THE BRAILLE MONITOR
Vol. 46, No. 8 August/September, 2003
Barbara Pierce, editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
MARC MAURER, PRESIDENT
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 46, No. 8 August/September, 2003
2003 Convention Roundup
by Barbara Pierce
by Marc Maurer
The 2003 Scholarship Class of the National Federation of the Blind
The 2003 Awards
Rest of Reality
by Marc Maurer
Harmony in the Field of Work with the Blind: Federal
Policies That Enhance Opportunity
by Joanne Wilson
and Mobility, Competence
by Fredric K. Schroeder
for the Future: A
Report on 2003 Convention Resolutions
by Sharon Maneki
National Federation of the Blind 2003 Resolutions
Copyright © 2003 National Federation of the Blind
[LEAD PHOTO/CAPTION: The banquet room at the 2003 convention]
The 2003 Convention Roundup
by Barbara Pierce
Ask people what they think of when they hear the word "Kentucky," and, when they get past horses, bluegrass, the Kentucky Derby, and bourbon, they often begin humming a few bars of "My Old Kentucky Home." That's what it felt like when we returned this year to the Galt House for the sixty-third convention of the National Federation of the Blind, June 28 through July 4. Our host affiliate was as warm and welcoming as last year, even if the weather, for the first part of the convention at least, was several degrees cooler than it was last year. The Belle of Louisville still plies her way up and down the Ohio River, paddle wheel and calliope driven by steam engines.
Often people assume that a convention that brings a couple of thousand blind people to town must be profoundly different from other conventions. The NFB convention is certainly a lengthy event, and the percentage of attendees who actually take part in general sessions and the organization's additional gatherings is undoubtedly much higher than the average for national meetings. But it's clear that in lots of ways we are a cross section of the convention-attending public as well as every other part of the public. For example, one conventioneer reported stepping onto an elevator in the small hours of Friday morning, following the banquet. He was a bit startled to discover a small sofa in the cage with him. When he reached the lobby, he commented to the desk clerk on duty about the rearrangement of the furniture. The clerk responded that the Future Farmers of America and a martial arts group who had both been recent hotel guests had moved the furniture into the elevators while they were guests, but he was a bit surprised that NFB visitors would come up with the same idea. He wasn't annoyed, just bemused.
In addition, someone in city government apparently concluded that a convention of blind people was likely to require something extraordinary in traffic signage. Partway through the week, signs suddenly appeared outside the hotel announcing, "Visually Handicapped Pedestrians." By the next day the signs had disappeared. Energetic Federationists had decided that they were not needed, and certainly no accidents occurred after they were removed. But city officials were apparently convinced that motorists would not notice blind pedestrians using long canes and guide dogs outside the hotel, so back they came with new signs, this time anchored in cement. The new signs could not be conveniently removed, so this time individual letters began disappearing. The convention ended before all the letters could depart, but the message delivered by conventioneers was clear.
At last year's convention President Maurer unveiled Whozit for the first time. This year Whozit was everywhere: on literature, on the banquet mugs, even on wonderful new Braille slates made of steel and aluminum. And Whozit items were for sale everywhere: neckties, shirts, tote bags, banners, bears, and jewelry. A whole array of Whozit pins, charms, and earrings was for sale at the NFB store in sterling or gold, with and without Whozit in all of his enameled colors.
In short, Federation conventioneers felt at home in Louisville and at the Galt House. Much was familiar, but as usual very much was new and stimulating. Each year it seems that the pre-convention days become more and more filled with activity. People used to come early to enjoy a few days of quiet before the rush of registration and the opening of the exhibit hall. This year more than a thousand people were on hand by the time pre-convention events began on Saturday, June 28.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: President Maurer sits cross-legged on the floor with blind children gathered around him.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mylene Richardson of North Carolina shows off her balloon hat, her face painting, and her white cane.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Peter Myers of Kentucky working hard on his model of a planet]
Family activities this year filled Saturday completely. After National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) registration, President Maurer sat down with the children and talked with them about blindness and learning to get things done as a blind person. When the kids went off to the Braille carnival, the adults settled down to some straight talk about "Transition to Independence," as blind youngsters move from stage to stage on their way to adulthood. At noon participants were invited to attend casual lunch gatherings by state or region to do networking. These lunches were a great success and jump-started a lot of helpful contacts.
This year during the afternoon the adults did not move from workshop to workshop as they have in the past. They stayed together and listened to a riveting group of speakers talk about effective strategies for stimulating blind children at various stages of their development. The older kids and teens, on the other hand, had to choose among a number of interesting and useful workshops: Note Taking with an Electronic Notetaker; a babysitting clinic; I Want to Be a Writer; Fun with Braille; Impact!—Asteroids, Craters, and the Extinction of the Dinosaurs; and A Journey through Space. Noreen Grice and Bernhard Beck-Winchatz, the science education specialist and astronomer who developed the Braille book, Touch the Universe, published by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, came to Louisville to work with blind youngsters and their families on science and math.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ricardo Garcia (New York) and Alicia Jones (Kentucky) meet a lizard during the NFB Camp visit to the Louisville Zoo.]
While families were busy and NFB Camp was open to provide fun and friends for kids when they were not enjoying the Braille carnival with their Braille Buddies, a huge array of other workshops kept things lively around the hotel. Nearly twenty technology gatherings of various sorts took place Saturday. In addition, the NFB-sponsored job seminar provided inspiration and tips for those looking for employment. Writers enjoyed an open session for short-story and poetry reading. Those organizing affiliate special events gathered to pool their experience and expertise, and folks committed to spreading the Braille Is Beautiful curriculum gathered to exchange ideas and strategies for getting this wonderful resource used more broadly. That evening an astronomy workshop, aimed originally at teens interested in astronomy, also attracted a number of blind adults interested in the subject. It is clear that the new relationship forged with NASA and professionals in astronomy resonates strongly with NFB members eager for exposure to science of all kinds.
A number of other divisions and committees conducted meetings during Saturday afternoon and evening. In addition to Karaoke Night Saturday evening sponsored by BLIND, Inc., we held the first ever Rookie Roundup for first-time convention attendees, to let folks know what would happen during the week and where to get help when they needed advice. These first-time conventioneers were also given special ribbons to wear on their badges in order to help them get acquainted. The Kentucky affiliate hosted Welcome to Kentucky with DJ Ed Driskell, playing hits from the fifties to the present. Something would have been wrong with anyone who did not feel welcome after that introduction to the Bluegrass State.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Federationists enjoy themselves on the dance floor.]
When Sunday morning dawned, everyone hit the floor running. The Sensory Safari was open all day to introduce interested conventioneers to realistic mounts of wild animals from around the world. Convention registration was its usual efficient, rapid experience for those who passed through the lines. Almost 2,000 people registered during the first day, and no one had to stand in line for long.
Of course the exhibit hall was waiting to lure people into spending time and money on what is new and most interesting in technology for blind people. This year thirty-seven Federation exhibitors staffed booths as did fifty-three organizations from beyond our ranks. Along with the usual aids, appliances, and literature, the NFB store carried some new items: a fine Braille watch with Whozit pictured on both the men's and women's versions and costing $75; new aluminum and steel slates sporting Whozit and costing $8 and $15 respectively; and the Whozit jewelry. The newest Kernel Book, The Car, the Sled, and the Butch Wax, was also for sale.
Sunday afternoon the Resolutions Committee considered twenty resolutions, eighteen of which went on to be debated on the convention floor Friday afternoon. The texts of the resolutions that were passed appear elsewhere in this issue.
The National Association of Blind Lawyers conducted another mock trial this year in the courtroom of the Honorable Charles S. Brown. This time it was the trial that might have taken place in the Judy Miller case in the 1970's. As it happened, the case was settled before it got to court, but that small detail did not stop the plaintiffs, the defendants, and their legal counsels from laying out the issue in outrageously comic terms.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: The Braille Readers Are Leaders reception was a fine opportunity for youngsters to deepen friendships. Here Lauren Thomson and Victoria Miceli (both of Iowa) are obviously having fun together.]
Sunday evening and Monday afternoon and evening some twenty-five divisions and committees conducted meetings, seminars, and workshops. Here are some highlights. To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest, the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children hosted a reception and the first annual Braille book flea market. The generous support of the United Parcel Service Foundation and a number of UPS volunteers made this event truly memorable. See Sandy Halverson's brief report in the Convention Miniatures for more details.
Division and affiliate Web masters gathered on Monday evening to pool their experience and brainstorm ideas. Gary Wunder coordinated this discussion and prepared a report, which appears in the Monitor Miniatures. Cajun Moon Rising was the title of this year's original play by Jerry Whittle. It was performed by students and friends of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and the proceeds were donated to support children's programming at the Louisiana Center.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Noel Nightingale]
Promptly at 9:00 a.m. Monday morning, the annual public meeting of the NFB board of directors was gaveled to order with every member of the board present except Steve Benson, who was ill and facing surgery. President Maurer began by reviewing the six board-of-director seats up for election this year. Noel Nightingale, president of the NFB of Washington, then sought the floor. She said:
Good morning, Dr. Maurer, fellow board members, and fellow Federationists. Once again we are at a wonderful convention of our organization, and it is a pleasure to be here. My name is up again this year, and I am letting you know that, if my name is put into nomination, I will not accept that nomination. This organization means everything to me and has allowed me to achieve great things in my life, both professionally and personally.
I recall that, when I was pregnant with my daughter Leila, I was out on a boat with some friends on Lake Washington--some very good friends, who had known me a long time. One of them said to me that he didn't think it was right that I was pregnant because my daughter might be blind and it wasn't right that I would pass that along to somebody. Another friend called me on the phone one day when I was pregnant and was questioning whether I could be a mother, whether I could do simple things like change diapers. But at that point I had been a Federationist for some time, and I knew that their questioning was not right, that even if my daughter Leila or now my son Cosmo gets retinitis pigmentosa later, they will live full lives. So those friends did not deter me. I give the credit for my response to the Federation, to my brothers and sisters who have modeled the way for me and have shared their experiences.
I have also achieved a great deal professionally. I have a law degree, and I practiced environmental law for five and a half years. I then became a rehabilitation administrator at the Department for the Blind in Washington. I have now taken on a new position with the federal government. I am finding that, between the demands that will undoubtedly come in my new position and the demands of motherhood, I cannot devote the kind of time that I would want to devote to the organization, and therefore I do not feel it would be right to accept the nomination. Thank you.
President Maurer then made a number of announcements and drew the name of the winner of the 2003 Kernel Book writing contest. Michael Freeman of Washington State had his name chosen from a pool of 101. The 2004 contest began on June 1, 2003. All Kernel Book story submissions arriving at the National Center by May 31, 2004, will be entered in that contest. President Maurer then introduced Cathy Jackson, president of the host affiliate, and Kicki Nordström, president of the World Blind Union, to speak briefly.
He then called on the presidents of affiliates that have received bequests during the past year to be recognized and make announcements of their gifts to the national treasury. By long-standing policy, affiliates and chapters give half of the funds raised by professional fundraisers and half of the bequests they receive to the national organization. Making gifts this year were California, Colorado (Denver Chapter), Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, South Dakota, and Utah. This agenda item closed with a reminder from NFB Second Vice President Peggy Elliott that affiliates and chapters who receive bequests will make life easier for everyone if they see that Peggy gets a copy of the will as early in the process as possible.
Bruce Gardner, chairman of the Affiliate Action Committee, then reminded everyone to make sure that canes and dogs are not lying in the aisles, to be sure that wheelchairs and carts do not protrude--special marshals will be available to remove chairs from rows to make space for this equipment--to turn off phones and beepers during sessions, and to leave the ballroom before carrying on conversations.
Peggy Elliott, who chairs the Scholarship Committee, next introduced the thirty scholarship winners for 2003. A full report of this year's scholarship program appears elsewhere in this issue. With Steve Benson unavailable to make this year's presentation of the Blind Educator of the Year Award, Sheila Koenig, president of the National Organization of Blind Educators and a member of the selection committee, presented a plaque and check to Dr. Norman Gardner. The details of the presentation appear elsewhere in this issue.
The board meeting concluded with reports from several committees. Tom Stevens, chairman of the Associates Committee, announced the top recruiters for 2003. The top recruiter by number of associates was Dotty Neely of North Carolina with 200, followed by Art Schreiber of New Mexico with 191, Dr. J. Webster Smith of Ohio with 124, and Tom Stevens of Missouri with 101. We had 231 recruiters, so we have plenty of room for additional volunteers. Our top fundraiser in the associate program was President Marc Maurer with $2,212. Second place went to Dotty Neely with $2,040, and third place went to last year's top money recruiter, Patricia Maurer, with $1,943. With that report the board meeting adjourned, and delegates scattered to an agenda full of meetings and other activities through the remainder of the day.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Michael Cleveland and the Blue Hollow Band play bluegrass music at opening convention ceremonies.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Diane McGeorge, perennial distributer of door prizes, holds a bouquet of roses provided as door prizes by the NFB of Utah. Each rose was created from five $5 bills.]
The opening session of the convention began at 9:30 sharp Tuesday morning. Cathy Jackson set a festive tone by introducing Michael Cleveland and the Blue Hollow Band, a fine bluegrass band who played several up-beat songs about Kentucky. She then introduced four state legislators, each of whom briefly welcomed the convention to Louisville.
The remainder of the morning session was devoted to the roll call of states. Along with providing necessary information about official delegates and members of the Nominating Committee, affiliates took the opportunity to provide interesting pieces of information. Connecticut announced that, two weeks before, the legislature had passed a bill preserving the separate agency serving the blind. President Maurer pointed out that the only reason the bill had passed was the work of the NFB of Connecticut. Everyone else had given up on protecting the state agency, but the NFB got the job done. Colorado, Louisiana, and Minnesota announced that all of the staff and students from their rehabilitation centers were attending the convention. Over half of the students at the Iowa adult training center were present, and the staff and rehabilitation students at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM) were at the convention as well as the president of BISM and the chairman of the board of trustees. Sharon Maneki also announced that our own Kris Cox is now a member of the Ehrlich administration because she has been appointed to head the Governor's Office for Persons with Disabilities.
Massachusetts announced that Steven Rothstein, the new president of Perkins, would be present at the convention Thursday and at the banquet that evening. All of the leadership of the Nebraska Commission for the Blind were in the Nebraska delegation, which was also hosting a blind member of the Turkish legislature. The governor of New Mexico has just appointed Art Schreiber as chairman of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind. New York reported that in January the governor decided to fold the Commission for the Blind into a larger agency. The NFB of New York contacted every member of the legislature to protest. They said that they had never seen such a response, and the governor backed down, for the present at least. Puerto Rico reported that they now have a Braille literacy law, the Pennsylvania affiliate established both student and guide dog divisions during the past year, and Rhode Island formed a parents division. By the time the roll call was complete, seven states had announced that the heads of their state agencies serving blind people were present for part or all of the convention.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Gary Wunder displays the new NFB flag.]
Following the roll call, the officers took down the NFB flag that has been on our convention platform for many years and displayed for the first time the new NFB flag, which is a full-color Whozit on a field of white. Like the flags of countries, this flag does not include the name of the organization for which it stands. Our job will be to make it generally recognized across the United States and around the world.
Before the noon recess President Maurer played a sample of the new NFB public service announcements, which are available to chapters and affiliates in VHS format to show to TV stations. If required, beta format versions will be supplied to stations that need it. We should notify the national office when stations agree to air these PSAs.
As usual the afternoon session began with the presidential report, which appears in full elsewhere in this issue. It is always inspiring to review the highlights of the past year and listen to a summary of our activities.
"The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the Organized Blind Look to the Future" was the title of remarks delivered by A.V. Diaz, director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Space Flight Center. He described NASA research that may have implications for blind people in the future and urged the NFB to continue to spread the word that NASA is eager for blind people to train as scientists and work in the space program.
Raúl M. Grijalva, a member of Congress from the seventh congressional district of Arizona, then addressed the delegates on "Working with the Blind: A Voice in Congress." Mr. Grijalva expressed his support for all of the legislative efforts the NFB advocates in Congress, and he urged us to continue working together to ensure that tomorrow's blind citizens have a better life than we do today.
The next agenda item was "Information Accessible to the Blind: Programs of America Online" presented by Jules Polonetsky, AOL vice president of integrity assurance. He reported on recent advances in making America Online easily and widely useable by blind people. He assured the audience that AOL programmers really are beginning to understand what needs to be done, and AOL is committed to doing it.
Dr. Joanne Wilson, commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, was the next speaker. Her title was "Promoting Harmony in the Field of Work with the Blind: Federal Policies That Enhance Opportunity." The full text of this address appears elsewhere in this issue.
Jim Omvig next came to the podium to conduct two pieces of business. The first was to have Professor Ron Ferguson of Louisiana Tech University introduce the twelve men and women who have completed the requirements for National Orientation and Mobility Certification (NOMC) from the National Blindness Professional Certification Board. Following that recognition, Mr. Omvig presented the 2003 Fredric K. Schroeder Award to Doug Boone. A complete report of this award presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
Joe Blackstone, chief executive officer of Blackstone Consulting, Inc., was the final speaker of the afternoon. He was introduced by Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants. His title was "Partnerships for Progress in the Randolph-Sheppard Program." Mr. Blackstone described what vendors should look for when seeking partnerships in order to acquire military locations and other large facilities.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Alice Lockwood accompanies Jeannie Romeo on the piano.]
That evening the Kentucky affiliate hosted the Bluegrass Ball, featuring Romeo and Lockwood, a country singing duo. Alice Lockwood is a member of the NFB of New York. The National Association of Blind Musicians sponsored its annual showcase of talent in which twenty performers took part, and the tenBroek Fund sponsored a very successful auction. This was only the tip of the iceberg of Tuesday evening activities, but at 9:00 a.m. the Wednesday session came to order.
Before beginning the 2003 election, President Maurer paid tribute to the United Parcel Service Foundation, which has supported many of our programs through the years and which this year has contributed $50,000 to enhance the Braille Readers Are Leaders program. More than a hundred UPS volunteers were present during the convention to assist conventioneers.
The hold-over board positions this year are held by Marc Maurer, president; Joyce Scanlan, first vice president; Peggy Elliott, second vice president; Gary Wunder, secretary; Charlie Brown, treasurer; and board members Pam Allen (Louisiana), Steve Benson (Illinois), Sam Gleese (Mississippi), Diane McGeorge (Colorado), Carla McQuillan (Oregon), and Carlos Serván (Nebraska). The sitting board members who were re-elected were Ron Brown (Indiana), Donald Capps (South Carolina), Priscilla Ferris (Massachusetts), Cathy Jackson (Kentucky), and Joe Ruffalo (New Jersey). To fill the seat most recently held by Noel Nightingale, the convention unanimously elected Anil Lewis, president of the NFB of Georgia. After a victory yell, Anil responded to his election by saying:
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Anil Lewis]
This is awesome! I want to let everyone know that your confidence and faith in me have not been misplaced. I will own up to it, but I will say, as I always have--as the president of the Atlanta chapter I was only successful and able to fulfill the mission of the Federation due to the loving, caring people who were around me and supported me. As the affiliate president of the state of Georgia, here again, I have only been able to be successful because I have had confident, loving, self-sacrificing individuals that have helped me. Now as a national board member I have an expectation of each one of you to be just as caring, committed, and supportive. If you will do that, I will make sure that I will be just as successful on the national level. 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. Thank you very much.
Following the election, Carl Augusto, president of the American Foundation for the Blind, made a report about what's new at the Foundation. He discussed a number of programs dealing with Braille, employment, and quality of life for blind people. The audience was enthusiastic about these items. Giving credit to Mr. Augusto for having gone on record as believing that the time had come for the National Accreditation Council to close its doors, James Gashel then asked why, when the AFB has endorsed the concept of working to resolve existing differences among agencies and consumer organizations in the blindness field, Mr. Augusto had recently signed a paper advocating that sleepshades not be required, dog guides be allowed in cane-centered programs, and Academy accreditation be the only recognized credential for blindness professionals. The NFB was not consulted before this document was circulated, and Mr. Gashel urged Mr. Augusto to remove his name from the document until discussions have been held. Mr. Augusto agreed to discussions on these matters but refused to withdraw his name from the document in the meantime.
The next speaker was Dr. Pearl Van Zandt, director of the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and president of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind. Her title was "National Trends in Rehabilitation for the Blind." She outlined recent advances in the field, pointed to several issues of deep concern and urged the field to work together to preserve and increase effective rehabilitation programs for blind Americans.
National Industries for the Blind President and CEO Jim Gibbons followed this presentation with an encouraging report on what is happening at NIB. He told the audience that NIB is prepared to work with the organized blind to develop language to amend Section 14 C of the Fair Labor Standards Act to say that blindness shall no longer be reason enough to pay a worker sub-minimum wages. Delegates cheered this announcement and were delighted to learn about new NIB initiatives to develop managerial leadership among blind people associated with NIB. It's clear that Mr. Gibbons is committed to improving the opportunities of blind people in the industrial programs associated with it.
"Protecting the Rights of Blind Workers" was the title of an address by Cari M. Dominguez, chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Ms. Dominguez was returning to our platform, having addressed us at the 1991 convention. She made clear her commitment to educate employers about the abilities of blind workers and ensure that blind people have a fair chance to get and succeed in jobs across the country. She invited affiliates to ask EEOC spokespeople to address state conventions during the coming year.
The next agenda item was our annual report from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director, and John Bryant, head of the Production Control Section, made the presentation. Mr. Cylke has attended every NFB convention since 1975. He introduced John Bryant, who described a pilot project to provide audio magazine articles from three publications to a group of volunteers who will download them from the Web. The pilot should begin this fall.
Also this fall NLS book producers will begin providing digital books. For now these will be duplicated on cassette tape, but, when the conversion to the digital system takes place in 2008, these titles will also be available in the new format.
The final program item for the morning was "Voting Rights for the Blind: Implementation of the Help America Vote Act." Three speakers addressed the topic. The first was Doug Lewis, executive director of the Election Center in Houston, Texas. He urged delegates to get involved locally in the effort to make this program succeed. He pointed out that by January of 2006 at least one voting machine in every voting place is to be accessible to blind voters, but this will not eliminate assisted voting if that is what the voter wishes to do.
Following Mr. Lewis, Mike Freeman, legislative chairman and first vice president of the NFB of Washington, and Anil Lewis, president of the NFB of Georgia, described their affiliates' successful efforts to pass state legislation to ensure accessible voting. They urged delegates to work on state legislation and regulations, and Anil assured everyone that, based on his experience last November, independent voting is an extraordinary experience.
Wednesday afternoon and evening were filled with tours, seminars, workshops, meetings, openhouses, and Monte Carlo Night, sponsored each year by the National Association of Blind Students. One of the most exciting events was a meeting of the Job Exchange Committee, during which Federationists swapped information about jobs and networked with others and employers. The two meetings of this committee were very well attended and quite helpful.
The NOPBC workshops were also well attended. The drop-in-anytime workshop to help parents work on cane travel with their blind children is always popular. This year we added two sessions each of "Braille for the Partially Sighted: Methods & Techniques," presented by Dr. Stuart Wittenstein, and "It Takes More Than a Good IEP: Creative Ways to Improve Your Child's Educational Services."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Kicki Nordström, laughing, holds an electronic notetaker while Kua Cheng Hock examines it.]
The next morning the Thursday convention session began promptly at nine o'clock. "The Federation in the World" was the title of a panel that included Kicki Nordström of Sweden, president of the World Blind Union; James Sanders, president and CEO of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and president of our region of the World Blind Union; Enrique Sans of Spain, secretary general of the World Blind Union, but representing the Organización Nacional de Ciegos de España (ONCE); and Kua Cheng Hock, president of the Independent Society of the Blind of Singapore.
The remainder of the morning was devoted to reports from technology producers. These were on Web-surfing by phone by Dr. Emdad Khan, founder, president, and CEO of InternetSpeech; digital books, by Dave Schleppenbach, CEO of gh, LLC; a cell phone organizer for the blind, by Eric Weldink, president and CEO of Alva B.V.; Microbook readers, by David Freedman, founder of MicroBook International, Inc., and Larry Maggart, president of Microbook, USA; and Pac Mate, a PDA for the blind, by Lee Hamilton, president and CEO of Freedom Scientific.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dr. Robert Pasternack]
The afternoon session began with a presentation by Dr. Robert Pasternack, assistant secretary, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, United States Department of Education. His title was "Educational and Rehabilitative Opportunities for Blind Children and Adults: New Legislation, New Initiatives." He began by articulating the Bush administration's position that hiring disabled people makes good business sense. He went on to say that efforts must be made to ensure that disabled people need not begin to receive Supplemental Security Income by making sure that they have the skills and education that will make them employable. Disabled people must also have transportation in order to work, and the Bush administration is determined to work on solving this problem. The Bush administration's New Freedom Initiative also urges continued commitment to developing good access technology for disabled people.
Assistant Secretary Pasternack concluded his prepared remarks by saying that, while we may disagree about how to make sure that federal policy protects the right of blind children to have access to their textbooks in a timely way, we do not disagree about their right to the educational materials. A number of people had questions for Dr. Pasternack, but he interrupted the first questioner to say that he had not intended to denigrate Braille but to urge universal design for learning that would enable blind students to learn alongside their sighted classmates, using the same methods. He reiterated that he never intended to be understood as saying that new technology replaces others but only that research is necessary.
President Maurer then commented that, having heard from two sources that Dr. Pasternack had publicly said Braille was becoming obsolete, he was glad to hear that Dr. Pasternack did not think so and hoped he would stop saying it. Dr. Pasternack then tried to interrupt President Maurer, who refused to be over-ridden and clearly pointed out that it would be polite to listen to an entire question or comment before beginning to answer.
This angered the assistant secretary, and not much more of substance took place during this item. The discussion closed with courtesy and resumed calm on both sides.
After the convention, however, Dr. Maurer felt compelled to write the following letter to the secretary of education:
July 25, 2003
The Honorable Roderick R. Paige, Secretary
United States Department of Education
Dear Secretary Paige:
As president of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) I represent the largest organized constituency of blind people in America. Your presentation at our 2002 national convention was a high point of that event and acknowledged the importance of maintaining constructive relations between the NFB and the Department of Education. Therefore we invited Bob Pasternack to be the department's principal representative at the 2003 NFB convention, and he accepted.
Programs of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services are vital to blind children and their parents as well as to blind adults. Our members are directly affected by these programs and by Dr. Pasternack's leadership of them.
With this background I am writing to inform you that Dr. Pasternack's conduct at our convention did not show respect for our organization or for our members who interacted with him. For example, he made a particular show of arrogance at two points during his presentation, saying with peculiar emphasis that he, Bob Pasternack, "had the microphone." His having the microphone was not at issue, and no one was attempting to interrupt him. I was chairing the meeting, and I would not have allowed any discourtesy to occur. Therefore his comments were merely gratuitous, indicating an attempt to assert control over a meeting to which he had been invited as a guest speaker. The inappropriateness was not lost on the audience.
But this was not all. The most extreme attempt to dominate the meeting occurred when Dr. Pasternack interrupted a speaker from the audience and me. He would not yield the floor until I used the gavel to insist on order. The speaker from the audience was concerned about remarks made by Dr. Pasternack at Auburn University, in which he appeared to de-emphasize the usefulness of Braille. The speaker was restrained and respectful, but Dr. Pasternack was not. His rudeness in seizing the floor gave added emphasis to the speaker's point and overshadowed Dr. Pasternack's defense. This is one of the reasons why he has acquired a reputation for being anti-blind and anti-Braille. Nothing in his conduct helped to change this impression among the more than 2,000 people in the audience who observed his behavior.
This is just one example of an overall demeanor indicating an attitude of arrogance and haughtiness toward our particular constituency group. While we may not always agree with public officials, we never express our disagreements by showing disrespect. Clearly the same cannot be said of Dr. Pasternack.
This is truly unfortunate, since, with the appointment by President Bush of Joanne Wilson as Commissioner of Rehabilitation, serving under Dr. Pasternack, there is every reason for members of the NFB to respond with genuine warmth to leaders of the Bush administration.
Speaking of Commissioner Wilson, Dr. Pasternack only acknowledged her presence at the meeting after first recognizing a member of her staff. Some members of the audience wondered if it is significant that the staff member is sighted and Joanne Wilson is blind. Also, in a further appearance of belittling the blind, Dr. Pasternack recognized Commissioner Wilson with the sarcastic comment, "I'm still waiting for that dinner invitation." Aside from being unprofessional, this was an apparent and inappropriate display of internal rivalry, which has no place before a public audience.
Secretary Paige, with the appointment of Bob Pasternack and Joanne Wilson to leadership positions in the Department of Education, members of the NFB had every reason to respond with warmth and support to initiatives of the Bush administration. However, with the performance of Dr. Pasternack over the past year and the particular manner of his appearance at our recent national convention, that feeling of strong support is being eroded. If matters are permitted to continue as they are, the largest organized constituency of blind people in the United States will begin to feel suspicion and mistrust. Bear in mind that Dr. Pasternack's display of arrogance occurred before an audience of more than 2,000 people, who come from every state in the nation and who have friends and fellow voters in their communities back home. Speaking as both an employer and a person who leads a political constituency, I would not permit anyone under my direction to behave as Dr. Pasternack did and continue to hold a leadership position. Given the importance of Dr. Pasternack's appointment as the Bush administration's principal public leader of disability programs, please consider the seriousness of what I am saying.
Very truly yours,
Marc Maurer, President
National Federation of the Blind
The next agenda item was titled "Certification of Rehabilitation Professionals in Blindness." Jim Omvig, president of the National Blindness Professional Certification Board, was the first speaker. He reviewed the painfully discriminatory history of the certification bodies in the field of travel training and the advent of the National Blindness Professional Certification Board.
Following Jim, Sharon Micrut, president of the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Educational Professionals, described the recent changes that the Academy has approved in its certification. After her remarks she commented that she personally encouraged people to gather the facts and then choose the certification they most trusted.
Dr. Fred Schroeder then addressed the convention. His remarks are reprinted in full elsewhere in this issue.
Three Federationists then told the convention about their lives and work. "Techniques in Science for the Blind and Innovative Research in Chemistry" was the title of a presentation by Cary Supalo, a graduate student in chemistry at Pennsylvania State University. Connie Connolly, a member of the board of directors of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, next spoke on "Seven Decades Plus and the Spirit Is Still High." Finally Judy Rasmussen, executive director of Services for the Visually Impaired in Silver Spring, Maryland, described "To Russia with Cane: The Blind Missionary." All three presentations were enthusiastic, inspiring, and amusing.
"Blindness: Problem or Paradox" was the title of an exciting presentation by Ron Gardner, director of the Louisiana Tech University Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness. After debunking the notion that blindness is a problem in and of itself, Ron described the two masters programs, one to train teachers of the blind and the other to train orientation and mobility instructors, now offered by Louisiana Tech University.
The final agenda item of the afternoon was "High Standards for Books: A Narrator's Story," presented by Roy Avers, one of the finest of the American Printing House for the Blind's book and periodical narrators. He spoke entertainingly and informatively about his work and the high NLS standards of the program.
When the gavel to recess fell, the ballroom emptied immediately, and delegates rushed to their rooms to prepare for the banquet. The ballroom doors opened again at seven, and Fred Schroeder did his usual masterly job as the evening's MC. During the meal he gave away door prizes, orchestrated division drawings, encouraged the singing of NFB songs, and at the close of the meal introduced President Maurer to deliver the 2003 banquet address titled "The Rest of Reality." The full text of this address appears elsewhere in this issue.
Dr. Raymond Kurzweil then came to the podium to recall his long relationship with the NFB, evoke our shared memory of Kenneth Jernigan, and look into the future.
Scholarship awards were next presented. A full report of that presentation and the entire 2003 scholarship program appears elsewhere in this issue.
At Fred Schroeder's invitation Ramona Walhof then came forward to make the 2003 presentation of the Jacobus tenBroek Award to Betty and Bruce Woodward of Connecticut. A report of this ceremony appears elsewhere in this issue.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Jack Busher]
Attending the banquet was the chairman of the policy advisory board for the National Federation of the Blind Research and Training Institute, Jack Busher. Mr. Busher spoke briefly about the marvelous opportunity we have with the Institute to bring about new levels of freedon for blind people, and he commented on how fitting it was that we were gathered on the eve of our nation's Independence Day.
The evening ended with high spirits and renewed dedication to all that the Federation stands for. The banquet worked its usual magic, providing inspiration, fun, laughter, and friendship--everything in short but adequate air conditioning.
By Friday morning the ballroom was cool again and ready for our annual business meeting. In addition to the financial report, the Washington report, and the honor roll call of states and divisions, Sharon Maneki, who chairs the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Selection Committee, presented this year's award to Dr. Sheila Amato. The report appears elsewhere in this issue.
Two of Dr. Amato's students in her high school Braille class attended the entire convention, helping wherever they could and taking full advantage of the event. They were indeed immensely helpful in many activities and gave every indication of having enjoyed themselves thoroughly.
The afternoon session was devoted to debate and voting on this year's resolutions. That report also appears elsewhere in this issue.
The gavel fell, adjourning the 2003 convention at 5:00 p.m., and delegates scattered to every corner of the United States and thirteen other countries. As always, individual blind adults had discovered promise for the future where they had known only discouragement. A number of families with blind children had found hope for the first time. And we who are old hands at weathering the excitement of a convention discovered that our batteries had again been recharged. Indeed we do have miles to go and many promises to keep before we gather for the 2004 convention. We are already engaged in the work that needs to be done and making the plans that will bring new hope to this and the generations who follow us, for we know full well that the blind of the nation are counting on us.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Marc Maurer delivers the Presidential Report.]
Presidential Report 2003
National Federation of the Blind
July 1, 2003
by Marc Maurer
During the past year the National Federation of the Blind has increased in strength, in size, and in the diversity of its activities. We have also gained recognition for the vital importance of our programs. However, our fundamental character is the same as it has always been since the time of our beginning in 1940--we are the blind of the United States from every sector of society.
Our combined experience gives purpose and focus to the programs we establish and the activities we pursue. Blind students, blind teachers, blind children and the parents of blind children, blind factory workers, blind professionals, newly blinded people, blind people with training in the specialized techniques used by the blind and those without it, blind people who have not yet found employment and those who have retired, those blind people who have been members for fifty years, and those who are new to the ranks--we are the blind who believe that a positive future can be built through a spirit of adventure, the willingness to work, and the shared commitment that we can achieve independence if we will support one another in creating greater opportunity for us all.
On October 29, 2002, President George W. Bush signed the Help America Vote Act into law. The provisions of this law demonstrate the dedicated work of the National Federation of the Blind. Voting systems installed in the states with the support of federal dollars must be usable independently by blind people by 2006. Our director of governmental affairs, Jim Gashel, and I were invited to join with others at the signing ceremony with the president. President Bush indicated that all Americans should have the right to cast an independent secret ballot and should exercise that right. Without the dedicated work of the National Federation of the Blind, the provisions of law that guarantee this right to the blind would not exist.
In 2001, as Federation members know, we sponsored the National Federation of the Blind Everest Expedition. In May of that year the first and only blind person ever to stand on the top of Mt. Everest, Erik Weihenmayer, reached its summit. This feat of endurance and determination was recognized by President Bush in July of 2001. Members of the Everest Expedition Climbing Team, my wife Patricia, and I were invited to the Oval Office to meet with the president. I recorded impressions of the visit in our twenty-second Kernel Book, entitled Summit. A picture of me and the president taken in the Oval Office appears on the cover of the book.
At the signing ceremony for the Help America Vote Act, I shook the president's hand and gave him a copy of Summit, saying as I did so, "Here, Mr. President, is a picture of you."
On December 11, 2002, the president sent me a letter which says:
Dear Dr. Maurer:
Thank you for the copy of your book I received during your visit to the signing of Help America Vote Act of 2002. I appreciate your kind gesture and thoughtfulness.
Laura joins me in sending our best wishes. May God bless you and may God continue to bless America.
George W. Bush
One result of our sponsorship of the Everest Expedition is that the Federation is mentioned prominently in the film produced by Erik Weihenmayer to document the expedition. This film, entitled Farther Than the Eye Can See, depicts the development of Weihenmayer as a blind climber and speaks of the unquenchable spirit of the National Federation of the Blind. The documentary was presented on the Outdoor Life Network in May of 2003.
Each year the Volunteers for Medical Engineering, a group of scientists from technology companies who seek to use their talents to enhance opportunities for the disabled, presents the Dole Award to an individual who has contributed to the advancement of people with disabilities. On August 21, 2002, on the baseball field at Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles, before a crowd of more than 30,000 people, Volunteers for Medical Engineering presented the 2002 Dole Award to the president of the National Federation of the Blind. A broadcast picture of the awards ceremony appeared on the electronic scoreboard at the stadium, and the name of the National Federation of the Blind was flashed across the board several times during the game.
On September 12, 2002, the Daily Record, one of the newspapers in Baltimore, presented its Innovator of the Year Award to the National Federation of the Blind in recognition of vision, creativity, and innovative spirit. We in the Federation are creating opportunities for the blind that have not previously existed, and the Daily Record recognized our work.
On October 24, 2002, the deputy secretary of the Department of Commerce, Samuel W. Bodman, came to the National Center for the Blind to unveil a new device for presenting tactile images to the blind, developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology with the encouragement and cooperation of the National Federation of the Blind. Tactile image printers for the blind ordinarily cost a great deal, sometimes as much as $40,000. The machine developed by the Department of Commerce, which can likely be produced for under $2,000, uses an array of pins that are raised and locked into place. Although this device is currently in the prototype stage, the Department of Commerce is encouraging companies to produce it.
Shortly before Thanksgiving a press conference occurred at the National Center for the Blind to announce the release of a new dual-medium book, Touch the Universe, which contains raised images and photographs of celestial objects gathered through the Hubble telescope, along with Braille and print descriptions of them. This new book, published by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is directed toward blind children. Blind children have traditionally been discouraged from participation in science. Nevertheless, we are as interested in this form of knowledge as anybody else, and we applaud officials at NASA who supported the publication of this space science book.
One of the people attending the press conference at the National Center for the Blind was the director of the Goddard Space Flight Center, Mr. A.V. Diaz. In the months following the release of Touch the Universe, several people from the National Federation of the Blind have toured the Goddard Space Flight Center and discussed with officials there joint programs to teach blind children and to encourage blind scientists. Mr. Diaz will be appearing later during this convention for a presentation about the nature of science. Some of us who are blind are passionate about science, and we are looking forward to working with scientists and officials at the Goddard Space Flight Center. We are planning to develop a science camp for the blind as one of the elements of our newly developing Research and Training Institute for the Blind. The projected time for the first activities in the science camp is the summer of 2004.
In 1975 the National Federation of the Blind responded to a request by Dr. Raymond Kurzweil that we assist with the development of a reading machine. We secured several hundred thousand dollars to fund this effort. The Kurzweil Reading Machine brought into being a kind of access technology for the blind which has dramatically expanded the capacity for blind people to read the written word.
This year we have embarked on a new joint project with Dr. Kurzweil to build a Kurzweil/National Federation of the Blind Reader that will be small enough to carry--a handheld reading machine. The reading machine of the 1970's was four feet tall and quite heavy. We expect to be able to build the Kurzweil/National Federation of the Blind Reader in a container small enough eventually to fit in a coat pocket. The reading machine of the 1970's sold for $50,000. We believe it will be possible to distribute the Kurzweil/National Federation of the Blind Reader for under $4,000. Development work has already been underway for several months, and the first experimental machines are being constructed. The prototype should be completed within two years, and manufacturing and distribution will take some time after that. This is an ambitious and expensive project, but the potential benefits are commensurate with the risks.
In 1999 we talked about building the National Federation of the Blind Research and Training Institute, a five-story building on the property at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore. Expanding our horizons is essential if we are to change the future for the blind. One way to do this is to incorporate the experiences of blind people in the planning of innovative research and training programs for the blind. The National Federation of the Blind is the largest organization of blind people in the United States, and collectively we have more in-depth knowledge of blindness than anybody else. This depth of knowledge will give our research and training programs a robust character.
In 1999 the cost of construction for our new building seemed extraordinary--eighteen million dollars. By 2002 circumstances forced me to raise this estimate to nineteen and a half million. As we come to this convention, we have gifts and pledges that total $19,388,629.35. This leaves less than $112,000 to reach our capital campaign construction goal. We must finish this capital campaign, and we must do it at this convention. I have no doubt that we will.
On October 23, 2003, we will be hosting the grand opening for the National Federation of the Blind Research and Training Institute. The honorary chairman for the event is the governor of the state of Maryland, the Honorable Robert L. Ehrlich. Governor Ehrlich joined us for a luncheon meeting of the planning board for the grand opening on April 15, 2003. Governor Ehrlich pledged his continued support of the valuable work of the National Federation of the Blind, and he urged others who were present to make their contributions to the capital campaign. The grand opening for our Research and Training Institute will be an event to remember, and I invite all of you to come.
The building is not yet complete, but I have assurances that it will be finished in time for the grand opening. At that time we begin developing the programs to alter the future for the blind that were contemplated when we began the campaign. The Honor Roll Call of Donors, a complete listing of the individuals and other entities that have made gifts and pledges for the construction of the institute, will be on display. In the neighborhood of 18,000 donors will be enrolled--every person who made a gift. We will be able to place the names of those who have given $5,000 or more on a Wall of Honor. This institute, which is costing us almost twenty million dollars, could not have been constructed without the individual support of the thousands who gave what they could. It will stand as a monument to our belief in ourselves and each other. It will also serve as the nerve center for newly created programs and technology to bring productivity and self-sufficiency to the blind. And it belongs to us, the members of the National Federation of the Blind.
NFB-NEWSLINE®, our service to provide newspapers by touch-tone telephone to blind Americans, expanded dramatically during the past year. Currently ninety-four newspapers are available on NFB-NEWSLINE. Between March 1, 2002, and the end of February 2003, blind individuals read more information from the newspaper than during any previous year, with the total number of reading sessions amounting to 704,740. An appropriation of almost one million dollars has been made to cover long-distance charges in the NFB-NEWSLINE service. We continue to explore enhancements for NFB-NEWSLINE. We hope to be able to offer this service by computer or through handheld portable devices within the near future.
The America's Jobline® service, in which approximately a million job postings are available by touch-tone telephone, is also being improved. It is now possible for a job seeker to fill out a résumé and submit an application to an employer using nothing more than a touch-tone telephone. We built this service because the unemployment rate for blind people is extraordinarily high, and finding a job is of the utmost importance. However, after it had been created, the benefit of Jobline for the sighted became apparent. By helping the blind, we have assisted the sighted as well.
In 1990 the National Federation of the Blind established the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, in which we collect, develop, and maintain access technology. At that time we said that we would obtain at least one of every device manufactured anywhere in the world that makes information accessible to the blind, along with the peripherals, programs, and accessories necessary to operate them.
During the past year we have gathered for the International Braille and Technology Center six Pentium IV computers; four scanners; a device called the Freedom Box, which is an automated hardware Web browser for the blind; two different reading machines, VERA and ScannaR; a talking keyboard teaching program called Talking Typing Tutor Pro; a Braille TTY telephone for communicating with the deaf-blind; three separate low-vision software packages, Magic, Super Nova, and Zoom Text; a music scanning software program called SharpEye; three different digital book readers, Victor Reader Pro, Deluxe Plextalk PTR-1, and Victor Reader Software; two separate tactile teaching devices, SAL (Speech Assisted Learning) and Talking Tactile Tablet; a science software program entitled Scientific Notebook; one Macintosh iMac computer with OutSpoken screen access software; two Web accessibility evaluation software applications, RAMP and InFocus; the Populex accessible voting machine; two new refreshable Braille displays, Satellite Braille Display and Braille Star 80; three different Braille embossers, Tiger Cub, Tiger Pro, and Tiger Max; four handheld speech-output notetakers called Pac Mates; a number of three-dimensional models from several rapid prototyping systems; and more than two dozen software and hardware upgrades to existing products. We are also gathering other devices such as talking color identifiers, talking cash registers, and talking thermostats.
This past year we established the NFB Nonvisual Accessibility Web Certification program. The Internet is an increasingly important source of information for the general public, and equal access to this information for the blind is imperative. Consequently the National Federation of the Blind checks Web sites to determine whether blind people can use them. If they are accessible in nonvisual ways, the Federation is prepared to certify this to the owner of the Web site and to publish the certification.
Last fall the Maryland Department of General Services became the first recipient of the National Federation of the Blind accessibility certification. Organizations receiving certification or in the process of applying for it are Hewlett Packard, Wells Fargo, the Social Security Administration, and GE.
For several years the National Federation of the Blind has attempted to ensure that blind children have the schoolbooks they need at the same time that sighted students get theirs. To accomplish this, we developed, in conjunction with others, the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act (IMAA). Recently the House of Representatives passed legislation to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Included in this legislation are key provisions of the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act. Just before this convention the Senate bill to reauthorize IDEA was introduced, which also includes provisions from the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act. Therefore we are confident that blind children will soon receive the books they need at the same time that their sighted classmates get them. It would not have happened without the work of the National Federation of the Blind.
Although we have had many legislative successes this year, we also face challenges. NISH, formerly National Industries for the Severely Handicapped, wants to prevent capable blind people from managing military troop dining facilities because NISH wants them for itself. NISH tells the world that, when it receives a contract for a military mess hall, it hires many disabled people, whereas, according to NISH, when a blind vendor receives a contract to operate a military mess hall, only one blind person gets a job. Consequently, to increase employment for the disabled, says NISH, go with NISH.
This kind of argument is typical of the sleight-of-hand deception, the insidious legerdemain, often employed by NISH administrators. If blind vendors operate military dining facilities in accordance with the priority granted by the Randolph-Sheppard Act, they can and do hire other disabled people and promote them. If NISH operates such facilities, it may hire the same disabled people (ordinarily in jobs paying the minimum wage or less), but NISH will not hire a blind vendor to direct the operation, and it will take 4 percent off the top to pay the administrators of NISH, who get very good salaries indeed. Profit or loss, NISH gets 4 percent, and the blind get nothing. If blind vendors operate military facilities, NISH cannot take its 4 percent off the top.
When NISH challenged the Randolph-Sheppard Act priority in court, we fought back, and NISH lost. Now NISH is trying to use the power of Congress to stop blind people from having the right to earn money at military dining facilities. We have fought to preserve the opportunities under the Randolph-Sheppard Act for blind vendors in the past, and we will continue to do so. The Randolph-Sheppard program has given many of us a chance to work, a chance to be productive, a chance to be independent; and it must be strengthened and preserved.
Efforts are currently being made to weaken the Rehabilitation Act and to diminish the significance of the rehabilitation program. Since the 1970's the commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration has been a presidential appointee. Some individuals want to make the commissioner's office a directorate appointed, not by the president, but by the secretary of education. This change would help to separate the constituency affected by rehabilitation programs from the appointment process. It would also diminish or eliminate the oversight role of the Senate. Furthermore, this plan would bury rehabilitation under layers of bureaucracy, where it would be out of sight and out of mind. We vehemently oppose these provisions and will fight to prevent their enactment.
When the National Federation of the Blind requested that the Federal Communications Commission issue a ruling that blind people have a right to have a verbal presentation of text that appears on television screens, the FCC refused to grant our petition, telling us instead that it would require television producers to make certain descriptions of entertainment programming audible. We challenged the ruling of the FCC in court, and we were successful. The court's opinion states clearly that the FCC can make a rule requiring spoken versions of text that appears on television. The court did not order the FCC to make the rule, but it did declare that such a ruling is within the power of the agency.
E*TRADE, an online bank, has the second largest ATM fleet in the country, with over 15,000 machines, but none of them are accessible to the blind. When we asked E*TRADE to make them accessible, it balked. Shortly before this convention the Massachusetts Attorney General and the National Federation of the Blind entered into a partial settlement agreement under which E*TRADE will make a portion of its fleet--a few thousand ATMs--accessible within the next thirty months. In the process of coming to this agreement, we informed E*TRADE that we would be filing a complaint against them to make the rest of their machines accessible. The company argues that, although it operates the fleet of machines, it should be required to make only those it actually owns accessible. While we were in the process of signing the settlement agreement and before we had the opportunity to file our complaint, E*TRADE sued us in Virginia in an effort to avoid the jurisdiction of Massachusetts. E*TRADE may think that it has outfoxed the Federation, but not all of the brains came into the lawsuit when E*TRADE showed up. We have decided that accessibility is a standard that must be adopted by business, including the banking business, and we will not quit until it is.
Anita Heath is a blind grandmother living in Greensboro, North Carolina. Even though she has a degree in early childhood education and even though she works in a preschool, the local Department of Social Services refused to allow Anita Heath to have custody of her own granddaughter. The reason for the denial of custody is that Anita Heath is blind. The Department of Social Services put the girl into foster care. We helped with the case in court. On February 21, 2003, over the opposition of officials at the Department of Social Services, the judge found in favor of Anita Heath and her granddaughter. The family has been reunited with the help of the National Federation of the Blind.
Last year I reported to you that the state of Arkansas had purchased a new statewide computer system from SAP to be used by all state employees. The system was not accessible to the blind. Working with our Arkansas affiliate, we sued the state of Arkansas, demanding that the system be made accessible or be removed. The state of Arkansas responded by suing SAP. An official in Arkansas called our lawyer to say that, if we did not drop the lawsuit, members of the legislature would be asked to remove the requirement of accessibility from the Arkansas statute. Of course we did not bow to the threat, and we will not change our course. A court hearing will occur in the next few days, and we will be there to insist that the blind have a right to participate.
In the meantime SAP went to Pennsylvania to sell a statewide system to the government there. The system is not accessible to the blind. Apparently we arrived in the Pennsylvania courts in the nick of time. The SAP system has not yet been implemented, and Pennsylvania officials are presently telling us it will not be implemented--at least not immediately. If it is, we will be there to challenge the act.
Darlene Barker, a blind woman, worked for Amerix Corporation, a debt counseling firm in Columbia, Maryland. According to evaluations of her performance, she was an outstanding employee, and Amerix raised her pay. Within a few days after receiving the commendatory work evaluation and the raise, Amerix informed Darlene Barker that it had installed a new computer program which was not accessible to the blind, and she was fired. In the lawsuit that followed, Amerix demanded that any settlement be confidential, so I am not at liberty to tell you how much Darlene Barker got. However, Darlene Barker's bankroll has been replenished, she has made a substantial contribution to the National Federation of the Blind, Amerix Corporation has learned that discrimination against the blind is prohibited by law, and Darlene Barker is with us at this convention.
James Dillon is a blind man who was working at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington state as an auditor. When he lost his sight, he asked for the accommodation of a reader. The air force responded by asserting that an auditor must be able to see personally items in an audit, and it refused the accommodation. Scott LaBarre represented James Dillon in the lawsuit, and a settlement has now been reached. James Dillon knows the value of the National Federation of the Blind; he has received a settlement payment of $315,000.
Paul Hammel, a blind man living in Wisconsin, commenced employment with Eau Galle Cheese in January of 2000. Although he worked for the company for several weeks without any problems, managers began to worry that his blindness might, in some unspecified way, pose safety problems. They fired him. When we took the matter to court, Eau Galle Cheese asked the judge to rule as a matter of law that they have a right to dismiss Paul Hammel if they believe in their hearts that his presence on the job will pose a safety risk. The judge has rejected this argument, and we are now preparing to take the case to trial.
In Indiana the agency for the blind assigned five licensed blind vendors to the Indianapolis post office. Apparently counselors at the agency thought it would be easier to pack blind vendors into the post office than to seek other vending locations. Agency officials were not too worried that the income resulting from splitting vending revenues would be unconscionably small. Sometimes the amount collected by the vendors was so tiny that a minimum wage job would have paid them better. We assisted the vendors with a complaint, and the agency has changed its direction. Splitting of vending income is ceasing at the post office, and the vendors will be gaining additional revenue.
There have also been a number of Social Security cases. Jack Turner is a blind vendor from Delaware who is eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance. However, the Social Security Administration asserted that he had received an overpayment of $72,018 because, they said, he was not self-employed but an employee of the Agency for the Blind. Because there are special rules governing computation of Social Security benefit amounts for self-employed individuals, we were confident that Social Security had made a mistake, and the National Federation of the Blind offered Jack Turner assistance. After a hearing before an administrative law judge, which occurred last November, Jack Turner received the decision. He is not required to return $72,018; his monthly Social Security benefit will go up--not down; and he will be receiving a check to cover back benefits amounting to more than $55,000.
With the advent of nondiscrimination legislation and with the public information campaign mounted by the National Federation of the Blind about the capabilities of blind people, blindness is rarely used overtly as the reason for refusing a job or engaging in other discrimination. However, in Arkansas the superintendent of schools for Pulaski County has written a letter to Latreese Evans, a blind teacher, which says in part:
Dear Ms. Evans:
In compliance with the terms of the Arkansas Teacher FairDismissal Act, I am notifying you that I will recommend to the Board of Directors that your teaching contract with the Little Rock School District not be renewed for the 2003-04 school year for the following reason:
1) Your blindness renders you unable to perform the essential functions of your job as a classroom teacher. Specifically, you are unable to monitor student behavior and engage them in instruction. Visual supervision of students is essential in managing both the behavioral environment of the classroom and the learning environment. Students need continuous and immediate feedback and the visual monitoring of students is essential to ensure the safety and well being of all students.
T. Kenneth James, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
Although this man may lack the ability to punctuate a letter properly or to avoid certain other elementary mistakes in composition, he certainly does have the capacity to express himself with candor. However, no amount of candor can correct the error of ignorance. Blind people are successfully teaching all over the United States today. Blind people have been teaching successfully in the United States for a century. These blind teachers are managing the classroom, keeping discipline, imparting knowledge to their students, and helping to build an atmosphere in which scholarship is fostered. Blindness does not stop them, but the bias and ignorance of a superintendent of schools could if we let it. However, Latreese Evans is a member of the National Federation of the Blind, and we are helping her to challenge the ignorance displayed by the head of the school system. Sometimes we teach each other; sometimes we teach students; and sometimes the lessons we have to give are for the superintendent of the public schools.
A record number of visitors have come to the National Center for the Blind this year, more than 3,100 of them, from the United States and from fourteen other countries including Canada, Columbia, England, Ethiopia, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Korea, Liberia, Norway, Russia, Singapore, Spain, and Venezuela. These visitors have come for training in technology, for consultation regarding programs of joint effort, and for participation in the many programs of the National Federation of the Blind.
More than two million items were distributed this year from the Materials Center of the National Federation of the Blind to people on each of the inhabited continents of the globe.
Working through our affiliates, we have faced challenges in a number of state legislatures, and we have gained a number of successes. Independent programs for the blind have been retained despite opposition in the state of Nebraska, and a proposal to cut the budget of the agency for the blind was defeated.
In South Carolina editors in the newspaper and certain state legislators attempted to eliminate the Commission for the Blind. The National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina published an editorial challenging statements from certain legislators. The outcome in South Carolina is that the Commission for the Blind remains intact. The blind met the opposition to programming for the blind, and we prevailed.
Challenges to separate identifiable programs for the blind continue to be raised, and sometimes these programs are subsumed in larger agencies. However, concerted efforts by the blind in partnership with administrators of independent programs can be successful if we find a way to generate the cooperation and harmony which so many have told us they advocate.
We continue to publish the most well-known magazine in the field of work with the blind, the Braille Monitor, the most widely distributed general information publication about blindness in the United States. Almost 350,000 issues of our magazine dealing with blindness and diabetes, Voice of the Diabetic, are published each quarter. Future Reflections, our magazine for parents and educators of blind children, is now being sent to more than 10,000 people each quarter. Our Kernel Book Series, those small volumes containing firsthand accounts from individual blind people, continue to be published. The volume being released at this convention, The Car, the Sled, and the Butch Wax, is number twenty-four in the series. More than five and a half million of the Kernel Books have been placed in circulation.
Since the 1980's the National Federation of the Blind has been a member of the World Blind Union and has actively participated in the organization. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan served as president of the North America/Caribbean Region for ten years, and I held the office in the late 1990's.
The National Federation of the Blind delegates to the World Blind Union are Mrs. Mary Ellen Jernigan and I. Through the world organization we learn about programs for the blind in other lands, and we find opportunities for joint action. In addition to the efforts of the delegates, other Federation members have represented us. Barbara Pierce is the Federation member who serves on the WBU Committee on Media, Advocacy, Policy, and Information, which met in Rome last January. Peggy Elliott addressed an international congress on disability which took place in Milan, Italy.
The work we do in the National Federation of the Blind receives recognition in many ways. Joanne Wilson serves as the commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration. She has been a leader of the National Federation of the Blind and has created innovative programs serving people with disabilities. In May of 2003 she was granted a second honorary doctorate--this one from Louisiana Tech University. Then there is Betsy Zaborowski, who in May of 2003 received the Circle of Excellence Award in recognition of her contributions to the state of Maryland. Only twenty-one women, who are leaders from the business, government, and nonprofit sectors in Maryland, received such awards.
As I have traveled throughout the country in the last year, I have encountered the unquenchable spirit and the unfailing wellspring of hope within our movement. We as blind people are sometimes misunderstood, sometimes confronted with discrimination, sometimes belittled, sometimes ignored. But despite all of the problems we face, we are also encountering greater success, greater recognition, and greater acceptance within society than ever before in our history. What has been the driving force to bring about such change? You know the answer as well as I. It is our work within the organized blind movement; it is the effort of the National Federation of the Blind.
We in the Federation have a joint commitment and a shared bond of love and trust. We must believe in ourselves and in each other. We must believe in our capacity to build an organization which will help us contribute to our own society. We must be prepared to make the sacrifices that are demanded in the process of gaining real independence. And we must never doubt that the ultimate responsibility for the future of the blind belongs to us.
In the struggles that are ahead of us, challenges will come that must be met. Some will be obvious, but others (the more dangerous ones) will be subtle and hidden. Sometimes we will be asked to accept partial participation as a reasonable compromise in the name of gaining greater acceptance, with the argument that half a loaf is better than none. But we must reject halfway measures and partial participation--we want nothing less than the real thing. Half a loaf may be better than none, but what we're after is the whole loaf and nothing less.
As we accelerate our growth in these first years of the twenty-first century, we must gather our resources, stimulate our imaginations, muster our courage, and reaffirm our dedication to full first-class participation with no compromise. I pledge to do my part, to give of my time, my resources, my energy, and my commitment. I will go wherever I must, and I will do whatever is required to lead our movement, and I will not hesitate or waver or equivocate.
You, in turn, must do your part. You must be prepared to work with and to support me and the other members of the Federation to build the future that can and will be ours. The commitment is demanding; it requires energy, dedication, and cost. Even so, I go to meet the future with enthusiastic optimism because I know the hearts of the members of the Federation, and I know the commitment we have made together. I know to the depths of my being that we will never quit until we have reached our objective. With this knowledge I gain strength derived from the members of our movement. Over the long run no force on earth can alter our course or slow our progress. This is what we are in the National Federation of the Blind; this is my pledge to you; and this is my report for 2003.
Life insurance constitutes a very special gift to the National Federation of the Blind. A relatively easy and direct form of planned giving is a new life insurance policy. You can make the NFB the beneficiary and owner of a life insurance policy and receive a tax deduction on the premium you pay.
For example, at age fifty you purchase a $10,000 whole life insurance policy on yourself and designate the NFB as beneficiary and owner of the policy. The premium cost to you is fully tax-deductible each year. You may even decide to pay for the entire policy over a specific period of time, perhaps ten years. This increases your tax deduction each year over the ten-year period and fully pays up your policy.
You may, however, already have a life insurance policy in existence and wish to contribute it to the NFB. By changing the beneficiary and owner to the National Federation of the Blind, you can receive tax savings, depending on the cash value of the policy. Your attorney, insurance agent, or the National Federation of the Blind will be able to assist you if you decide to include the NFB in your planned-giving program through life insurance. For more information contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, phone (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: ]The Scholarship Class of 2003: (left to right) back row: Jennifer Justice, Michael Mello, Tonia Boyd, Peter Apgar, Holly Idler, Meleah Jensen, Adam Rushforth, Eugene Hermanson, Germán Benitez, and Mika Bowers; middle row: Arielle Silverman, Randi Strope, Tim Paulding, John Clower, Louise Walch, Maria Smith, David Paullin, Josh Gibson, Kimie Beverly, and Katrilla Martin; front row: Jason Perry, Jessie Kirchner, Jim Solem, Caroline Rounds, Joy Thomas, Nefertiti Matos, Shelley Richards, Zunaira Wasif, Harriet Go, and Janice Jeang.
The 2003 Scholarship Class of the National Federation of the Blind
From the Editor: With every passing year we recognize the increasing value of the NFB Scholarship Program to our national organization. Members of previous scholarship classes--eighty-eight past winners--stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they could see needed to be done. Everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing and planning to do with their lives.
On banquet evening, while we are still sky-high after listening to President Maurer's address, Peggy Elliott comes to the podium, presents the year's winners, giving an academic and personal sketch of each, and announces which scholarship the person has been awarded. This year each winner crossed the platform and shook hands with Dr. Maurer and Dr. Raymond Kurzweil, whose foundation presented each with an additional $1,000 scholarship and the latest version of the Kurzweil-1000 reading software.
The final scholarship awarded in this year's scholarship extravaganza, which took place at the banquet on July 3, was the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship of $12,000, which was presented to Caroline Rounds, who then spoke briefly to the audience. Her remarks appear later in this article.
But earlier in the week, at the meeting of the NFB board of directors, each 2003 scholarship winner came to the microphone and spoke directly to the Federation. Following is what they said about themselves. Each speaker was introduced by Peggy Elliott, saying first the student's name and then both the home and school states. This is what was said:
Germán Benitez, New Mexico, New Mexico: Good morning. I'm Germán Benitez. I attend the University of New Mexico. I just finished my first year of graduate studies. I am going to major in math and science. Thank you.
Kimie Beverly, Nevada, Nevada: Hello. I'm a student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where I am studying psychology. I am working on my degree right now. I hope to transfer to UCLA to go to a medical school so that I can get my doctorate and become a psychiatrist. Thank you.
Peter Apgar, Vermont, Vermont: Good morning, everyone. I am currently attending the University of Vermont for engineering management, dealing with mechanical engineering as my concentration. I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for making me feel like such a member of the family and making me feel at home. If any of you are ever in Vermont, come up and join me.
Mika Bowers, Maryland, Maryland: Good morning. I currently attend Towson University, working on a masters in art and experimental psychology. I will begin my second year this fall. I plan to graduate in May of 2004 and in the fall attend a Ph.D. program in either behavioral science or neuropsychology. I'm also the president of the student division of Maryland. Thank you.
Tonia Boyd, Kentucky, Kentucky: Good morning, Federationists. Welcome to Kentucky. I am currently working as a rehab instructor with the Kentucky Department for the Blind, and I will be returning to school this fall to finish my master's in counseling psychology at the University of Louisville. Then I plan to get my master's in rehab counseling and possibly a Ph.D. Regardless of what the future holds, I know with the Federation's guidance and generosity that I can fly higher than an eagle with you as the wind beneath my wings.
John Clower, Texas, Texas: Good morning, everyone. I want to thank you all for being here. This fall I will be a freshman at the University of North Texas in Denton. Once some of my required courses are out of the way, I plan to transfer to Oklahoma University in Norman and receive my master's degree in meteorology in a mere six years. My goal is to work for the storm prediction center in Oklahoma or the National Weather Service affiliate in Fort Worth, Texas. If one doesn't already exist, I will consider it a great honor to become the first TV weather man who is blind in Texas.
Josh Gibson, Oklahoma, Oklahoma: Let me just say it's a pleasure to be here. I am honored to be a part of this. I am a junior at Oklahoma City University, seeking a degree in business and political science. I'd like to get my Ph.D. in either foreign affairs or domestic policy, then help our cause and help our country in national politics. Thank you.
Harriet Go, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I am a student at Temple University in Philadelphia majoring in elementary education. I am a member of one of the local chapters in Philadelphia, the Keystone Chapter. I am also the vice president of the Pennsylvania Association of Blind Students. My goal is to be a teacher, and I am very honored to be here this week. Thank you.
Gene Hermanson, Montana, Montana: Good morning. It's good to be here. I will be a junior at the University of Montana. I'm majoring in finance and political science. I will likely be attending law school after that. I hope to have a career making good policy for our great nation. It's my first convention, so it has been a great week so far, and I look forward to the rest of it. This summer I am working on Capitol Hill with Senator Max Baucus of Montana, and that has been a great experience as well.
Holly Idler, Florida, Florida: Hi. I just graduated from Daytona Beach Community College with high honors in May. I am planning to attend Florida State University. I start in August. I am going to get my bachelor's degree in visual disabilities. My goal is to get my master's degree from Louisiana Tech and teach blind students. I am the vice president of the student division in Florida.
Janice Jeang, Texas, Texas: Hello, everybody. I just graduated from high school, and I will be attending Texas A & M University this fall, majoring in psychology. When I became blind two years ago, I was very uncertain of myself, and, being the first blind student in my high school, my teachers told me that I should go see a counselor, so I walked in and she saw me and she looked like, "Oh, hon, I feel so sorry about your condition, your situation. I think you should probably go see a specialist." Well, thanks to the National Federation of the Blind and people from the Texas Association of Blind Students, for which I am honored to sit as a board member (the secretary this year), I was able to walk back in and show that counselor and tell her, "Not only am I going to be that person that you described, I am going to be the best shrink you've ever seen." Thank you.
Meleah Jensen, Louisiana, Louisiana: Good morning. This fall I will be a senior at Louisiana State University, where I am majoring in elementary education with minors in history and sociology. Once I complete my bachelor's I plan to pursue a master's in either early childhood education or elementary counseling. I currently serve as the first vice president of the Louisiana Association of Blind Students and the president of the Baton Rouge chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana.
Jennifer Justice, Illinois, Illinois: Good morning. First of all I would like to thank the Federation for giving me this honor and this opportunity. Six years ago I moved from rural Alabama to Chicago to attend the Art Institute of Chicago. While I was there, I was selected to participate in the advanced studios division of the school, and I graduated with a bachelor's in fine arts in painting. This fall I will be attending the University of Illinois in Chicago to receive a master's of fine art in studio art. I plan to teach on the college level. I want to become a full professor of painting. I also want to be a professional writer and artist. This is my first convention, and I really want to thank you for the warm welcome. It's been a great time. I am looking forward to many more conventions in the future.
Jessie Kirchner, Connecticut, Virginia: Good morning. I will be a freshman this fall at the College of William and Mary, where I hope to study English and philosophy. Afterwards I would like to attend law school, become an ethics lawyer, and investigate a position as a judge or magistrate later on. This is my second national convention, and I deeply appreciate the opportunities I've had over the past year as a Federation member to increase my independence and self-assurance and to meet mentors whom I have been inspired to emulate. My goal is to benefit others as people in this organization have benefited me and to help the blind community become more involved in that area. I am deeply grateful for your generosity, and it is a pleasure to be here. Thank you.
Katrilla Martin, Virginia, Virginia: Good morning, everyone. I am a senior at Mary Washington College, and in the fall of 2004 I will graduate with both an undergrad and a master's degree. I have excellent ideas about education reformation, and I plan to share them with the world as I seek the position of the secretary of education of the United States of America. I'm almost out of time, but I'd like to leave you with a thought. Thomas Edison once said, and I quote, "Many miss opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." I'd like to assure you that the scholarship class of 2003 is ready and willing to work hard, to carry this movement far into the future. Thank you. God bless each of you. I'm out of time, and I love the Virginia affiliate.
Nefertiti Matos, New York, New York: As of August 20 I will be attending the College of Mt. St. Vincent as a freshman. My major will be criminal justice and English. After those four years I will be attending law school. After that I don't know--a lawyer. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. It is my first convention, and I wasn't a member before, but believe me, I am a member now. It's phenomenal. Thank you.
Michael Mello, Idaho, Idaho: Good morning, everyone. This is my fourth convention, and I am honored to be a scholarship winner this year. I have learned that diligence pays off in these matters. I applied several times. I will be a senior at the University of Idaho in the fall, studying psychology, and I hope to then achieve a master's degree sometime after graduation. I plan to work in the information technology industry doing consulting. I serve as the Idaho Association of Blind Students president.
Timothy Paulding, Michigan, Michigan: I'm a junior at the University of Michigan, and I study psychology. I hope to be a child psychologist. My success at the University of Michigan and my admittance to this university was only fueled by a defeat that I had in my life. I was defeated by false ideas of what blindness was. I have some vision, so I was able to grow up thinking that I wasn't blind, and I had to realize a few things and take some action for myself before I could become successful in life. I think these things had to occur before I could be invited to this convention and be able to understand what all of you had to say. I hope to bring back what I learn here to Michigan. I'm honored to be here.
David Paullin, California, Washington: Hello and good morning, fellow Federationists. This coming fall I will be a freshman at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. I am currently studying political science and history. This past spring I finished my first semester. Before that I went to one of the finest NFB training centers in the nation, the Colorado Center for the Blind. I graduated in December of 2002, and now I'm a member of the Spokane chapter in Washington and a first position board member. I joined in February. I'm looking forward to meeting more of you Washingtonians. I'm an Eagle Scout, and one unique thing about me is that I enjoy writing poetry and stories. So, if you share that interest, I'd like to share that with you. I'm from El Dorado Hills, California. If you don't know where that is, it's about twenty-five miles northeast of Sacramento. Thank you very much. This is such a great honor.
Jason Perry, Ohio, Ohio: Good morning fellow Federationists. I can't tell you what an impact attending this first day of activities and the short time I've been here has had on me. This isn't my first convention, however. I was part of the Federation family in '96, '97, '98, '01, and again a scholarship winner this year. I can't begin to tell you the impact that the Federation and the Federation philosophy has had on my life. I am truly living proof that the Federation philosophy is the way to go. As I have attended Ohio State and studied law, I've come to realize that law is the fabric that holds our society together. As I am working on my advanced degree in special education administration, I've come to realize that education is the means by which we shape and mold that fabric. I hope to some day work at the NFBRTI or as a special education administrator so that I can help people with the Federation vision and shape and mold that fabric. Thank you very much.
Shelley Richards, New Jersey, New Jersey: Hello, everybody. I just graduated from high school about a week and a half ago. In the fall I will be attending Rider University, where I was just accepted into the honors program. I am going to major in political science and Spanish. I hope to go on to law school and eventually get into politics. This is my first convention, and it's wonderful to see people who feel the same way about blindness that I have always felt my entire life. I've grown up in a household where my parents would not let me use blindness as an excuse for anything, and I was never allowed to get away with not doing my fair share of the work with my four siblings. It's wonderful to be here, and I am looking forward to a great rest of the week.
Caroline Rounds, California, California: Hello, Federation friends. Currently I am the second vice president for our state affiliate and the president of the High Desert chapter. I hold a California teaching credential and taught regular ed for five years. I now have the honor of teaching a classroom full of very capable and great blind children. After school I rush off to Cal State, Los Angeles, which is about 100 miles away. I am currently obtaining at the second year master's level my credential in VI [visual impairment]. I forgot, I think, how conventions (this is my fourth one) tend to refine, define, and direct you until last night. I wasn't sure what I was going to do after getting my credential, and now I think I know. I want to go into researching better methods for teaching blind children and putting them into practice. I hope to do that at Louisiana Tech. Thank you.
Peggy Elliott: This year's tenBroek Fellow. Those of you who have been here in previous years know that scholarship winners of past years are eligible to reapply. This gentleman won a scholarship once before. For the second time, welcome:
Adam Rushforth, Nevada, Utah: I am from Las Vegas, Nevada, and am a senior at Brigham Young University, where I study and am pursuing a degree in business finance and a minor in Spanish. I have been a member of the board of the Nevada affiliate of the NFB and am currently the treasurer of the Utah Association of Blind Students. I served a two-year, full-time, completely voluntary-basis mission for my church in North Carolina, speaking Spanish. Aside from that, I was called to be president of an organization in my church where I was given the stewardship over two hundred people. I am here today because I know that a blind person is not a defective sighted person.
Arielle Silverman, Arizona, Arizona: Good morning, everyone. In the fall I am going to be attending Arizona State University with a major in biology and possibly adding psychology later on. Right now I am exploring different career possibilities. Some options that I'm thinking of include going to medical school, doing biomedical research, or pursuing a degree in biophysics. That seems like a lot of choices, but right now I am just scoping out the field and seeing what I'd like to do. However, no matter what career I choose, I am definitely going to become more active in the National Federation of the Blind. I am hoping to start a student division in my state, where we currently don't have one. I'm also aspiring one day to be sitting on one of our NFB committees. Thank you.
Maria Smith, Alabama, Alabama: Good morning, everyone. I will be a freshman at Auburn University this fall, and I am planning to major in computer science, probably concentrating on assistive technology. Every year that I come to convention I find something new and wonderful to love about the Federation, so thank you for all the opportunities that you have given me, and I will definitely be around more often.
Jim Solem, Idaho, Idaho: Buenos días, brothers and sisters. Is this an awesome family reunion, or what! If you can't get excited about being here, you got to be half dead. It has been very difficult for me this past couple of days--I feel like I have to put ten-pound weights in my shoes just to kind of hold me down on the ground. I'm a student at the University of Idaho, a Ph.D. student with emphasis on education. I'm working towards a project in technology. What I want to be able to do with this is for blind students and students in the special ed field and students that have a difficult time in learning just to be able to put together programs in the field of math and sciences to enhance the learning in math and sciences. The reason why I am here today is that I made a phone call approximately a year ago to a lady that I am standing next to, who encouraged me on the phone and told me that I can do it; it's up to me. Thank you and God bless you.
Randi Strope, Nebraska, Nebraska: Thank you, Mrs. Elliott. For the first eighteen years of my life I completely denied my blindness, and in 2001 I attended a college prep workshop in Nebraska, heard a speech by a well-known Federationist, and in a matter of hours my whole view on blindness changed. This summer I am working with the NFB Corps, and the one thing I've learned from this experience is never to stop sharing the Federation's philosophy. I found the Federation when I was least expecting it, and this organization has given me more than I can ever give back to it, but I will do my best to try to strengthen and build this fine Federation. Thank you so much for this fine opportunity.
Joy Thomas, Illinois, Illinois: Hello. I am going to be a second-year graduate student at Aurora University in the field of education. Upon graduation I plan to teach middle school in the areas of Spanish language arts or social science in the public schools. I also plan to pursue my Ph.D. in educational policy. This is only my third day here, and already the NFB has helped me to realize that for my students I don't want to be just their nice teacher who can't see, but I want to be a guide to help them learn that their accomplishments are not based on what one lacks, but on one's determination and the use of one's gifts. Thank you very much.
Louise Nicholson Walch, Utah, Utah: Good morning. It's a pleasure and a privilege to be here. I am Louise Walch, and I am from New Castle, Australia, but I come here from Utah. I am a second-semester junior at Brigham Young University studying linguistics and teaching English to students for whom English is their second language. Additionally I am currently making plans to attend the Louisiana Center for the Blind and to pursue a master's at Louisiana Tech University. I am currently and have been for the last year and a half the secretary of the Utah Association of Blind Students. Just recently I was elected treasurer of the Utah Valley chapter. I am also a PAC Plan member. I just want to let you know that the reason I do these things is because I am committed to this organization. This is my first convention, but this last time, since I met with the NFB, has been one of the most rewarding times of my life, not because of this week, but because of how it changed my life. I know it has changed the lives of many. I believe in this cause, and I want to let you know that it really is a privilege to be here. I am willing to work. I recognize the efforts of those who have gone before me, and I plan to continue and to keep this Federation spirit alive.
Zunaira Wasif, Florida, Rhode Island: Hi, everyone. I am just completing my first year at Brown University, and I am going to major in pre-med and cognitive neuroscience. The other day I was sitting in the audience, and I heard a wonderful speech by the director of Louisiana Tech University, and I'm thinking that maybe, if I want to do cognitive neuroscience, I could do some of it over there and help with research and get involved and give back to the Federation. I am really excited about doing that. You have a great day. I hope everything goes well, and I am very excited about this.
Thursday evening, July 3, Scholarship Committee Chairman Peggy Elliott announced the 2003 scholarship awards. As each winner crossed the platform, President Maurer offered congratulations, and Dr. Raymond Kurzweil presented each with a $1,000 check from the Kurzweil Educational Foundation, the latest version of the Kurzweil 1000 reading software, and a beautiful plaque. The winner of the 2003 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship of $12,000 was Caroline Rounds of California. She spoke briefly to the banquet audience. This is what she said:
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Caroline Rounds addresses the 2003 banquet.]
Thank you so much for this honor. Before I could march, I had to learn how to walk, and I did that at my first state convention, in 1989, when I saw other blind people who believed what I did, walking faster and working harder than I was. My next big stride came in reading an article by Dr. Jernigan in which I was exhorted that I was responsible for my own mobility. After that I walked confidently and proudly, carrying my cane everywhere I went.
My next big step came when I decided to become a public education teacher and knew it was going to be very difficult. My steps became much more directed and purposeful as I linked arms with two Federationists, who showed me how it was done.
Tonight, by honoring me with this scholarship, you have given me my marching orders, and I have heard them loud and clear. Dr. Maurer, I would like to thank you personally for showing me what good leadership is. You are not the kind of leader who gives directions and shouts orders. You are one who is willing to go into the trenches. Thank you.
By honoring me with this scholarship, you have given me your applause, your support, and your belief in me. But I also know, with that, you have invested in me. With that comes expectations. You expect me to follow through. You expect me to pass on what I learn, and you are expecting me to reach even higher than I already have. Thank you so much for this honor.
Here is the complete list of 2003 scholarship winners and the awards they received:
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Peggy Elliott announces the winners of the 2003 scholarships.]
Freedom Scientific $1,500 Technology Certificates: Holly Idler, Maria Smith, Shelley Richards, and Louise Walch
$3,000 NFB Scholarships: John Clower, Josh Gibson, Harriet Go, Eugene Hermanson, Holly Idler, Janice Jeang, Katrilla Martin, Nefertiti Matos, Michael Mello, David Paullin, Jason Perry, Maria Smith, Randi Strope, and Zunaira Wasif
$3,000 NFB Computer Science Scholarship: Peter Apgar
$3,000 NFB Educator of Tomorrow Award: Meleah Jensen
$3,000 NFB Humanities Scholarship: Shelley Richards
$3,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship: Joy Thomas
$3,000 Michael and Marie Marucci Scholarship: Germán Benitez
$3,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship: Jessie Kirchner
$3,000 E.U. Parker Scholarship: Kimie Beverly
$3,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship: Arielle Silverman
$5,000 NFB Scholarship: Jennifer Justice
$5,000 Hank LeBonne Scholarship: Tim Paulding
$5,000 Jennica Ferguson Memorial Scholarship: Adam Rushforth
$5,000 Sally S. Jacobsen Scholarship: Mika Bowers
$7,000 NFB Scholarships: Tonia Boyd and Louise Walch
$10,000 Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Jim Solem
$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship: Caroline Rounds
The 2003 Awards
Presented by the National Federation of the Blind
From the Editor: National Federation of the Blind awards are not bestowed lightly. If an appropriate recipient does not emerge from the pool of candidates for a particular award, it is simply not presented. At this year's convention three presentations were made by the National Federation of the Blind and one by the National Blindness Professional Certification Board, Inc. The first presentation took place during the board of directors meeting Monday morning, June 30. In the absence of Steve Benson, who chairs the Blind Educator of the Year Selection Committee but who was ill, Sheila Koenig, president of the National Organization of Blind Educators, made the presentation, with an assist from committee member Ramona Walhof. This is what they said, first Sheila Koenig:
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dr. Norman Gardner displays his plaque.]
Blind Educator of the Year Award
Thank you, President Maurer, and, on behalf of Steve Benson, thank you to those who served on the selection committee--Judy Sanders, Adelmo Vigil, and Ramona Walhof--for participating in committee deliberations. The 2003 recipient of the Blind Educator of the Year Award is one whose talent, teaching skills, contributions to the field of education, and leadership in the community and in the National Federation of the Blind merit singular recognition.
This year's honoree will receive a check for $1,000 and a plaque which reads:
National Federation of the Blind
Blind Educator of the Year
in recognition of outstanding accomplishments
in the teaching profession
You enhance the present
you inspire your colleagues
you build the future.
June 30, 2003
This year's award recipient has taken seriously lessons learned from Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and President Maurer:
· Blindness is a characteristic, not a handicap.
· Blind people can and do compete on terms of equality with sighted people.
· Mastery of the skills of blindness and self-confidence is an essential ingredient for success.
· It is respectable to be blind.
Dr. tenBroek, founder of our movement, set high standards for himself and his students. He was acknowledged by both faculty and students at the University of California at Berkeley to be an outstanding teacher. His classes were always full.
The 2003 winner of the Blind Educator of the Year Award has emulated Dr. tenBroek, and the result can be seen in nominating letters for this award. One letter says: "The students find his classes very challenging, and they feel that what he teaches will be of value to them. . . ." The letter further says this year's honoree is "considered by the students and the faculty to be an excellent teacher." While it is significant that this teacher has received specific recognition and honor from students and from colleagues, it is more laudable that the quality of his work in and out of the classroom has been consistently high throughout his career.
The Blind Educator of the Year for 2003 is Dr. Norman Gardner. While he is making his way to the platform, I will ask Ramona Walhof, who knows him well, to describe his background and accomplishments.
Mrs. Walhof: Dr. Gardner earned bachelor and master of business degrees at Brigham Young University in 1966 and 1968. He earned a Ph.D. in business administration at the University of Utah in 1974, with concentrations in finance, managerial accounting, and quantitative methods.
He held tenure as an associate professor of finance at Boise State University and is currently a full professor of finance at Utah Valley State College, where he has taught finance, corporate finance, investment management, and statistics. Dr. Gardner has developed and taught seminars for upper-level management teams of large corporations. He has also designed and conducted ten special workshops on international business and Mexican history and culture. Each of these included three weeks of study and travel in Mexico. Dr. Gardner has also served as consultant for Boise Cascade and Idaho First National Bank on employment issues and in developing a credit scoring model for screening credit card applications.
Norman Gardner has served as a member and chairman of the Idaho Commission for the Blind board. He has served as affiliate president in Idaho and as a member of the NFB board of directors. In 1998 he formed and serves as executive director of the Braille Resource and Literacy Center, an organization dedicated to enhancing the availability of Braille. The Center has produced over 100 titles, story books in uncontracted Braille for blind children just beginning to read.
Since 1999 he has worked with the Centro Integral Para Ciegora, a school for the blind in Villahermosa, Mexico, providing philosophical direction for program development and financial assistance for the school to acquire needed supplies and equipment.Ms. Koenig: Dr. Gardner, here is a check for $1,000 as well as a plaque in recognition of your accomplishments.
Norman Gardner: Fellow Federationists, I am deeply honored and humbled and touched by this recognition. When I first joined an institution of higher learning, it was in Boise, Idaho, and Boise State University. Within a few months I met the National Federation of the Blind and came under the influence of some of the great educators this world has known, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. They have profoundly affected my life and my desire to be an educator who means something in the lives of people. I learned that it enhances the efforts of an educator to feel and care for his students. I have tried to follow the example of these great educators. I am honored to be associated with this organization.
Our current president continues the great example of our former leaders. In the larger sense we are all in the business of educating ourselves, the public at large, and the new generation of blind children that will come forward to take our place as we help them to avoid the pitfalls that we have found and have tried to fill in along the way. Thank you very much.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ramona Walhof (left) presents a plaque to Betty Woodward while her husband Bruce (standing) and Fred Schroeder look on.]
Jacobus tenBroek Award
At the banquet on Thursday evening, July 3, Ramona Walhof came to the podium to make the following presentation:
In 1974 the National Federation of the Blind created an award in honor of our esteemed founder, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. This award is to be presented as often as somebody in the organization has earned exceptional recognition from his or her colleagues for work in and for the movement. We have bestowed this recognition only twenty times in our history to people from thirteen states. It is my pleasure to present the Jacobus tenBroek Award again tonight.
In 1981, I think, I was working at our national headquarters in Baltimore. One assignment I was given from time to time was to call leaders on behalf of the president to invite them to a seminar. I remember one particular Monday morning when Dr. Jernigan came to my office and said with joy in his voice, "I have more people for you to add to the calling list for the next seminar." He gave me the names of the two people who are being honored tonight. Dr. Jernigan had attended a state convention the weekend before, and I knew from his manner that he was delighted to have discovered people in that state whom he had not known well before. Later I and others understood. The couple we are honoring tonight are quiet, hard-working people who became acquainted in the organization and, after working together for several years, were married in 1987. Betty and Bruce Woodward, would you make your way to the front please?
Betty lost her vision in 1963, and Bruce has retinitis pigmentosa, so it's hard to tell when he lost his. Both joined the NFB in 1971, when we reorganized the NFB of Connecticut. Betty has often told us that her mother advised her to grow a garden. So that's what she did. She raised five children and now has six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. After her children were grown, she continued to teach what she knows to new members of the Federation. Bruce retired from a full-time career working with computers for Travelers Insurance. Bruce has served as treasurer of the NFB of Connecticut for well over twenty years. Betty has held several different positions, including secretary for more than a decade. She was first elected president of the NFB of Connecticut in 1998 and continues to hold that position. She has worked in the outreach office of the NFB of Connecticut, calling for donations and answering questions about blindness and the Federation, day after day after day.
Bruce has often chaired the NFB of Connecticut scholarship committee. Now this has not meant simply choosing the winners; he also had the task of finding the funds to make the awards. Together Betty and Bruce Woodward have edited the newsletter of the NFB of Connecticut longer than I know. They have led many Connecticut groups to the legislative seminar in Washington, D.C. Throughout the nineties Betty served as legislative chairman of the NFB of Connecticut.
This year the blind of Connecticut and the blind of the nation faced serious threats in Connecticut to government services for the blind. There have been efforts to close the industries program in Connecticut and to reorganize the rehabilitation services for the blind into an umbrella agency. These threats continued month after month, but Betty and Bruce have been tough and persistent. They have kept themselves and others informed of each new development. They have worked with individual legislators and committees. They have provided leadership when others grew discouraged and tired.
Yet when President Maurer telephoned Betty to get an update on what was happening in Connecticut, the first words Betty had to say were, "Thank you for all the other people who have helped." This embodies the spirit of Betty and Bruce Woodward. They have had to carry the heaviest responsibility, but their expression is thanks to others. It appears that separate services for the blind in Connecticut are saved, at least for the time being. We all appreciate the work of the many people, especially of Betty and Bruce. Thus we come to honor these two tonight, two of our finest, for their spirit, their diligence, their ability, and their leadership. Betty and Bruce, we value you for your work, and we love and honor you both for what you are and what you do.
Now I'm going to give you this plaque, and I'll read what it says.
JACOBUS tenBROEK AWARD
National Federation of the Blind
Betty and Bruce Woodward
for your dedication,
sacrifice, and commitment
on behalf of the blind of this nation.
Your contribution is measured
not in steps, but in miles,
not by individual experiences,
but by your impact on the lives
of the blind of the nation.
Whenever we have asked,
We call you our colleagues with respect;
we call you our friends with love.
July 3, 2003
The Woodwards came to the stage and responded as follows:
Betty Woodward: Dr. Maurer called me this morning because I had asked for a meeting with him tomorrow. I wanted to meet with him to thank him. We probably would have been quiet. Now I can thank him in front of all of our family for all that he and this Federation of ours have done for Connecticut and for my life. Thank you.
Bruce Woodward: This is just wonderful. The Federation brought Betty and me together in 1982-83. We got to know each other, and in 1987 we were married. We are a family in ourselves and also part of the Federation family. I want to echo what Betty was just saying about what the national organization means to the state of Connecticut. We embarked on a battle last fall in several different areas, primarily on the legislative side to preserve the state agency in Connecticut. The support we received from the national has just been fantastic, both from the standpoint of offering assistance and teaching us how to work with the legislature. It's been a learning experience for us; we are anxious to continue to get to know our legislators and work with them and to make them aware of the issues concerning the blind.
People like Fred Schroeder, Alan Harris, and so many others--Jim Gashel came to Connecticut a year ago. Don Morris came to visit and work with us on issues concerning the Randolph-Sheppard Act. There has been fantastic support from the national. We so much appreciate it.
Betty: Bruce left out one name--someone whom we spent a lot of time with and we got to know very well. That's Jason Ewell. He's been a wonderful help.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dr. Sheila Amato (left) shakes hands with Sharon Maneki at the podium.]
The Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
Late Friday morning Sharon Maneki came to the podium to present the 2003 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award. This ceremony usually takes place during the board meeting, but this year's recipient was welcoming her son home from Iraq early in the week, so she did not arrive at the convention until the board meeting was over. Our busy agenda meant that Friday was the first opportunity President Maurer could find for this presentation. Here is what Sharon Maneki said:
This is a lady who has been teaching for thirty-one years, and that of course is a tremendous accomplishment. This lady also has a Ph.D. from Columbia University in New York, which is a substantial achievement. But she is being recognized this morning for her commitment, for her creativity, and for her dedication to blind students.
As Dr. Sheila Amato makes her way to the stage, let me tell you about her. Dr. Sheila Amato has been working in all aspects of vision education. She made it possible for a student who is deaf-blind to participate in an integrated setting, and she made sure that he had all of his materials. Many people would say that a deaf-blind student couldn't be in that setting, but she made it happen.
One example of her creativity is that she created a new program called Braille Goes to High School. In this program she teaches sighted students Braille, and many of those students go on to become transcribers so that we have enough material. Two of these students have been with us throughout the convention. Dr. Amato also wants to make sure that those who teach our students in the classroom are informed and educated themselves. She teaches in two teacher-training programs: one at Columbia University and one at the Dominican College in New York.
Dr. Amato, it is my pleasure to present you first with a check for $1,000 and now a plaque. Here is the text:
The National Federation of the Blind
Dr. Sheila Amato
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children
For your skill in teaching Braille and
other alternative techniques of blindness,
for generously devoting extra time to meet
the needs of your students, and for
inspiring your students to perform beyond their expectations.
You champion our movement,
you strengthen our hopes,
you share our dreams.
Congratulations, Dr. Amato.
Sheila Amato then delivered a lively, warm, personal reflection on her lifelong commitment to Braille and effective Braille instruction. Here is her comment before beginning to read her paper:
Dr. Maurer and Federationists, I would like to express my appreciation for your support of my family and especially for my son Anthony, a United States Marine, who returned to the United States this last Saturday from Iraq. [cheers and applause] It is a daunting task to schedule activities for such a large convention. I threw in the proverbial monkey wrench with my late arrival. I would like to thank you all for responding with such flexibility, smiles, and love. God bless all our servicemen and women across the United States and in other countries, and God bless America.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Doug Boone responds to the award presentation while Jim Omvig listens.]
Fredric K. Schroeder Award
On Tuesday afternoon, July 1, James Omvig, president of the National Blindness Professional Certification Board, came to the microphone to make a presentation before the entire convention. Here are his remarks:
The directors of the National Blindness Professional Certification Board are pleased to present the second Fredric K. Schroeder Award for outstanding contributions to the field of travel training for the blind. No name holds more weight or lends more prestige and credibility to an award in the field of Orientation and Mobility (O and M) than that of Dr. Fredric Schroeder. Therefore it is particularly fitting that this prestigious recognition be named after him.
Dr. Schroeder's background and record of achievement set a high standard of excellence for this award. Fred was the very first blind American to be accepted in and graduate from a master's degree program at one of the old-line O and M university programs. It is not, of course, remarkable at all that Fred graduated with high marks, earning a master's in O and M. He is extremely intelligent and highly motivated. Especially remarkable are the facts and circumstances surrounding his matriculation into the O and M program at San Francisco State University and his subsequent efforts to become certified in the profession.
Since professional certification was completely closed to all blind candidates at the time of his graduation, Fred never received AAWB/AER certification, but I would like to say here for the record that Dr. Fred Schroeder is now a certified O and M instructor. It seemed particularly fitting that he receive the very first National Orientation and Mobility Certification (NOMC) presented by the National Blindness Professional Certification Board.
With this bit of history as a backdrop, we turn to our new award and the 2003 recipient. He is a National Orientation and Mobility Certificant. Interestingly, our winner was trained in O and M and structured discovery techniques by no less a personage than Dr. Schroeder himself. Although he has traveled and worked far and wide, his current residence is in Pennsylvania. Our 2003 winner is Mr. Doug Boone, NOMC.
In case you don't already know it, Doug is sighted. His story demonstrates poignantly the truth that it is not eyesight--or the lack of it--which defines a true professional in work with the blind. What distinguishes the real professional from the rest of the pack is a profound belief in the normality of the blind as a group, together with the concomitant high expectations for success which necessarily follow.
Doug Boone entered the field of work with the blind in Nebraska in 1976. He had graduated from Wayne State University with a major in industrial arts and was hired by Nebraska Services for the Blind to teach shop in its relatively new Orientation and Adjustment Center. While Doug was working in Nebraska, he first met Fred Schroeder, took travel training from Fred, and also learned the early concepts of nonvisual instruction and structured discovery learning.
Since entering the field, Doug has taught both shop and travel in Nebraska; worked in Oregon both as a rehabilitation counselor and rehabilitation teacher; served the newly created New Mexico Commission for the Blind, both as an acting orientation center director and as human resources director; briefly headed the Pennsylvania state agency for the blind; and has recently done some of his finest work operating D. Boone Consultants. In his consultant capacity Doug contracts with schools, state agencies, or other entities to teach travel, structured discovery learning, and healthy attitudes about blindness to their professional personnel. He delivers his brand of instruction in a nonthreatening way to those who are just learning the truth about blindness. Those taught by him are said to be "Boone-trained," and he is the best of the best when it comes to professional trainers. Although he is sighted, Doug exhibits a fierce passion for justice for the blind, and he exemplifies the personal dedication, teaching skills, and professional excellence that are the hallmarks of the National Blindness Professional Certification Board. His services will have a profound, positive, and lasting impact upon future blind consumers of services.
Doug, in order to memorialize this special occasion, I am pleased to present you with this engraved walnut plaque. It reads:
FREDRIC K. SCHROEDER AWARD
Doug Boone, NOMC
For excellence in teaching
the structured discovery strategy
of travel training to
future instructors of the blind.
Because of your pioneering, dedicated,
and exemplary contributions
to the field of orientation and mobility,
the blind of tomorrow
will be enabled to walk independently
through life with faith justified
they will be masters of their own destinies!
National Blindness Professional Certification Board, Inc.
July 1, 2003
After receiving the award, Doug Boone said:
Thank you, fellow Federationists. It is indeed a great honor that I receive this plaque today; it means a lot. You know, in 1958 when Dr. Jernigan started the Iowa Commission, he didn't throw a pebble into the lake, he threw a huge mountain. The ripples are still going on. Hopefully, as I go through the years of my life, I can contribute a small portion of payback for the information and patience that I have received from so many blind folks in this room. The Federation is great. Thank you very much.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: President Maurer delivers the banquet address as those at the head table look on.]
The Rest of Reality
An Address Delivered
by Marc Maurer
President, National Federation of the Blind
at the Banquet of the Annual Convention
Louisville, Kentucky, July 3, 2003
The velvet black of the night sky bedight with jeweled stars beckoned;
The ever-changing rivulets among the waves along the shore reflected the dancing flashes of sunlight;
The enthusiastic restless breakers summoned the shore-bound to come a-roving.
The dappled shadows almost concealed the water nymph, who winked at the sojourner across the rippling rapids.
The captains came marching to open new countries, explore unknown frontiers, establish trade routes.
The blind man quietly waited;
He did not see the flashing sun, the wink of the water nymph, the beckoning stars.
Others told him, when they were not too busy, of the far frontiers; of mighty commerce; of the beauty of sun, sky, and stars.
And when the waiting was ended, he was old.
Such is one summation of blindness, which even today constitutes the thinking of many members of the general public, some people in the field of work with the blind, and a few blind people themselves. This summation has no harsh criticism of the blind; no suggestion of cruelty toward us; no obnoxious restriction on our behavior, our activity, or our livelihood. Nevertheless, the depiction is completely erroneous and totally false. In one sense it is more devastating than harshness or cruelty because it contains an implied gentleness toward the blind, who are permitted to wait, and because within it is an assumption that we are irrelevant--that we have nothing to contribute--that we are without hope, without spirit, without an irrepressible internal driving force. Exploration, romance, and adventure are for somebody else--not for the blind. Beauty may be observed in the heavens, the sea, or a woodland glade, but none of this is for us. We are relegated to a closed set of experiences which are determined by somebody else. The exhortation, though kindly meant, is as restrictive as an iron band. It is to wait; always to wait.
In 1652 John Milton wrote a poem about his blindness. The most famous line of this poem, which has ever since been regarded as reflecting a proper humility, is, "They also serve who only stand and wait." Of course this line was written 350 years ago; matters must have changed since then. My own experience demonstrates that, despite the advances we have made (and we have made many of them), blind people are often asked to wait. Much of the time we are told to wait for somebody else to get us something, for somebody else to show us where we are to go, for somebody else to invite us to participate in activities in our communities. We are encouraged to believe that the waiting is valuable--if not a high ideal. In 1863 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, "All things come round to him who will but wait." However, Longfellow did not have the extensive experience that we possess. If waiting is the coin that must be paid for all things that can come round, the blind should have such blessings in abundance.
We must have understanding for the goodwill that we encounter, and we must exercise politeness because this is the attitude that promotes growth in civilized society. But we must not forfeit our right to self-determination. No amount of politeness requires the blind to wait for somebody else to make our decisions for us. If we were to take this course, the waiting might continue indefinitely. In 1825, Lord Macaulay warned of the danger inherent in this method of thought. He said:
Many politicians of our time are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition that no people ought to be free till they are fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story, who resolved not to go into the water till he had learnt to swim. If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in slavery, they may indeed wait forever.
Thus spoke Lord Macaulay, and what he said of the generality of individuals is equally applicable to the blind. There may be some who will call us precipitant. Be it so. Some will think us rash. This cannot be helped. A few will proclaim us to be nothing short of radical or militant. Let them call names if they like; our lives are on the line, and we will live them to the fullest. As the spirit of our Federation has made abundantly clear, we will seize the liberty that is our right; we will not defer; we will not delay; we are no longer prepared to wait.
The notion that blind people should wait suggests that we do not have the same capacity as others and that somebody else should supervise our actions. It implies that we are inferior to the sighted.
If blindness means a fundamental diminution of ability, the blind should be content to receive support and assistance, and they should recognize that waiting is part of the process. If, however, the blind possess all of the capacity of the general public except the ability to use vision, it is fair to expect as much from the blind as from the sighted. It is also necessary to demand of society that blind people be accepted on terms of equality.
To illustrate certain factors that have an impact on the lives of the blind, consider a fanciful analogy. If all mature human beings who are taller than six feet two inches in height were regarded as less capable than those of shorter stature, there would be an immediate and dramatic classification along the lines of physical size. Short people would be favored, and tall people would be shunned. Growth inhibitors would be sold to prevent the development of excessive height. High heels would no longer be the fashion.
Benevolent societies would be initiated to offer counseling and comfort to the unfortunate tall. Special places would be set aside where these folk could interact with one another out of the sight of their superiors, the short. Homes for the tall would be established in which the tall could live without being constantly reminded of their deformity. Fundraising drives would be undertaken to reduce the disadvantages of financial want for the lanky and to provide adequate funding to pay the administrators of institutions for the tall. Probably, in the course of time, specialized laws would be established to prevent unreasonable exploitation of the tall. Certain trades of a simple and repetitive nature with a suitably modest financial return (the tall trades) would offer the tall meaningful occupations. Orientation classes would be constructed to teach the tall techniques for managing their awkward and ungainly frames.
Eventually an entire structure of agencies to provide service to the tall would be established, and an association of individuals involved in the field of rehabilitation for the tall would come into being. Most of the members of this association would be normal--not drawn from the ranks of the tall. However, occasionally an almost normal person, a member of the tall with a small enough stature to pass for normal, would be allowed to join. This would demonstrate appropriate concern for including the views of the tall. But of course the majority of the members of the association would be short and would possess high-powered degrees from accredited universities with programs established to train the professionals in the proper methods for providing instruction to the tall. These charitably inclined instructors of the tall would interpret the needs of their clients to the public and would minister to the wants of the disadvantaged minority.
The instructors would also serve on the President's Committee for the Employment of the Tall and other entities established for the benefit of the group. After several decades of exploration and professional development with appropriate scholarly examination of the psychological impact of being tall in a society established by and operated for the short, there would be an adequate understanding of the specialized problems faced by the tall, and all that would remain for the professionals to accomplish would be the refinement of the tools and techniques of the profession.
Of course there would be a need to assure quality standards within the ranks of the professionals in service to the tall, and standard-setting bodies would be created. The tall would be rigidly excluded from consideration of such standards except now and then as a matter of tokenism. This would be done to ensure the high quality of programming for the tall. As administrators of programs for the tall would observe, to invite the tall to assist in determining standards for the programs that serve them would be equivalent to asking patients in the hospital to design medical procedures.
But suppose that the tall examined their condition and disagreed with the classification assigned to them. Suppose they argued that the assumption of inferiority had been based on false premises--that the length of one's body is no determiner of mental capacity or of other characteristics that make a human being productive. They might come together in a national organization to protest the arbitrary determination of inability that had been imposed. They might petition the government for a change in status. They might conduct public campaigns to alter the way they were perceived by the members of the public at large. They might attempt to have laws adopted that guaranteed their right to live in the world on an equal basis with others. They might proclaim their determination to speak on their own behalf. They might insist on the fundamental equality of the tall. They might reject the assertion that the length of their bodies made them awkward and ungainly. They might decide to abandon the homes and retreats for the tall, asserting as they left them that they intended to be accepted within society, not isolated from it. They might declare with unmistakable vigor that they would decide for themselves what their lives would be. In the process of coming to this understanding, the tall would say to certain of the administrators of programs established to meet their needs, "You have offered what you believe is kindness to us, but your kindness has included condescension and the attempt to hold us in bondage. You have treated us like children, but we reject your comprehension of our ability, and we insist that we be accepted as your equals. Your assumptions are not ours. You have said that you will interpret our lives for us, but this can no longer be done. If you will work with us, we will welcome you in partnership. But you will no longer dominate our existence because we will not permit it."
From such a declaration conflict would probably erupt. Administrators of programs for the tall (or, at least some of them) would regard the obstreperous malcontents as ungrateful and would tell the members of the general public that these upstarts were seeking to grab power--were attempting to dictate to agency administrators. Undaunted by these attacks, the members of the organized tall movement would build their own programs for training the tall and would find adherents among officials in the ranks of those in work for the tall. After a period of confrontation, greater harmony and cooperation than had previously existed would emerge in the field of work for the tall.
With growing cooperation and increasing harmony, the tall and administrators of programs for the tall (an increasing number of them drawn from the ranks of the tall themselves) would begin to wonder why there had ever been any conflict.
Is this an apt analogy? Some will deny it. How can the physical height of a human being reasonably be compared to blindness? Height is no barrier to employment or social acceptance, they will say. However, consider no less an authority than the military of the United States. A height requirement has sometimes been imposed on applicants who seek to serve as fighter pilots. The planes were small, the story goes, and nobody taller than five feet six inches would be accepted.
The philosopher Francis Bacon has also added his weight of opinion. "Wise nature [he said] did never put her precious jewels into a garret four stories high; and therefore . . . exceeding tall men had ever very empty heads." No social stigma? No impact on employment? Don't you believe it! At times the tall have been an oppressed minority.
But what of the blind? What have we done, and how have we fared since the time of the founding of our movement at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1940? When the National Federation of the Blind came into existence, the task before us was monumental. Blind men and women were almost completely without jobs except in a few sheltered workshops and a small number of vending stands. Education existed for some at the school for the blind but rarely beyond. Participation in the broader activities of the community was almost unknown. Public aid to the blind programs had been established in a number of states, but these were often interpreted in the most restrictive way. Our founder, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, himself was informed shortly after he graduated from high school that public assistance would not be available to him if he attempted to enroll at the University of California.
The Books for the Blind program had come into being in the Library of Congress in the early 1930's. State programs for the blind had been initiated in many places, but rehabilitation was largely rudimentary and often unavailable. Despite these dismal prospects, or more likely because of them, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and a handful of others brought the Federation into being. It was an act of hope and faith, and it began a national movement that has for more than six decades been encouraging the blind to recognize their own capacity and to act upon this understanding. In one sense we who make up the organized blind movement are not what we were at the time of our founding. There are more of us; we have become better organized; we have gathered more resources; and we have more experience. In another sense the Federation has not changed for all of the decades of its expansion and growth. It is composed of the blind, and we have the same dreams, the same dedication, the same history, and the same purpose as those who have preceded us. Furthermore, we very often face the same dangers, and we are required to exhibit the same determination and the same courage.
In 1940 the cruelty to the blind that had been permitted in former times was no longer acceptable. Part of our heritage tells us that in Roman times blind infants were exposed on the hills to die. Later, blind women were sold into slavery, and in the medieval period blind men were exhibited at country fairs dressed in donkeys' ears. They were made to fight each other for the amusement of the crowd. Blindman's buff is a vestige of the game. One person is blindfolded while others jostle, prod, and poke the blinded one, who is supposed to try to catch them. The "buff" is a slap on the rump, probably shortened from the word "buffet."
The cruelty that was once associated with blindness is brought to mind because, despite all of the progress we have made, there are still those who would deny us our fundamental rights and who would assert their domination over us.
Dan W. Brock, who claims to be a medical bioethicist, has written an article entitled "Health Care Resource Prioritization and Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities," published as part of a book issued in the year 2000 with the title Americans with Disabilities: Exploring Implications of the Law for Individuals and Institutions. In his paper Brock says that, if medical resources are scarce, they should be used to enhance the lives of those who are most likely to have the best quality of life. Quality is defined by Brock. He assumes that any disabled person will necessarily suffer a life with less quality than the nondisabled. Hence, if there is one procedure to give, the able-bodied applicant should get it. Brock does not explain why the life of an able-bodied person contains more quality than the life of a disabled person. He assumes that because individuals seek to avoid disabilities, this is an objective measure of quality, which can be applied to all life.
Of course, other characteristics might be inserted in Brock's so-called objective analysis. For example, many people seek chocolate. Those who do believe that the absence of chocolate is a disadvantage. The chocolate-deprived have a lower quality of life than the chocolate-fulfilled. According to Brock's so-called objective analysis, the chocolate-fulfilled (probably fatter than the chocolate-deprived) should receive scarce medical procedures because of their superior quality of life. I suspect Brock would quibble with this analysis, but it is based upon his own approach.
There is one term in Brock's writing which has a pseudo-scientific appearance. It is QALY, which stands for Quality Adjusted Life Year. Here, in part, is what Brock says:
Suppose two patients, of whom one is blind but who are otherwise similar, each need a lifesaving organ transplant, and there is only one available organ. Should the disability and lower health-related quality of life of the blind patient, which will result in fewer QALYs produced if she receives the transplant, give her lower priority for the transplant? Many would say it should not, and so, presumably, does the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act]. Since one individual would prefer an outcome where she survives in full health to one where she survives blind, we can grant that in this respect the former is a better outcome.
Brock assumes that the possession of the capacity to see makes the seeing life qualitatively better than the one without sight. He claims that the lower quality of life of a blind person indicates that from an objective point of view health care benefits should be reserved for the sighted.
It is not surprising that Brock also believes the fetuses of babies who are likely to be born with disabilities should be aborted. In other words, kill the blind while they are in the womb. If you can't kill them before they're born, withhold treatment afterward. While you're at it, tell people that this is being done in the name of ethics and fairness and impartiality and improving the quality of life. What a shameful display of presumption, arrogance, and ignorance.
Brock also tells us that the disabled require specialized services, that the money for specialized services could have been spent on the able-bodied, and that the able-bodied have a better quality of life than the disabled. Therefore, to maximize quality of life, give the money to the able-bodied and eliminate programs for the disabled. If programs for the disabled are to be tolerated, the only justification for them (according to Brock) is the kindness and generosity of the public.
The assessment of diminished quality of life is made by Brock, who tells us that he knows more about the quality of our lives than we do. The value of specialized training for the disabled is determined by Brock, who tells us that he knows more about its effectiveness than we do. The claim of moral superiority is that of Brock, who asserts his right to decide what system will be used to justify our future and our very existence. After telling us that we do not deserve it, Brock says that he will permit us to work and travel and live as a matter of kindness.
Brock may think that he can interpret our lives and specify our futures, but he is wrong! We the blind have something to say about what happens to us. We will meet him in the lecture halls, in the pages of scholarly journals, in the corridors of Congress, and (if necessary) we will meet him in the streets! We will do battle for ourselves and for those who come after us. Let anybody who doubts this determination come to our convention tonight. We will not let anybody belittle us, bamboozle us, or betray us. Brock is not the deciding factor; we the organized blind of the United States fill that role. If Brock recognizes the quality that is within us, we will permit him to have a voice in affairs affecting our lives. If he does not, he may turn his attention to any other field of endeavor for which his limited capabilities make him qualified. We demand the liberty that is our right. We will accept nothing less than full equality, and we will not defer; we will not delay; we are simply no longer prepared to wait.
Are blind people fatter than sighted people? Do we eat more than our sighted neighbors? Such speculation has inspired much debate. Blind people, it is argued, are more sedentary than others--after all, we are often told to wait. Sports are often for sighted people--baseball, basketball, football, and volleyball. Tastebuds (some people say) are enhanced in the blind because the brainpower which might have been used for seeing is assigned to other sensory organs. The enhanced sense of taste tempts the blind to eat. With these factors influencing the lives of the blind, are blind people fatter than sighted people?
An article appearing in the October 2002 issue of Prevention magazine provides the following:
In a recent Swedish study subjects ate 22 percent less food when they were blindfolded, but they felt just as full as usual (Obesity Research, Feb 2002). So taking vision out of the picture may work in your weight loss favor.
Without the sense of sight [continues Prevention], you are forced to rely on internal signals of satisfaction from your stomach and brain. Most of us normally rely on external cues--an empty plate, the end of a TV show, or the bottom of the bag--to tell us when we're full.
That is what Prevention magazine said. The blindfolded get full faster than those who can see what they're eating--22 percent faster. Probably we also save money on groceries. Blindness, apparently, has hidden advantages. According to Prevention, because we're blind, we're also slim.
Another peculiar portrayal alleges that we who are blind have lost our sexuality. In an article entitled "Folklore of Blindness" by A. Wagner-Lampl and G.W. Oliver, which appeared in the May-June, 1994, issue of the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, the writers tell us that castration and blindness are equivalent. They cite Sigmund Freud's analysis of the ancient Greek play Oedipus Rex as evidence.
The equation of blindness and castration [these authors tell us] is also shown in the Irish myth in which prisoners are given the choice between emasculation and being blinded. Many blind men and women who are in counseling report feeling generally impotent and castrated and find themselves being treated by others as though they were asexual.
So state these authors. As I think about what they have said, I wonder how many blind people they have met. I don't want to be personal about these things, but is this the way you feel? My observation tells me that blind people are as bold, as charming, as intriguing, and as sexy as anybody else. Those who believe that we have been emasculated have something to learn. We will handle such matters with the discretion they demand, but we will handle them, and we will take second place to nobody. We have within us excitement, romance, and the capacity for love, and we will not permit these virtues to be unrecognized. This, too, is part of what must and will be ours!
In 1987, as I came to our banquet table for the first time as president of the Federation, I reported to you about the Mary Bryant Home for Blind Men and Women in Springfield, Illinois. The administrator of the home, Frances Trees, had sent a letter to directors of rehabilitation agencies to try to drum up business for the home. Included with the letter was a packet of information describing the home and its services. A portion of the letter reads as follows:
As you are aware, there comes a time in the lives of many visually impaired persons when they are unable to live independently. Some younger persons return to their homes following their education from a school for the visually impaired. In many cases these young men and women are returning to homes where both parents are employed outside the home and find themselves staying alone all day with nothing to do.
The Mary Bryant Home is a resource I wish you would consider when it comes to assisting individuals or families to deal with the issue of placement. Currently our residents range in age from twenty-four to ninety-six years of age.
Frances J. Trees
The nature of the resource represented by the Mary Bryant Home is described in the material which accompanied the letter. Here is part of the description:
The home is arranged for convenience, on one level--no stairs. Hand rails are installed throughout the home. Our full and part-time staff provide round-the-clock service to the residents seeing to their health, safety, nutritional, recreational, and emotional needs. Leave of absence may be taken by residents for a short period of time providing the person taking the resident out sign a release of responsibility for injuries, accidents, or illnesses which might occur during the time they are away from the Mary Bryant Home.
[I interrupt to wonder what would happen if the resident wanted to leave the Mary Bryant Home unaccompanied. What would happen if the resident did not have somebody available to sign a release of responsibility? Apparently this kind of independent action is not permitted. But back to the information from the home.]
Personal property, other than clothing, may be brought to the home only with the prior approval of the Administrator. Food is prohibited in the resident rooms. Beer, wine, and other intoxicating liquors: Only when approved by the resident's physician please, and all items of this nature are to be kept at the Medicine Room, not in resident's room. Incoming calls for residents may be received on the house phones, but it would cause less confusion and less interruption if these calls were to be made between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.
As I said in 1987, there is much more that might be said about the Mary Bryant Home, but this is enough to make the point. For the blind independence of action cannot be found at the Mary Bryant Home; for the blind there is no future. Decisions are made not by the blind but by the administrator.
Not long after our 1987 convention, I received a letter from the parents of twin blind women who were residents at the Mary Bryant Home. Here is part of it:
We have in our possession the Braille Monitor regarding an address delivered by Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind at a banquet of the annual convention in Phoenix, Arizona, July 2, 1987.
We are in agreement in this article that some blind people can and should achieve academically and to their greatest capabilities. However, when they are not able to do so, other arrangements must be made. Therefore, we as parents of twin blind daughters appreciate the fact there are homes available for such situations.
When we were faced with the fact that it was time that we should be making some kind of arrangements for our twins, who were thirty-two years old, and we might add, they realized a home was to be found for their particular needs, we were very fortunate and greatly impressed with the Mary Bryant Home.
One of our daughters chose to go live at the home very soon and has been there since May 1986. However, our other daughter did not make a decision until after spending a three-week period there while we were on vacation. It was then she chose to make the move in December 1986.
We, and our daughters, have a deep respect for the rules at this home, for they have their independence but also are well taken care of.
[I interrupt to ask what kind of independence do you believe can be found at the Mary Bryant Home? The parents leave us in no doubt. Here is what they say.]
It is our opinion this home certainly meets the requirements of our daughters' needs. There is freedom to attend church of their choice, join the choirs, participate in community affairs as well as many activities at the home.
In closing, it is our hope that a retraction of the statement made against the Mary Bryant Home and Mrs. Frances Trees would be in order for the purpose it serves for those who desperately need help.
The letter from the parents of these blind women says that there are blind people who desperately need help. I believe the need is desperate, but it is not what these parents believe it to be. When I checked a few weeks ago, these twin blind women were still at the Mary Bryant Home; still subject to the rules and requirements, arrangements and restrictions; still told when they can come, and when they can leave; still forced to have somebody else assume responsibility for them whenever they wish to be taken out of the home; still prohibited from having food or drink in their rooms; still expected to make their phone calls between 1:00 and 4:30 p.m. But of course the blind women can attend a church of their choice and can sing in the choir.
The twin blind women who became inmates of the Mary Bryant Home in 1986 have been waiting for an opportunity to gain independence for almost two decades. The tragedy of their lives speaks loudly to me because, during the same year that they entered the home, I was first elected president of the National Federation of the Blind. I have participated in the growth of our organization and the expansion of our activities during the years that these women have waited. We have heard from their parents, and we have heard from the administrator of the home, but we have not heard from the twin sisters because they have been convinced that others should speak and act on their behalf and that their role is to wait. In their case the waiting might continue forever.
The impact of such restrictions, no matter how kindly meant, can be devastating. Some years ago I received a letter from a former employee of a different home which says, in part:
I don't know if you can help, but I don't know who to turn to. I know a woman who is blind and living in a group home. I have been told that blindness is her only disability and that before living in the group home she led herself with a cane and could talk. Now she does not talk and is completely withdrawn. She has been in the group home for several years and has been allowed to slip farther and farther into her darkness. She has little stimulation and has been allowed to completely withdraw from the rest of the world.
I am not a relative, so I don't know how I can help her. I am just someone who used to work in the group home. I had tried to get the supervisors to take an interest in her specific needs and to find ways to stimulate her and to teach her. I can't keep from wondering how her life could be if she had the attention and training that she has been without for so many years.
Such is the simple and heartfelt plea of one human being seeking assistance to regain hope for another. This plea emphasizes the urgent need for us to reject the demand that we wait interminably for others to decide that there is a future for us. For this blind woman and for all others who have been stashed away in warehouses for the blind without stimulation, without independence, and without hope, we say this: we will give you the spirit of determination and the guts that we have come to know so well in the National Federation of the Blind. There is something better to do with your lives and ours than to move to the home for the blind and wait for life to ebb away in idleness and despair. The lives we have as blind people are as important as any that exist, and we will live them. A life deferred is a life denied, and we cannot tolerate delay. As we experiment with liberty, we will make mistakes, but they will be our mistakes. We will learn from them, and with the increased knowledge we will surmount the challenges that come.
The poets tell us to wait and urge us to believe that there is honor in the waiting. The bioethicists claim that our lives are less important than those of others and that those of us who were blind before birth should have been aborted. Prevention magazine alleges that our appetites change because of our inability to see food. The keepers of the homes for the blind prey upon our lives to keep themselves in business with restrictive rules, and they call their restrictions independence. Such assertions are part of the reality of our lives, but this reality is changing because it cannot withstand the force of our movement. Furthermore, this part of the reality is only a small segment of the whole. The rest of the truth about blindness is upbeat, spirited, and vibrant because we are writing the poetry and creating the music for our own song of liberation. When we come together in our thousands in the organized blind movement, we learn from each other, inspire each other, support each other, and believe in each other.
Dr. tenBroek founded our movement. Before he ceased to lead the Federation, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan had come to be his student, his colleague, his beloved friend. Dr. Jernigan became our beloved leader, and he dreamed of a future for us beyond anything that we could have imagined.
People come to visit the National Center for the Blind from all over the world; the phones ring; and the mail comes pouring in. Coordination of effort occurs with state affiliates, with local chapters, with special interest divisions, with our training centers, and with other programs we have initiated. The National Federation of the Blind Research and Training Institute is rising from the ground and taking shape. Programs to address the special needs of the blind come into being, and future programs are being planned. The number of hands that come to the task is increasing at a rapid rate, and innovation occurs at all levels within the movement.
Dr. Jernigan, the man who established the National Center for the Blind, who took so many of the phone calls, who wrote the articles and edited the books, who traveled from our Center to all parts of the world, and who inspired his colleagues with the beautiful cadence of his voice, comes no more. But the spirit that was his--that spirit which he shared with Dr. tenBroek--is as bright in our midst today as it has ever been, and our determination is as strong. The articles continue to be written; the books continue to be published; the programs continue to be planned; and the message continues to be delivered in our own country and in lands beyond our borders. The message is simple, straightforward, and noncomplex. It is this: we are the blind, and we carry the responsibility for building our own future.
Many come to the task weary and dispirited; they gain strength. Some feel discouragement; they gain faith. Some are overwhelmed and disheartened; they gain hope. When the challenges come, we will surmount them. When the doubters attempt to disparage our cause, we will persuade them. When our detractors tell us that the price of freedom is too great to be paid by the blind, we will demonstrate that we have the capacity to do whatever is required for our own independence. We will not falter or hesitate or diminish our effort. We take the path that we are destined to travel with the spring of gladness in our step and the lilt of laughter in our hearts; and we will prevail. With our imagination, with our courage, with our dedication, and with our determined spirit, we must and will have liberty, and no force on earth can stop us or turn us back. We will not defer; we will not delay; we are no longer prepared to wait. The days ahead belong to us. Come, join me, and we will make it come true!
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Joanne Wilson prepares to deliver her convention remarks.]
Promoting Harmony in the Field of Work with the Blind:
Federal Policies That Enhance Opportunity
by Joanne Wilson
From the Editor: Tuesday afternoon, July 1, Dr. Joanne Wilson, commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, addressed the Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Here is an abbreviated version of her remarks:
After playing in a club one night, Count Basie, the famous jazz musician, went to the manager rather distraught and said, "This piano sounds terrible. I will not come back until it's fixed." A few weeks later the manager of the club called Basie, assured him that the piano was fixed, and invited him to come back and play in the club. Once again, Count Basie sat down at the piano to play. Within a few minutes he got up and went angrily to the manager. "This piano still sounds terrible. I thought you said you got it fixed."
"I did," said the manager. "I painted it."
In the public rehabilitation system we are always looking for better ways to help blind people and other people with disabilities get more independence and real, high-quality employment. But often we spend time painting the piano. The challenge in the public rehabilitation system is to look at why we do what we do.
Twenty years ago a group of researchers at Harvard University wanted to see how the environment affects perception. They took two groups of kittens and raised one group in an environment that only had horizontal lines. They raised the other group in an environment that had only vertical lines. When the kittens grew up, they could not function in the dimension in which they had not been raised. They had not had the sensory stimulation they needed to see in the other dimension.
In the rehabilitation system we must look beyond traditional dimensions. One way we can do this is to look at the business world and see what has worked. In a difficult environment businesses have to cope with a struggling economy, reduced budgets, consolidations, and competing priorities. Yet some businesses struggle merely to survive while others thrive and expand. The difference is the way an organization defines and uses its assets. Some businesses--not the very successful ones--see their assets as only the traditional resources: staff, budget, technology, buildings, and so on. They do not notice other under-utilized assets that can be power resources for their business. Yet other businesses, those that are innovative and successful, can identify and use their hidden assets. They can set aside the traditional lens and see things in a different dimension.
Two examples of these are MTV and ESPN X-Games. These two businesses are successful even in an environment in which businesses just like them have not been successful. They have realized that they need to really know and understand their consumers. Only by direct interaction with their consumers can they really know what they like and dislike. That's why at MTV the vice presidents actually go and live in the homes of teenagers and view over an extended period what they really like and don't like. ESPN has set up in malls and skating rinks, where teenagers flock. They use these skating rinks as a lab in which to study and see what folks really like and what they don't like.
Successful organizations get feedback and innovative ideas from their consumers rather than only their internal hierarchy. They realize that they can bring new ideas through consumers from the outside in. The consumer connection can give them a continual source of feedback that will help them improve their programs.
Consumer groups are the hidden asset in the rehabilitation system. They are very under-utilized. My boss, President Bush, really believes in involving consumer-based organizations in local, state, and federal government. He values it and says, "We need to look at consumer-based organizations if we are to improve government." In the rehabilitation system we have a vast network of individuals, ideas, and experiences that can serve significantly to improve our rehabilitation system. We need to infuse our already strained system with thousands of experts, individuals who are dedicated and motivated and have knowledge to help us work and improve our system.
One of the primary roles of the rehabilitation system is to empower people with disabilities by giving them the confidence, the elevated expectations, the skills, the training, the knowledge, and the equipment and services they need truly to become independent people and get meaningful employment. Who do you know that can do this any better than you here in this room? Consumer groups like you provide core services that can really make a difference in the rehabilitation system. CORE: C, commitment; O, opportunity; R, role models and mentoring; and E, expertise.
Commitment. Let's look at what commitment the National Federation of the Blind can offer to the rehabilitation system, the commitment that since 1940 has helped shape the rehabilitation system and has supplemented it with valuable services. Look at the commitment each of you showed in order to come to this convention. You spent time and money, took your Fourth of July vacation, and sacrificed to be here. Every day you go out and do things that are going to help the rehabilitation process. You are in schools talking with children to educate them about blindness. You're working to educate policy makers. You're working on IEP's in the rehabilitation system, helping other blind people to figure out what they want to do. You're educating employers. You're sitting on advisory boards and our state rehabilitation councils and doing thousands of other things that are going to make a difference in our rehabilitation system.
Opportunity. The National Federation of the Blind offers opportunities for other blind people out there in this country. You heard a lot of that in the presidential report thisafternoon: America's Jobline; a scholarship program that we have seen at this convention; NEWSLINE services; Slate Pals; involvement in local and state affiliates, where people develop leadership and learn how to work at community services.
Role models. What more can you ask if you look here at this convention. How many of you have been asked to mentor someone else? When you look around at this convention and you see people who are reading Braille at 300 words a minute, you think, "Maybe I can do that too." You see people traveling independently, and you think, "Wow, there is a better way to get around." Consider the jobs you can learn about around here--all the different kinds of jobs that blind people are doing, and people who are willing to serve as role models and mentors for you. Advocacy--we learn advocacy and pass that on to other blind people.
Expertise. Well, the collective knowledge and experience gathered here from the minds and hearts and beliefs of blind people can be used in our rehabilitation system through our NFB centers, through the Braille Monitor, Future Reflections, and the Kernel Books and other publications. We can look at lots and lots of things that we do every day to make a difference. Our new national research and training institute will provide expertise. The International Braille and Technology Center serves this purpose. The new national blindness professional certification board is making changes in the field of orientation and mobility.
Each of you working every day on state and national legislation is truly shaping the rehabilitation system and making things different for blind people. These are some of the hidden assets that need to be used in our rehabilitation system, and when that happens, there will be more involvement and more jobs and independence for blind people. But any successful organization knows that it's not just enough to associate with or intellectually understand consumers. They need to have a dedicated and experiential understanding of the people that they serve.
A hospital recently wanted to improve its services. It asked a cross section of its employees to think of the best service experiences they had ever had. They thought of the service at Disney World and flying first-class on airlines. Then they were asked to remember these experiences as they became patients in their own hospital. They wore those gowns that flap open in the back. They lay in bed for twenty-four hours. They tried to walk around with an IV attached, and they ate hospital food. They found out that the hospital experience did not measure up to the first-class services they had been thinking about. They decided that they needed to make changes in their hospital, not because of an analytical study or statistics. They were prepared to act because of their experience, their knowledge, their personal belief about what was important and true.
In the traditional rehabilitation system we think that, if you are a professional in the rehabilitation world, you should not associate with and certainly not go to conferences, conventions, and local chapter meetings of people with disabilities, of people who are blind. We need to change this kind of thinking. We need to have immersion experiences within the rehabilitation system. Through immersion experience we learn a philosophy about disability. We learn techniques that work for blind people and those that don't. We learn about the needs and the wants of blind people and understand them better so that we can be better professionals.
The rehabilitation system has a whole network of volunteers who are willing and ready to work in an innovative way to help improve our system and make it even better. As commissioner of the rehabilitation services, I hope that our system actually recognizes and respects the involvement, the hidden assets of consumers. We need to infuse into our system the values and expertise of consumers even though this may cause a lot of hostility and fear in some parts of our system.
What are some specific ways we can do this? I hope that we can get to the point where blind people who walk into our system are referred by their counselors to the National Federation of the Blind and other disability groups so that they can have the kind of mentoring, role modeling, commitment, and opportunity that I have been describing. I have been successful in trying to get some extra funding that will be available for state agencies to apply for to contract with consumer-controlled membership organizations of folks with disabilities to provide mentoring experiences to transition-age youth, kids who are in high school.
That means that the National Federation of the Blind can work directly with young people, serving as mentors and role models and helping change the system for them. We in the rehabilitation system believe that we too need to do immersion experiences. That's why seven of my staff from RSA are here at this conference with me, including our two new regional commissioners, Joe Cordova and Noel Nightingale.
We are trying in little ways and big ways in our central office to include consumers in our processes--a simple thing like putting the National Federation of the Blind and other consumer groups on our mailing list for notices of what's happening in RSA; involving the National Federation of the Blind and other consumer groups in our leadership training; having consumers be on our committees and work groups and task forces; and being invited to speak at and help plan our conferences. You could see this last November in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when RSA put on the first conference for residential training centers in the country. We have ninety residential training centers in this country, and for the first time folks got together and the consumer voice was heard because consumers were on the committee and consumers helped put on the program. It was a different kind of conference.
What else are we doing in RSA? Well, our publication, the American Rehabilitation Journal, is going to have articles from consumers about consumers, and the voice of consumers is going to be heard. Our grantees are putting out publications such as Jim Omvig's book, Freedom for the Blind. We are putting out other training publications on empowerment and nontraditional ways of teaching orientation and mobility.
You may ask if this system can really work. Could we really have a system in which consumers are truly part of the rehabilitation process, really work with our state agencies and have a different kind of rehabilitation? This was a question we asked in 1958 when Dr. Jernigan, Dr. tenBroek, and our Federation leaders got together and said, "Can we use this concept?" They developed the first model, the Iowa Commission for the Blind.
Many in this room are products of that first model. I saw it first-hand, and this is what I saw: staff people who were different from the norm, believing in blind people. They had a positive attitude about blindness, high expectations, and a defined philosophy about blindness different from anything else around. How did they get that philosophy? They got it because they were immersed in and surrounded by the National Federation of the Blind and blind people. They went to conventions like this one, both state and national. They read material that had been written by blind consumers. They had discussions. They spent time just hanging around with blind people and listening to what they had to say and learning from them.
They passed that philosophy on to us students through day-to-day contacts. They did it by having us go to conventions and local chapter meetings. They did it by having us read the material that had been written by the blind people who had gone before us. They had discussions with us about using sleepshades and accepting free bus tickets just because you're blind. I remember the famous dishwashing tape, in which we talked about the hierarchy of sight. Why do we use the word "blind"? Do we need special gardens for the blind? Should we pay for banquet tickets for state legislators and why? The staff and the students learned a defined philosophy of blindness, and we learned it from the collective experience and knowledge of other blind people. That's what made it different.
We were taught the skills of blindness, skills that went beyond the normal skills taught to other blind students around the country. We were pushed to do far more, and where did they get that notion? Because they had hung around blind people. They had hung around the National Federation of the Blind and realized that blind people could do more than the stereotyped notions that existed before. We were pushed to learn Braille. We were pushed not just to cook ordinary things. I remember one time being told to go buy a number of small appliances for the kitchen. They trusted that I could really do it. I remember going to the state fair and making thousands and thousands of cookies in front of state fair visitors. That was the kind of cooking we did. I remember taking cane travel. We didn't just do the ordinary routes; we did drop-offs. We did the 5.6-mile-long walks in all sorts of situations.
Beyond that, we did woodworking and water skiing. We went to the governor's ball. That was part of the stretching of mobility. We were surrounded by role models. Where do these role models come from? I remember seeing a blind person walking through big snow drifts, catching the bus, and going home. I thought, "Wow!" I remember being invited to blind people's homes for dinner and thinking, "Wow! they cooked this whole meal themselves!" I remember seeing a blind mom taking care of her kids, and I thought, "Wow." I remember seeing blind people knitting and dancing and doing all kinds of things.
But the most important role modeling they did was when I decided I wanted to be a teacher. They didn't say, "We don't think that as a blind person you can be a teacher." Instead they introduced me to members of a consumer group, members of the National Federation of the Blind, who were blind teachers. They had a resource to show me. If they could do it, I could do it too. I got new perspective at this training center. I learned informed choice because I could see what other blind people liked and didn't like. They gave me perspective so I could make good choices about my employment and how independent I was going to be.
I learned advocacy because I saw consumers, other blind people, members of the National Federation of the Blind, going to the state legislature, going on demonstrations, writing letters to the editor and politicians about situations where discrimination was taking place. I saw the power and the strength of an organized voice. So when I needed advocacy and when I was discriminated against in my student teaching (they were not going to allow me to student teach), I knew that I could do something about it. I saw that blind people could make the agency accountable. We knew firsthand the efficiency of the agency. By collectively working together, we could make services accountable to us.
Any philosopher, any great religion tells you that to be a full person you need to learn how to give. In this first model of consumers working with the state agency, they taught us how to give, to be truly whole people. They used the National Federation of the Blind as a mechanism to teach us that. Long after we had stopped being students, the National Federation of the Blind was there to keep giving us the boosts, the shots in the arm, so that we could truly live independent lives. But beyond that, it gave us a chance to mentor others: to do the candy sales, to give the speeches, to do thousands of other things that provided us the opportunity to give back.
These hidden resources help. They helped me and they helped other blind people lead independent lives and get real jobs. The National Federation of the Blind can help the rehabilitation system reach another level of service--not just struggle to survive, but expand and thrive. The National Federation of the Blind can help the rehabilitation system--not just put on another coat of paint, but really offer core services that will help blind people lead independent lives and get real jobs.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Fred Schroeder addresses the convention.]
Orientation and Mobility, Competence and Hypocrisy
by Fredric K. Schroeder
From the Editor: On Thursday, July 3, Dr. Fred Schroeder, former commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration and currently a research professor at San Diego State University, addressed the convention. He took the opportunity to set the record straight with respect to one segment of the recent history of the blindness field. This is what he said:
An old adage says, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." I have always assumed that this was an admonition to take care to attend to history's lessons, but I had never really thought about the fact that another and perhaps more insidious way of ignoring the lessons of history is by rewriting history and thereby losing its lessons entirely.
A year or so ago I heard for the first time that some well-known leaders in the orientation and mobility field had been saying that the profession has never discriminated against blind people seeking to become certified to teach orientation and mobility. As you know, this is a subject with which I have some familiarity. Since the history of discrimination against blind people seeking entry into the orientation and mobility profession is so well known, I assumed that the individuals making these statements must represent a tiny minority; they must be an aberration not to be taken seriously, but to my surprise the statements continued. Sometimes the claims were bold denials that the field had ever discriminated, and sometimes the statements were carefully framed to be technically true, while deliberately mischaracterizing the facts.
For example, as you may know, for most of its history the certification process was administered by the professional organization--first the American Association of Workers for the Blind and later the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired. Just over three years ago, in January 2000, the certification process was given over to a new body known as the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (Academy). I have recently heard it said that the Academy has never discriminated against blind people seeking orientation and mobility certification. Well, given that the Academy is so new, and given that it has in fact certified a small number of blind people, it can be truthfully said that it has never refused to certify a blind person on the basis of blindness. Yet such statements are clearly intended to give the blatantly false impression that the profession as a whole has never discriminated against the blind.
Last November, at a national meeting to discuss residential training centers, I heard a leader in the orientation and mobility field, speaking of a recently-certified blind person, describe the blind person as being the latest in the "long, proud history" of the profession certifying blind people. At best the profession has certified only a handful of blind people, and its history is neither long nor proud.
So what are the facts? Certification of orientation and mobility professionals started in the late 1960's with the adoption of certification standards by the American Association of Workers for the Blind. The standards included graduate level training from an approved university program and of course normal visual acuity. In 1977 the visual-acuity standard was replaced with a functional standard that purported to be a nondiscriminatory measure of an instructor's ability to perform the essential functions of the job.
What prompted the change from an acuity standard to a functional standard? Not a change in attitudes about the ability of blind people--no, certainly not. On May 4, 1977, the U.S. Department of Education published regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. For the first time blind people and others had protection from discrimination on the basis of disability in institutions that received federal funds. That meant that the universities could no longer keep the blind out. Now the profession was faced with the prospect of having blind people graduate from approved university programs and apply for certification. So how did the profession react? It adopted the functional standards that it claimed only measured essential abilities. And what were those essential abilities? One was the ability to monitor a student from a distance of 375 feet. Why 375 feet? Because it would allow the fully sighted to pass and would exclude the blind.
I believe it can be said without fear of honest contradiction that the objective was to continue the practice of keeping blind people out of the profession. Parenthetically, you may find it odd, but recently, when discussing the shameful history of blind people's being denied certification, a leading figure in the field felt it important to point out that it was not just blind people that the profession kept out--it barred people with all types of disabilities. I suppose this distinction is intended to make us feel better, knowing that we were not singled out for discrimination, but were discriminated against on a basis of equality along with others, the profession being an equal opportunity discriminator.
So why do I bring this up? Isn't this all ancient history? Doesn't the orientation and mobility profession now accept blind people? The technical, legal answer is yes, but the real answer is a much more qualified yes. In fact, in my view so qualified that the answer by any honest standard is truly, no. It is true that today a blind person can apply to a university program in orientation and mobility and know that his or her right to do so is protected by the law. Upon graduating, he or she may, in fact, be granted certification. Today a small number of blind people have been certified by the Academy. However, far from being a long-standing, venerable practice, the inclusion of blind people into the profession is startlingly recent.
How recent? When did the profession finally begin certifying blind people? 1997. Yes, 1997--no long, proud history of certifying blind people. And the change was not universally embraced. Many, many of the most prominent leaders in the field resisted opening certification to blind people. In 1996, writing in opposition to certifying blind people, a recognized pioneer in the orientation and mobility field, Bruce Blasch, Ph.D., said:
As an O&M specialist, I believe we must advocate for the safest and best possible O&M instruction for all visually impaired clients. To date, there has been no evidence that a totally blind individual can provide the systematic O&M instruction that is taught in the university programs and certified by the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER).
No one can accuse Dr. Blasch of being afraid to speak his mind. He believed that we could not teach other blind people to travel using a white cane. He believed that we should be kept out of the profession. So why did the profession open certification to blind people? Because it was compelled to. The change in the certification standards did not represent an awakening, an emerging enlightenment about the ability of blind people; rather it was a response to changes in the law. First section 504 and later the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) required reasonable accommodations, so in response the standard was altered to allow for the use of accommodations in the teaching of orientation and mobility.
In the same article, writing about the idea of blind people using reasonable accommodations to teach, Dr. Blasch said:
I have seen this topic revisited many times. In 1959 the focus was on the needs of clients; in 1996 it is on the rights of totally blind instructors. Current discussions center on making lists of possible reasonable accommodations to permit totally blind persons to teach O&M or finding parts of the O&M task that blind persons could teach. The emphasis has been on employing individuals who are blind rather than on maintaining the best possible instructional programs for all persons learning O&M. No one has evaluated, in a scientific way, the impact and potential detrimental effects these modifications could have on O&M clients. The focus on what works best for totally blind instructors instead of what is safest for clients shows almost total disregard for the integrity of the O&M curriculum and for the learning opportunities it should present.
Of course Dr. Blasch is only one person expressing his beliefs, his opinions. He certainly does not speak for the entire field, the profession as a whole, and, however long in coming, the profession did change its standards, allowing blind people to become certified. Dr. Blasch's views did not prevail. The criteria for certification were changed in spite of his objections, showing that the orientation and mobility profession has evolved and today recognizes that blind people can teach cane travel. Or does it?
While blind people have been eligible for certification since 1997, it is important to remember that the change in the certification standards came in response to changes in the law requiring reasonable accommodations; accordingly, the revised certification standards presumed that blind people require accommodations to teach. What does that mean? It means a presumption that the blind orientation and mobility instructor requires a sighted assistant.
So what has really changed? In my view, very little. The profession has moved from believing that the orientation and mobility instructor has to be able to see to believing that a blind instructor has to have an assistant who can see. The profession can take no pride in this change. It is not a thing that shows a change in perspective, a change in attitudes about blindness and blind people. It is not symbolic or illustrative of a progressive, mature view of blindness. No rewriting of history, no recasting of the facts can change the truth.
In my view the profession has missed the point. Blind people do not need sighted assistance to teach cane travel. We only need sighted assistance in order to teach the way the sighted teach.
I have taught cane travel, but I am by no means the only blind person to have done so. There have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of blind people who have taught others to travel, formally or informally. The techniques we use are not remarkable, not mysterious, not supernatural; they simply do not require sight.
Leaders in the orientation and mobility profession can undertake to rewrite history, to deny that discrimination ever took place, but that will not change the facts and, more to the point, it will not further the full integration of blind people into society. It will not change the negative attitudes that comprise the foundation of denied opportunity. And it will not further an understanding of the way blind people teach cane travel.
To ignore history is bad enough; to rewrite it--to deny that discrimination ever took place--makes real progress impossible, makes honest self-examination impossible. Inclusion of blind people in the profession has not been an ongoing, natural part of the profession's history. The blind have been systematically kept out--deliberately excluded. Unfortunately, today far too many in the profession continue to operate from the same set of assumptions. The profession is willing to consider including blind people only to the extent that accommodations allow us to teach in the same way as the sighted teach. Nonvisual methods are at best suspect--assumed to be less reliable, less effective, less safe.
Of course not everyone in the profession believes that the blind are inherently less safe and less effective in teaching cane travel. A number of leaders in the field, among them some of the most notable, have been real heroes, real allies in the progress blind people have made. Yet this does not change the fact that the profession as a whole has not believed and in my view still does not truly believe in the ability of blind people to teach cane travel.
Discrimination against blind people in the orientation and mobility profession is part of our history. But of course, discrimination notwithstanding, the orientation and mobility profession is not closed to the blind. No discriminatory practices will keep us out. The blind can teach, are teaching, and will continue to teach other blind people to travel. The profession has a choice. It can learn how blind people teach and incorporate these methods into its curriculum, or it will be left behind--it will make itself irrelevant while it waits for evidence, proof that the blind can teach.
How much better it would be to join with us, to help speed the day when the blind no longer face discrimination in the orientation and mobility field and in other fields. How much better to help build the future, to contribute to real progress. How much better to build a truly proud history, a history in which the profession joins with the blind to learn from the blind and to encourage blind people to enter the profession, a history in which the profession openly acknowledges its honest doubts, its honest misgivings, and yet commits its collective will, imagination, and experience to furthering opportunities for the blind in the orientation and mobility profession. We ask the profession to commit itself to being a part of the history in which true equality is realized rather than sitting on the sidelines, defending the status quo, waiting for others to make the changes and build the future, and then rewriting history to recast resistance and prejudice as boldness and courage.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Sharon Maneki reads a resolution to the committee on Sunday afternoon.]
Goals for the Future: A Report on 2003 Convention Resolutions
by Sharon Maneki
Many organizations devote significant amounts of time to writing a mission statement and to developing a strategic plan with goals and objectives. Sometimes these exercises are useful because they help the organization clarify its purpose. Many times, however, they spend so much time on the development of plans that little time is left for implementation. The National Federation of the Blind has a mission and a strategic plan, but we devote the majority of our time to action.
The National Federation of the Blind has had a clear mission statement for many years: to change what it means to be blind by promoting security, equality, and opportunity for the blind. Although this mission statement is short in words, it represents an enormous undertaking.
Many of the resolutions passed during annual conventions of the National Federation of the Blind serve as the strategic plan for the organization. These policy statements demonstrate the ways in which we intend to carry out our mission of changing what it means to be blind. The policies in these resolutions may be the subject of future articles in the Braille Monitor or may be outlines for our work during future Washington seminars. As the reader will observe from the description of resolutions considered at this 2003 convention, many represent our strategic plan, while others represent the organization's position on existing programs.
The resolutions committee always meets early in the convention. This year the meeting took place on Sunday, June 29. Once again this year Sharon Omvig ably served as secretary to the resolutions committee. The meeting is always interesting and exciting because resolutions come from people in all walks of life and from all over the nation. The committee considered resolutions on such diverse subjects as employment programs, transportation, the casting of blind actors, and the problem of quiet cars. With thirty-three committee members debating the issues, the chairman can never predict the outcome on the various resolutions.
This year the committee considered twenty resolutions. Nineteen resolutions came to the convention floor. Resolution 2003-16, which urged Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) to improve methods of labeling book containers and cassettes, was withdrawn by the author. The author and the National Association of Blind Students will work with RFB&D to clarify procedures and to solve problems.
Committee consideration is just the first step in the process. Each resolution must be considered by the full Convention. The Convention must vote up or down on each resolution. The national board of directors may also bring resolutions to the Convention for consideration. This year two authors asked the Convention to withdraw their resolutions. Resolution 2003-15, concerning consumer representation on the board of directors of Southeastern Guide Dogs, Inc., was withdrawn by the authors with the permission of the Convention to give the NFB of Florida Guide Dog Division and the NFB of Florida the opportunity to work on this issue.
Resolution 2003-06 was also withdrawn by the authors with the permission of the Convention. The national board of directors then clarified the language of Resolution 2003-06 and brought Resolution 2003-101 to the Convention for consideration. This procedure was necessary because by longstanding practice resolutions are not changed or rewritten by the resolutions committee. In Resolution 2003-101 we "reaffirm its support for informed choice to be exercised as a matter of right by participants in the vocational rehabilitation programs." This resolution came about because "a few misguided persons who oppose approaches such as required use of sleepshades and no use of guide dogs during training have propounded the view that informed choice gives trainees the right to alter programs and prescribe instructional methods, in a mistaken application of the mandate of informed choice to justify the notion that individuals should be free to dictate the details of program design. . . in enacting the informed choice right as part of the Rehabilitation Act, Congress intended that individuals would be able to select among programs and not that they would be granted legal standing to alter programs to suit individual demands, any more than higher education students have the right to control the curriculum at a public or private university."
In addition to Resolution 2003-101, the Convention passed six other resolutions concerning vocational rehabilitation. In Resolution 2003-01, introduced by Curtis Chong, president of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science, we commend the Rehabilitation Services Administration and its commissioner, Dr. Joanne Wilson, for outstanding leadership in the field of rehabilitation.
Resolution 2003-12 was sponsored by Gary Wunder, a member of the national board and president of the NFB of Missouri. In this resolution we urge Congress to leave the law intact regarding presidential appointment of the commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration with the advice and consent of the Senate. H.R. 1261, the Workforce Reinvestment and Adult Education Act of 2003, includes a provision to downgrade the position of commissioner of rehabilitation to a director, who would be appointed by the secretary of education.
Resolution 2003-03 addresses a second concern with H.R. 1261, the Workforce Reinvestment and Adult Education Act of 2003. We strongly oppose the plan in this legislation to place federal vocational rehabilitation funds at the discretion of state governors. This legislation would also allow governors to use vocational rehabilitation funding for one-stop centers. These centers are largely ineffective for blind people because they are inaccessible. Carlos Serván, a member of the national board and president of the NFB of Nebraska, was the author of this resolution.
James Gashel, director of governmental affairs for the National Federation of the Blind, sponsored Resolution 2003-19. This resolution addresses a third concern with H.R. 1261. In this resolution we oppose the exclusion of separate state agencies for the blind from appointment to statewide workforce boards, which help to make policies for one-stop centers.
In Resolution 2003-08 we express our strong opposition to attempts by NISH to alter the blind vendor priority in the Randolph-Sheppard program. Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, sponsored this resolution.
The Ticket to Work program, implemented by the Social Security Administration, is supposed to provide blind and disabled beneficiaries with training and employment services. However, this program encourages low expectations and quick placements. In Resolution 2003-17 we alert blind people to the dangerous implications of the Ticket to Work program. James McCarthy, assistant director of governmental affairs for the National Federation of the Blind, was the author of this resolution.
The Convention passed two resolutions concerning education. Jim Marks, a longtime leader in the NFB's Montana affiliate, introduced Resolution 2003-02. In this resolution we express opposition to certain provisions in H.R.1350, the Improving Educational Results for Children with Disabilities Act, which will reduce parental rights and involvement in the development of their child's individualized educational program.
In Resolution 2003-14 we urge Congress to pass the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act (IMAA), which would require textbook publishers "to make all textbooks routinely available in a standard electronic file format in order to ensure that blind children receive materials in alternative formats at the same time as their sighted peers receive them in print." Although the House of Representatives included some provisions of the IMAA in its version of the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, it omitted such important concepts as the requirement for blind students to receive their textbooks at the same time as their sighted classmates. Allison Hilliker, secretary of the National Association of Blind Students, sponsored this resolution.
In light of the opening of the NFB Research and Training Institute for the Blind, the Convention passed two resolutions concerning research. Dan Burke, a leader in the NFB's Montana affiliate, introduced Resolution 2003-04. In this resolution we commend the NASA Goddard Space Center and its director, Al Diaz, for developing plans to work in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind to encourage blind youth in the fields of math and science.
Noel Nightingale, a member of the national board and president of the NFB of Washington, introduced Resolution 2003-05. In this resolution we call upon the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to initiate research to investigate the effect of quiet cars on blind pedestrians and all pedestrians.
Steve Hastalis, a longtime leader in the NFB of Illinois and an expert on mass transit, introduced two resolutions concerning public transportation. In Resolution 2003-07 we urge Congress to continue to fund Amtrak and to improve passenger train service throughout the nation. In Resolution 2003-13 we also urge Congress to support public transportation options when it reauthorizes surface transportation funding.
Another topic currently under consideration by the Congress is Medicare reform. James Gashel proposed Resolution 2003-20, which commends Senators John McCain and Christopher Dodd for their leadership in promoting accessibility for blind people to the information and instructions on prescription drug labels. The resolution reads in part: Congress is urged to approve "accessibility provisions as part of the final legislation for the Medicare program so that accessible information for the blind is provided on the first day that this historic Medicare expansion takes effect."
This year the convention passed resolutions on three familiar subjects: NAC, APS, and audio description. Carla McQuillan, a member of the national board of directors and president of the NFB of Oregon, sponsored Resolution 2003-09. In this resolution we express our opposition to the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired (NAC). We also "call upon those few remaining, misguided NAC agencies to put the final nail into the coffin by renouncing their membership and supporting our efforts to create a NAC-free world."
James McCarthy was the sponsor of Resolution 2003-11, concerning audible pedestrian signals (APS). In this resolution we call upon the Congress to eliminate references to audible traffic signals and audible signs when it reauthorizes surface transportation legislation. "Decisions regarding the use of audible traffic signals must be made by local transportation officials in consultation with representatives of blind people affected by such decisions."
"The National Federation of the Blind has long maintained that the key barrier to full use of television by blind people is the failure to voice the growing number and variety of words printed on the screen." In Resolution 2003-18 we insist that, if either Congress or the Federal Communications Commission takes up the subject of access for blind viewers, they "mandate universal voicing of text printed to television screens." Peggy Elliott, second vice president of the NFB and president of the NFB of Iowa, and James Gashel were the authors of this resolution.
The Convention passed a second resolution about entertainment. Jason Ewell, first vice president of the National Association of Blind Students, sponsored Resolution 2003-10. We urge directors and production companies in the entertainment industry to consult with the National Federation of the Blind for expert assistance whenever a blind character is to be portrayed in motion pictures, theatrical productions, or television programs.
This information is merely an introductory description of the resolutions considered and passed by the Convention. Readers should examine the complete text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects. The complete text of all resolutions approved by the Convention follows.
National Federation of the Blind 2003 Resolutions
Regarding: Commendation of RSA and Commissioner Wilson
WHEREAS, during the past year the Federal Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), under the leadership of its commissioner, Dr. Joanne Wilson, has provided opportunities for informed discussion and debate about methods of teaching travel and other independence skills to the blind; and
WHEREAS, November 13-15, 2002, the RSA sponsored the first-ever conference on residential training centers for blind adults--a conference hailed by the majority of participants as productive, positive, and exemplary; and
WHEREAS, through the Institute on Rehabilitation Issues, the RSA commissioned a monograph (to be completed this fall) to explore important issues in orientation and mobility training of the blind including the efficacy of blind orientation and mobility instructors and the structured-discovery method; and
WHEREAS, the RSA contracted with James Omvig, a leader in the field of work with the blind, to write the refreshingly straightforward book, Freedom for the Blind: The Secret Is Empowerment, which concisely articulates a positive approach to rehabilitation of the blind and emphasizes a positive, can-do philosophy of blindness; and
WHEREAS, because of RSA's recent leadership efforts, a broad-based discussion of alternative models of rehabilitation is now taking place: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2003, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization strongly commend the Rehabilitation Services Administration and its commissioner, Dr. Joanne Wilson, for outstanding leadership in the field of rehabilitation.
Regarding: Parental Involvement in the Education of Blind Children
WHEREAS, H.R. 1350, the Improving Educational Results for Children with Disabilities Act of 2003, in part purports to re-establish trust between parents and local educational agencies by reducing litigation and also to reduce paperwork in the education process; and
WHEREAS, to reduce litigation, H.R. 1350 would establish limitations against all claims by parents against schools, permitting governors to set the amount of attorney fees payable by law to the lawyers of victorious parents, and establishing a voluntary binding arbitration procedure in addition to the due process procedure already in place for the resolution of disputes between parents and schools; and
WHEREAS, the measures being put into place in the Act to reduce litigation misfire because the measures actually construct barriers to parental pursuit of remedies under the Act; and
WHEREAS, to reduce paperwork, H.R. 1350 would establish an optional three-year Individualized Educational Program (IEP), do away with short-term written objectives used to measure educational progress, and replace short-term objectives with annual reports under the Leave No Child Behind Act; and
WHEREAS, the measures being put into place to reduce paperwork will result in less information being transmitted by schools to parents about their children and less opportunity for parental contact with educators of their children; and
WHEREAS, getting quality educational programs for blind children is already extremely difficult due to factors such as shortages of staff who know what they are doing and the lack of commitment by schools to Braille instruction, H.R. 1350 compounds the difficulty by shifting the balance from that of a shared commitment to one with diminished influence for parents and diminished accountability for local educational agencies; and
WHEREAS, these factors will aggravate parental frustration, lead to a more combative relationship between parents and schools, and drain resources away from education to resolve disputes--all of which are ironic impacts of a law intended to improve education; and
WHEREAS, H.R. 1350 would give schools a lopsided advantage over parents in the resolution of disputes because the Act permits governors to establish limits on attorney fees for victorious parents while providing no such limitation for schools: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED, by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2003, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization call upon the Congress of the United States, in its adoption of legislation to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, to affirm the involvement of parents of blind children in the development and implementation of educational programs for their children and to refrain from constructing barriers to parental pursuit of remedies under the act and reducing measurable disability-based objectives for progress.
Regarding: Vocational Rehabilitation and Workforce Centers
WHEREAS, one-stop centers created under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 are required to serve blind and disabled consumers and must be accessible to people with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, programmatic and physical accessibility are basic principles of nondiscrimination regulations which apply to one-stop centers just as much as they do to all other federally assisted programs; and
WHEREAS, regardless of these requirements, members of the National Federation of the Blind still find that the commitment to accessibility of one-stop centers is more lip service than reality, with access technology either not available, not working, or not staffed with anyone aware of how to use it; and
WHEREAS, H.R. 1261, the Workforce Reinvestment and Adult Education Act of 2003, would further support the one-stop system, which is largely ineffective for blind people, by giving governors virtually unlimited authority to pay for one-stop costs out of federal funds awarded to one-stop partners, including vocational rehabilitation agencies; and
WHEREAS, enacting this authority would establish the unacceptable policy of placing federal vocational rehabilitation funds at the discretion of the governor, rather than being spent as originally intended by Congress: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2003, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization urge the Congress to appropriate funds directly to states for the specific purpose of paying the routine infrastructure costs of one-stop centers; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly oppose broad discretion being provided to the governors to use funds from the vocational rehabilitation program to support the one-stop centers, especially since the centers themselves contribute little or nothing to improving training and employment services to blind people.
Regarding: Commendation of Al Diaz and the NASA Goddard Space Center
WHEREAS, knowledge of science and the universe contributes to the quality of life of both blind and sighted children as well as enhancing educational and career opportunities; and
WHEREAS, the NASA Goddard Space Center supported the development of the landmark tactile book, Touch the Universe, which helps blind children gain a more holistic understanding of the cosmos; and
WHEREAS, Goddard's director, Al Diaz, continues to be a friend of the National Federation of the Blind and to take a personal and active interest in our forward-looking activities; and
WHEREAS, with training and opportunity blind people can compete and have competed on an equal footing with sighted peers in scientific fields; and
WHEREAS, under the leadership of Al Diaz the Goddard Space Center is developing plans to work in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind to encourage blind youth in the fields of math and science; and
WHEREAS, Goddard is also interested in the transfer of technologies developed for the space program which may benefit the blind in our day-to-day lives on the planet Earth, providing staff time, talent, and expertise to that purpose; Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED, by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2003, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization commend the NASA Goddard Space Center and its director, Al Diaz, for exemplary public service as demonstrated by their interest in and efforts toward a partnership with the National Federation of the Blind to improve the lives of the blind through greater understanding of science and to apply its principles more fully to the goals of opportunity and equality.
Regarding: Quiet Cars
WHEREAS, blind people use the sound of traffic to travel independently and safely in the world; and
WHEREAS, in general sighted pedestrians also use the sound of traffic, in combination with other techniques, to travel safely as demonstrated by the use of a mandatory noise on large vehicles backing up; and
WHEREAS, vehicles have become increasingly quiet as greater emphasis has been placed on reducing air and noise pollution and as motor vehicle technology has evolved; and
WHEREAS, vehicles powered by batteries or fuel cells and vehicles powered by a combination of conventional gas engines and electricity, known as hybrid cars, are frequently not detectable by the human ear until the vehicle is within inches of the listener; and
WHEREAS, federal and state requirements based on environmental concerns are leading manufacturers to develop lowered and zero emission vehicles such as electric and hybrid cars that will likely be marketed and bought in greater and greater numbers; and
WHEREAS, as quiet vehicles reach a critical mass on the streets of America and throughout the world, action must be taken to ensure that they emit a noise while in operation or that other solutions are found so that all pedestrians can continue to move safely among such cars and so that such cars are detectable by blind pedestrians to ensure their ability to move safely and independently using nonvisual techniques; and
WHEREAS, audible pedestrian signals at intersections with traffic signals do not solve the problem of quiet cars and pedestrian safety for several reasons, among them that drivers do not always obey traffic signals and that blind pedestrians travel everywhere, including intersections that are not signalized, parking lots, and points where driveways cross pedestrian paths: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED, by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2003, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization express its deep concern that the safe and free travel of blind pedestrians and all pedestrians may be significantly and increasingly impaired by quiet vehicles, a problem that will grow as such vehicles become more prevalent; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this organization call upon the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration within the Department of Transportation to initiate research to be performed with significant participation by the National Federation of the Blind to investigate the effect of quiet cars on blind pedestrians and all pedestrians, with the aim of proposing safety-based solutions to the problem.
RESOLUTION 2003-06 was withdrawn and replaced by Resolution 2003-101
WHEREAS, effective public transportation is essential for blind people to work, travel, and lead productive lives; andWHEREAS, continued federal funding of Amtrak is essential to maintain it as a comprehensive national rail passenger system; and
WHEREAS, many regions throughout the country have initiated rail passenger service; and
WHEREAS, others are considering starting, improving, or expanding them; and
WHEREAS, these ongoing initiatives hold both the promise of improving passenger transportation and the threat of reducing or eliminating these essential services for everyone, including the blind: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2003, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization urge Congress to continue funding Amtrak; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization work with key officials and advocates to sustain and improve passenger train service.
Regarding: Preservation of the Randolph-Sheppard Priority
WHEREAS, the federal Randolph-Sheppard program provides significant entrepreneurial opportunities to blind Americans through a statutory priority to operate vending facilities on federal property; and
WHEREAS, another federal law, the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act, gives nonprofit agencies a priority to sell products or services to the federal government when the products or services are placed on a statutorily mandated procurement list, provided that blind or severely disabled people perform at least 75 percent of the direct-labor hours used to produce the products or services, with agencies employing blind people represented by National Industries for the Blind (NIB) and agencies employing people with severe disabilities represented by NISH (formerly known as National Industries for the Severely Handicapped); and
WHEREAS, NISH has mounted an aggressive challenge to the Randolph-Sheppard priority by acquiring contracts to provide military troop dining services in direct conflict with the statutory priority for blind vendors and has recently convinced the United States Senate to pass a provision in a defense reauthorization bill, hoping eventually to make the Randolph-Sheppard Act inapplicable to troop dining services whenever such services at any particular military installation have been placed on the Javits-Wagner-O'Day procurement list; and
WHEREAS, changing the law to exclude blind vendors from becoming managers of military troop dining facilities would impose a serious and unwarranted restriction on opportunities for blind vendors in favor of low-wage jobs for disabled people, with high pay and substantial benefits going to their nondisabled managers and a percentage of each military troop dining contract being paid directly to NISH, as well: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2003, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization urge the Congress to uphold the blind vendor priority as expressed in the Randolph-Sheppard Act and as implemented at military troop dining facilities; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly oppose any attempts by NISH and its member agencies to alter or dismantle the blind-vendor priority in any way whatsoever.
Regarding: The National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired (NAC)
WHEREAS, NAC (the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired) came to life in 1967 in an era when blindness professionals rather than the blind themselves drove the service system; and
WHEREAS, agencies serving the blind have largely abandoned this "standards-driven" approach and adopted a philosophy of partnerships and cooperative collaboration with blind consumers; and
WHEREAS, over time NAC withered away to a mere shadow of its former self, boasting fewer than 10 percent of the NAC member agencies it had once anticipated; and
WHEREAS, in late 2002 the National Federation of the Blind was invited to sit at the table with NAC leaders to negotiate a change of practices, only to find the same old tired excuses shrouding a flagrant unwillingness to recognize that as blind people we alone have the expertise to identify and access quality services, rendering NAC contra-indicated in its self-appointed capacity; and
WHEREAS, NAC further minimized the role of the NFB, its leaders, its members, and indeed all blind citizens by inviting reputable accrediting bodies to this so-called summit in a thinly veiled attempt to artificially bolster their own diminishing viability in the field; and
WHEREAS, this attempt failed to elicit support from the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities or even enough interest from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations to send a representative to the summit; and
WHEREAS, neither torrential downpours nor flooded sidewalks could quell the spirits or waylay the efforts of Federationists in their quest to educate the public about the hideous atrocities NAC had perpetrated on the blind for more than thirty-six years; and
WHEREAS, only forty-one American agencies now appear on NAC's member rolls, some of which are reported to be delinquent in their payment of fees, thus appearing in name only; Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED, by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2003, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization condemn and deplore the divisive and reprehensible tactics of NAC, exemplified by its dying efforts to re-establish itself as a legitimate accrediting body; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon those few remaining misguided NAC agencies to put the final nail into the coffin by renouncing their membership and supporting our efforts to create a NAC-free world.
Regarding: The Portrayal of Blind Characters and the Casting of Blind Actors
WHEREAS, the major problem faced by blind people in America is the fact that most members of the general public completely misunderstand the true nature of blindness and mistakenly assume that the blind as a class are virtually helpless and incompetent; and
WHEREAS, to remedy this problem, the National Federation of the Blind and its members individually work diligently and in various ways to provide true and accurate information about blindness and blind people; and
WHEREAS, the entertainment industry through motion pictures, theatrical productions, and television programs frequently features blind characters which, more often than not, because of the manner in which they are portrayed, tend to perpetuate the myths and misconceptions about blindness rather than constructively to replace the myths with accurate information; and
WHEREAS, this negative portrayal arises for two primary reasons: first, directors and production companies, who are responsible for composition and casting, have not seen the wisdom of consulting with the National Federation of the Blind to learn from the experts how blind characters should be portrayed; and, second, blind characters are virtually always played by sighted actors who lack knowledge of how blind people should be depicted; and
WHEREAS, since the accurate portrayal of blind characters would do much to improve the public image of blind people, the National Federation of the Blind stands ready to partner as consultants with the entertainment industry, specifically, directors and production companies; and
WHEREAS, many aspiring blind actors would be greatly encouraged to pursue acting careers if they knew that they might be seriously considered for or given priority in filling these roles; and
WHEREAS, various entities exist which currently hold résumés of blind actors who seek the opportunity to perform in motion pictures, theatrical productions, and television programs and serve as growing sources for talented blind actors: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2003, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization urge directors and production companies in the entertainment industry to consult with the National Federation of the Blind for expert assistance whenever a blind character is to be portrayed in a motion picture, theatrical production, or television program; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge directors and production companies in the entertainment industry to seek out blind actors, when appropriate, to portray blind characters, including those known to and available through the organizations that assist actors with disabilities in finding work, and to employ the talents of blind actors to the maximum extent possible in portraying all characters.
Regarding: Federal Funding of Audible Pedestrian Signals
WHEREAS, Section 1202 (G)(2) of the Transportation Equity Act for the Twenty-First Century (TEA-21) requires transportation planners to consider safety of bicyclists and pedestrians and further states that safety considerations "shall include the installation, where appropriate, of audible traffic signals and audible signs at street crossings"; and
WHEREAS, it is assumed, but unproven, that audible traffic signals and audible signs make crossing streets safer; and
WHEREAS, rather than demonstrating that safety is improved, proponents of these audible warnings rely upon the TEA-21 language as indicating a national mandate in favor of their use; and
WHEREAS, the TEA-21 language is not a mandate and is not even needed to authorize use of federal funds for the installation and maintenance of traffic signals, including audible signals; and
WHEREAS, decisions regarding use of audible traffic signals must be made by local transportation officials in consultation with representatives of blind people affected by such decisions; and
WHEREAS, the implication of a national mandate caused by the current TEA-21 language encourages inappropriate installation of audible traffic signals, resulting from the presumption that their use is favored by the federal government, which is not necessarily the case: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2003, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization acknowledge the pending reauthorization of surface transportation legislation and call upon the Congress to eliminate the unnecessary and misleading reference to audible traffic signals and audible signs placed in the law with enactment of TEA-21, since elimination of this reference will not alter the authority to use federal funds, and safety determinations should properly be made at the local level based on facts and not a misapplication of the law.
Regarding: RSA Commissioner Appointment
WHEREAS, the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) is the primary federal agency established to coordinate and fund training, employment, and independent living services for persons who are blind or disabled; and
WHEREAS, in recognition of the important responsibilities of this agency, the commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration is appointed by the president of the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate, a process which encourages and works because of citizen involvement and the direct participation of those elected and accountable to these citizens; and
WHEREAS, in May of 2003 the United States House of Representatives passed H.R. 1261, the Workforce Reinvestment and Adult Education Act of 2003, which reauthorizes the Workforce Investment Act and the Rehabilitation Act, including a provision in that bill to downgrade the position of commissioner of rehabilitation to a "director" to be appointed by the secretary of education and not by the president; and
WHEREAS, since the law establishing the position of commissioner to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, only one commissioner has not been a person with a disability, a fact which stands in stark contrast to the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), which have frequently had nondisabled agency heads; and
WHEREAS, downgrading the commissioner to a director in the Department of Education will also limit the scope of authority for the person in charge of rehabilitation, thus preventing the head of RSA from having direct access to the secretary of education and other federal leaders, including officials at the Office of Management and Budget, the White House, and other cabinet-level departments, depending solely on the assistant secretary of special education and rehabilitative services to speak for RSA both inside and outside the Department of Education; and
WHEREAS, virtually all other programs of significance to the Congress and the executive branch have their heads chosen through the political process namely, appointed by the president with confirmation by the Senate, a policy that should continue to apply to RSA: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2003, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization urge Congress to maintain the law (as established under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) regarding presidential appointment of the commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration with the advice and consent of the Senate and to preserve the title of commissioner for the person charged with the federal effort to carry forward the hopes and aspirations of America's disabled citizens.
Regarding: Mass Transit
WHEREAS, effective public transportation is essential for blind people to work, travel, and lead productive lives; and
WHEREAS, the Transportation Equity Act for the Twenty-First Century (TEA-21) legislation to authorize federal transit funding will expire in 2003 unless Congress either reauthorizes or extends it; and
WHEREAS, the ongoing initiative holds both the promise of improving passenger transportation and the threat of reducing or eliminating this essential service for everyone, including the blind; Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2003, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization urge Congress to support public transportation options in any reauthorization or extension of surface transportation funding; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization work with key officials and advocates to sustain and improve local and regional mass transit service.
Regarding: Access by Blind Children to Textbooks
WHEREAS, the opportunity to obtain a quality education is essential for future success in the job market, and;
WHEREAS, in order to obtain this quality education, students must have access to educational materials, and;
WHEREAS, too often blind children are not provided materials at the same time as their sighted classmates--putting them at a significant educational disadvantage, and;
WHEREAS, textbook conversion into accessible formats can often be a cumbersome process without a standard file format which can be quickly and easily converted into Braille or other media, and;
WHEREAS, a bill pending in Congress titled the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act (IMAA) would require textbook publishers to make all textbooks routinely available in a standard electronic file format in order to ensure that blind children receive materials in alternative formats at the same time as their sighted peers receive them in print, and;
WHEREAS, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1350, its version of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) reauthorization legislation, which includes some provisions of the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act (IMAA) but does not define the file standard or clearly require that blind students receive their textbooks at the same time as their sighted classmates: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind, in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2003, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization urge Congress to pass, as part of its IDEA reauthorization, provisions of the IMAA that require publishers to provide electronic files of textbooks to schools according to the standards which will be outlined by the Center for Applied Special Technologies (CAST); and,
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this organization urge Congress to include the wording, "at the same time as sighted peers," in the IDEA reauthorization, in order to ensure that no blind child will be left behind in any classroom simply because of lack of access to instructional materials that all other students have.
RESOLUTION 2003-15 was withdrawn
RESOLUTION 2003-16 was withdrawn
Regarding: The Ticket to Work
WHEREAS, a program called "Ticket to Work" is being implemented by the Social Security Administration pursuant to the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999; and
WHEREAS, the expressed purpose of this program is to provide blind and disabled beneficiaries with training and employment services, with the goal that they will be able to achieve gainful employment and thereby leave the rolls; and
WHEREAS, agencies called Employment Networks may provide services to beneficiaries who choose them, or beneficiaries can still receive services through state vocational rehabilitation agencies and not participate in this ticket program at all; and
WHEREAS, unlike state vocational rehabilitation agencies which have funds to pay the actual cost of services provided and may then be reimbursed by the Social Security Administration, Employment Networks are paid a fixed fee based on a percentage of average Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income benefits, whichever is applicable to the beneficiary served, with the proviso that payments to an Employment Network are due only for the months during a five-year period when the beneficiary works enough to be off the roles, and payments are not due whenever the beneficiary goes back on the rolls for any reason whatsoever; and
WHEREAS, the relatively small amount of money payable to Employment Networks, the uncertainty over the beneficiary's continued employment prospects spread out over five years, and the overpowering complexity of the ticket program's procedures all combine to produce a rehabilitation-on-the-cheap model, favoring quantity over quality and little or no service over at least some service; and
WHEREAS, rather than encouraging low expectations and quick placements, the National Federation of the Blind supports the philosophy declared by Congress as expressed in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, to assist each person served in achieving employment consistent with the individual's "strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, capabilities, interests, and informed choice": Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED, by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2003, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization condemn and deplore the bounty-hunter mentality of the Social Security Administration's Ticket to Work program as compared to the more positive and enlightened policy direction of the Rehabilitation Act, which promotes quality over quantity in jobs for blind and disabled people; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization actively alert blind people to the dangerous implications of the Ticket to Work program's cheap-and-quick placement strategy and encourage them not to accept this approach.
Regarding: Text on TV Screens Being Voiced
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has long maintained that the key barrier to full use of television by blind people is the failure to voice the growing number and variety of words printed on the screen, ranging from weather and news warnings scrolled across the bottom of the screen to static text used to identify speakers in news shows or phone numbers displayed as part of commercials--all forms of information needed and used by television viewers for health, safety, civic, commercial, and other important information; and
WHEREAS, several years ago the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a rule ignoring the Federation’s efforts to eliminate this barrier and, instead, imposed a requirement to describe visible elements of entertainment programming; and
WHEREAS, challenges to the FCC rule resulted in a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit invalidating the rule because the FCC does not have the statutory authority to enact such a rule; and
WHEREAS, the same court decision made it clear that the FCC currently has the authority to require the universal voicing of printed text in an analogy to the FCC's authority to require closed captioning for deaf viewers, since both are mere renderings in an alternative medium of what is already there; and
WHEREAS, the United States Congress is now considering amendments to the FCC's enabling legislation, including possible amendments affecting provision of material for blind viewers; and
WHEREAS, universal voicing of text printed on the screen is far more important to achieve than describing visible elements of program action, and any congressional action regarding access to television for the blind must not apply exclusively to describing entertainment while leaving the key barrier to blind viewers in place: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED, by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2003, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization insist that Congress and the FCC, if either takes up the subject of access for blind viewers, mandate universal voicing of text printed on television screens, regardless of other requirements, such as describing entertainment, that may be included in the law.
Regarding: Appointments to Statewide Workforce Boards
WHEREAS, legislation is pending in Congress to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, originally enacted in 1998, and including the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended in 1998; and
WHEREAS, a provision in the reauthorization legislation says that the director of the state vocational rehabilitation agency must be appointed to the statewide workforce board used for planning and coordination of services; and
WHEREAS, this same provision also specifies that in states which have separate vocational rehabilitation agencies for the blind, the agency represented on the statewide workforce board will be the one that serves the largest number of individuals; and
WHEREAS, this standard, that only the larger of the two rehabilitation agencies must be represented, leads to the foregone conclusion that agencies for the blind will always be excluded in favor of general agencies; and
WHEREAS, this fact was either known or should have been known by people in the Bush administration and the Congress who proposed and have so far approved this provision, indicating their obvious lack of regard and respect for agencies serving the blind; and
WHEREAS, statewide workforce boards are responsible for initiating decisions and advising the governor on matters which affect agencies for the blind just as much as they affect general agencies, and beyond that the exclusion of agencies for the blind virtually assures that particular needs, such as technology access for the blind in the state's workforce system, will continue to be overlooked due to lack of representation on statewide workforce boards: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2003, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization strongly oppose exclusion of separate state agencies for the blind from statewide workforce boards as presently proposed in federal legislation to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act.
Regarding: Accessible Medicare Information
WHEREAS, Congress has embarked on an effort to make far-reaching changes in the Medicare program, including partial reimbursement to beneficiaries for the cost of prescription drugs; and
WHEREAS, S. 1, the Senate's version of this legislation, now includes an amendment requiring the secretary of health and human services to conduct an eighteen-month study and report back to Congress on ways to make prescription drug labels and instructions accessible to blind people, this amendment sponsored by Senator John McCain and Senator Christopher Dodd and approved by the Senate by unanimous consent; and
WHEREAS, this provision is an important first step in recognizing the need for blind people to have accessible prescription drug information, and Congress should also express the goal of having standards for accessibility in place by the time the prescription drug benefit is actually implemented; and
WHEREAS, information about insurance plans, benefits, and options available under Medicare must also be accessible to blind people, and, to the extent that this is not already done, this new legislation must assure that it is done: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2003, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization commend Senator John McCain and Senator Christopher Dodd for standing up to make accessibility for blind people an important issue to be resolved in the current Medicare debate; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the Congress to approve accessibility provisions as part of the final legislation for the Medicare program so that accessible information for the blind is provided on the first day that this historic Medicare expansion takes effect.
Regarding: Informed Choice
WHEREAS, participants in the vocational rehabilitation program have the right to exercise informed choice in determining their goals, the services they need, and the service providers they want to use; and
WHEREAS, the right of informed choice is clearly stated in Section 102 of the Rehabilitation Act as amended in 1998, changing the long-standing practice of giving agency and counselor determinations more weight than choices made by those receiving service; and
WHEREAS, this right to informed choice in vocational rehabilitation is similar to the right that postsecondary students have to choose the program they want to pursue, without being limited by receipt of student financial aid; and
WHEREAS, taken as a whole, state vocational rehabilitation agencies and private agencies offer adjustment-to-blindness services based on a variety of service models, making it possible for individuals to select the program having the approach they prefer; and
WHEREAS, a few misguided persons who oppose approaches such as required use of sleepshades and no use of guide dogs during training have propounded the view that informed choice gives trainees the right to alter programs and prescribe instructional methods, in a mistaken application of the mandate of informed choice to justify the notion that individuals should be free to dictate the details of program design; and
WHEREAS, this interpretation is a perversion of the policy of informed choice and is fundamentally at odds with modern practices of proven effectiveness in adjustment to blindness now gaining widespread acceptance and use; and
WHEREAS, charging programs centered on cane-travel training with discrimination against guide dog users is an actual example of this perversion, leading to the absurd analogy that students in higher education should have veto power over the faculty in choosing the curriculum and designing courses; and
WHEREAS, in enacting the informed choice right as part of the Rehabilitation Act, Congress intended that individuals would be able to select among programs and not that they would be granted legal standing to alter programs to suit individual demands, any more than higher education students have the right to control the curriculum at a public or private university: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED, by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2003, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization reaffirm its support for informed choice to be exercised as a matter of right by participants in vocational rehabilitation programs and insist that this right not be endangered by misinterpretation for the purpose of furthering a political agenda.
News from the Federation Family
A number of divisions conducted elections during the 2003 convention. Here are the election results we have been told about:
National Association of the Blind in Communities of Faith
Elected to serve two-year terms were Tom Anderson, president; Linda Mentink, vice president; Pam Provost, secretary; and Sam Gleese, treasurer.
National Organization of Blind Educators
The officers elected were president, Sheila Koenig; vice president, Priscilla McKinley; second vice president, J.W. Smith; secretary, Caroline Rounds; treasurer, Cheralyn Creer; and board members, Carolyn Brock and David Ticchi.
National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs
Elected this year were president, Jim Bonerbo; vice president, Barbara Esposito; secretary, Robert Jacquiss; and treasurer, Nick Gupta.
National Association of Blind Piano Technicians
Those elected were president, Don Mitchell; first vice president, Richard Bennett; second vice president, Ron Poire; secretary, Albert Sanchez; and treasurer, Connie Ryan.
Human Services Division
The newly elected officers are president, Melissa Riccobono; first vice president, Marie Kouthoofd; second vice president, David Stayer; secretary, Deb Delorey; treasurer, J.D. Townsend; and board members, Julie Deden and Ruth Stewart.
National Organization of the Senior Blind
This year's officers are president, Judy Sanders; first vice president, Ray McGeorge; second vice president, Roy Hobley; secretary, Christine Hall; treasurer, Paul Dressell; and board members Clayton Hyde and Don Gilmore.
Performing Arts Division
The elected officers are president, Adrienne Snow; vice president, Angela Bradley; secretary, Cheryl Fischer; treasurer, Dennis Holsten; and board member, Jane Elder.
National Association to Promote the Use of Braille
The NAPUB officers elected were president, Nadine Jacobson; first vice president, Robert S. Jaquiss; second vice president, Linda Mentink; secretary, Jennifer Dunnam; and treasurer, Warren Figueiredo.
Diabetes Action Network
Those elected were president, Paul Price; first vice president, Eric Woods; second vice president, Sandy Addy; treasurer, Bruce Peters; secretary, Lois Williams; and board members, Ed Bryant, Joyce Kane, and Josie Armantrout.
National Association of Blind Merchants
At its annual meeting the National Association of Blind Merchants elected five members to its board of directors: Nick Gacos of New Jersey and Kim Williams of Tennessee were re-elected to two-year terms. Also elected to serve two-year terms were Mark Harris of Texas and Lynn Reynolds of New Jersey. Raj Mehta of Georgia was elected to a one-year term.
The following officers were elected: Tom Stevens (Missouri), president; Lori Stayer (New York), vice president; John TeBockhorst (Iowa), secretary; Helen Stevens (Missouri), treasurer; and Jerry Whittle (Louisiana), Robert Newman (Nebraska), Jane Lansaw (Nebraska), and Melba Urban (Iowa), board members.
Congratulations to all these division officers.
Affiliate Web Sites:
Gary Wunder, who chairs a new NFB committee charged with assisting affiliate and division Web masters, provided the following brief report:
As the benefits of having information available electronically have become evident and the new tools for the Internet have made putting up and getting down information easier, more and more of our affiliates have created Web sites to spread the news about the work of the Federation. For the first time we held a meeting of NFB Web masters this year, which drew a larger crowd than we had anticipated. We forgot how many of our divisions and local chapters have or want to have a presence on the Web. The room was crowded and more than a bit hot, but that did nothing to deter those interested in spreading our message about blindness to everyone who owns a computer.
Accessibility is a big issue these days, so the group dedicated itself to ensuring that all NFB Web sites are as accessible as they can be. The certification we offer to businesses and organizations who want to ensure that their sites are accessible to the blind will also be offered to our affiliates. Software for creating good, accessible sites will also be available, and the group pledged itself to develop strategies for the most effective deployment of our message. Our state and chapter sites will have enough consistency that people coming to NFB sites will recognize who we are, and enough individuality to allow each state to bring its own flavor to the Internet-surfing experience.
Please feel free to visit us at <www.nfb.org> and follow the links to our affiliate Web sites. We welcome your suggestions for improving the way we present our Federation message. Join us on our NFB‑WEB mailing list by going to <www.nfbnet.org> and subscribing.
Braille Flea Market:
Sandy Halverson reports that the UPS‑sponsored twentieth anniversary Braille Readers Are Leaders celebration and Braille book flea market took place on Monday, June 30, 2003. After the UPS volunteers transported sixty-five boxes of Braille books to the hotel, several volunteers worked with us to set up the flea market tables. Over two hundred people, at least fifty of whom were children, attended the flea market. Even though many took their books away, UPS volunteers packed and mailed eighty boxes of books to addresses across the country. We raised a little over $1,000 in donations, which will be used for the Braille book flea market we'll conduct next year.
The brief program featured remarks from Dr. Maurer about Braille and a talk about how this contest helped Lora Felty, one of our first contest participants, pursue a career in Braille. Cathy Hicks, the Kentucky School for the Blind librarian, talked about her efforts and success promoting this contest for the last twenty years. Greg Wethington of UPS Employee Relations told us what he and the UPS volunteers had done, not only with this project, but working with the Convention in general. The program convened with a panel titled "Braille Rules" in which Hannah Weatherd, a ten-year-old from Montana; Macy McClain, a thirteen-year-old from Ohio; and Bryce Gitzen, a seven-year-old from Washington state, entertained us with lively presentations which they read in Braille.
We'll soon begin making arrangements for next year's flea market, to be announced later in the Braille Monitor.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: John Jell, national sales manager for the Nestlé Company; Dan Roach, Nestlé Vending Business Manager; Barbara Cheadle, president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children; and Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, stand together holding a large check replica.]
Gift from the Nestlé Company:
Kevan Worley reports that the National Association of Blind Merchants was pleased to highlight a presentation of a $5,000 contribution to the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children from the Nestlé company to support the Braille Readers Are Leaders program. The presentation was made during the Friday morning, July 4, business session.
Even if you missed your chance at the convention, you can still win a brand-new, state-of-the-art Pulse Data notetaker, donated by Adaptive Information Systems. All proceeds go to the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin. This prize is valued at over $2,500. It can also be applied to the purchase of a BrailleNote.
For only $5 for one chance or $25 for six chances, you can walk away with the latest and greatest accessible notetaker for blind people on the market today. The drawing for the VoiceNote will be held on Saturday, October 11, 2003, at the state convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin in Janesville. The lucky winner does not have to be present to win but will be contacted immediately.
Get your tickets by sending your name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address (optional) in either print or Braille along with the money for the number of tickets you want to buy to National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin, 1420 West State Street, Janesville, Wisconsin 53546.
For questions regarding the drawing or the features of the VoiceNote, contact Roger Behm, president of Adaptive Information Systems, (608) 758‑0933, e-mail <[email protected]>.
New Cookbook and Word Search Available:
Tami Dodd Jones, who chairs the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund Committee, has sent the following announcement:
The Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund Committee has two products for sale. The first is a Braille or large-print word search titled "Fifty-two Jobs." It features jobs held by blind Federationists present and past and other blind people in the news. The cost for either the Braille or large-print version is $1. Those who return their answers by October 31, 2003, will be eligible for a drawing with $50 as its prize.
The other product is our new Braille cookbook entitled The Easy Elegant Elephant Cookbook, which features recipes rated on both how easy and how elegant they are. Despite the title of the book, the first recipe is for elephant stew. Lots of fun! More than fifty other yummy and more practical recipes follow.
To purchase either of these products, contact Tami Jones, 403 Milton Street, Valparaiso, Indiana 46385; phone (219) 548-0076; e-mail <[email protected]>.
Writers Division Report:
The Writers Division conducted its twenty-first annual meeting with Dr. Floyd Matson, noted author and lecturer, as our guest speaker. We also had notable success with a poetry reading session on the Saturday before the convention convened, and we will repeat this in Atlanta in 2004. The division held quite successful short story fiction and poetry writing contests. First-place winner in the short story fiction contest was Christine Faltz of New York, and Bonnie Lannom of New Jersey took second place. In the poetry contest Shelly Alongi of California took first place, and second place went to Rudy Makoul of California. For further details on the contest winners and their writing, see the division's magazine, Slate & Style. Jerry Whittle of Louisiana wrote and produced another superlative play regarding blindness.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Square Whozit pin, gold or silver, $10; gold and enamel, $15 ]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Whozit outline pin, gold, $15; silver, $10]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Whozit charm, gold, $15; silver, $10]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Whozit earrings, gold $25; sterling silver, $20]
Whozit Jewelry Now Available:
The last time we ordered new jewelry incorporating the NFB logo was in the early 1970's. Now that Whozit is an active part of Federation life, we have all new sterling silver and gold pins, charms, and earrings. All pins have the reliable, easy-to-use military back, not a pin with safety clasp. The earrings, with French hooks, and charms, which can also be used as pendants by threading a chain through the loop, are in the form of the free-standing Whozit figure. Pins are available in the Whozit outline and a square with Whozit etched in the center. Both the gold outline and gold square pins come in two types: with a brushed gold Whozit or with Whozit in full color. The square sterling pins come only with a brushed silver Whozit or in a silver outline.
Order your Whozit jewelry today. It is stylish and dignified. Place credit-card orders at <[email protected]>, or send checks to Materials Center, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998.
Interest Group Report:
The National Federation of the Blind in Judaism, an NFB interest group, conducted its second annual meeting at this year's convention. The group celebrated the Sabbath and discussed issues of common concern to blind Jews, in particular, continued difficulties with JBI International. Thirty‑five people attended the event.
With deep regret we must report that on August 17, 2003, Glen Rounds, husband of the 2003 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship winner, Caroline Rounds, died unexpectedly. The couple had just celebrated their thirty-second wedding anniversary that day and returned home for the evening when Glen died. We extend deepest sympathy to Caroline and the couple's three adult children.
Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.
Attention Those Aging with Hearing and Vision Loss:
Mississippi State University's Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Blindness and Low Vision, in collaboration with the Helen Keller National Center on Deaf-Blind Youth and Adults and the RRTC for Persons Who are Hard of Hearing or Late Deafened, is currently working on a five-year research project concerning people aging with vision and hearing loss. We attended this year's NFB convention and would like to thank all those who stopped by our booth to learn about the project. We also wanted to have the opportunity to inform those of you who didn't attend the conference about the project and ask for your help.
The project focuses on people who are visually or hearing impaired and experience a secondary onset of hearing or vision loss resulting from aging. Older people who experience both vision and hearing loss are often isolated due to a lack of access to technology, communication systems, and transportation. The primary goals of this project are to determine the needs that exist for this group of people and the best way to address those needs in order to improve the everyday lives of those aging with sensory impairments.
We are recruiting people to participate in this project. If you have experienced both a hearing and vision loss and are fifty-five years or older, we request your participation in our study group. Participation as a study group member would involve completing surveys and possibly participating in an interview. Only a small amount of your time would be required, and your contribution would benefit not only you but others who are aging with vision and hearing loss. Any information you provide us would remain strictly confidential.
If you would like to participate or if you have any questions, please contact B.J. LeJeune or Michele Capella at (800) 675-7782 or e-mail them at <[email protected]>. Additional information about the project and a study group application form can also be obtained at <http://www.blind.msstate.edu/pahvl/pahvl.html>.
Constitution of the National Federation of the Blind
as Amended 1986
ARTICLE I. NAME
The name of this organization is the National Federation of the Blind.
ARTICLE II. PURPOSE
The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is to serve as a vehicle for collective action by the blind of the nation; to function as a mechanism through which the blind and interested sighted persons can come together in local, state, and national meetings to plan and carry out programs to improve the quality of life for the blind; to provide a means of collective action for parents of blind children; to promote the vocational, cultural, and social advancement of the blind; to achieve the integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality with the sighted; and to take any other action which will improve the overall condition and standard of living of the blind.
ARTICLE III. MEMBERSHIP
Section A. The membership of the National Federation of the Blind shall consist of the members of the state affiliates, the members of divisions, and members at large. Members of divisions and members at large shall have the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities in the National Federation of the Blind as members of state affiliates.
The board of directors shall establish procedures for admission of divisions and shall determine the structure of divisions. The divisions shall, with the approval of the board, adopt constitutions and determine their membership policies. Membership in divisions shall not be conditioned upon membership in state affiliates.
The board of directors shall establish procedures for admission of members at large, determine how many classes of such members shall be established, and determine the annual dues to be paid by members of each class.
Section B. Each state or territorial possession of the United States, including the District of Columbia, having an affiliate shall have one vote at the national convention. These organizations shall be referred to as state affiliates.
Section C. State affiliates shall be organizations of the blind controlled by the blind. No organization shall be recognized as an "organization of the blind controlled by the blind" unless at least a majority of its voting members and a majority of the voting members of each of its local chapters are blind.
Section D. The board of directors shall establish procedures for the admission of state affiliates. There shall be only one state affiliate in each state.
Section E. Any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division of this organization may be suspended, expelled, or otherwise disciplined for misconduct or for activity unbecoming to a member or affiliate of this organization by a two-thirds vote of the board of directors or by a simple majority of the states present and voting at a national convention. If the action is to be taken by the board, there must be good cause, and a good faith effort must have been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If the action is to be taken by the Convention, notice must be given on the preceding day at an open board meeting or a session of the Convention. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause," or whether the board made a "good faith effort," the national convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the board's action is reversed by the national convention, the ruling of the board shall continue in effect.
ARTICLE IV. OFFICERS, BOARD OF DIRECTORS, AND NATIONAL ADVISORY BOARD
Section A. The officers of the National Federation of the Blind shall be: (1) president, (2) first vice president, (3) second vice president, (4) secretary, and (5) treasurer. They shall be elected biennially.
Section B. The officers shall be elected by majority vote of the state affiliates present and voting at a national convention. Section C. The National Federation of the Blind shall have a board of directors, which shall be composed of the five officers and twelve additional members, six of whom shall be elected at the annual convention during even-numbered years and six of whom shall be elected at the annual convention during odd-numbered years. The members of the board of directors shall serve for two-year terms.
Section D. The board of directors may, in its discretion, create a national advisory board and determine the duties and qualifications of the members of the national advisory board.
ARTICLE V. POWERS AND DUTIES OF THE CONVENTION, THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS, AND THE PRESIDENT
Section A. Powers and Duties of the Convention. The Convention is the supreme authority of the Federation. It is the legislature of the Federation. As such, it has final authority with respect to all issues of policy. Its decisions shall be made after opportunity has been afforded for full and fair discussion. Delegates and members in attendance may participate in all Convention discussions as a matter of right. Any member of the Federation may make or second motions, propose nominations, serve on committees, and is eligible for election to office, except that only blind members may be elected to the national board. Voting and making motions by proxy are prohibited. Consistent with the democratic character of the Federation, Convention meetings shall be so conducted as to prevent parliamentary maneuvers which would have the effect of interfering with the expression of the will of the majority on any question, or with the rights of the minority to full and fair presentation of their views. The Convention is not merely a gathering of representatives of separate state organizations. It is a meeting of the Federation at the national level in its character as a national organization. Committees of the Federation are committees of the national organization. The nominating committee shall consist of one member from each state affiliate represented at the Convention, and each state affiliate shall appoint its member to the committee. From among the members of the committee, the president shall appoint a chairperson.
Section B. Powers and Duties of the Board of Directors. The function of the board of directors as the governing body of the Federation between Conventions is to make policies when necessary and not in conflict with the policies adopted by the Convention. Policy decisions which can reasonably be postponed until the next meeting of the national convention shall not be made by the board of directors. The board of directors shall serve as a credentials committee. It shall have the power to deal with organizational problems presented to it by any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division; shall decide appeals regarding the validity of elections in local chapters, state affiliates, or divisions; and shall certify the credentials of delegates when questions regarding the validity of such credentials arise. By a two-thirds vote the board may suspend one of its members for violation of a policy of the organization or for other action unbecoming to a member of the Federation. By a two-thirds vote the board may reorganize any local chapter, state affiliate, or division. The board may not suspend one of its own members or reorganize a local chapter, state affiliate, or division except for good cause and after a good-faith effort has been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause" or whether the board made a "good-faith effort," the national convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the board's action is reversed by the national convention, the ruling of the board shall continue in effect. There shall be a standing subcommittee of the board of directors which shall consist of three members. The committee shall be known as the subcommittee on budget and finance. It shall, whenever it deems necessary, recommend to the board of directors principles of budgeting, accounting procedures, and methods of financing the Federation program; and shall consult with the president on major expenditures.
The board of directors shall meet at the time of each national convention. It shall hold other meetings on the call of the president or on the written request of any five members.
Section C. Powers and Duties of the President. The president is the principal administrative officer of the Federation. In this capacity his or her duties consist of carrying out the policies adopted by the Convention; conducting the day-to-day management of the affairs of the Federation; authorizing expenditures from the Federation treasury in accordance with and in implementation of the policies established by the Convention; appointing all committees of the Federation except the nominating committee; coordinating all activities of the Federation, including the work of other officers and of committees; hiring, supervising, and dismissing staff members and other employees of the Federation, and determining their numbers and compensation; taking all administrative actions necessary and proper to put into effect the programs and accomplish the purposes of the Federation. The implementation and administration of the interim policies adopted by the board of directors are the responsibility of the president as principal administrative officer of the Federation.
ARTICLE VI. STATE AFFILIATES
Any organized group desiring to become a state affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind shall apply for affiliation by submitting to the president of the National Federation of the Blind a copy of its constitution and a list of the names and addresses of its elected officers. Under procedures to be established by the board of directors, action shall be taken on the application. If the action is affirmative, the National Federation of the Blind shall issue to the organization a charter of affiliation. Upon request of the national president the state affiliate shall provide to the national president the names and addresses of its members. Copies of all amendments to the constitution and/or bylaws of an affiliate shall be sent without delay to the national president. No organization shall be accepted as an affiliate and no organization shall remain an affiliate unless at least a majority of its voting members are blind. The president, vice president (or vice presidents), and at least a majority of the executive committee or board of directors of the state affiliate and of all of its local chapters must be blind. Affiliates must not merely be social organizations but must formulate programs and actively work to promote the economic and social betterment of the blind. Affiliates and their local chapters must comply with the provisions of the constitution of the Federation.
Policy decisions of the Federation are binding upon all affiliates and local chapters, and the affiliate and its local chapters must participate affirmatively in carrying out such policy decisions. The name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof is the property of the National Federation of the Blind; and any affiliate or local chapter of an affiliate which ceases to be part of the National Federation of the Blind (for whatever reason) shall forthwith forfeit the right to use the name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof.
A general convention of the membership of an affiliate or of the elected delegates of the membership must be held and its principal executive officers must be elected at least once every two years. There can be no closed membership. Proxy voting is prohibited in state affiliates and local chapters. Each affiliate must have a written constitution or bylaws setting forth its structure, the authority of its officers, and the basic procedures which it will follow. No publicly contributed funds may be divided among the membership of an affiliate or local chapter on the basis of membership, and (upon request from the national office) an affiliate or local chapter must present an accounting of all of its receipts and expenditures. An affiliate or local chapter must not indulge in attacks upon the officers, board members, leaders, or members of the Federation or upon the organization itself outside of the organization, and must not allow its officers or members to indulge in such attacks. This requirement shall not be interpreted to interfere with the right of an affiliate or local chapter, or its officers or members, to carry on a political campaign inside the Federation for election to office or to achieve policy changes. However, the organization will not sanction or permit deliberate, sustained campaigns of internal organizational destruction by state affiliates, local chapters, or members. No affiliate or local chapter may join or support, or allow its officers or members to join or support, any temporary or permanent organization inside the Federation which has not received the sanction and approval of the Federation.
ARTICLE VII. DISSOLUTION
In the event of dissolution, all assets of the organization shall be given to an organization with similar purposes which has received a 501(c)(3) certification by the Internal Revenue Service.
ARTICLE VIII. AMENDMENTS
This constitution may be amended at any regular annual convention of the Federation by an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the state affiliates registered, present, and voting; provided that the proposed amendment shall have been signed by five state affiliates in good standing and that it shall have been presented to the president the day before final action by the Convention.
I pledge to participate actively in the efforts 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.