The Braille Monitor
Vol. 44, No.
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
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Vol. 44, No. 10 November, 2001
A New Day Dawning: The NFB
Breaks Ground for the
National Research and Training Institute for the Blind
by Barbara Pierce
Carving a Niche: Blind Sculptor Steve Handschu Gives
Hands-on Lessons in Empowerment
by Dennis Rodkin
The Advantage of Establishing
a Period of Disability
by James Gashel
They Just Don't Get It
by Albert Spooner
The 2002 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Program
Holiday Shopping Ideas
by Brad Hodges
Blindness Needn't Be All That Bad
by David Hamilton
by Arthur A. Schreiber
Bookshare.org: Books Without Barriers
by Peter M. Scialli, Ph.D.
Bravo! Miss Brown: A World Without Sight and Sound
by Joan MacTavish
Reviewed by Lorraine Rovig
Anthropologist's Hands See Details of History
by Oliver Uytterbrouck
The Blind Physicist Who May Find E.T.
by John M. Williams
by Jaime Fradera
Thanksgiving With The Troops
by Charles Allen
Complete Monitor (text only)
Complete Monitor (text only, zipped) (download)
Copyright© 2001 National Federation of the Blind
A New Day Dawning: The NFB Breaks Ground for the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind
by Barbara Pierce
White Cane Safety Day, October 15, 1998, was beautifully sunny with a deep blue autumnal sky and gentle breezes lifting the hair of the mourners as we walked from St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church to Dr. Jernigan’s grave site. That day we promised him and each other that somehow we would find the strength and creativity to build the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind (NRTIB), which had been his final and most ambitious dream for the organized blind movement. Almost exactly three years have passed since that day when we said good-bye to our beloved friend and leader, and they have been three busy years of planning and working. Neither the work nor the plans are finished; in fact we will probably look back and recognize that in many ways they are just beginning.
Yet many of those gathered at the National Center for the Blind on October 19, 2001, strongly felt Dr. Jernigan’s presence with us and his influence on us as we stood again in the bright October sunshine and took part in the ground-breaking ceremonies for the NRTIB. An audience of some three hundred stood along Wells Street, at the south boundary of our property. Part of the floor of the dismantled building had been preserved to serve as the stage for the various presentations. Print and Braille programs were, of course, available, and at 10:30 a.m. precisely President Maurer opened the program. A number of dignitaries and contributors spoke briefly, and Dr. Maurer presented each with a gold shovel with which to take part in the actual ground breaking.
(Carl Jacobsen (at the podium) and Dr. Maurer)
The following sample of remarks captures the spirit of the event:
The first speaker was the President of the NFB of New York, who reported on the situation of blind New Yorkers following the terrorist attack of September 11.
Carl Jacobsen: I bring you greetings from New York. We are down, but we are not out. Not a day went by that someone didn’t call me, or, if I was talking with someone, that I was not asked, “How are you doing in New York? Do you know people who were hurt?”
To everyone we say, “Thank you, America, for caring.” Likewise I got a call from Dr. Maurer a couple of days after September 11—I don’t remember exactly when—and he said, “I’m going to send you some money. We know blind people have been affected by the tragedy. Find them; help them, and, when you need more, call me.” Dr. Maurer, we have found plenty of people who have needed that help for technology replacement. Not only blind vendors—seventeen Randolph-Sheppard facilities have been affected by this, a good 15 percent of New York’s program. A lot of it is missing; a lot of it will never come back. And a lot of vendors are seriously damaged. We have been assisting them as well as other blind people who were displaced from their jobs. We have gotten portable technology and have been meeting their technological needs. For that we thank Mr. Chong as well.
It’s safe to say that other help will be on the way. Our state agency is committed to make whole the Randolph-Sheppard vendors and other people who were hurt by this attack. However, it needs to be said that, while our state agency has responded in what is a timely response for a state agency (and it is still responding—we have the word of our agency director, Tom Robertson, that he will do everything that he can—and he is rather creative and a good guy—to make everyone whole) the first one on the scene with direct help to the blind people of New York was the National Federation of the Blind. And for that, Dr. Maurer, every blind person in New York thanks you.
The people who launched the attacks on New York underestimated Americans. They didn’t know what they let themselves in for. Time will tell. The news every day tells us more about what they have unleashed. Those people certainly did underestimate Americans.
Likewise society at large has underestimated blind people. As long ago as sixty-one years and as recently probably as yesterday, people have said that blind people can’t do X, Y, or Z. Two years ago, when we launched this project, there were those who doubted—probably a few who didn’t even think it was a good idea—but a lot who doubted that we would do this. We are here today to tell them that they were wrong too.
Just as our opponents have underestimated Americans, society has underestimated blind people. We will build this building. It is fitting that, as New York begins to rebuild, we will be building also for a better future for us and for the next generation of blind people.
We appreciate your help, and New Yorkers will stand behind the Federation to help build this building. I remind us all that we are as good as our determination lets us be. I believe that we have the determination to build this building, and we have the determination to rebuild America. God bless the National Federation of the Blind, and God bless America.
Michael Hingson is the long-time member of the NFB whose office was on the seventy-eighth floor of the World Trade Center’s Tower One.
by Michael Hingson
September 11 was a day of change for the entire world. It was a day of destruction. It was a day of terror. It was a day of questions. Also it was a day that offered choices for us all.
Some of us were involved personally in the events of that day. I was on the seventy-eighth floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center in New York when an aircraft slammed into the building. I faced personally the terror, the destruction, and the challenges of a rapid building-evacuation. I experienced first-hand debris falling around me as I fled for my life during the collapse of Tower Two.
Since the Center’s destruction I have asked many questions as have all of us. For example, what kind of being would plan and carry out such a campaign of mass death and destruction against innocent bystanders? How can I possibly help console those who lost loved ones? Finally, where do we go from here?
The media have taken notice of me and my guide dog Roselle because our story is different. The question asked of me most often is “How did you get out of the building?” My immediate reaction is to answer that I walked down the stairs, of course. I know there is also a question which is never asked. This question is “How can any blind person be working in the World Trade Center?” My real answer to both questions is the same. It is this:
The philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind is that blindness is not our handicap; poor attitudes and misconceptions about blindness are the largest barrier we face.
Long ago I adopted the Federation’s philosophy that it is OK to be blind. I made a conscious choice to live my life to its fullest. I adopted the reality that I can use alternative techniques to sight in order to go about my business.
In this light getting out of the World Trade Center was the same for me as for the others who escaped except for my employing the technique of using a guide dog. I would also add that, due to the incredible volume of dust and smoke, no amount of eyesight helped those near the buildings as they collapsed.
I know that having a strong positive attitude about myself as a blind person helped me to focus and thus to survive the terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, not all blind persons have had the opportunity to embrace the upbeat philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.
The ground we break today will open new opportunities for blind persons to climb their individual mountains even in ways not yet conceived. The creation we begin today is more than a physical place. It is the embodiment of the ideas and ideals nurtured by tens of thousands of blind persons. It will be a place where we can remember and ponder our past. It will provide an environment to learn as well as to teach. Here blind people will move forward on their own life journeys.
People everywhere are still asking their questions about September 11. It remains to be seen whether or not we as a world community will learn and grow from the tragedy. For years we who are blind have been asking questions and seeking answers about ourselves. This new institute will represent the choices we make. I pray that all of us, blind and sighted, will find ways to move forward past our own personal roadblocks. God bless you all.
President Maurer, who acted as the master of ceremonies, next made his own brief remarks.
Marc Maurer: Several months ago, as the leader of the National Federation of the Blind, I traveled to Beijing, China, to work with other organizations throughout the world to promote opportunity for the blind. During the time I was there, I rented an automobile and driver, and I drove through the countryside. That trip was instructive. In the United States a construction site for road building or the erection of a structure will contain workers and heavy equipment. In China there are many workers, but the tools are frequently picks and shovels rather than earth-moving equipment. There are fewer machines but more hands.
The National Federation of the Blind, the leader in work with the blind in the United States, working with the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund and the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, breaks ground today for the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind. We are building a facility which will conduct research and undertake training. How can blind people best be taught to read? How can the brainpower of the blind be most effectively harnessed? What is the optimal multi-media environment for information-transfer to the blind? What is it that unlocks creativity?
The facility is essential, but the brick and mortar and steel cannot by themselves do what must be done. For this we must have hands—the instruments of human endeavor that carry out the imaginative essence of our being. The hands are those of researchers who will create products to expand access for the blind to information, to the transportation system, to the business community, and to other elements within our society. The hands are those of teachers who will inaugurate training programs that broaden the horizon for the blind and for others. The hands are those of contributors who have had the faith to join with us to dream of a brighter tomorrow.
Then there are the hands of those who are blind in America—the hands of those who have done the work in big and little ways to bring us to this event—who have sold the chocolate bars and met with public service clubs and studied the Braille and written the letters and prepared the agendas and encouraged the newly blinded and never stopped believing in what we might become. Many of the blind you observe here today, but there are others—thousands of others. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, who founded the National Federation of the Blind in 1940 and led it until his death in 1968; Dr Kenneth Jernigan, who established the National Center for the Blind and whose imaginative genius conceived the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind; and the thousands of others who are here with us only in spirit. They worked and planned so that we might build, and they would glory in what we inaugurate today.
Those who are blind know the world through sound, through scent, and through taste. But much of what we know comes through touch. Very often our hands are the instruments for gaining knowledge as well as devices for teaching others or the tools for implementing change. We invite all who wish for positive improvement to join with us. If we have enough hands, we can move the earth, build a research institute, or alter our world for the better.
We come today to build an institute for the blind, but the blind are not alone—we live alongside our sighted colleagues and friends. We want to contribute to the larger society, and we want the recognition that comes with full participation. We have brought with us our capable hands. We have, as you know, the ability to imagine and to dream; but we also know how to work. Our job today is to move the earth at our building site. Our job in the years to come is to move toward greater opportunity for the blind so that we can build together the nation that will serve us all.
(Senator Barbara Mikulski)
United States Senator from Maryland Barbara Mikulski: Well, Brother Patriots and Sister Patriots, are we ready to fight for America? Are we ready to fight for America’s future? This ground breaking is one of the tools to get our country ready for the future so that we are fit for duty to make sure we have national recovery and national security and to empower all of our people. I am so glad to be here with you today.
Dr. Marc Maurer, thank you for being the President of the NFB and for the leadership you are providing. To Jim Gashel, Director of Governmental Affairs, what a great job you have been doing. And your wonderful Betsy Zaborowski, who is at every meeting, everywhere there are two or three gathered together, she’s out there pushing for this institute and insisting that blind people have a future today and tomorrow in this country.
Wow! to my colleagues in government, I’m so glad to see all of you here today, and also the private philanthropic givers like the Marriott Foundation, and others who are here. To my dear colleagues who once served in the Congress but now find other ways to serve: my old pal, who was once head of the Congressional Women’s Caucus, Pat Schroeder. She is as feisty and outspoken as she was then. With her job in the American publishing industry, I know what a great job she is doing for you. Bob Livingston, who once headed up the Appropriations Committee in the House of Representatives, is now here working with you to make sure that you have a future and that it’s not only in the federal law books but in the federal checkbook. God bless you, Bob, we love working with you. We’re all here, and we’re Team Maryland, and we’re Team USA.
Why are we here? Because we believe in you, and we believe in the possibilities in the future that this [building] represents. I know that over the last sixty years the Federation has committed itself to be an advocate for the nation’s blind and visually impaired—whether those people were born with birth defects, whether they faced horrific accidents, or whether they bear the permanent wounds of war. The NFB has been there for them, inventing new ways to provide tools for self-sufficiency and opportunity. Right here in our own town of Baltimore since 1978, the Federation has committed itself to Baltimore. They took an old building that didn’t have a use anymore and not only recycled it for a new use but for a new opportunity. We Baltimoreans thank you for picking this as the headquarters since 1978 and into the future.
The NFB has done a great job of bringing information and resources and training, and now it’s on the brink of even greater opportunity with this ground breaking for the National Research and Training Institute. What will this Institute do? It will be focused on technology. It will mean that blind people and those who are visually impaired will cross the digital divide. Bill Gates says that you are either on one side or the other. If you’re on the right side of the divide, meaning that you have access to technology and access to those who can teach you how to use the technology, your future as an individual, a community, and a country is bright.
We want to make sure that blind and visually impaired people are on the right side of the divide. We want to eliminate the 70 percent unemployment rate among the blind. We want to help to empower our children. We want blind people to enjoy the same technological advances that sighted people do. These are the tools for the future. I believe that everyone here who has that opportunity will make an enormous contribution. We also know that the Institute will create lots of jobs here in Baltimore, but what we are so excited about is that giving people the tools of empowerment will create jobs for blind and visually impaired people throughout the United States of America.
We are on your side. As your Senator I am very hard at work. During the last week Senator Sarbanes and I have been under particular stress. Our offices are right there near Senator Daschle’s: my office is right above Senator Daschle’s; Senator Sarbanes’s is right below it. The news looks good for our staff, for our offices, and for ourselves. But I will tell you that Senator Sarbanes and I did not flinch from our duty, nor did the people who work for us. We had to shut down our offices, but we immediately moved to the Capitol and found little cubbyholes in which to work.
I want to tell you what Senator Sarbanes is doing. He is working for you on the Housing and Banking Committee, and he is working with President Bush to make sure we have a money laundering bill so that terrorists can’t get to their checkbooks or to their bankbooks. Senator Sarbanes has been leading the fight against money laundering and leading the fight to make sure that you have housing opportunities in the United States of America.
My job is to fund FEMA. I am working with Tom Ridge and President Bush with Homeland Security to make sure that we have the Federal Emergency Management systems in place so that, no matter what happens, we’ll be prepared and ready to respond. We have been working out of these little cubbyholes with cell phones (and with one computer, I might add) to be able to do this. So we are on the job, and we are there.
Working together, Senator Sarbanes in the Budget Committee and I in Appropriations, we were able to put in place $500,000 to help contribute to the funding of this building. It is in on the Senate side, but we are now working in the House to get them to agree. That’s why we’re working in those little cubbyholes, and I will meet with my House counterparts any place, any time. I’ll meet them in Starbucks; I’ll meet them in Little Italy; I’ll meet them anywhere. I want you to have this $500,000, and we are going to do it. As our dear friends and brave neighbors from New York said: They couldn’t stop us. They might have figured out our airline schedules, but they didn’t figure us out. They did not realize how tough we are, how strong we are, and how we will work together.
The people in New York, who are our heroes (even two sitting up here today) show three things: they had character, they had competence, and they had a sense of community. That’s what we need to be able to do: keep America strong, not only fight the terrorists, but make sure that our country is strong and stay on track for education, a prescription benefit for seniors. We have many agendas, but I will tell you that, because we do have character, because this country has competence, and because we also have commitment, we are going to make this century not only the safest century, but a century of hope and opportunity for everybody. God bless you, and God bless America!
(Senator Paul Sarbanes)
United States Senator from Maryland Paul Sarbanes: I am delighted to be back with you. The significance and importance of this occasion cannot be overstated. This is an incredible leap forward for the Federation: to have the world’s finest and most complete research facility. But in an important sense it’s an incredible leap forward for our society. I was with Ken Jernigan at the Canadian embassy shortly before he passed away, when he received an award. He spoke so movingly on that occasion with respect to the National Federation of the Blind and its work. As Marc Maurer pointed out in the paper this morning in a very perceptive observation, it’s the National Federation of the Blind, not the National Federation for the Blind. It’s not people doing things for the blind; it’s the blind doing things themselves to build a better world.
I was struck that day, as Ken spoke so movingly, and I thought to myself: what a magnificent vision this man has had all through his life, a vision that was more profound, more clear, more focused than that of sighted people. Ken Jernigan had a vision of what could be accomplished. The fact that we are standing here today is a reflection of that vision, carried forward under the magnificent leadership which Marc Maurer has provided to the Federation, after succeeding Ken.
So I am very pleased to come and be with you today and to recognize that this Institute, added on to the already existing work of the Federation, will help America realize the strength that our society can gain by the full participation of the blind in the life of the nation. Now that we are challenged as a nation in a way that we have never experienced before so that we need to reach down and draw on that strength and character of mind and heart, which has made this a great country, we should look to the blind as a resource that can come forth and help to strengthen our nation. That is what this Institute will help to do , and that is why I am so pleased to be here today with you for this ground breaking.
Indeed every speaker who addressed the audience during the ceremonies spoke to the point of what this ground breaking meant and seemed to grasp the significance of this new endeavor. One of the most moving speakers was Barbara Walker, President of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. This is what she said:
Life brings us many opportunities when memories and dreams intersect. Today is one of those, and it reminds me of several others I have witnessed in my lifetime. On October 12 of 1998 I received word that Dr. Jernigan, my mentor, colleague, friend, had died. As the grief washed over me, I thought about the events of that day in my life. One that kept recurring was that that morning, the very morning that he was dying, I began to work with a nine-year-old blind child. I had met him ten days previous to that, but that morning we sat in a library, and I began to mentor this boy in the use of Braille. One of the techniques we have used is that, when I have read aloud to him—he earns that once in a while by reading aloud a specific amount himself—I have asked him to place his hands on top of mine so that he can learn the motion, the touch of efficient Braille reading.
A couple of weeks ago, as he was reading part of Black Beauty, he stopped in mid-sentence to say to me, “Something feels different. My hands are gliding across the page; I’m not getting every word, but it almost feels as if your hands are under mine. But they’re really not; my own are doing it.” It felt like a kind of ground breaking for him.
The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults wants to make this kind of ground breaking possible for children throughout the country. We know, as Dr. Maurer pointed out, that it will take many hands, many minds, many people working together to make this a reality. But when I think of this day and Dr. Jernigan’s dreams and our work currently going on and how much more efficiently we can do it with the Research and Training Institute, I am very pleased to be a part of this day, this event, and what it means for our future. We truly will be able to change what it means to be blind for all blind people and for our society. Thank you.
Listening to Barbara speak, we were all caught up in the sense that Dr. Jernigan’s hands were somehow supporting ours as we moved forward into this new adventure and challenge.
(Chief Judge Robert Bell addresses the audience.)
Here are the names of the others who addressed the audience: Benjamin L. Cardin, United States Congress; Robert Ehrlich, United States Congress; Robert M. Bell, Chief Judge, Court of Appeals of Maryland; Sheila Dixon, President, Baltimore City Council; Major F. Riddick, Jr., Chairman, Governor’s Information Technology Board; Patricia Schroeder, President, Association of American Publishers; Joanne Wilson, Commissioner, Rehabilitation Services Administration, United States Department of Education; Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg, Member, Maryland House of Delegates; Walden W. O’Dell, President and CEO, Diebold, Inc.; and Stephen Marriott, The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation.
As Steve Marriott was finishing his remarks, members of the NFB, Action Fund, and Jacobus tenBroek Fund Boards of Directors quietly picked up their own shovels and spread out along the front of the platform, where a seventy-five-foot strip of softened ground had been prepared. They were joined by the speakers and President Maurer. On the count of three everyone inserted shovels and threw the dirt forward.(The crowd listens to the speakers.)
President Maurer’s shovel struck a large object that was buried in the dirt, and several of the dignitaries helped to unearth it far enough to enable the track hoe to pick it up and place it on the stage. It turned out to be a box measuring forty-eight inches wide, thirty inches long, and thirty inches high. It was painted to look like brick and had a picture of the new Institute on the front. The box was opened with much fanfare, and a number of items were withdrawn. Each represented a program or project that we may well tackle during the years ahead, once the Institute is in operation.
With that the ceremony ended, and everyone went back to the large dining room at the National Center for the Blind to enjoy a delicious lunch.
(The row of dignitaries prepares to let the dirt fly.)
Late that afternoon some six hundred NFB members and supporters from Baltimore and across the country began gathering in a fifth-floor ballroom at the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel in downtown Baltimore for a black-tie gala evening, for which Steve Marriott was the honorary chairman. A small reception began at 5:00, and a silent auction with hors d’oeuvres took place from 5:30 to 7:00 when the dinner began.
(Left to right) Congressman Ben Cardin, Jim Gashel, and Congressman Bob Ehrlich clear sand away from the top of the buried box.)
(Gala guests mingle and enjoy the hors d’oeuvres during the silent auction.)
(The track hoe lifts the box out of the ground before lowering it onto the stage.)
Dr. Fred Schroeder served as the master of ceremonies for the evening and did a wonderful job of keeping the program moving. Ana Maria Ugarte, Past President of the National Association of Blind Students and a professional soprano, sang “America the Beautiful” a cappella, and every word could be heard in the silent room. Then three Federationists, representing the Muslim and Jewish faiths and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, provided invocations. A number of people spoke briefly, including Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maryland’s Lieutenant Governor. Adalius Thomas and James Trapp, players on the Baltimore Ravens Football Team, helped announce the winners of the various silent auction items. A multi-media presentation about the Institute was also shown. Here are the remarks that President Maurer made:
It has frequently been said that nobody is indispensable to the future of an organization, an enterprise, or a nation. Yet we revere great leaders for their sagacity. The reality is more complex than the old saw suggests. Nobody who possesses the wrong temperament is indispensable. All others are absolutely vital. Those who have the talent, the drive, and the dedication to a cause are essential to its continued progress.
(Ana Ugarte singing “America the Beautiful”)
(Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend at the podium)
(Ehab Yamini, Norman Gardner, and David Stayer each offer an invocation.)
The National Federation of the Blind was founded in 1940 by Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and a handful of others, sixty-one years ago. Thirty-eight years after its founding the Federation acquired the National Center for the Blind, and we have now had it for twenty-three years. Today we have broken ground for the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind.
History is no predictor of the future, but it gives an indication of a method of approach for an individual or an organization. So what have we done since the founding of the National Center for the Blind, and what will we do in the time ahead? In the twenty-three years since the founding of the National Center for the Blind, the National Federation of the Blind has created training centers for blind adults in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Colorado. We have established the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and begun the circulation of Future Reflections, the magazine for parents and educators of blind children. We have established the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, and we have initiated training classes in technology.
(President Maurer addresses the gala audience. The band can be seen behind him.)
We have distributed more than two million dollars in scholarship funds to blind students throughout the United States. We have published twenty-one Kernel Books and distributed nearly five million copies of them. We have created the NEWSLINE® for the Blind Network and brought more than forty newspapers into the homes of blind people throughout our nation. We have invented the Jobline Network®, which offers access to hundreds of thousands of job listings in America’s Job Bank to blind and sighted people in every part of the United States. We have mailed more than a hundred million items of information to the homes of Americans describing the innate capacity and normality of the blind, and we have provided leadership to others to instill the greatest harmony and cooperation that have ever existed in the history of work with the blind. But perhaps of most importance we have continued to do what we have always done—provide hope and belief for those who become blind—provide encouragement and support for people who wonder what their lives might be worth.
Both my wife Patricia and I are blind. Less than twenty-three years ago I held in my hands a newborn baby—the first in the Maurer family. He was tiny, weighing a little more than three and a half pounds, but he was ours. I knew as I held him that giving him sustenance, opportunity, and a spirit of independence would be in large measure my responsibility.
Years later I held the hand of a man, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who had been my teacher and who had contracted a fatal illness. I knew that the work to which he had devoted his life would, in large measure, become my responsibility. He knew that he would not be at the ground breaking; he knew that he could not stand with us at the ribbon cutting to open our new facility. But he also knew with absolute certainty that the ground breaking would take place and that there would be a ribbon cutting.
New life is our business, from the newborn baby to the new program to the new institute. Sometimes we encourage blind parents to know that blind people have the talent to raise children. Sometimes we teach that the blind can gain a new kind of life by engaging in enterprises they had believed were beyond them. Sometimes we establish new programs or create an entire institute.
How many blind people have felt that for them there was no future? How many have known only loneliness and the despair associated with isolation? How many have felt that the trials, the pain, and the joy of having a family to nurture were beyond them? The longing to possess the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, to acquire the skills essential to participation in the workplace and other activities of society, and the urge to be recognized as fully integrated citizens have brought us together in the Federation family. We have not always known what was possible for us, but we have accepted the challenge to explore new frontiers—a challenge which has come from the hopes and dreams of the blind at the time of our beginning and has remained with us ever since. Ours is a faith in ourselves and in our sighted colleagues and friends.
Can the blind serve food in a restaurant? Can we learn computer programming? Can we become entrepreneurs? Can we muster the talent for higher education and the professions? Can we manage far-flung enterprises? Can we wash dishes, shovel snow, plant a garden, operate a chain-saw, or use an ax? Those of us in the National Federation of the Blind take these things for granted, but we are not satisfied. In our research and training institute we intend to undertake programs that will challenge the assumptions that others have about us and sometimes challenge those we have about ourselves.
Sometimes we engage in adventure; sometimes we climb the highest peaks; sometimes we scale the ivory towers of academe; and sometimes we apply our inventive imagination to the everyday problems confronting us all. If we expect the blind to achieve in ways defined by the most exalted standards, we must demand excellence. Those who believe the blind have little capability expect little, and they get it. However, this is not our approach. We expect productivity, and productivity is what we get.
So far as I have been able to determine, no blind person has ever won the Nobel Prize. However, not long ago a blind marine biologist, Geerat Vermeij, won the MacArthur award known as the genius award. Will a blind person win the Nobel Prize? I feel confident that it will happen.
How can we foster creativity? Nobody knows for certain. However, some of the elements are obvious. We must believe in our talents, and we must demand first-class performance. We must not accept excuses, and we must never quit trying to be all that we can be.
(Despite Mrs. Maurer’s broken ankle, she and President Maurer enjoy a dance together. Guests took to the dance floor as balloons drifted down. Board Member and NFB of Oregon President Carla McQuillan is in the foreground.)
Most of us will never make it to the top of a mountain or to the winner’s circle in the competition for the Nobel Prize. However, each one of us has a contribution to make. If we expect excellence in ourselves, we will create the environment for excellence in others. I am not talking here only of intellectual pursuits, though that is a part of it. If we believe in each other, support each other, dream of a brighter tomorrow, and work to bring it into being, we will ensure success for ourselves and those around us. Nobody, we are told, is indispensable. However, we need everybody with determination and the right spirit. We cannot change the past, but tomorrow is ours, for we will never stop trying, never stop working, never stop believing until it is. This is the reality of the National Federation of the Blind and the reason for the creation of the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind.
The evening ended in a shower of balloons and a dance. Many members of the Federation family and our friends and supporters had shared a memorable day and had grown in understanding of the historic importance of our new Institute. Now the real work begins.
Carving a Niche: Blind Sculptor Steve Handschu Gives Hands-on Lessons in Empowerment
by Dennis Rodkin
From the Editor: The following story appeared in the June 24, 2001, edition of the Chicago Tribune Magazine. The author became so intrigued with Steve Hanschu’s attitudes and philosophy about his blindness that he decided to interview several people who shared his world view. Not surprisingly all five people profiled in this story are active members of the National Federation of the Blind. The article is reprinted with permission.
Mack Handschu never knew it, but a snap decision he made one day in the mid-1950’s set the course for his young son’s whole life. Handschu and his son Steve were spending the day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, enjoying an exhibit of ancient Egyptian sculptures. That would have been unremarkable except that Steve, then about seven years old, was nearly blind. He had been born with only five percent of standard vision, but he could discern the general outlines of sculptures he was allowed to get close to. To give him a better appreciation of the pieces, he and his father went to the museum gift shop to find a book on the exhibit. Looking at the oversized photos, Steve recalls he could make out the sculptures a little better, and one in particular moved him in a way nothing ever had.
“It was a phenomenally beautiful torso, this magnificent black granite flat relief of a woman’s torso draped, and it looks as if the drape is going to be blown away by a breeze,” he says. “Somebody who had been dead for 4,000 years had left something behind” that affected him deeply. “That was power.”
The boy asked his father, “How did somebody do this? How did they make something so magnificently beautiful, that looks so soft, out of hard granite? I would love to be able to do that.”
To which his father replied, “If that’s what you want to do, let’s find out how you can do it.”
Mack Handschu, an engineer and business consultant, died a few years later in 1957, but that one bit of encouragement had left an indelible impression on his son. Steve Handschu, now fifty-three and a working sculptor in Lake View, says his father would have been perfectly justified—and in line with the standard attitude toward blindness—if in answer to his little son’s questions, he’d said simply, “Most people who can see can’t even do that. There’s no way you can.”
Instead, when they returned to their Peekskill, New York, home from the museum, Mack Handschu gave his son a two-by-four and a hunting knife. Steve, who could hardly see either the wood or the knife, started carving. “I carved my fingers more than the two-by-four,” he recalls. “My mother asked if they should stop me, but my father said, ‘I don’t think so. I better teach him how to hold a knife, but we can’t stop him from trying this. He wants to do it.’”
Steve Handschu now sculpts images from natural wood using power tools that would intimidate many sighted people, and he has become an eloquent advocate for other blind people’s abilities. He is also an artistic mentor, helping residents of a Lake View homeless shelter express their own struggles— against drugs, poverty, powerlessness— in sculpture.
According to the National Federation of the Blind, about three-quarters of blind adults don’t work. Handschu, a member of the Federation, believes the key reason is that from earliest childhood most blind people are “custodialized. They’re told to ‘go sit over there and we’ll do it for you. You can’t do this, you poor blind kid.’”
(Steve Handschu at work carving one of his sculptures, which he is calling “Detroit Birth Song.” Tribune photo by Heather Stone)
The message sinks in deep, says Stephen Benson, president of the Federation’s Illinois chapter. “If you don’t have chances to succeed on your own as a child, you learn not to try,” he says. “You don’t understand that there’s not only a possibility of success, but a desirability and a necessity, that you ought to go out and do it.”
There are compelling reasons that keep some blind people from working, other medical conditions and lack of transportation among them. But Handschu, Benson, and other blind Chicagoans who have careers say that what keeps them on the playing fields of professional life is the kind of simple empowerment that Mack and Ann Handschu gave their son.
What they did was really nothing more than good parenting—letting their son find what he liked and then cheering him on—but the current of conventional wisdom flowed hard against them. “They were always having to fight people who expected less of me than they would from a [sighted] child,” Handschu recalls. “They hated to hear people who were amazed that I could do some simple thing like tying my shoes or feeding myself.”
The Handschus’ confidence in their son even set them against the medical establishment. They sought “sightsaver” aids and classes designed to maximize his use of the little sight he had at a time when those things, now known as low-vision techniques, “were considered quackery,” he says. One result is that Handschu can read some printed materials using a pair of glasses fitted with what he calls a “telescope” in front of his one functioning eye.
The more pervasive social benefit of having such supportive parents is that Handschu became someone who habitually backs up others. Living in New York in the 1960’s, he threw himself into the civil rights movement, registering voters in Harlem and in Alabama. When he lived in Michigan from the 1970’s to the early 1990’s, he was an appointed state commissioner for the blind and an outspoken advocate for a Braille literacy law and other blind-rights issues. He moved to Chicago in 1997 when he married Linda Davis, who lives here, and last year launched a sculpture project to give homeless men a creative outlet for their troubles.
“What’s in Steve is compassion,” says Davis, who is Handschu’s second wife. “He’s very committed, probably overboard committed, to helping people get what they ought to have.”
Through it all there has been his own art. He has stuck with his initial medium, wood, rather than the stone that first lured him to sculpture, because it’s softer. It also lends itself to the fluid, organic, and often frankly sexual forms he creates, such as the subtly vaginal opening in a callused segment of a white oak trunk. Into the oak he’s carving various figures, and from another piece of wood he’s making a female form, a musician playing a horn who will lean through the opening. It’s a layered image that relates artistic creation to the act of giving birth, a theme Handschu works with often in his sculpture. Hands, too, figure into his art, not a surprise given that, as a sculptor and a blind person, Handschu is especially tactile.
Pat Daley, a Gallery 37 program coordinator, who also runs the Visual Arts Project, a private organization, says Handschu’s sculpture has an “organic and sort of ethnic feel to it, something that reminds you of indigenous sculpture because of the textures he gets from his material.”
Scattered around his spacious studio on the fourth floor of a former industrial building in Lake View are a few dozen partial tree trunks waiting to be carved. On a table lie at least three dozen chisels, which he keeps razor sharp, and nearby are table saws and other large power tools. “I’ve been using industrial power tools since the 1960’s, and I still have ten fingers,” Handschu says whenever someone expresses surprise that he operates dangerous equipment.
Handschu has mounted shows in Michigan, including a one-man exhibition at the Kalamazoo Art Institute, and this summer will have a piece—a coat rack in the form of a tree—in a furniture-as-art show at the Cultural Center.
The men who come in off the streets at the Lakeview Shelter, in the basement of a church on Addison Street, most likely don’t arrive in search of an artistic experience. But last summer and again this year Handschu has spent a few days a week there working with the men on their contributions to the Homeless Wall. It’s a series of square-foot concrete frames, each a sculptural statement by one of the men at the shelter. The men first make a wire form of the image they have in mind, then spread concrete over the form. Each one flashes a life story in one three-dimensional image.
One panel has two hands in it; in one hand is a crack pipe, in the other the initials of Narcotics Anonymous. Another shows a woman watching TV. “He was thinking of his wife or girlfriend,” Handschu says. “He talked to me about how much he wanted a home and a family.” There’s sculpture of a man fishing around in a dumpster, with a dog standing nearby to protect him; another of an old shoe with laces hanging out.” He said being homeless made him feel like an old unwanted shoe you’d throw away.” And there’s one of a person surrounded by waves at sea— “Is he drowning in life, or swimming through it?” Handschu asks.
Supported by grants from the private Visual Arts Project and the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs Neighborhood Artists Program, the Homeless Wall generated sixteen pieces last summer and will support about the same number this year. Handschu envisions the wall becoming something like the AIDS Quilt, a national project that attempts to document the losses to AIDS by memorializing each fatality with its own panel. That possibility is distant for now, but the first entries in the Homeless Wall are compelling, if artistically simple.
For the artists themselves sculpting a personal statement under Handschu’s tutelage is cathartic, says John Calderon, the shelter’s day-programs manager. “They (think), ‘Here’s this guy, he’s blind and he made it in this world.’ They know he’s been on the other end of prejudice, that he had to get himself up. ‘Maybe we can do it too.’”
Last year Calderon was a resident at the shelter, recovering from cocaine addiction. His part of the Homeless Wall is a concrete rendering of a marijuana joint, “because that’s what got me started onto addiction,” he says. Sculpting with Handschu was just a part of the process of getting his life straight, but it provided encouragement at a crucial time.
Handschu provided the same pivotal help to Kyle Neddow, a blind Michigan boy he first met a decade ago when the child was three. Doctors, teachers, and others were telling Kyle’s parents that “a boy who is totally blind isn’t going to do much,” says his mother Dawn, “and they were labeling him as developmentally delayed. We were very depressed; we thought what they were saying might be true, that we’d have to send him away to a residential school, and he’d never fit into a community. But we just didn’t want that life for him.”
At a Michigan convention of the National Federation of the Blind, Dawn Neddow and her husband Sid met Handschu, and their attitude quickly changed “Here was this blind man who was so positive,” Dawn says. “Schools and others had put us in touch with blind people, and they were all so negative about the future for Kyle. But after we met Steve, we got our hope back that our kid could grow up and be a person with a normal, regular life.”
Handschu started working with officials of the Neddows’ small-town school district to get an education plan in place for the boy and at the same time tutored Kyle in life skills such as using a cane, making friends, starting a conversation. Handschu became a kind of adjunct parent, bringing in insights that fully sighted parents can’t come up with on their own, Neddow says.
Ten years later Kyle is a seventh grader who competes on the school wrestling team, rides his bike and jet skis with his five siblings, is into music and, his mom points out, “gets good grades in all his classes.”
The biggest thing Handschu taught the Neddows, she says, “is that Kyle won’t get anywhere if you do it for him. He can do it, and you can’t pity him and say, ‘Oh, this is going to be harder because you’re blind.’ Let him try it. If you let him take the easy way, he’ll become somebody who waits to be helped, who expects there to be an easy way for him because he’s blind.”
At wrestling events, if a coach or official offers to let Kyle skip something because of his blindness, “he jumps up and says, ‘No, wait a minute, if they do it, I have to do it too,’” his mother says. “He gets that straight from Steve.”
Four Chicagoans show how blindness is no barrier to success. Since 1978 Debbie Kent Stein has published seventeen novels and some fifty books of non-fiction, all written for children and teens. Her first book was an autobiographical tale of a New Jersey blind girl going into a public school classroom for the first time, but the others include “a lot of fluffy teen romances, and some that are heavier.” This summer she’s working on a novel about a child dealing with juvenile diabetes.
Blind since birth, Stein had one brother who was fully sighted and one blind. “With two blind kids, my parents had a choice, I guess,” she says. “They could either collapse under it or figure out a way to cope.” Surrounded by a supportive extended family and encouraged by a New Jersey public school system that advised mainstreaming for blind kids, the Kents gave their children all the opportunities they could.
“And there were some very positive things my parents did instinctively,” recalls Stein, who is First Vice President of the Illinois chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. “My mom would take me for walks and show me mailboxes and telephone poles and split-rail fences and fire hydrants and all the things along our path. It might take us an hour to go a block, but she understood it was important for me to experience those things again and again, just like a sighted child would see them every day.”
She says she felt welcome in the public schools and at Oberlin College in Ohio. She considers herself lucky, given that “blind kids so often get these messages that they need to be in a separate school, or if they’re in a mainstream classroom, they’d better have an aid by their side. If they grow up with adults hovering around them all the time, they learn to think they need special help all the time, that it’s inherent in blindness that they are unable to support themselves. That’s one reason the unemployment rate [among the blind] is so egregious.”
It wasn’t until she started applying for jobs as a social worker that she hit serious discrimination. “I had a degree and a resume, so I’d get the interviews,” she recalls, “but when they met me and found out I was blind, they’d freak out.” She landed a job in a New York City settlement house and kept it for four years before taking off to write her first book.
Stein and her writer husband Conrad live in Norwood Park with their seventeen-year-old daughter Janna, a senior at Loyola Academy in Wilmette. Aside from having a household with two full-time writers, theirs is an ordinary life. She likes that. “Everyone thinks it’s wonderful if you’re blind and you have a life. But if you’re blind and you’ve been given opportunities to do things yourself, then you’re going to be able to make a regular life like anyone else.”
Tony Burda was a twenty-one-year-old pharmacy student at the University of Illinois at Chicago when he lost his sight. He had more than a year left of school, and considered dropping out, but decided against it. “My thought process was that the health-care industry was this multitrillion-dollar industry, ten percent of the gross national product. It had to be big enough to accommodate me in some niche.”
His religious faith also motivated him to stick it out. “I have a great deal of faith in a God who’s really interested in the smallest details of my life,” says Burda, who is forty-six. “I was at a crossroads, and a process of prayer led me to stay in a medical profession.”
Burda became a toxicologist, an expert in poisons and their remedies, and eventually became an emergency specialist at the Illinois Poison Center, fielding dozens of calls a day about swallowed cleaning supplies, medical overdoses, and hazardous chemical spills. He has been in the job for two decades.
In his off hours Burda is a serious fitness buff. In 1990 he was the first blind person to compete in a triathlon in Chicago. He has also competed in bike rides across Iowa and through the Colorado mountains. “But I’ve tapered off now,” he says. “I have a treadmill and weights at home. The way I blow off steam is pumping iron.”
Burda grew up on Chicago’s Southeast Side and now lives in Oak Park with his wife, Marilynn, and daughters, Natalie and Valerie. “I’m what you’d call a plain-vanilla Joe trying to do what’s right for my family, and I just happen to be blind,” he says.
Burda says his life had been guided by a favorite Bible verse, Proverbs 23:7, which he renders as “As a man thinks, so he is.”
If you’re told you’re not going to amount to much on your own, and a lot of blind people are told that from a very young age, you’re going to view yourself as just the recipient of other people’s benevolence, or always a client of government services, and not somebody who can tow your own weight.”
On the Lincoln Park block where Stephen Benson grew up in the 1940’s and 1950’s, a group of boys around the same age liked to play sports together. Their games usually had one special adaptation to accommodate Benson, who has been blind since birth.
In softball “I would always pitch, and I learned to pitch inside and outside, so the kids wouldn’t crack the ball straight back at me. They’d hit it on the ground so I could go left or right to field it,” And in football, “Whoever held the ball during a play had to make some audible sounds so I could tell where the ball was.”
When he was twelve or thirteen, Benson and another boy bolted parts of two bikes together and rode their hybrid all summer.
The other kids made room for him, “because kids are curious. They want to explore and stretch. Accepting me was just a way of doing that,” says Benson, now the press officer of the Harold Washington Library’s Talking Book Center for blind services.
Benson, fifty-nine, lives in Edgebrook on the city’s Northwest Side with his wife Margaret and teenage son Patrick, but his childhood experiences in Lincoln Park are with him almost every day. He still stays in touch with his former streetmates and paid tribute to them in an article he wrote in a motivational publication for the blind.
“Growing up that way taught me—and them—flexibility and creativity,” says Benson, who is the Illinois chapter President of the National Federation of the Blind. “In the workplace I can take whatever circumstances exist and try to mold them into something that will work.”
Benson’s artist mother, who was single and managed the rooming house they lived in, encouraged her son to get involved in all kinds of activities, from the Cub Scouts to puppetry. “She knew there would be a tendency to leave me on the sidelines, so she made sure that didn’t happen,” he says. His career has included teaching honors English at Gordon Tech, selling insurance, and ten years at the library, where he has also hosted a cable-TV program interviewing authors.
“Over and over again,” Benson says, “I’ve had to be creative and figure out a way to make it work.”
As you’d expect from the second in command in the City of Chicago’s legal department, Patti Gregory-Chang moves fast and isn’t one to let little things slow her down. That attitude comes straight from her mother, who Gregory-Chang says made a point of not slowing down for her blind teenage daughter.
They’d run errands in Harbor Springs, Michigan, where she grew up, and her mother would park the car, then walk off down the street at a brisk clip, confident that Patti could find her way and keep up. “A lot of people would see her do this and think she was just awful. It did look really mean, but it was great. It taught me to travel well.”
It’s a skill the thirty-four-year-old Gregory-Chang needs now, with her ten-year-old son, Jonathon, and his sister, Julia, four, in different schools and the usual run of activities, birthday parties, and other kids’ events. When husband Francisco or car pools aren’t available, “I use cabs.”
Beyond the ability to get around, her mother’s attitude taught Gregory-Chang “that nobody was going to bring anything to me. I had to get out and get it.” She has done that in her career, repeatedly stepping up for more and harder assignments, she says. “I was supposed to shoot for whatever I wanted to shoot for. My mother had high expectations for me. She pushed me, and if she hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have pushed myself.”
by James Gashel
From the Editor: Those of us who have never had occasion to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance based on our own employment records are obviously aware as are our employers, friends, and families that we are nonetheless blind. But the Social Security Administration has no reason to recognize this fact. Yet in the future we may find ourselves in the position of benefitting markedly if the date of disability onset has been clearly established.
In fact, in the following set of correspondence, James Gashel, NFB Director of Governmental Affairs, argues that all of us in this situation should take the time and trouble to hunt up the medical records that prove the date when our blindness occurred or was discovered and then insist on having the Social Security Administration establish a period of disability for us, regardless of whether or not we qualify for SSDI benefits as a result. Mr. Gashel suggests that, if we do not have immediate access to such medical records, we contact the school for the blind where we were educated or the state vocational rehabilitation agency that first provided service. These institutions are most likely to preserve medical records and may well be able to produce them upon request.
The following is an e-mail exchange that explains why this effort may well be important to you:
I am doing some retirement planning and had a couple of questions. If you would have a moment to answer them, I’d really appreciate it.
I notice in my Statement of Future Benefits from the Social Security Administration that the amount I would collect on SSDI if I stop working now is higher than the amount I would collect on retirement benefits, even if I work until age seventy. Which level of benefits (SSDI or retirement) does a blind person collect when he or she retires? In other words, if a blind person retires at age sixty-two, does he or she receive the retirement or the SSDI amount?
What happens if a blind person retires at age sixty-one? Does he or she receive the SSDI amount until age sixty-two or sixty-five, then the reduced retirement amount for the remainder of life? Or does the person continue to receive the higher SSDI amount throughout the rest of his or her life?
Your help in clarifying this would be appreciated.
Before I comment on the details of your question, you should consider that the Personal Earnings and Benefit Statement provided by the Social Security Administration is not an official determination. Therefore, while the information is certainly a guide as to what you might expect to receive, important factors about an individual’s circumstances tend to be overlooked. For example, if you have previously received disability insurance benefits under your own earnings record, the information regarding the expected amount of your current disability benefits might be completely wrong. The point is that you can’t take a Personal Earnings and Benefit Statement into the Social Security office and expect them to honor the amounts stated.
SSDI benefits are exactly the same as if the person retires at age sixty-five. Therefore the only reason I can think of for your projected benefits to be lower at retirement age would be that you have had or expect to have a loss of earnings. In other words, you might be facing a benefit reduction caused by reduced current and future earnings compared to the rest of your earnings record for previous years.
On the other hand, when an earnings record shows a fairly normal and consistent pattern with small annual increases occurring year by year, and if this pattern is projected to continue into the future, your personal earnings and benefit statement from Social Security should project somewhat higher benefits at age sixty-five than the amount your disability benefits would be if you qualified right now. So I come back to the supposition that the projected lower retirement benefits must be due to some decrease in earnings which has occurred or is expected to occur.
Now, if this supposition applies in your case, you may be able to do something to avoid the consequences of reduced earnings, provided you are blind. This would be to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits right now. You can do this even if you are working, although the person who takes your application may tell you otherwise.
Here’s the point: blind people, and only blind people, are entitled to a continuous period of disability, which is sometimes referred to as a “disability freeze.” Basically this means that a record is made of the date when you became legally blind under the Social Security Act, and this determination can become a critical factor when the Social Security Administration computes either retirement or disability benefits in the future.
Actually one of the most important reasons for the disability freeze is to protect an individual whose earnings decrease after becoming blind. This is not an issue if the person becomes a beneficiary, because the period of disability (or freeze period) is established at that point anyway. So anyone who has already received disability insurance benefits under his or her own earnings record already has established a period of disability and need not worry about applying again.
However, some people have never received disability insurance benefits although they are blind. Anyone in this situation would be well advised to apply for benefits, at least to establish a period of disability. This is especially the case if the person expects to have a drop in earnings or is entering employment not covered by Social Security.
The only way to have the disability freeze established in your earnings record is to submit an ordinary application for disability insurance cash benefits. However, you should indicate in the remarks section on the form that you are seeking a determination of statutory blindness only for purposes of establishing a period of disability, not cash benefits. As I suggested, you may have to be persistent in convincing a representative to take your application if you are working, but you do have an absolute right to file an application no matter what. Also, in filing the application, you should include any information you have available or can get that establishes your blindness. Once you have done this, you should eventually receive a written determination.
Assuming you are working enough not to be approved for cash benefits, the notice will be a denial. However, it should also state that a period of disability has been established for you, based on statutory blindness. Also the onset date of your blindness should be stated clearly in this notice.
This can be a very important determination although it is still a denial of current eligibility for cash benefits. The importance is that the Social Security Administration is required to compute your future benefits in the manner that is most favorable to you. So, if it turns out that excluding all years from your earnings record after your blindness started results in a higher benefit, that is what they will do. On the other hand, if it turns out that disregarding the freeze period is more advantageous, because your earnings do not fall, then the freeze will be ignored and you will receive the higher benefits.
Establishing a period of disability will always be advantageous and will never result in reducing future benefits. In fact, not establishing a period of disability can result in retirement benefits that are lower than they would be if the blindness prior to retirement had been taken into account. So my best advice would be to be sure you have a period of disability established in your Social Security record.
by Albert Spooner
From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the Fall 2001 issue of Gem State Milestones, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho. Al Spooner attended his second National Convention last July in Philadelphia. He is clearly a perceptive and dedicated new leader in the organization. This is what he says:
They just don’t get it! These are words I have heard from some members of the National Federation of the Blind this last year and a half since I joined the Federation. Hearing this I wondered to myself, “Do I get it?” not really being sure what “IT” was, but I thought I did.
In the past year and a half I helped organize the Panhandle Chapter, of which I am currently President, in my hometown of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. This last March I was elected as Second Vice President of the NFB of Idaho. During these same one and a half years, I have been honored with two scholarships from the NFB of Idaho, each for $1,000. In July of this year I attended the National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as a national scholarship finalist. There I received a $3,000 scholarship from the NFB and an additional $1,000 and the popular Kurzweil reader software program, a $1,000 value from the Kurzweil Educational Foundation. Whew! Talk about overwhelming. I tell you all of this not to brag, but in hopes that it will help others understand what “IT” means to me.
As a scholarship finalist at the National Convention I got a close-up look at the NFB from the inside, getting to rub elbows with the people you read about in the Kernel Books, the Braille Monitor, and other publications: people like Peggy Elliott, Steve Benson, Allen Harris, Barbara Pierce, Bruce Gardner, Diane McGeorge, and Ramona Walhof, to name just a few. Although excited to be able to meet these people, I prepared myself for seven long days full of lengthy, mind-numbing meetings.
During the convention I listened to many inspirational people on a multitude of topics: Steve Marriott of Marriott Corporation, who happens to be blind; Erik Weihenmayer, the only blind person to climb Mt. Everest; and our President, Dr. Marc Maurer.
At the meetings I attended, we discussed such things as legislation to ensure that the blind have access to the technology being used today, talking ATM machines, voting access, training for blind instructors, audible traffic signals, talking prescription drug labels, Medicare’s funding of skills training and equipment for seniors, Braille literacy in schools, guide horses—did I say mind-numbing? These and many other real-life issues that affect all blind people were scrutinized and dealt with. It was energizing to be a part of something that has such a positive influence on many of us.
The NFB proclaims, “The real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight but the misunderstanding and lack of information which exist. If a blind person has proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to the level of a physical nuisance.” The NFB leaders I met not only believe this, but are also inspiring, living examples of their convictions.
I found that these are real people with a vision and a purpose. They have fought many battles in previous years to win the rights for the blind that we enjoy today. Yet they are just like you and me, with families and jobs. And get this, they are all volunteers. They don’t get paid to do this—even the President.
Where am I going with all this you might ask? Well I need to tell you that I am not a young college student but a forty-two-year-old father of three young children. I have been married for twenty years, and I became blind just two-and-a-half years ago. I had never dealt with blindness or blind people until then. When my world came crashing down around me, the NFB stepped in and offered to help.
Through all my experiences with the NFB, and especially the National Convention as a scholarship recipient, I realized that if you can muster enough courage, put your best foot (or cane) forward, and simply try, the NFB will be in your corner to help anyone who wishes to help himself or herself.
“Changing what it means to be blind” is more than a catchy saying. It is all that has been accomplished for blind people, all the chapter meetings, the state and national conventions, the fund-raisers, and all the dreams and expectations for the future. This is what “IT” means to me.
This year’s scholarship program will be the nineteenth since the organization determined to expand the number, variety, and value of the scholarships presented each year at our annual convention in July. Assisting the nation’s most talented post-secondary students to fulfill their academic and professional dreams is one of the most effective ways for us to demonstrate our conviction that blind people deserve the chance to enter whatever field they demonstrate themselves equipped to succeed in.
Scholarships will be presented this year to thirty college, vocational-school, and graduate students. In 1999 we again expanded the scope and value of the scholarship awards. This decision reflects the Board of Directors’ recognition of the importance and impact of the scholarship program. Again this year the NFB awards will range in value from $3,000 to $10,000. This top scholarship has been named the Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship and is presented by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. We will, of course, also bring the winners as our guests to the 2002 convention of the National Federation of the Blind to experience firsthand the excitement and stimulation of a gathering of the largest and most dynamic organization of blind people in the country today.
Again we plan to present at least three of the scholarships to students who won scholarship awards in a previous competition. The purpose of these special awards is to nurture in today’s students an ongoing commitment to the philosophy and objectives of the Federation. The students so designated will be recognized and honored as the 2002 tenBroek Fellows. All current students who were scholarship winners in previous years should take particular note of this program and consider applying for the 2002 National Federation of the Blind scholarships.
Full-time employees interested in pursuing post-secondary degrees should take a close look at the scholarship form because one award may be given to a part-time student holding down a full-time job.
One additional enhancement of the scholarship program this year is the Freedom Scientific awards, presented by the access-technology company, Freedom Scientific, Inc. Ten awards of vouchers redeemable for company products will be presented to members of the scholarship class chosen by the Scholarship Committee. See the scholarship form for details.
Every state affiliate and local chapter can help in spreading the word of this extraordinary opportunity for America’s blind students. The scholarship application is now available for downloading from the NFB Website, and forms have been or soon will be mailed to financial aid offices in educational institutions around the country. Many of these will be filed away and forgotten by the time students come to ask about financial assistance. It is very helpful to have local representatives deliver or mail forms to the actual college administrator who works with blind students. Being identified with such a valuable national scholarship program gives the local chapter and state affiliate prestige and respect, and the local touch insures that more blind students will actually have an opportunity to apply for these scholarships.
Anyone can order scholarship forms from the Materials Center, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, or <firstname.lastname@example.org>. State Presidents and members of the 2002 Scholarship Committee will also be sent scholarship forms. These may be copied as long as both sides of the form are reproduced.
Here is the text of the 2002 National Federation of the Blind scholarship application form:
Read reverse side of form for instructions and explanation. Form may be photocopied but only if reverse side is also included.
To apply for a scholarship, complete this application form and mail completed application and attachments to: Mrs. Peggy Elliott, Chairman, National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Committee, 805 Fifth Avenue, Grinnell, Iowa 50112; (641) 236-3366. Form must be received by March 31, 2002.
Name (please include any maiden or other names by which you have been known):
Date of birth:
School phone number:
Home phone number:
Institution being attended in spring semester, 2002, with class standing (freshman, senior, etc.):
Cumulative grade point at this institution:
Institution to be attended in the fall of 2002, with class standing. Send by separate letter if admitted to school after submitting completed application:
List all postsecondary institutions attended with highest class standing attained and cumulative GPA:
High school attended and cumulative grade point:
State your major:
Awards and honors (attach list if necessary):
Community service (attach list if necessary):
Please see next page for a list of required attachments. If you received only this page, please request complete application and rules from the above address or www.nfb.org.
Fill out the application and attach the following documents or arrange to have them sent to the Scholarship Committee:
1. Personal Letter from Applicant. NFB scholarships are awarded on the basis of scholastic excellence, financial need, and community service. In preparing your personal letter, keep in mind that the committee members are all successful blind college graduates. Consider how you can most effectively convey your best qualities. Since the awards are restricted to blind people, the committee will be interested in the techniques and approaches you use. Almost all blind students have financial need. Committee members will assume basic need, so you may choose merely to refer to this topic unless your need is unusual.
2. Two letters of recommendation.
3. Current transcript from institution now attending and transcripts from all other post-secondary institutions attended. If you have not yet attended such an institution or have not completed one year of study, send high school transcript.
4. Letter from a Federation state President or designee. The Federation has affiliates in every state. Some state Presidents write the letters personally; others assign them to officers and board members. Federation state Presidents and their designees are volunteers. Many take messages and then return calls in evenings or on weekends. They will wish to speak with applicants personally; parents or school officials may help set up appointments but cannot do the actual interviews. Most state Presidents and their designees send scholarship letters directly to the Scholarship Committee, where they are added to the student’s file along with transcripts and other materials mailed separately. Applicants should mail materials to the Scholarship Committee and should check that the interviewer’s letter is sent. If you do not know the name or phone number of your state President, call the scholarship chairman for this information. If you live in one state and attend school in another, you may contact either state President.
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND 2002 SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM
Each year at its National Convention in July, the NFB gives a broad array of scholarships to recognize achievement by blind scholars. All applicants for these scholarships must be (1) legally blind and (2) pursuing or planning to pursue a full-time postsecondary course of study in the fall semester of 2002, in the United States, except that one scholarship may be given to a full-time employee also attending school part-time. In addition, some scholarships have been further restricted by the donor. Scholarships to be given at the National Convention in 2002 are listed with special restrictions noted:
1 SCHOLARSHIP FOR $10,000
Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship - Given by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, a nonprofit organization which works to assist blind persons, in memory of the man who changed perceptions regarding the capabilities of the blind in this country and throughout the world. Kenneth Jernigan is viewed by our field as the most important figure in the 20th century in the lives of blind persons. The Action Fund wishes to keep fresh and current in the 21st century the understandings he brought to the field and thus has endowed this scholarship dedicated to his memory and to the continuation of the work he began. No additional restrictions.
3 SCHOLARSHIPS, EACH FOR $7,000
Two National Federation of the Blind Scholarships - No additional restrictions.
Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship - Given in memory of Melva T. Owen, who was widely known and loved among the blind. She and husband Charles Owen became acquainted with many blind people through their work in the “Voicepondence” Club. Charles Owen says: “There shall be no limitation as to field of study, except that it shall be directed towards attaining financial independence and shall exclude religion and those seeking only to further general or cultural education.”
4 SCHOLARSHIPS, EACH FOR $5,000
Jennica Ferguson Memorial Scholarship - Given to keep alive the memory of a young woman who dealt with her blindness and terminal illness with a grace and strength she frequently assured others she drew from the Federation and from her faith in God. No additional restrictions.
Three National Federation of the Blind Scholarships - No additional restrictions.
22 SCHOLARSHIPS, EACH FOR $3,000
Michael and Marie Marucci Scholarship - Given by two dedicated and valued members of the NFB of Maryland. The winner of this scholarship must be studying a foreign language or comparative literature; pursuing a degree in history, geography, or political science with a concentration in international studies; or majoring in any other discipline that involves study abroad. The winner’s file must also show evidence of competence in a foreign language.
Lora E. Dunetz Scholarship - No additional restrictions but preference will be given to those studying to enter the medical field, work in which has meant so much to Lora Dunetz, who intends this scholarship to assist the winner in achieving a lifetime of employment through higher education.
Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship - Dr. Isabelle Grant endowed this scholarship in memory of her daughter. Winner must be a woman.
Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship - Given in loving memory of her parents, Charles Albert Kuchler and Alice Helen Kuchler, by Junerose Killian, dedicated member of the NFB of Connecticut. No additional restrictions.
E. U. Parker Scholarship - Endowed by his wife, who joined him in a lifetime of Federationism, this scholarship honors a long-time leader of the National Federation of the Blind whose participation stood for strong principles and strong support of the Federation’s work. No additional restrictions.
Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship - Winner must be studying or planning to study in the fields of law, medicine, engineering, architecture, or the natural sciences.
National Federation of the Blind Computer Science Scholarship - Winner must be studying in the computer science field.
National Federation of the Blind Educator of Tomorrow Award - Winner must be planning a career in elementary, secondary, or postsecondary teaching.
National Federation of the Blind Humanities Scholarship - Winner must be studying in the traditional humanities such as art, English, foreign languages, history, philosophy, or religion.
Thirteen National Federation of the Blind Scholarships - No further restrictions, except that one may be given to a candidate working full-time who is attending or planning to attend a part-time course of study which will result in a new degree and broader opportunities in present or future work.
Freedom Scientific Awards - Freedom Scientific, maker of many hardware and software products for the blind, will give vouchers to ten students chosen by the NFB to purchase Freedom Scientific products. In addition to their Federation scholarships ten of the thirty NFB scholarship winners will receive vouchers from Freedom Scientific, five for $2,500, and five for $1,500 in Freedom Scientific products. Freedom Scientific voucher winners must first be eligible for National Federation of the Blind scholarships and then be chosen as winners. Applicants for Federation scholarships who wish to compete for these Freedom Scientific vouchers should include a section in their personal letters explaining how a voucher would help them achieve their aspirations.
All scholarships are awarded for academic excellence, community service, and financial need.
The National Federation of the Blind is an organization dedicated to creating opportunity for all blind persons. Recipients of NFB scholarships need not be members of the National Federation of the Blind.
To apply for National Federation of the Blind scholarships, complete and return this application, attaching to the application all the additional documents requested on page two. Multiple applications are unnecessary. Each applicant will be considered for all scholarships for which he or she qualifies. Send completed applications to Mrs. Peggy Elliott, Chairman, National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Committee, 805 Fifth Avenue, Grinnell, Iowa 50112; (641) 236-3366. Form must be received by March 31, 2002.
Those who have previously applied are encouraged to apply again. It is the intention of the NFB to award at least three scholarships to men and women who have already received one Federation scholarship in the past if enough strong and worthy candidates apply.
The Scholarship Committee reviews all applications and selects the scholarship winners. These winners, the same number as there are scholarships to award, will be notified of the selection by telephone by June 1 and will be brought to the National Federation of the Blind convention in July at Federation expense. This is in addition to the scholarship grant. Winners will participate in the entire convention and in the scheduled scholarship program activities, beginning with functions on Wednesday, July 3, 2002. All decisions by the Scholarship Committee are final.
The National Federation of the Blind convention is the largest gathering of blind persons (more than 2,500) to occur anywhere in the nation each year. You will be able to meet other blind students and exchange information and ideas. You will also be able to meet and talk with blind people who are successfully functioning in your chosen profession or occupation. Federal officials, members of Congress, and the makers and distributors of new technology attend Federation conventions. Above all, a broad cross section of the most active segment of the blind population of the U.S. will be present to discuss common problems and plan for concerted action. It is an interesting and exciting week.
The day before the convention banquet the Scholarship Committee will meet to determine which winners will receive which scholarships. The scholarship awards will be made during the banquet.
Planned giving takes place when a contributor decides to leave a substantial gift to charity. It means planning as you would for any substantial purchase—a house, college tuition, or a car.
The most common forms of planned giving are wills and life insurance policies. There are also several planned giving options through which you can simultaneously give a substantial contribution to the National Federation of the Blind, obtain a tax deduction, and receive lifetime income now or in the future.
For more information write or call the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.
by Brad Hodges
From the Editor: If you are like me, this time of year is filled with frantic agonizing over your holiday gift list. I asked the staff in the International Braille and Technology Center (IBTC) to make some suggestions that could help us all both with our shopping and with giving others ideas of things we might enjoy receiving. This is the list that Brad Hodges came up with:
Finding the perfect gift can be a challenge. What exactly do you get for someone who has everything? What about those gadget-happy individuals on your list? While we on the IBTC staff can’t promise that you’ll find something for everyone on your list, here are a few ideas that Santa may wish to consider.
We have provided at least one vendor or source for each suggestion, but you may also find many of these items in your own community. If you have questions, call the Technology Answer Line at (410) 659-9314 and choose option 5 from the automated greeting.
Word Wise 2000:
National Braille Press
Books are always popular gifts, and this one is on the top of the list for those of us who use Microsoft Word 2000. Sharon Monthei, the nationally recognized trainer and author, has created this clear, easy-to-use tool. Available in Braille, large print, and diskette, the book offers detailed step-by-step guidance for configuring MS Word for use with a screen reader. Word Wise will be equally appreciated by the first-time user of Word and those who are experienced but need a quick set of instructions for using one of Word’s more esoteric functions.
Earthlink Internet Services
$21.95 per month, or $19.95 per month if prepaid for one year
Getting connected to the Internet can open a world of opportunities and allow you or someone on your gift list to keep in touch. Earthlink is one of the nation’s largest Internet service providers (ISP’s). They have consistently proven themselves to be reliable. With more than 7,500 dial up locations throughout the country, service is available nationwide. The kind of connections offered by Earthlink works well with computers using screen-reading software. The experience of the IBTC staff and others is that technical support is consistently good and that users who run screen readers have not encountered problems when asking questions of the help desk.
Scanner and optical character recognition software:
Give the gift of reading; it’s easier and less expensive than ever. Installing either of these scanners and the TextBridge Pro software makes any computer a reading machine.
Epson Perfection 1250 Color Flatbed Scanner, desktop:
retail locations nationwide
CanoScan N670U Flatbed Color Scanner, mobile:
retail locations nationwide
TextBridge Pro Millennium, CD, Windows:
retail locations nationwide
When combined with either the Epson Perfection desk top scanner or the Canon Canoscan mobile scanner, TextBridge Pro provides high quality optical character recognition accuracy at a fraction of the price of specialized software for the blind. Because these scanners and TextBridge are off-the-shelf products, they are also relatively easy to obtain either online or at retail outlets.
The Epson Perfection 1250 is at the top of the list of desktop scanners that the IBTC staff recommends. It is easy to use, easy to set up, and fast.
If you have always thought it would be great to be able to take a reading machine to class or the library with you, just slide the CanoScan and your laptop into a bag and head out. It’s easy to do since this USB (universal serial bus) scanner measures only 1.4 inches by 10.1 inches by 15.1 inches and weighs in at under four pounds. And you don’t even have to find an outlet; it draws power from your computer. Please note that you must install a screen reader to use TextBridge, and its standard Windows interface differs from those found on blindness-specific reading systems. We recommend these products only for those who are already familiar with the use of a screen reader.
If the Santa who slides down your chimney is a generous sort of fellow, you might want to ask for the ultimate hi-tech gadget, a Braille notetaker.
$1,999 to $5,495
With almost a half a dozen offerings running the gamut from voice only with either Braille keyboard or typewriter keyboard to units with thirty-two-cell, refreshable Braille displays, BrailleNote has taken the notetaker scene by storm this year. These versatile and rugged digital companions include a full-featured word processor, planner/organizer, scientific calculator, and impressive e-mail program. BrailleNote units are more Windows-compatible than any other notetakers currently available, making it easy to create and share files in the MS Word format. It’s a mighty big package that fits into almost any stocking.
Games are perennial holiday favorites. Here are two that those who like games of the computer variety will find especially fun and challenging. Neither requires a screen reader. They also receive raves from the elves in the IBTC.
Grizzly Gulch Western
The Web page says it all: “Grizzly Gulch Western Extravaganza” is a virtual world set in the Old West created purely from sound imagery. You will have the chance to meet and interact with many crazy characters as you explore the town of Grizzly Gulch. Would you like to settle into the saloon for a game of chance or try to make a name for yourself upholding the law against some of the baddest outlaws in the West with your trusty six-shooter in blazing arcade-style gun battles? It’s all up to you.”
We agree: the quality is outstanding, and the easy-to-use control layout uses only four keys. Headphones are suggested for more advanced levels of play.
ESP Soft Works
Again the Web page says it best. “Take hold of any of six available themed pinball tables and set the ball in motion for non-stop pinball excitement! Each table has its own variety of theme sound effects and ambience as well as scoring objectives. Score mega-points in this real-time accessible pinball game that’ll keep you coming back for more.”
These games also use simple controls but are very challenging. The six tables include widely differing sounds and layouts such as Classic Pacman, Soccer Star, and Haunted House. Not all of the IBTC elves have mastered these virtual pinball machines.
Grown-up toys for grown-up boys and girls are always welcome. Here are a few you will find in daily use by IBTC staffers.
Hand-Held Digital Recorder:
What’s about the size of a deck of playing cards, holds two hours of recorded information in memory, is accessible by blind people, has four separate folders to organize voice messages, and does more? It’s the Panasonic RRQ-R240 digital voice recorder. The well-executed controls of this recorder are easy to use and provide a beep tone whenever they are pressed. Messages can be quickly reviewed with the thumb-wheel control on the top of the machine. The speed of playback can be doubled for even quicker retrieval. No, changing the batteries does not erase the messages.
Digital Answering Machine:
AT&T 1725 digital answering machine
Full Life Products
Santa’s number one fan, Curtis Chong, personally recommends the AT&T model 1725. The unit allows up to four separate voicemail boxes. All control functions and status messages are spoken aloud. The quality of the outgoing message is high, and recorded messages are easy to understand.
Panasonic Cordless Telephones
Target, Office Depot, Best Buy, Circuit City
Panasonic cordless telephones offer a range of features at a variety of prices. A number of them are in use in the IBTC. We particularly like the speaker-phone feature on one which was purchased for only $62.95. Meanwhile the range on the 900 mhz digital units is exceptional, allowing the phone to be used almost anywhere in the National Center.
You will find a dizzying number of offerings from Panasonic, so look carefully before deciding on a particular phone. We have also noticed that units with less complex or no visual display are the most accessible.
Braille Alphabet Blocks:
These solid hardwood blocks are maple. They have both print and Braille lower-case letters. They also include the Nemeth numbers and math symbols—twenty-seven blocks, four complete alphabets, numbers, and math symbols.
Braille Math Blocks:
This set includes sixteen embossed wooden blocks; two complete sets of numbers; and minus, plus, and equal signs in both the Nemeth Code and print.
Both the alphabet and numbers sets are manufactured in the United States by Uncle Goose Toys. They are durable, timeless toys that will be enjoyed for many years to come.
Feel and Find:
For young children this fun game is a good way to learn shapes and use of the sense of touch. More important, reaching into the cloth bag and finding the next piece is lots of fun. The set includes twenty matching shapes and 3D textured tiles in a cloth bag.
Kenneth Jernigan Map of the United States:
Dr. Kenneth Jernigan was our leader and our teacher. The map which bears his name is the most detailed take-apart topographical map of the United States available today. Mountains, major bodies of water, and state capitals are detailed. The states can be removed from the base, where the abbreviation for each can be read in Braille.
Electronic Greeting Cards:
Blue Mountain Cards
Free on the World Wide Web
Select and customize hundreds of electronic greetings. This screen-reader-friendly site lets you choose a card, enter your name and message, and send the card to one or many e-mail accounts. The cards are also easily read by screen readers in case your recipient uses one. The site also offers an extensive array of fee-based greeting-card services, including printing and mailing of greeting cards from the Web.
Electronic Shopping and Gift Certificates:
If the idea of facing the holiday madness at the mall is more than you can handle, why not take that old, still valuable advice to let your fingers do the walking?
The following Web sites are screen-reader-friendly and popular around the IBTC:
Browse among over 100,000 CD, VHS, and DVD titles. Look up disks by title or artist or search for a favorite song for yourself or that hard-to-shop-for music aficionado.
While this site may not be for the novice Internet user, it nevertheless contains a tremendous variety of books, movies, audio CD’s, and electronics. Reportedly one prominent NFB staff member did all his shopping last season at Amazon.com.
These three shopping-mall fixtures also offer Websites. In the past year they have called upon the NFB to help them create Websites that are useful to the blind. They have followed our advice, so, if you would like to give online shopping a try, we can’t think of any better places to do it.
You can also use gift cards, purchased at retail stores only, to place orders from your computer. So if you’ve been thinking about taking the plunge and shopping online, these three Websites are the place to begin.
The holiday season is traditionally a time of giving, a time to share something of ourselves with those around us. Let’s not forget to share that most wonderful of gifts, the National Federation of the Blind. Our movement and our love for one another are something valuable; let’s tuck a bit of it into each card and gift we wrap this season.
Also why not make a financial gift to the NFB? It is the perfect gift for friends who have everything and for everyone else on your list as well. Our campaign to build the National Research and Training Institute is moving along; think of what a gift to it will mean to future generations. Perhaps you have a loved one who is no longer with us this year; wouldn’t a gift in his or her memory to our Campaign to build the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind be a fitting and permanent way to share the true meaning of this special time of year? Happy Holidays from the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind.
by David Hamilton
From the Editor: Sometimes optimistic blind people are dismissed by those, both sighted and blind, who have little experience of blindness, as Pollyannaish or out of touch with reality. If we express contentment with playing the hand fate has dealt us, even worse if we dare to laugh at our difficulties and refuse to rail against them, people often dismiss us as unworldly or unbalanced. Surely we would all agree that being forced to adjust to blindness late in life is not easy. Old habits die hard, and establishing new ways of doing things becomes more difficult the older one is when the process begins.
It is refreshing, therefore, to read the following article written by David Hamilton, a member of the NFB of New Mexico. It shimmers with good humor and common sense. I don’t know how someone dealing personally with macular degeneration would react to his analysis of what it is like to deal with blindness for the first time, but I do know that it is healthy and constructive. The article first appeared in the May 30, 2001, Albuquerque Tribune. It is reprinted here with permission. Here it is:
It was some time in the early spring of 1994 that I discovered something wrong with my eyes. I had driven to San Antonio, Texas, to deliver a paper at the Southwestern Social Science annual meeting. I am one of those people who like to drive. And although my friends remonstrated with me and insisted on the superiority of air travel, I persisted in driving—especially in the spring, when the bluebonnets are still visible in south Texas. Besides, I had a new Ford Ranger pickup.
On the trip my vision seemed a bit fuzzy, so I resorted to very scientific testing by closing each eye in turn. When I closed my right eye, there was a large blank space in the center of my left eye’s vision. Ah, I thought—cataracts.
On returning home, I went to Lovelace and told the doctors I had cataracts, or at least one, and needed them, or it, removed. Lovelace does not take self-diagnosis seriously and put me through my paces in what they then referred to as the eye department.
I was told that I had the beginning of macular degeneration. I did not know what that meant and was reluctant to show my ignorance by asking. Especially so, since I was informed in a manner indicating that everyone else knew what it meant.
At home I told Polly, my wife, about the diagnosis and indicated that I assumed it to be some eye disease, perhaps discovered by somebody named Macular, somewhat in the manner that Parkinson’s disease was named for its discoverer.
Polly, like Lovelace, puts little credibility in my medical diagnostics. She responded rather quickly with, “You fool, you have a macula (spot or stain) in your eye, and it is degenerating!”
Fortunately I did not confirm her general assessment of my analytic capabilities by making some such remark as: Had I known I had one, I would have taken better care of it.
My ignorance on the matter of macular degeneration was one in which I am joined by many others. Even today, when it is much better understood, I run into people who look puzzled when I inform them of my impaired vision.
Macular degeneration, of course, has been a condition of humankind forever, I suppose. But in my youth the term was unheard of, and seniors, who are the best prospects for getting it, just had bad eyes.
As the population ages, however, there are more of us seniors with “bad eyes” and hence more attention on macular degeneration as a major villain. Indeed it is a perfectly respectable failing that afflicts us common folks, as well as eminent persons, such as the late Georgia O’Keefe and the golfer Arnold Palmer. It is something about which there is no reason to be ashamed.
Polly’s niece Debbie is an ophthalmologist who was at the time practicing in North Carolina. Polly put in a call to her about my condition. Debbie asked several questions concerning the state of my degeneracy at that time, such as: Could I still read a newspaper? I could. But she did not indicate that a day would come when I could no longer do that, along with a whole laundry list of other things that demand fairly good vision. She concluded by telling Polly that there was one good thing: I would probably never become completely blind.
While the prognostication was not a totally gloomy one, it was not exactly equivalent to a pronouncement that a suspected cancer is wholly benign. There was something wrong with my eyes, and that something would not get better, only worse.
Initially the problem was one of mild irritation. Lines that should have been straight began increasingly to have the squiggliness of the mirrors in the old-fashioned fun house. But it was still possible to read the newspaper, a favorite and time-consuming pleasure. Book reading was still possible: reading with no more than the usual eye strain.
I could still see the television clearly without sitting sideways and up close. I could still drive safely for myself as well as others. And I could do so without securing a medical certification from my doctor. In short, life was not too different from what it had been before my “cataract discovery.” The later difficulties came on so slowly that I was sure that trouble, if trouble there would be, was a long way off.
Macular degeneration can be either wet or dry. Knowledgeable people would ask early on if my affliction was wet or dry. I did not have a clear idea of just what the terms meant. I did have a notion that one was worse than the other but no idea of which was which.
But in my case, laser surgery was used early on to slow down that wetness in my left eye. Best as I could figure, blood vessels had burst, and the flow of blood, somewhat in the manner of a flooding river, or, perhaps more aptly, a slowly moving glacier, had to be slowed or stopped. This was not necessary or feasible in the dry eye, and for two or three years the right, or dry eye, was doing most of the work.
The aim of the surgery on the left, other than to build dams to stop the flow, was to preserve what peripheral vision I still had in that eye.
My knowledge of all this is minimal. I was born colorblind and know only that I am apparently lacking certain rods and cones in the eyes, and since I am not clear on just what rods and cones are, I am also not sure of what they do and what I miss. I have never engaged in physiognomy, inner or outer. As a colorblind person, I have had to accept the world as I see it. And as a macular degenerate, I have to accept the world as I have come to see it.
I once read that the nineteenth-century English savant, Harriet Martineau, publicly proclaimed that she had finally agreed to accept the universe. Whereupon some contemporary literary pundit supposedly exclaimed, “Ye gads! She had better.” So I accept the universe, imperfect though it may seem.
As things progressed, I searched out what I referred to as “crutches.” I needed some kind of eye prosthesis. For a while I haunted Brookstone in the Coronado Mall. They had a treasure trove of optical aids. Magnification seemed the answer. But these were all temporary devices that the onward glacial march of macular degeneration eventually made obsolete. Back to Brookstone for another temporary fix.
In the meantime I reported to my ophthalmologist, Dr. Graham, at Lovelace for examination about every four months. And after about four laser surgeries on the left eye, my right eye, the dry one, the one doing all the real work, began to tire of the job, and I reached a state of degeneracy in which I could be declared legally blind.
It kind of gave me authenticity, as well as one more income tax deduction. I also lost my license to drive, to the great relief of those near me and to me as well. If others felt safer, so did I.
At this point in the progression, I was referred to Dr. Sue Johnson of Lovelace, who is the low-vision specialist. This is the point at which things have become serious. There is nothing that can be done to reverse things, but there are things that can be done to maximize what sight is left. You learn at this point that you do have other senses, especially hearing and touch and memory.
And there is a cornucopia of devices and services to help make life more livable. By Dr. Johnson, I was referred to the New Mexico Commission for the Blind. I was there two times for conference with those I like to refer to as my caseworkers, first Karen, then Debbie.
To qualify for all of these aids, it is necessary to be below a certain visual acuity, and you need certification from the doctor as to the state of your degeneracy. This I had. That opened up the cornucopia. Life on the blind side need not be so blind. That is what the cornucopia to which I was introduced is all about.
First there is the Talking Books division at the New Mexico State Library. This opens up a full library of fiction and nonfiction literature, book-length and periodical. Every two months you receive an annotated catalog of the latest books that have been put on tape, as well as any new magazines now available. The catalog is also in audio form. It is issued as an annual volume so that you can easily maintain your own catalog file for years back. You simply go through the current catalog on arrival and either call in or mail in the numbers you desire.
Initially I was overly ambitious and overly enthusiastic and received an entire mail tub full of books. The enthusiasm of our mail carrier did not exactly match mine.
But what is more astounding is the four-track tape recorder that comes with all of the initial catalogs. It is portable so that you can take it on trips easily, along with a number of tapes, so that the waits in airport terminals need not be so interminable. And when all of this arrives in the mail the first time, it’s like Christmas. You don’t pay!
Second, there is NEWSLINE® for the Blind. The usual certification and registration are essential. Having provided it, you are supplied with your own secret number that is usable from your home phone. Then it is possible to have several New Mexico daily, weekly, and monthly periodicals read over the phone.
Third, there is directory assistance. This too requires that certification from the doctor be given to the phone company. It works just as before. After giving you the number, they indicate that for an additional 35 cents you can be connected immediately if you merely “press 1 now”—which, of course, you do immediately, because you don’t have to pay.
But perhaps the greatest improvement in this new way of life is closed-circuit television. The name immediately conjures up some awkward apparatus to be attached to your television. No such thing. It is a wholly separate and integral machine that somewhat resembles a micro-fiche in the town library. Somewhere in the overhead monitor is a camera that photographs and projects to the monitor the material that is on the movable plate below. With this it is possible to magnify items on the plate as much as twenty-four times, to put it in black on white or white on black, and even to have it in color—a matter that did not interest me since I was already colorblind.
This one, unlike the others, is not free. It represents that Christmas gift you bestowed on yourself when shopping for others. Color was another $1,000, which does seem an extravagance to a colorblind person.
With this apparatus it is possible to read any printed matter you can get onto the plate, which includes magazines, books, newspapers properly folded, and the instructions on the plastic bottle containing lawn fungicide. How do I know? I’ve done it all. Unfortunately, you can write checks as well.
I also have an oversized computer monitor that magnifies everything so that I must resort to a hand magnifier less frequently. With all these aids life on the blind side is not the end of life. It is a new way of getting on.
Sometimes friends ask me what I see, to which I always respond that I see less than I would like to see, but more than they think I see. I suppose that I see everything that I did before, only it all comes through a kind of gauze filter.
One day this past fall I was walking to the University of New Mexico along Ridgecrest and was observing the cottonwoods turning a golden yellow. It must have been in late October or early November. I saw, not clearly outlined leaves, but splotches of yellow. When the wind blew slightly, they rattled dryly so that your hearing and your memory told you that they would shatter and crumble if you touched them. And I saw trunks of trees that seemed a bit rubbery, and I saw houses on which the roofs were on crookedly and the walls were not exactly plumb, and everything was conjectural, rather than firm and conclusive.
I realized that day that the world I see is that of the French impressionists. I am in an art gallery. That day I thought: Now I can respond to the questioners about what I see. Go look at some of the French impressionists.
It is not exactly fun, but it is not something one cannot learn to live with and somewhat handily. And sometimes life has its little pleasures, as always.
Richard Santos of UNM, seeing me cautiously crossing a busy street near the university, suggested I might want to get a white cane, like his father, suffering a similar affliction, had used in south Texas. They come in collapsible or telescopic form so that they can be carried without being awkward when not in use.
I mentioned this to Dr. Johnson and to my case worker, and both indicated it might be a good idea. As one said, “It lets them know you might not see them.”
I got one at the Commission for the Blind, and while walking home with it, at the corner of Girard and Gibson I thought it was time to give this sucker a try. One car was slightly over the walk line on Girard as I started across. The driver, upon seeing me, backed up about six feet, although the car was no obstruction. I of course could not indicate that I had seen the courtesy. The jig would be up. But I did have a new sense of power mixed with amusement and a new sense of security.
And the day on Central when I backed up an eighteen-wheeler at least two feet made me unbearable. After macular degeneration life is not unbearable at all; it’s just different.
by Arthur A. Schreiber
From the Editor: The following article is reprinted with permission. It first appeared in the May, 2001, issue of Prime Time, a publication for seniors in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Art spent a lively career in radio and now serves as President of the NFB of New Mexico. We have modified the text only by removing local telephone numbers, which would not be helpful in a national publication. Both Art’s advice and attitude, however, are universally healthy and accurate. This is what he says:
I’m often asked what I miss most since I became blind nearly twenty years ago. My answer comes quickly and succinctly: driving and reading—in that order. There’s adaptive technology available today which allows the blind to read. There’s no adaptive technology available to enable us to drive an automobile. Ah, yes, I get kidded about driving. Many times, while helping a friend into a car, someone, spotting my white cane, will yell, “You’re not going to drive, are you?”
I generally reply, “No, I use a longer cane when I drive.”
I’m well aware that too many older persons are behind the wheels of their cars, and they shouldn’t be. And there are visually impaired younger persons who shouldn’t be driving either. I know, everyone loves to be independent. Visually impaired individuals who are still driving should turn in their keys to their ol’ jalopy, or their new jalopy, for that matter.
I still enjoy cars, and I fantasize about driving, driving on the freeways, around town, and cross-country.
Recently I visited my son Mark in Birmingham, Alabama. He met me at the airport, and we soon were in his bright red sports car that has so much power one’s head snaps backward when he zooms off. In the pinhole vision in one eye that I have left, I spotted the white line on the road. I told Mark there are times I believe I could drive. He asked, “Dad, how many cars are in front and beside us?” I laughed and admitted I couldn’t tell. So much for my fantasy.
Here’s my advice to those whose vision is too low to drive a car safely. If you want to maintain your independence, find new ways to get around. First, get around your neighborhood by learning to use a white cane. The National Federation of the Blind, Christine Hall (President of the NFB’s Senior Division), or the New Mexico Commission for the Blind can help you with this alternative technique.
However, there’s no alternative technique for driving a car. We can call a cab. It’s expensive, but not compared to having an accident trying to drive when we can’t see. We can learn to ride the bus. It’s easier than you think, once you learn cane travel. City bus drivers are trained to assist visually impaired persons to find their destination. Call your bus company to find out if there is a bus route near you that can take you to places you want to go.
One of the most difficult things to learn is to ask for help. My experience is that people want to help, and most enjoy being asked. If someone gives me a ride frequently, I buy the gas.
But, boomers and seniors, listen closely: the adult blind population will double in the next fifteen years. We’re living longer and seeing less. So remember our needs the next time you vote. We need, and deserve, a better transportation system. We need, and deserve, Medicare to pay for blind skills training. After all, if you break a hip, Medicare will pay for you to learn to walk again.
Seniors who are visually impaired need to get out of their cars and march. March toward a better tomorrow by electing city councilors and state and federal legislators who understand (or are willing to learn about) the special circumstances of the visually impaired and who are willing to stand up and do something about it.
Art hosts a talk program Monday through Friday at 4:00 p.m. on KBTK Talk Radio 1310 AM. He is President of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico.
by Peter M. Scialli, Ph.D.
From the Editor: Dr. Scialli has contributed several articles to this publication in recent years. In addition to his other activities, he now devotes a good bit of his time to the nonprofit research and development company, Benetech, where his title is Associate, Technical Projects.
As blind people we can almost universally agree that one of the challenges we face most often is access to print. If you are a blind student, you know all too well the frustration of trying to find out about textbook titles in advance only to discover that the book is either not available in an alternate format or available only in an obsolete edition. As someone interested in keeping up with current literature, you may find that you must wait a year or more for a popular book to become available in Braille or on tape.
In recent years technology has helped. Many of us have personal computers and scanning software. Others have reading machines. These things bring us much closer to print access, but they are sometimes complicated and always time-consuming. Scanning a book can take up to several hours. Converting a scanned book to embossed Braille is both slow and expensive. Any way you slice it, we frequently find ourselves beholden to others to provide alternative texts or seriously lagging behind our sighted colleagues as we plod through the extra steps necessary for obtaining that which we must read.
Suppose there were a way instantly to find and obtain virtually any book you want or need to read. We’d all love to see the day when we could independently browse, select, and read just about anything. Well that day is at hand. Thanks in large measure to the efforts of the organized blind, in 1996 the United States Congress passed an amendment to the copyright law which paved the way for unprecedented access to printed material. Section 17 U.S.C. § 121 of the copyright law states in part “...it is not an infringement of copyright for an authorized entity to reproduce or to distribute copies... of a previously published, nondramatic literary work if such copies... are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities.” Two key phrases in this law need to be pointed out: The first is “authorized entity,” and the second is “specialized format.”
Specialized formats for the blind or disabled include the traditional alternatives of Braille or audio. People with some familiarity with computers will recognize that digital texts such as digital Braille and the new DAISY talking book standard are also alternative formats. These types of books can be downloaded over the Internet, making distribution fast and easy.
By “authorized entity,” the law refers to a nonprofit institution that exists primarily to serve those who are blind or have other print-related disabilities. The two American organizations that immediately spring to mind as providing books and other reading material in alternative formats are the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) and Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D). Both of these have been in existence for many years, and both have done excellent work toward bringing the printed word to blind people.
Another nonprofit organization newer to the landscape is Benetech, the nonprofit successor to Arkenstone. Arkenstone, started in 1989 by Jim Fruchterman, was the first company to provide affordable reading technology to those with print-related disabilities. In 2000 the Arkenstone name and manufacturing operations were sold to Freedom Scientific, Inc. The nonprofit research and development company Benetech—not part of the Freedom Scientific acquisition—carried on the development of worthy technology projects serving humanity.
At about the same time that Benetech was created, the Napster service, with which people possessing computers could share music files over a vast network of individual music collectors, was gaining a great deal of attention in the press. The reason that Napster had and continues to have legal problems is that sharing copyrighted audio programs is against the copyright laws. Still the concepts and technology at the root of Napster are both new and exciting, especially when applied to access to print.
Jim Fruchterman, now President of Benetech, conceived of a service which could legally take advantage of current computer and Internet technology and which could serve those with print-related disabilities. Having run Arkenstone for twelve years, Mr. Fruchterman reasoned that among the estimated 50,000 to 100,000 print-disabled people who are using computer technology to scan and convert books from print into electronic formats, there must be a great deal of duplication. A book, the newest John Grisham novel for example, costs something like three hours of time to scan into an electronic file. It is likely that hundreds or even thousands of people regularly repeat this scanning process. For even one popular book this represents an enormous amount of repeated and potentially wasted effort. Wouldn’t it be great to have a book scanned as a computer file by a single person rapidly available to anyone with a print disability who might need it anywhere in the United States? Happily, thanks to Benetech, the answer to this question is not just rhetorical, it is reality.
Bookshare.org, expected to begin operation in late 2001, is an online file-sharing community in which members will be able to share in the growing wealth of books in electronic formats. It is important to emphasize that the service provided by Bookshare.org will be perfectly legal. Unlike Napster, which does not have a special copyright exemption, Bookshare.org falls squarely within both the letter and intent of the law.
Again differing from Napster, which depends on its members’ being connected to their computer systems more or less continuously to make files available, Bookshare.org will house its book collection in a central location, enabling access to all of its books around the clock. At launch in the neighborhood of 20,000 books are expected to be in the collection in a wide variety of categories: fiction, nonfiction, classic works, and more. The collection is expected to grow rapidly during the first year of operation and beyond.
The enthusiasm for Bookshare.org is based on the essential fact that it is a rapidly growing community of print-disabled people who are making a difference for themselves. As blind people we are frequently put in the position of having others decide what services are to be provided and how they are to be administered. Bookshare.org’s community approach is that we who are members will have the primary role in making it grow and having it meet our needs.
Benetech has been busily collecting scanned books through most of 2001. Blind people, many of whom have large collections of books which they themselves have converted to electronic texts, have contributed thousands of titles to give this project its impressive start. It will no doubt expand very quickly in its first years of operation as more and more people realize the utility and sheer joy in being able to gain full access instantly to even brand new titles.
In addition to being in control of expanding Bookshare.org’s content, the blind and other print-disabled members of the community will be able to take a proactive role in improving and validating the content contained therein. Volunteers will have many opportunities to participate not only in the contribution of scanned materials but in making certain the content is diverse and of excellent quality. People interested in Bookshare.org should already be saving any books they have scanned, whether for school, for work, or from the public library.
The approach of having the community members of Bookshare.org play a central role in providing content and helping in other ways will assist enormously in keeping membership costs low. While Benetech is a not-for-profit organization, substantial costs are associated with providing a high quality Internet service of this scope and magnitude. Those who volunteer to help with Bookshare.org’s growth will be able to reduce membership fees for everyone significantly while earning direct membership credits for themselves.
Bookshare.org has received a great deal of positive response even before opening its doors to the print-disabled public. The Bookshare.org team has been working closely with the Association of American Publishers, the national organization to which commercial publishing companies belong in order to promote their interests. While a service such as Napster was deemed by the music recording industry to be a threat, permitting the public to share copyrighted music without paying for it, the publishers are taking an active role in working with Bookshare.org. Publishers have been under pressure for some time to increase the accessibility of their books to comply with equal-access legislation. Bookshare.org, developed with careful consideration of the publishers’ needs, fosters accessibility. It ultimately removes the burden of providing equal access at the direct expense of the publishers while simultaneously putting control of the service where it belongs, with those who use it.
Well known disability organizations are also involved in Bookshare.org’s development. An advisory committee helps to oversee the system’s development. This committee includes notable names such as Curtis Chong, Director of the National Federation of the Blind’s Technology Department. Mr. Chong has been important in helping to be sure that Bookshare.org will meet the needs of blind people everywhere. The American Printing House for the Blind and American Foundation for the Blind have also been extremely positive and helpful.
How will it work? Like the more traditional services, NLS and RFB&D, Bookshare.org requires that a person who wants to access copyrighted books provide certification of eligibility to receive materials in alternate formats. This is an integral step in complying with the copyright laws that make Bookshare.org possible. Once authorized, an individual blind person in the United States with access to the Internet will be able to log onto the Bookshare.org Website and search the collection in several ways: by title, author, or category. There will even be a section of new submissions to the service, where the latest best sellers would be found.
Another important part of complying with the law is the delivery of material in so-called special formats for the blind and disabled. Bookshare.org will thus offer its holdings in two of these formats. The first is electronic Grade II Braille, also known as BRF, which may be instantly read with a dynamic Braille display or notetaker or prepared for use in virtually any electronic text-reading device. They may also be readily embossed to hard-copy Braille.
The other format in which files will be available from Bookshare.org is the NISO/DAISY digital talking book standard. At this point DAISY files are not familiar to everyone. However, this file type has been adopted as a new worldwide standard in which digital talking books may be delivered to provide a reading experience much more similar to that of a sighted person with a physical printed book. DAISY books permit precise and elaborate indexing of books so that it is possible to move quickly between pages or chapters within a book. Bookshare.org DAISY files will be text-only and can be spoken in a synthesized voice. As the DAISY standard takes hold, blind people will have independent access to books and information like never before. Imagine being able to look up a term in the index of a book and instantly find yourself at the referenced page while your sighted classmates are still thumbing through paper pages!
Finally, the books obtained from Bookshare.org will include Digital Rights Management (DRM). Bookshare.org is a new concept, not only to the blind of the world, but to the publishing community. There is justifiable concern that abuse of digitally available material could occur. To address this issue, Bookshare.org’s materials will include hidden information about who downloaded them. This will discourage their use or distribution in an unauthorized manner. It will also be able to find Bookshare.org books which may be located on unauthorized or unintended sites on the Internet.
Bookshare.org is well under way. Because the active involvement of the community of members and users is key to the growth of the number of books, it is vital that we encourage everyone we know to learn about and check out the Bookshare.org Website at <http://www.bookshare.org>. Not only can blind people answer the call to grow this service, but community groups and school organizations can take on roles in Bookshare.org that are sure to have real meaning.
As access is broadened, even to the point of Talking Book players that can seamlessly connect to Bookshare.org, teachers, employers, parents, students, and the community of publishers will see that for blind people full access is a matter of course. A major barrier to equal participation in society, lack of ability to read virtually any book in a timely manner, will have been lifted.
To obtain more information about Bookshare.org, visit the Website at <http://www.bookshare.org>. You can also get answers to specific questions by sending an e-mail to <email@example.com>. For more information about the Benetech Initiative and its mission to provide technology serving humanity visit its Website at <http://www.benetech.org>.
by Joan MacTavish
Reviewed by Lorraine Rovig
From the Editor: Biographies of deaf-blind women seem to be fashionable this year. Our friends at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind asked the Braille Monitor to review a recently released biography of a remarkable Canadian woman. Lorraine Rovig, a librarian, a lover of books, and a member of our national staff, has reviewed the book. This is what she wrote:
Joan MacTavish begins her biography of Mae Brown by saying, “This book is dedicated to all persons who are deaf-blind, everywhere.” Considering the work it took for Miss Brown, the first deaf-blind Canadian to obtain a college degree and only the second woman after Helen Keller, “dedication” is the perfect word to associate with this biography—also steadfastness and courage. Anyone who enjoys reading about real people who exemplify these old-fashioned virtues will enjoy reading Bravo! Miss Brown. Beyond the people we meet, there are interesting descriptions of methods used by Mae and her assistants from the 1940’s through the 1970’s. As Mrs. MacTavish says:
Mae and I began working together when words like “advocate,” “rights,” “ability” (instead of “disability”), “access,” “barrier-free,” and “politically correct” were rarely heard. . . . Society was less accepting of those who were “different.” The technology that makes so much possible today did not exist (my tape recorder was considered an expensive gadget).
Through all of her troubles Mae believed that God had a purpose for her life. She came to believe that this was to create the first service targeted to assist all deaf-blind people in Canada. Back then (and still today) the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) was the single nationwide governmental service in Canada which had responsibility for succoring those who were blind or deaf-blind. Services for deaf-blind people were meager. It is interesting to read how many professional workers for CNIB decided to go beyond anything the Institution had done before in order to offer special assistance and funding to train this one woman. Apparently many at CNIB hoped with Miss Brown that she would help them make a breakthrough to a better program for all deaf-blind Canadians.
Born in 1935, Mae lost her sight gradually, beginning about age two and a half. When she was ten, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told her parents they could not discover the cause. (It would have taken a modern MRI scanner to find the brain tumors pressing on her brain.) By the time Mae was thirteen in 1948, she could no longer read print and had much hearing loss. Mae graduated from eighth grade but left high school at age fifteen (in ninth grade), due, she said, to the strain caused by her disabilities. Mae Brown lost the remainder of her sight and all of her hearing at age eighteen, during a chancy, life-saving brain-operation. In addition removal of one of the tumors deadened the muscles on the left side of her face and caused a loss of balance when she walked.
Mae craved education. She said, “I am not going to spend the rest of my life sewing aprons for a living, and I am not going to sit around like an invalid.” The first part of the biography concerns her training in blindness skills and, later, deaf-blindness skills, including some advanced training at the Travis Association for the Blind in Austin, Texas.
Anyone presently dealing with the costs of modern-day programs for orientation and adjustment to blindness or to deaf-blindness will be amused to read that in 1955 Travis charged $40 per week for forty-three weeks of training and $20 per month for laundry. Mae contributed a total of $120 from her governmental pension of $40 per month, while CNIB found enough funds for the rest, including round-trip airfare, for a grand total of $2,620. Forty-three weeks is nearly eleven months of training for a deaf-blind person, while modern NFB training centers for blind adults offer six to nine months of training. In contrast, many state-run and other private training centers today offer blind adults only a few weeks to three months of training in their programs.
The author does a wonderful job of enlightening the reader about how this double handicap affected Mae’s life.
I cannot take the initial step to get acquainted with people because, unless they touch me, I do not know they are there. How I wish I did not have to wake up every morning with the same thought: ‘Who will be my ears today?’. . . I do not ask for crowds of friends—just one or two here and there. If friends do not come to me, I cannot seek them for I do not know where they are. (diary excerpt)
We read that Mae Brown wanted more than anything to be treated as “a normal person” and to live “a normal life.” She wanted a husband, children, her own home, and a worthwhile job. She wanted friends who liked her for her personality, not those who were assigned to her as helper-companions. These are certainly normal ambitions. In Mae’s case, of the three men she appears to have considered marrying, one she discovered was a scoundrel, and two were chased away by other people who had their own agendas. Bravo! Miss Brown gives an unusually factual account of her dating and marriage-attempts (thwarted), her wish for an independent home life (mostly thwarted), and her relationships with many teachers, counselors, and officials working for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (generally positive).
To be eligible for a professional job at CNIB, which she believed would lead to the job she was uniquely suited to do, Mae needed more than her eighth-grade diploma. CNIB-paid tutors helped her to earn her GED. Then “In September 1967 Mae Sophia Brown, a thirty-two-year-old woman who was deaf-blind, launched her Centennial Project—starting a program that would lead to getting a university education at the University of Toronto.” It took her six-and-a-half years of hard work to get her Bachelor of Arts diploma, much of it detailed by the author.
Joan MacTavish knows the details, none better. She was hired by CNIB to assist Mae in attending her classes, doing her research, and interacting with the other students in non-study situations (as much as Mae’s workload allowed), and more. It was Joan and a team of braillists who brailled all of Mae’s materials. The author comments: “Today, whether we use the word ‘interpreter,’ ‘intervener,’ or ‘care-giver,’ a code of conduct, established rules, and a clear definition of roles exist to guide both parties. I cannot see Mae or I succeeding if we had been obliged to work within them.”
Here is the dedicated Joan MacTavish commenting on one summer semester with Mae: “Read, summarize, Braille; read, summarize, Braille, on and on for twelve weeks.” It was not all work, of course. Mae wrote Joan, July 25, 1970, from her new apartment: “Maybe I shouldn’t be taking time off my studies to drop you a note ...got an A on my book review. I have been very busy today as I baked a cake....I will be roasting a poor chicken tomorrow for dinner. Don’t you feel sorry for it? ...I have forgotten how to use a vacuum! We still have a bathroom cabinet to come and one dresser, but they should arrive soon.”
It is interesting to read about the concessions that were made by the college—such as pulling all science, math, and foreign language courses from her course-work—because as a deaf-blind student, Mae argued, she couldn’t be expected to learn them. Miss Brown, Mrs. MacTavish, the college, her counselors and supporters at CNIB, apparently everyone, believed that no alternatives existed that would allow her to study several disciplines required of her fellow students. Federationists could debate whether she could have managed such courses then and whether a deaf-blind person today would need to make the same choices. I wonder whether Helen Keller, too, was excused from some of the courses normally required for the degree she attained.
Mae managed to do what only a very few deaf-blind people in the history of the world have done. She earned a college degree (June 1, 1972), and she was hired for and performed a job she valued (beginning September 1, 1972, as CNIB’s Counsellor for the Deaf-Blind, Ontario Division). She lived for many years in an ordinary apartment with a blind roommate, who helped her communicate with the hearing world. Miss Mae Brown was intelligent, stubborn, thoughtful, kind, ordinary and extraordinary, dedicated to making a positive difference in the world, and both totally deaf and totally blind. Mae Brown lived long enough to begin to live her dream, and then in November, 1973, she died.
Months later Joan MacTavish was hired as CNIB’s Coordinator, Deaf-Blind Services, Ontario Division. In spite of her attempt to carry out Mae’s plans, our author, now retired, tells us that in the year 2000 “the condition of those who lose their sight and hearing after birth remains the least understood, and service for them is the most under-funded....”
Mae Brown did not always triumph over her difficult circumstances. She had triumphs and failures, some of them due to assistance or interference from others and some of them due to her own traits, for good or ill. It is refreshing in this genre to read about the goals Miss Brown did not reach and to piece together the many clues why she did not or, at the time, could not.
Mae wrote about making her life a staircase and about her hope that others would use her life’s work to climb higher. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan used similar imagery in a speech he gave decades later at an NFB National Convention. As Federationists know, blind Americans working together have climbed higher toward independence and true equality since the founding of the NFB. Mae Brown’s biography strengthens my belief that conditions are ripening for a leap forward for those who are deaf-blind. In the NFB’s history of improvements for blind people we have seen first individual blind leaders with separate groups, then, as a leader emerges to articulate a central vision and unite these groups into a federation, a growing movement of coordinated action.
In her generation Mae Brown was one single deaf-blind Canadian who wanted to go to college and received the backing to accomplish this feat. She attempted to unite deaf-blind Canadians with limited success. Over the last two decades in Seattle an independent community of people who are deaf and blind has been growing and networking, and in the last decade the NFB’s Deaf-Blind Division has grown nationwide in leadership, membership, and programs. In addition several competent blind Federation leaders with college degrees and jobs whose blindness likely will change to deaf-blindness as they get older are well-trained in civil rights activism. All these things conjoin to suggest possibilities for positive change that would surely have pleased Canada’s activist Mae Brown.
To order Bravo! Miss Brown by Joan MacTavish, CAVU Inc. (Toronto), ©2000, 392 pages, ISBN 0-9688089-0-5, call General Distribution Services in Niagara Falls, New York, at (416) 213-1919, extension 199. Print paperback copies are $16.95 U.S; $24.95 Canadian, plus shipping (check, Visa, or MasterCard).
by Olivier Uytterbrouck
From the Editor: Many people don’t believe us when we say that blind people are engaged in most of the occupations you can think of. One of our scholarship winners last summer was Cheryl Fogel, working on a Ph.D. in archeology. Here is a story from Cheryl’s home state about another woman who is interested in old bones. The story first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on June 5, 2001. It is reprinted with permission.
Marsha Ogilvie has a new skull to explore: a cast of a 30,000-year-old Neanderthal called the Old Man of La Chapelle. Her fingers trace the Old Man’s jaw.
“See how thin that jaw is?” she asks, sliding her finger along a smooth line of bone. “If you bit into something hard, you could snap that.” The slender bone indicates the Old Man—so named because he lived about fifty years—lost all his posterior teeth well before his death.
“You can tell everything from bones except what color socks they wore,” she said. “All you have to do is look at them.”
In Ogilvie’s case her fingers must do all the seeing for her. Diabetes stole Ogilvie’s eyesight during her senior year in anthropology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
In December, after slogging away for sixteen years in graduate programs, Ogilvie received a Ph.D. in biological anthropology from the University of New Mexico.
Something else that intrigues her about the Old Man is two small holes at the top of the skull. The tiny pits, each about the diameter of a pencil, tell Ogilvie that disease has attacked the bone.
“An injury has a sharp edge; a disease is more rounded,” said Ogilvie, who is especially interested in the remains of Neanderthals. “There’s something working on that bone. The two holes could help explain how the Old Man died,” she said.
After she lost her sight in her late twenties, Ogilvie assumed her career in anthropology had ended. That changed in 1985 after she moved to New Mexico and volunteered at UNM’s Maxwell Museum in the osteology lab.
She had many doubters when she first resumed her studies and enrolled in graduate classes at UNM.
“At first everybody thought I was nuts,” Ogilvie recalled. But day by day she showed up for class and worked at the Maxwell Museum, eventually becoming manager of the osteology lab.
She relied on talking computers and fellow students to help her through reading assignments. In place of notes she tape-recorded lecturers and summarized the information on a second recorder, reviewing the tapes repeatedly for exams.
“I basically got my degrees with two tape recorders,” she said.
She also devised a variety of tactile devices to help her learn technical scientific concepts. To study the structure of DNA, Ogilvie built models of the double helix out of pipe cleaners and string tacked to a cork board. And she used wooden blocks marked with the letters A and B to simulate the mechanics of recombinant genetics.
“I had to find different ways to do everything that most people take for granted,” she said.
But in so doing, Ogilvie came up with new ways of learning that some of her sighted colleagues found useful, she said. Students who tried their hand at Ogilvie’s tactile models discovered that abstract concepts made more sense, she said.
“The more senses you stimulate, the better you are going to learn something,” Ogilvie said.
Now Ogilvie and a colleague, Albuquerque dentist Steve Wagner, want to apply that idea at museums throughout the country. Wagner and Ogilvie plan to create miniature replicas of museum artifacts that would allow blind people to experience museum exhibits.
Their first model went on display in February at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque. An anthropological sculptor, Wagner made a miniature reproduction of a dinosaur skeleton now on display in front of the full-size exhibit. Ogilvie helped design an audio tour that guides listeners as they move their fingers over the model.
Their next project will be to create models for the Albuquerque Aquarium. The pair have received a $15,000 grant from the McCune Charitable Trust to pay for up to ten models. The models are intended to give blind people their first glimpse of marine creatures such as jellyfish, she said.
Ogilvie also makes a living doing forensic investigations, something she picked up in her years at UNM. The Office of the Medical Investigator relies on UNM anthropologists to examine findings of human bones.
Last fall she began working for public defenders in federal immigration cases, analyzing the bone structure of illegal immigrants using data from X-rays.
Federal officials sometimes use radiological data to help determine the ages of illegal immigrants facing deportation or criminal charges, she said. The outcome of a case may hinge on whether the person is an adult or a juvenile.
Immigration officials are often reluctant to rely on Mexican birth records to determine age because of the possibility they could be forged, so they prefer to use radiological data, she said.
The use of X-rays is based on the fact that human bones fuse as we age. The extent to which an individual’s bones have fused can help determine a person’s age.
The Blind Physicist Who May Find E.T.
by John M. Williams
From the Editor: Here is another article about a blind person doing an unexpected job and doing it with a level of creativity and expertise that distinguishes him and leaves his blindness outside the calculation. The article can be found at <www.businessweek.com/ bwdaily/dnflash/may2001/nf20010516_176.htm>. Here it is:
Kent Cullers’s search for life in the cosmos involves intelligence,
imagination, and both old and
new assistive tech
Kent Cullers, who has been blind since birth, has never glimpsed the Milky Way or witnessed a full moon on a clear summer night. But the 51-year-old physicist is no stranger to star-gazing. As a senior researcher at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) in Mountain View, California, Cullers has been for decades a guiding light in the quest for life in the cosmos.
Perhaps you saw the 1997 movie Contact, which had a character modeled after him. Since 1985 Cullers has led SETI’s Targeted Search Signal Detection team, where he develops, evaluates, and implements complex algorithms that allow scientists to sift through radio signals originating from distant star systems. He was the first blind student to earn a doctorate in physics in the U.S. Cullers is also a leader in the rarified field of envisioning and designing advanced radio telescopes that scan wider and wider swaths of the skies.
When it comes to communicating on terra firma, Cullers uses a variety of assistive technology devices to get his ideas across and keep open his lines of communication with the sighted world. His example proves yet again that the best way to employ assistive technology is to have a healthy mix of old tools that work with newer ones that add abilities.
To get his ideas across graphically, Cullers uses a simple, raised line drawing kit developed for blind people. These kits could be made up of small stakes and rubber bands or thin lines of wax. He has used these drawings to convey ideas for designs of new telescope systems. Some of Cullers’ diagrams are 30 years old, and they’re wrapped in tightly sealed plastic bags to prevent them from fragmenting.
He also uses a decades-old system called Optacon, which consists of a photocell camera attached to an electronically controlled matrix of 144 vibrating pins that move up and down to represent letters. As the user slowly moves the camera across the page, letters from words are translated into vibrating raised pins that cover about half the index finger. People with impaired vision can scan the camera over a document or computer screen and piece together an image in their mind. “The Optacon is a bit slow, but it’s very accurate,” says Cullers.
On the other end of the spectrum, Cullers loves “carrying around technologies.” He uses two computers: a portable Windows laptop and a BrailleNote, a small computer the size of a mini-notebook that runs on WindowsCE and has a tactile input and output interface. “I can do all of my word processing, mathematics, e-mails, and other activities,” says Cullers.
The BrailleNote can connect to other Windows computers via serial or parallel ports as well as through PC cards and infrared ports. It has a built-in modem that makes it easy to log on to the Internet through a standard phone line. The device also easily converts to a Braille terminal for a standard PC. “It has great communications capabilities, so I can connect it to the Windows machine. Once connected, I have a display identical to what is on the Windows box,” he points out.
The downside? Using the BrailleNote as an input/output terminal allows Cullers to read a standard screen one line at a time, so he has to move the display around to get what he wants if the Braille translation of the display doesn’t fall to the right place. Cullers also likes using a text-speech program on his Windows laptop. But sometimes software conflicts cause the program to read text Cullers isn’t interested in. When this occurs, he goes back to the BrailleNote.
To do his number-crunching, Cullers uses a Braille code of mathematics, called the Nemeth Code. This system allows any print mathematical representation to be mapped into a tactile format. Cullers often builds his own specialized computer programs to help determine what type of computer system will be required to analyze radio signals and build radio telescopes.
While he does lots of math on computers, much of his computational innovation takes place in the gray matter between his ears. He moves easily from the old to new technology and vice versa. “I could not be as effective as I am without the old and new technology,” he says. Effective is an understatement. He has penned 50 articles using assistive technology products.
Cullers’s achievements illustrate how using assistive technology can allow a person with disabilities to break into a rigorous, intellectual field. His example has clearly had an effect in the blind community. “I heard Dr. Cullers at Georgia Tech in 1999, and he was awe-inspiring. I was so glad he talked about using Braille in his work. He convinced me to return to it,” says 25-year-old Caroline Devine of Miami, Florida. Devine is studying mathematics at Florida State University and computer programming at a state-sponsored program for the blind.
For Cullers, blindness is a small obstacle. “My blindness isn’t a disability for me. It is an annoyance,” he says. “I may not be able to drive a car, but that’s insignificant compared to my work and my family.” Insignificant indeed. Few have done more to further the search for intelligent life beyond earth. His story shows the spectacular potential for assistive technology to give a clearer, stronger voice to many people whose disabilities, in another era, might have masked their brilliance.
by Jaime Fradera
From the Editor: Once we have put aside the anger and despair that very often accompany the onset of blindness, we sometimes forget or want to forget the power that such emotions can have over the lives of those caught up in the struggle against them. Those in the helping professions who have no healthy experience with disability can make things worse. Federationists sometimes forget that we have been given the key to emotional healing and renewed hope. Not everyone dealing with the physical loss of sight is ready to come to terms with life, but for those who are, we have a priceless gift to offer them.
In the following piece Jaime Fradera traces his own journey through increasing deafness and blindness to new life and freedom.
Jaime has taught blind and visually impaired library patrons in Denver, where he lives, to use computer access equipment. He is now taking further courses in order to work professionally in this field. Despite the bleakness of the landscape through which he has come, Jaime is living proof of the strength of the human spirit and the power of the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.
This talk was given at the Sunday, January 23, 2000, worship service of the First Unitarian Church of Denver.
The trouble with our prevailing value system is that our value to society is measured using criteria that have nothing to do with the quality of our lives—the only thing that really matters. (If you doubt this, just try paying off your credit cards with love, and see what happens to you.) The tragedy is that so many of us buy in to this fallacy even when we know better. Many blind people are taught from a very early age that they cannot be useful, that they have nothing to contribute, that their proper role is to receive, not give as others do, and that they have no business aspiring to a normal life. But all of us are in fact living, breathing people. Our life experiences and struggles are very much alike, and there is very, very much that you and I can do, and live, and celebrate together.
If this story has a prologue, I suppose it would be that I spent nine years as an inmate of the Texas School for the Blind in Austin, Texas. I use the term “inmate” deliberately. In 1965 the school was enclosed by a tall fence, and I remember the school as a bleak and frightening place, but as a teenager I was taught to eat with utensils and tie my shoes. In etiquette class, although we were taught about proper dress and table manners, in a subtle way we were also taught that being blind was not altogether respectable. I was taught to wear hearing aids and sun glasses so that I would appear to be a normal person and conceal my deaf-blindness. The hearing aids and glasses were heavy and uncomfortable to wear, but I’d been taught I had to wear them anyway because I wanted more than anything to be a normal person; I wanted to live in the greater world.
Three years after graduating from the school, I went off to a big, four-year university. This would be my first real foray into the normal world, and making it to the big university meant I was a normal person. It was the fall of 1977, the heyday of disco rock, and it was exciting to think what a party animal I would be. I went to parties, drank beer, dressed correctly, used good table manners, and spent many a night at the disco bar, where I tried with growing desperation to find the incarnation of Donna Summer, but I often left the disco bar alone, my ears ringing and ringing.
After a time it began to dawn on me that in spite of all I was doing to be popular, hardly anyone would notice, and those who did only wondered why I didn’t have a dog. It was as hard as ever to get dates. And as for finding a girlfriend, well that looked even more hopeless–or so I thought, back then. To make matters worse, I began to lose more and more hearing. Frightened by what was happening to me, I turned to the counselors and audiologist for help. But instead of cautioning me about drinking and wearing ear protectors, these so-called counselors suggested I try to go to more parties, that I wear t-shirts so I would look like everybody else, that I call the crisis line if I got too upset, and that I take auditory training.
They set me up with a wanna-be clinician, a grad student named Donna. Donna looked at me and saw pathology. For weeks and weeks we did the auditory training. But the underlying illness went unchecked, and my hearing only worsened. Donna had another bright idea for fitting in to the college social scene. Since I was blind, I should get a dog. When I reacted angrily, she hastily shifted gears and said that maybe I should think about wearing glasses, which I had stopped doing because they hurt. The trouble was my eyes didn’t look normal; I couldn’t watch TV or flirt with girls for example. If I wore glasses, I would be more approachable, less blind, and people wouldn’t stare at me as if I were a Martian. If the glasses didn’t work out, if I still couldn’t make friends or get dates, perhaps I could have eye surgery. I ended the semester more frightened and isolated than ever, racked by waves of dizziness and paralyzing despair.
Eye surgery: this would make me look sighted. It was something I hadn’t thought about before, and I guess I’d tried everything else. But then I remembered another time three years before, when I was happier, when I felt needed and loved. I remembered Linda.
Linda was different. We had met in the hospital where I was a patient, and she a student nurse. Alone among the nurses Linda truly seemed to care, for she brought the joy and precious sun my shattered spirit needed most. Every day she insisted that I dress in street clothes before she came to see me. No one else did that. She wanted me to walk with her on the hospital grounds; she wanted me to have lunch with her. She kept picking on me. She wouldn’t leave me alone. She said I was more interesting than the other patients. She kept telling me to smile, and smile, and smile again, because I looked so much better when I smiled. No one did that either. Linda wouldn’t be another caretaker. After I got out, she made me promise not to tell her dean what we were doing, and we began to date.
It was the spring of 1976. I was in love, and all the world a golden apple. Music still transports me back:
Do you know where you’re going to?
Do you like the things that life is showing you?
Where are you going to?
Do you know?
Good morning, yesterday.
You wake up and find I’ve slipped away ...
Gather roses while you may.
Collect the dreams you dream today.
Remember; do you remember the times of your life?
Through Linda I glimpsed the world that I aspired so much to enter. More precious than all the joy she brought me, more dear than all the love she gave, was the realization that, even as I needed her, Linda also needed me in a way that no one else had done before. Linda was sighted, yet never once did she complain about my eyes—only that I wasn’t smiling, and would I please stop sending flowers. Part of all the golden treasure Linda saw locked up inside me was my own living humanity. Unlike anybody else she knew, I seemed always to have time for her. It wasn’t what I couldn’t do that mattered, but what I had that counted most. It was for all of that and more that Linda loved and needed me, that a world of lonely people needed me. What difference did it make that I had been a patient; what difference did it make that I was blind?
All this I seemed to have forgotten. For as my hearing kept worsening and my life falling apart, my hopes of a better life were dying hard and in bitterness. I clung more desperately to the notion of still making it socially in college, of looking sighted, of being popular and normal. There seemed only one thing left to do, and I made an appointment with a state eye doctor.
The first step, I was told, was to wear a little plastic shell like a contact lens in one eye for a few weeks. Although it would hurt, the pain would go away, after which a larger lens would be implanted, which would hurt too. I wore the lens, but having something in my eye was a constant aggravation; and by now the anguish was more than I could bear. I pulled it out and threw it away, but it was more than my eyes that bled and hurt. Nothing would stop the gushing tears.
I was ruining my health. Unable to hear the professors or have girlfriends or read my recorded text books, unable to do anything it seemed but sit in my dormitory room and cry, I finally gave up, threw in the towel. This seemed to kill forever the possibility that I might someday take my place in the greater world or ever lead a full and active life. If I was to go on living, perhaps it would be with a terrifying illness for which there was no cure; perhaps it would be as some kind of incapacitated stranger nobody wanted, unable to do anything but sit at home and cry.
It was here, surrounded by the twisted wreckage of my life, finally stripped of all the things I once believed in, that I at last began to see the harsh and painful truth: all my life I had done what I was told, what everybody else was doing, tried to go with the flow, join the crowd, and swim downstream, vainly hoping no one else would know I was pretending. What was the result? My dreams were smashed, and my hopes lay ruined, my spirit all but broken. Whatever virtues there might be in conformity, in sameness, I finally understood that, no matter what I did, I was never going to look sighted, that I could never be the same, that my struggle to conform had been a failure. For three long years I languished. Then two things happened.
First I was given an audio program by a motivational speaker. (I had to put the tape recorder flush against the one ear I had left.) The program extolled the virtues of excellence, strength of character, and achievement with stories of people who bucked revered tradition, who swam upstream, who were different, and inspired all those around them.
Second was finding the National Federation of the Blind. Through my new friends in the Federation I came to understand that there was nothing wrong with me, that I was living for more than just myself, that I did not have to hide my blindness or my deafness, that we shared a common story, a universal vision of working, playing, and living beside our sighted partners, colleagues, and friends; that our purpose, our obligation to ourselves and one another was not to be the same but to be different.
Being different—it was something I had not thought about. It seemed there was nothing else to do. So for many months I listened and studied, pondered and planned, until I knew that I was ready. And one day, when once again I saw the world a golden apple and knew I was still very much in love, I left home for the last time to swim upstream for the first time, to trade security and sameness for something spiritual and sacred: the gifts of life and freedom.
Jaime Fradera can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
by Charles Allen
From the Editor: Charles Allen is a long-time leader of the NFB of Kentucky and the National Association of Blind Merchants. He wrote this description of Thanksgiving, 2000, at the end of that year. Surely the same preparations will be taking place in mess halls at Ft. Knox and across the country and around the world, whether blind vendors are running them or not. Traditionally this is the time of year when we count our blessings, and this year we have more reason than ever before to be grateful for our country and the liberties we have. One of the blessings Federationists are counting is that blind vendors can serve those who need the comfort of good food and friendly faces when they are far from home and family. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours:
Blind vendors are entering into another area of employ- ment—the military mess halls. This kind of governmental cafeteria is open for three meals a day, seven days a week. It may even serve a midnight meal.
Thanksgiving Day dinner is the most important peacetime military meal of the year. This uniquely American experience is usually spent with family and friends. For the young men and women stationed at our military bases it represents an important day spent away from home, perhaps the first such holiday.
On March 1, 1999, I entered into a joint venture with Mitchco International (Clarence Mitchell, Chairman and CEO) to form River City Management Services, which is located at Fort Knox, Kentucky. I have since developed great respect for the many dining facility employees I have come to know who view their work as their patriotic duty. One of the duties I have added to my job description is eating dinner with the troops on Thanksgiving Day.
This was the second Thanksgiving Day I have spent with the troops at Fort Knox. The emphasis is upon “plenty”—plenty of turkey and dressing, plenty of pumpkin pies, and plenty of hungry troops.
The employees of River City Management Services make every effort to make this a festive event for the troops. The dining facility managers place orders months in advance for beef, turkey, ham, and shrimp. Dressing, mashed potatoes with gravy, yams, and corn pudding are the next essential items. No celebration would be complete without pies—pumpkin, pecan (some with chocolate chips), and sweet potato—along with cakes of many flavors and descriptions. Some cakes are decorated with the likenesses of officers and tanks or with Biblical quotations. Add on fresh fruit—oranges, apples and bananas. The tables and the troops groan with all of the food.
The troops eat in brightly decorated mess halls. One dining facility manager covers all of the tables with cloths and candles. Many decorate tables with cornucopias filled with nuts and wrapped candy. Another manager installs a fake fireplace complete with burning gas logs; he places rocking chairs and a rug in front of it. Ice sculptures shaped into baskets hold fruit or shrimp. Another mess hall manager replaces all of the dining hall’s metal and plastic tables and chairs with picnic tables borrowed from a local park; she covers the floor with leaves.
Split logs at the entrances are placed to look like the walls of log cabins. Horses, rabbits, live turkeys, and peacocks are behind temporary fences. Bales of hay and huge pumpkins add more decoration to the dining hall entrances.
Variations of these scenes can be found at each of the fifteen mess halls that we have open on Thanksgiving Day. Officers, their wives, and children share their day with the troops. (Whenever a ranking officer enters the dining hall, the troops stand at attention; I find my own spine is straighter and my shoulders go back.) Many of the dining facility managers and their families make this a real day of celebration and are dressed as Pilgrims or Native Americans.
The dining facility managers are very competitive with their decorations; the winner gets a trophy and bragging rights for a year. When I was going into one of the dining halls, I met the judges leaving. They assured me that they were not from Florida, but when they laughed, my wife Betty pointed out that one had dimples. The award had still not been announced by the time we left for home late that afternoon. (I later learned the award was given to the dining facility decorated with picnic tables and leaves.)
There are always lines of troops at Fort Knox. As we leave the base on Thanksgiving Day, the lines are at the telephone booths. The troops look well fed.
This month’s recipes have been provided by the NFB of Kentucky.
by Robbie McClave
Robbie McClave has been a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky for more than twenty years and has served as Vice President, Secretary, and Board Member of the Kentucky affiliate. She is also a charter member and Past President of the NFB of South Central Kentucky, having served as chapter President for over ten years. She says, “I hope that Monitor readers will enjoy these recipes as much as I have enjoyed the recipes contributed by other Federationists to the Braille Monitor over the years.”
8 boneless chicken breasts,
cut into chunks
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of celery soup
1 8-ounce carton sour cream
1/4 pound crackers, coarsely crushed
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
1 stick margarine, melted
Method: Mix soups and sour cream together thoroughly. Add chicken pieces and mix well. Place in buttered casserole dish. Combine all topping ingredients and sprinkle over casserole. Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees.
by Robbie McClave
1 can whole-kernel corn, undrained
1 can cream-style corn
1 cup sour cream
1 stick butter, melted
1 box Jiffy cornbread mix
Chopped red and green peppers (optional)
Method: Mix all ingredients. Place in a greased 1-1/2-quart casserole dish and bake 1 hour at 350 degrees.
by Robbie McClave
2 Graham cracker pie crusts
1 six-ounce package semi-sweet
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon salt, optional
1 can cherry pie filling
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
16 maraschino cherries for garnish
Method: Place chocolate, milk, and salt in 1-quart covered casserole. Cook in microwave for two minutes or until mixture comes to a boil and stir vigorously until well blended. Mix in pie filling and almond extract. Divide filling between the two pie shells and chill for at least two hours. To serve, cover with Cool Whip. Cut each pie into eight slices and garnish each with a maraschino cherry.
by Joan Balot
Joan Balot is a member of the Greater Louisville Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky. She hosts the chapter’s annual Derby party in her spacious home. Whenever food is a part of the arrangements, Joan is in the middle of things. These are some of her favorite recipes.
1 21-ounce can of cherry pie filling
1 large can of mandarin oranges
1 8-ounce package of mixed dried fruit
1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup Kentucky bourbon
Method: Combine fruits and add brown sugar and spices. Stir in bourbon until all ingredients are well blended. Bake in 350-degree oven for forty-five minutes. Serves eight. (I usually double the recipe when I’m having a crowd.
by Joan Balot
2 1-pound cans apricot halves
1-1/2 pounds brown sugar
1 1-pound box Ritz Crackers,
broken in small pieces
1 cup real butter
Method: Place apricots in baking dish, cut side down, including juice. Top with brown sugar and broken crackers. Dot surface with butter. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. Serves eight.
by Joan Balot
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts,
cooked, drained, and chopped fine
1 large can crushed pineapple, well-drained
1-1/2 cups finely chopped celery
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup Miracle Whip
1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons curry powder
Method: Combine cooked, chopped chicken; drained pineapple; and celery. Add salad dressings and stir to blend well. Add curry powder and again blend well.
by Joan Balot
1 pound butter
2 cans sweetened condensed milk
2 pounds light brown sugar
2 cups (1 bottle) Karo Syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups chopped pecans (optional)
Method: Melt butter and add condensed milk, brown sugar, and syrup. Cook slowly over medium heat, stirring constantly until candy reaches the hard-ball stage when a small amount is dropped into a cup of cold water (240-260 degrees on a candy thermometer). Remove from heat and add vanilla. Butter the bottoms of two large, oblong dishes. Add pecans to candy. (You can also add the pecans to one half of candy and leave the other half plain). Divide the candy between the two dishes and place in refrigerator overnight. Cut into small squares and wrap each in wax paper. These caramels are nice for the holidays.
by Joan Balot
Joan reports that Betty Niceley, the long-time leader of the Kentucky affiliate and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille, was particularly fond of this spread.
1 2-pound box Velveeta cheese
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese
1 8-ounce package cheddar cheese (sharp or extra sharp)
2 large jars (4 ounces each) diced pimento
1 cup Miracle Whip
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Dash garlic salt (optional)
Method: Bring Velveeta and cream cheese to room temperature and mix together. Add grated cheddar and mix until well blended. Stir in pimento, Miracle Whip, and mayonnaise. Make sure all ingredients are well blended. You can also add some finely-chopped sweet pickle if you like. This is really good on pumpernickel or rye bread. You can also serve it on small cocktail rolls.
Squeaky Baby Shoes:
We recently received a press release about a product that may be of interest to some of our readers. Here is the information we could glean from the text:
Walking down a busy city street in China, you may hear a toddler or two because their feet squeak. Squeaky baby shoes have been around in China for a long time. Their purpose is to amuse babies. I was fortunate enough to witness this phenomenon during my trip to China while adopting my daughter.
After coming to the U.S., my daughter wore her squeaky shoes everywhere. Anyone who heard her shoes squeak was guaranteed to smile, children and adults alike. As a result I sought out a manufacturer in China and imported several styles. Pip Squeakers began selling baby squeaky shoes in March, 2001, on the Internet at <www.pipsqueakers.com>.
We quickly realized that squeaky baby shoes not only were fun but could actually be of benefit to both parents and babies with vision and mobility impairments. We have received many positive responses from groups dealing with blindness.
Pip Squeakers can serve as motivation for blind and visually impaired babies and toddlers, who learn that moving their feet causes the amusing sounds. As a result they are encouraged to move, explore, and take their first steps. Blind and visually impaired parents use squeaky shoes to track their baby’s movements by sound.
The secret of these shoes is an insole air pocket. As the baby presses a foot against any surface, the air travels through a small squeaker embedded in the rubber sole. The sound is similar to that of a rubber squeak toy. For more information check out the Web site.
Recently the Kitsap County Chapter of the NFB of Washington conducted its election. The new officers are Ivan Weich, President; Michael O’Neal, Vice President; and Bonnie Weich, Secretary/Treasurer.
Attention Georgia Residents:
The NFB of Georgia’s South Fulton Chapter has received a grant to cover the cost of a chartered bus for the 2002 national convention. Because of this grant all members of the NFB of Georgia are welcome to reserve a seat for only $10 a person. Seats are going fast, so call today. For more details call Stephanie Scott, President, at (404) 763-1551 or toll-free, (866) 999-6324. Don’t be left out.
Attention Those Interested in Joining the Travel and Tourism Division:
The Travel and Tourism Division is for blind people interested in traveling and touring educational and recreational places. We are now planning tours for 2002. If you have wondered what it is like to cruise the ocean, walk on the shores of exotic places, tactilely examine beautiful art, this is the division for you. For more information call Stephanie Scott at (404) 763-1551 or toll free, (866) 999-6324.
The National Federation of the Blind of Arizona held its annual convention the weekend of September 7, 2001, in Mesa, Arizona. The following officers and Board members were elected: President, Ruth Swenson; First Vice President, Marcus Schmidt; Second Vice President, Bob Kresmer; Secretary, Connie Ryan; Treasurer, Donna Silba; and Mark Feliz, Lee Kerr, and Tom O’Brien, Board members.
New Braille Music Curriculum:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Dancing Dots, developer of the GOODFEEL Braille music translator, has published An Introduction to Music for the Blind Student, A Course in Braille Music Reading to meet the basic need of blind music students to become literate in music Braille.
No prior experience needed: Braille music educator David Simpson of the Braille Institute of America addresses the curriculum’s value to sighted teachers and tutors as well as to students. “Sighted teachers who are not Braille-literate can now guide blind students in their musical education. In the process both the student and the teacher learn the Braille music code,” says Simpson. Bill McCann, founder and president of Dancing Dots, says of the intent of the curriculum, “We’ve tried to take away the barrier that Braille music is ‘too hard to teach or learn’ so that all students can receive music instruction in class with everyone else. This is an effort to advance literacy for the blind. Literacy can lead to independence, which is a key to success.”
An Introduction to Music for the Blind Student has a retail price of $299 for three print and four Braille volumes. Further information on ordering the course in Braille music reading is available by contacting Dancing Dots, Braille Music Technology at (610) 783-6692 or e-mail <info@dancingdots. com>.
International Exchange for People with Disabilities:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Have you ever considered the possibility of participating in an international exchange? Study for a year in France, teach English in China, volunteer in Costa Rica, or conduct research in Zimbabwe. The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE) can provide information on programs and field-tested tips on how people with disabilities can make these possibilities a reality.
NCDE strives to increase the participation of people with disabilities in the full range of international exchange opportunities by providing free resources and referrals to individuals and disability-related organizations. Form friendships that last a lifetime, learn about other cultures, and offer your skills in other countries.
For more information visit NCDE’s Web site at <www.miusa.org> or contact Pamela Houston at (541) 343-1284 (voice/tty) 343-6812 (fax). The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange is managed by Mobility International USA and sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Telesensory Aladdin Classic, six months old, asking $1,200, wonderful for those with macular degeneration. Contact Bryna Paskoff by calling (516) 593-4383.
The Blackhawk Chapter of the NFB of Illinois elected new officers at its September 15, 2001, meeting. They are Lois Montgomery, President; Allen Schaefer, Vice President; Pat Olson, Secretary; Ruth Anne Schaefer, Treasurer; and Robert Gardner, Alma Sowers, and Eric Franck, Board Members.
Anti-Slip Traction Gear for Safe Walking on Ice and Snow:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Snowy and icy weather can create dangerous walking conditions for anyone exercising, shoveling snow, or just going to the mailbox in the winter. However, everyone can now walk safely with STABILicers easily attachable ice cleats. STABILicers act like snow tires for the feet and will help keep people active and agile despite slippery winter weather. STABILicers look like sandals that attach easily with Velcro® straps over anything from running shoes to boots. Designed with flexible Vibram®, STABILicers have cleats that bite into snow and ice, providing the traction needed to get around with confidence in the worst weather conditions. STABILicers have been used for years by letter carriers, utility line workers, and delivery personnel.
For additional information call (800) 782-2423 or mail to Dave Washburn, 32 North, P.O. Box 5007, Biddeford, Maine 04007-5007.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Windows-based Pentium computers for $50 are available to NFB members. This is a refurbished computer with five-cassette audio step-by-step tutorial on how to use Windows, including e-mail and reading Web pages. Keep track of your tax and insurance files, write letters to friends and family, and keep your own recipes and family genealogy records. Contact Bob Langford at (214) 340-6328, Texas Center for the Physically Impaired, 11330 Quail Run, Dallas, Texas 75238.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Telesensory Versicolor XL CCD with M-19 high-contrast 19-inch black and white monitor, Model XL4A, asking $1,200 for the entire system. If interested, call David Huskey at (561) 461-2588, 509 Mayflower Lane, Fort Pierce, Florida 34950.
Save On Drug Costs at Canadian Mail-Order Pharmacies:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
If high drug prices are a problem, Canadian mail-order pharmacies can provide an inexpensive solution. People without health insurance or with high insurance co-pays can especially benefit from drug price savings of 30 to 50 percent and more.
Canadameds.com, one of the lowest-cost mail-order pharmacies, serves nationwide thousands of Americans with diabetes, glaucoma, and other health conditions. Stocking most medications made and packaged in the U.S., Canadameds.com sells diabetes drug Glucophage (500mg, 100tab) for US$16.60, a savings of more than 70 percent off traditional retail prices.
To obtain a quick price quote on a drug, visit <www.canadameds.com> or call toll-free (877) 542-3330. Winnipeg-based Canadameds requires a written prescription and has customers fill out and submit a patient questionnaire and disclaimer form. Prescriptions can be filled for up to a three-month supply at one time and take two to four weeks to receive. Orders are sent airmail to patients’ homes or to the doctor’s office if needed.
Regulated by the Health Canada government regulatory group, Canadameds has customers in all fifty states and more than thirty foreign countries.
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.