Board of Directors shall meet at the time of each National Convention. It shall hold other meetings on the call of the President or on the written request of any five members.
Section C. Powers and Duties of the President. The President is the principal administrative officer of the Federation. In this capacity his or her duties consist of: carrying out the policies adopted by the Convention; conducting the day
day management of the affairs of the Federation; authorizing expenditures from the Federation treasury in accordance with and in implementation of the policies established by the Convention; appointing all committees of the Federation except the Nominating Committee; coordinating all activities of the Federation, including the work of other officers and of committees; hiring, supervising, and dismissing staff members and other employees of the Federation, and determining their numbers and compensation; taking all administrative actions necessary and proper to put into effect the programs and accomplish the purposes of the Federation. The implementation and administration of the interim policies adopted by the Board of Directors are the responsibility of the President as principal administrative officer of the Federation.
ARTICLE VI. STATE AFFILIATES
Any organized group desiring to become a state affiliate of The National Federation of the Blind shall apply for affiliation by submitting to the President of the National Federation of the Blind a copy of its constitution and a list of the names and addresses of its elected officers. Under procedures to be established by the Board of Directors, action shall be taken on the application. If the action is affirmative, the National Federation of the Blind shall issue to the organization a charter of affiliation. Upon request of the National President the state affiliate shall provide to the National President the names and addresses of its members. Copies of all amendments to the constitution and/or bylaws of an affiliate shall be sent without delay to the National President. No organization shall be accepted as an affiliate and no organization shall remain an affiliate unless at least a majority of its voting members are blind. The president, vice president (or vice presidents), and at least a majority of the executive committee or board of directors of the state affiliate and of all of its local chapters must be blind. Affiliates must not merely be social organizations but must formulate programs and actively work to promote the economic and social betterment of the blind. Affiliates and their local chapters must comply with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federation.
Policy decisions of the Federation are binding upon all affiliates and local chapters, and the affiliate and its local chapters must participate affirmatively in carrying out such policy decisions. The name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof is the property of the National Federation of the Blind; and any affiliate, or local chapter of an affiliate, which ceases to be part of the National Federation of the Blind (for whatever reason) shall forthwith forfeit the right to use the name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof.
A general convention of the membership of an affiliate or of the elected delegates of the membership must be held and its principal executive officers must be elected at least once every two years. There can be no closed membership. Proxy voting is prohibited in state affiliates and local chapters. Each affiliate must have a written constitution or bylaws setting forth its structure, the authority of its officers, and the basic procedures which it will follow. No publicly contributed funds may be divided among the membership of an affiliate or local chapter on the basis of membership, and (upon request from the National Office) an affiliate or local chapter must present an accounting of all of its receipts and expenditures. An affiliate or local chapter must not indulge in attacks upon the officers, Board members, leaders, or members of the Federation or upon the organization itself outside of the organization, and must not allow its officers or members to indulge in such attacks. This requirement shall not be interpreted to interfere with the right of an affiliate or local chapter, or its officers or members, to carry on a political campaign inside the Federation for election to office or to achieve policy changes. However, the organization will not sanction or permit deliberate, sustained campaigns of internal organizational destruction by state affiliates, local chapters, or members. No affiliate or local chapter may join or support, or allow its officers or members to join or support, any temporary or permanent organization inside the Federation which has not received the sanction and approval of the Federation.
ARTICLE VII. DISSOLUTION
In the event of dissolution, all assets of the organization shall be given to an organization with similar purposes which has received a 501(c)(3) certification by the Internal Revenue Service.
ARTICLE VIII. AMENDMENTS
This Constitution may be amended at any regular Annual Convention of the Federation by an affirmative vote of two
thirds of the state affiliates registered, present, and voting; provided that the proposed amendment shall have been signed by five state affiliates in good standing and that it shall have been presented to the President the day before final action by the Convention.
I pledge to participate actively in the effort of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.