THE BRAILLE MONITOR
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 21230-4998
Web site address: http://www.nfb.org
NFB-NEWSLINE® number: 1-888-882-1629
Letters to the president, address changes, subscription requests, and orders for NFB literature should be sent to the National Office. Articles for the Monitor and letters to the editor may also be sent to the National Office or may be emailed to [email protected]
Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about twenty-five dollars per year. Members are invited, and nonmembers are requested, to cover the subscription cost. Donations should be made payable to National Federation of the Blind and sent to:
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 46, No. 10 November, 2003
Victory in the Moynihan Case
by James Moynihan
A Town Built on Empowerment
by Laura Sullivan
Another Accessibility Challenge
by Curtis Chong
First Impressions: My Conversion into Blindness
by Joy Thomas
My Second National Convention and I Am Still Growing
by Katrilla H. Martin
The 2004 National Federation of the Blind
A German Voyager's Bold Vision for Tibet's Blind
by Jim Yardley
A Rehabilitationist's Notebook:
Oliver Sacks on Blindness
by Anthony R. Candela
From India with Hope
by Deborah Kent Stein
The Learning Curve
by Marnie Utz
Blind Teens Gain Work Experience during
Center's Summer Program
by Shawna Hickman
A New Beginning
by Al Spooner
Copyright © 2003 National Federation of the Blind
On September 12, 2003, between five and six hundred cyclists rallied at Battery Park near the site of the World Trade Center and then walked to the river to be ferried across to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, where they mounted bicycles, tandems, and hand-operated bikes for a two-day ride to the Capitol in Washington, D.C. They were taking part in the World T.E.A.M. Sports Face of America 2003.
Erik Weihenmayer, the blind climber who summited Mt. Everest in 2001 sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind, sits on the World T.E.A.M. Sports board. Because of this connection the NFB fielded four tandem teams for this year's event. They raised almost $8,000, to be divided equally between the NFB and World T.E.A.M Sports.
[LEAD PHOTO/CAPTION: NFB staff members taking part in the Face of America ride stand with President Maurer in front of the National Center. Left to right are Maurice Peret, Holly Mooney, Marc Maurer, John Brennan, and Karen Friedman. The tandem bicycle ridden by the Mooney-Peret team is visible behind Mrs. Mooney.]
[LEAD PHOTO/CAPTION: The NFB team poses for a photograph in New York. Left to right standing are Karen Friedman, holding the NFB flag; Betsy Zaborowski, NFB director of special programs; Michael Gosse; Kristen Cox, director of the Governor's Office for Individuals with Disabilities; Marty Buhrow; and Brian Buhrow. Kneeling (left to right) are Holly Mooney, Maurice Peret, and John Brennan, recently appointed chief of staff in the Governor's Office for Individuals with Disabilities.]
[LEAD PHOTO/CAPTION: Face of America riders gather at the West Front of the Capitol building for closing ceremonies.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Jim Moynihan]
Victory in the Moynihan Case
by James Moynihan
From the Editor: Jim Moynihan is a longtime Federationist and a leader of the NFB of Missouri. For the past four years he has been engaged in a struggle for justice in his job with the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, of all unlikely places. One would have thought that those working to enforce civil rights would be the first to practice fairness in employment, but apparently this was not the case. Here is the Moynihan story as told by Jim himself:
What happens when a blind federal employee applies for promotion only to encounter discrimination at every turn? This is the account of my struggle to obtain a GS13 position with the Office for Civil Rights, (OCR), U. S. Department of Education. Our regional office is located in Kansas City, Missouri.
OCR's mission is to enforce civil rights statutes such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. As a federal agency OCR is obligated to hire, promote, and provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.
Angela Marie Bennett became office director on March 17, 1997. Her management style has been characterized by secretiveness and stealth--the less employees know, the better. She announced that anything from zero to four GS13 positions would become available. These promotions rarely come along and are highly prized. They mean more money in the paycheck, and retirement income is based on the salary during the last three years before retirement.
Nobody knew what the criteria for these promotions would be. Would seniority matter? Would work performance count? Management said that nine candidates would be interviewed for the GS13 positions. The interviews would be conducted on January 27 and 28, 1999.
Steve Stratton, the program manager, and the four team leaders--John Nigro, Michael Hamilton, Safiyyah Muhammad, and Jody van Wey--were to conduct the interviews. John Nigro was and still is my team leader and is a paraplegic who uses a wheelchair. Some people have said, and I am sure he would agree with their assessment, that he is the office's guru on disability.
At this time Patricia Boyd (Pat) was the president of American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union local 3892. On January 25, 1999, Pat was working flexiplace at home, which allows federal workers to complete approved projects at home. Pat received a telephone call from Kay Schlagle, one of the nine candidates. Kay began asking Pat how she would answer certain questions on Title IX, Title VI, and other civil rights statutes. Pat asked Kay why she was asking her such questions.
Kay told Pat that the interview was going to be based strictly on OCR policies, procedures, and memoranda. Pat had previously been selected for a GS13 position and assured Kay that the interview would be nothing like that. When Kay insisted these were to be the kind of questions on the interview, Pat asked her why she thought this, and she responded that John Nigro had told her so. Though Pat was skeptical of Kay's description of the interview process, she told Kay she had conducted training for equal opportunity assistants and that Kay could find a wealth of materials in Pat's credenza.
That was all Kay needed. She told an attorney on our team that she could not complete an assigned project because she needed three days to study for the oral interview. (Pat did not tell me about this conversation with Kay until after the oral interviews had taken place because she has integrity and because in that way I could truthfully say that I had had no knowledge of the questions to be asked.)
Pat then emailed Angela Bennett that a potential problem had emerged with the oral interview process and requested a meeting with Angela, but Angela ignored her email. The promotion interviews took place on January 27 and 28, 1999, with my interview taking place on the 28th. I was the seventh candidate interviewed.
The interview comprised eighteen questions regarding OCR regulations, policies, and procedures. For example, one question asked about the three-part test used in Title IX athletics cases. This concerns allegations of sex discrimination, usually against female athletes. I happened to know that answer because I had just read something on Title IX athletics. Otherwise I might have known only two out of three parts. Getting this question right, however, had no bearing on the ability of an investigator to process Title IX athletics cases.
I rode home with Pat Boyd after the interview, and she asked me how it had gone. Only after I described the interview, did she reveal that John Nigro had divulged the nature of the questions to Kay Schlagle prior to the interview. I found it incredible that my own team leader would give away the questions on an interview to another member of my team. John Nigro has since steadfastly denied under oath giving information regarding the interview to Kay Schlagle, and Kay has denied under oath receiving information from Mr. Nigro.
Angela Bennett soon received complaints from candidates that the oral-interview process had been tainted. She appointed Steven Stratton, the program manager, to investigate this matter. Steve interviewed only three people and concluded that no clear evidence existed that the oral-interview process had been tainted.
On February 24, 1999, Angela sent an email to the nine candidates saying that we would have a ten-minute interview with her on the 24th and she gave us a schedule of times when the interviews would be conducted. She added that it was not necessary to dress up for the interview. Of course we speculated about what Angela could ask that would take only ten minutes, but we could only wait for the appointed time.
Taking nothing for granted, I selected my best suit and tie. On the morning of February 24 I was sitting in the OCR conference room, watching films on black history. Angela's secretary called me out of the room and said that she had noticed that I had not opened the latest email from Angela. She then told me that a written interview exam would take place at 2:00 p.m. The other eight candidates would take their written exams across the street in the fancy Regional Training Facility.
She said they would be given the choice of handwriting their exams or using a computer. She stressed that the interviews would be anonymous. She would type the exams of the candidates who chose to handwrite their exams so that they would be anonymous. The candidates were not to put their names on their exams. Each one would be assigned a number to ensure anonymity.
During the EEO investigation I asked Angela why the other eight candidates were given the option of either handwriting their exams or typing them on the computer. Everyone in the office had received computer training. Angela explained that some of her staff did not feel comfortable using computers and were allowed to handwrite their exams. I, on the other hand, was not given any alternatives, such as writing my exam in Braille to be transcribed into print. I was simply told to use the computer in my office.
What happened to the ten-minute interview with Angela? She later explained in her EEO testimony that she had hated to use such a ruse but that this was the only way to ensure that the employees would show up for the written exam.
I was shocked and bewildered. Since we had undergone an oral interview, why were we being subjected to a written one? But there was nothing for it but to take the written exam. I was told that Steve Stratton would proctor my exam in my office. Steve explained that I had from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. to complete the exam.
It contained six tough questions about OCR regulations, policies, and procedures. Steve read the questions to me, repeated sections of the multiple-part questions where necessary, and remained with me throughout the exam. He assured me that the examinations would be anonymous and that I was not to sign my document.
The exams would be assigned a number. My exam was number 7, since I was the seventh candidate interviewed orally. I felt pressed for time and in my anxiety did not think to ask for extra time as a reasonable accommodation. Slightly before 4:00 p.m. I finished the exam.
Remember that everything I wrote was on the screen, which Steve could observe. I printed out my exam answers. Steve took the pages out of the printer and placed them in an envelope, marking number 7 on it.
Angela was proctoring the exam for the other eight candidates at the training facility. She called to see if I had completed the exam, and Steve said that I was done. According to Angela, the other candidates were panicking, running out of time, but Angela said she told them to stop since I had finished. After all, fair is fair.
When the numbering system for ensuring anonymity was explained to the candidates, one of them, Diana Goold, pointed out to Angela in an email that her system for ensuring anonymity was fatally flawed. For example, if she was the third candidate interviewed on the oral exam, her identity would be disclosed by checking her number on the written exam against the list of oral interview candidates.
Angela thanked Diana for pointing out this problem. In hindsight Diana should have waited until after Angela announced her selectees to disclose this problem.
Angela said later that, while driving north on I29 to work, she noticed the numbers on passing automobiles. She called her secretary with the solution to the anonymity problem. She would assign a license number to each candidate.
Nobody knew how many candidates for the GS13 positions would be selected and what the criteria would be. The suspense ended late Friday, March 13, 1999. With one exception Angela announced the selected candidates by email. They were Jim Weston, Kay Schlagle, Vicki Taylor, Natalie Hauser, and Jeannetta Bogan. Angela told Diana Goold in person that she had not been selected; the others who lost out were Lawrence Lee, Adrienne Payne, and I.
I was shocked, then angry. I was far more competent than several of the selectees, and I resented receiving the information by email rather than in person. We soon noticed that none of the union officials had been chosen. Lawrence Lee was the union vice president, Diana Goold was chief steward, and I was the steward.
I filed an EEO complaint with the Department on July 6, 1999. I contacted President Maurer and explained the situation to him. He agreed that I had been discriminated against and said the Federation would provide financial support. Gary Wunder, Missouri affiliate president and national board member, agreed to be my representative. I owe him a debt of gratitude that I will never be able to repay.
The representative could attend the EEO hearing only as an observer. He could not make statements or participate in the hearing. When warranted, he could call for a break to take me aside to confer. I could only ask questions (what they call interrogatories) of witnesses and could not make statements. I was not used to this format nor accustomed to running my own investigations. On several occasions Gary had to call me out of the room, urging me to follow the format laid out by the EEO investigator.
The way Angela had chosen the five candidates soon became apparent. In her EEO testimony Angela claimed that the selection was based solely on the combined scores of the oral and written interviews. Seniority and work performance meant absolutely nothing. Angela said that she wanted to test the knowledge base of the candidates in making her selections. She probably believed she had created a complaint-proof system of selecting the candidates.
But further analysis revealed that the selections had actually been based on the oral interviews. The oral-interview process had been called into question, with good reason. So the written interview was added so that Angela could say that nobody had had prior knowledge of that exam.
After filing my EEO complaint, I was given the investigative file containing the ratings by the team leaders on the oral interview panel, supposedly an objective exam on OCR policies and procedures. The ratings indicated that the team leaders could not be trusted; it was time to settle old scores. For example, Mr. Nigro, who had given information about the interview questions to Kay Schlagle, ranked her number 1. The other panelists ranked Natalie Hauser number 1.
Safiyyah Muhammad ranked Diana Goold number seven, but the other panelists all ranked her much higher. Safiyyah was black and clearly saw Diana as a white female from a privileged background. Also Diana was on Safiyyah's team and never hesitated to voice her disagreements with him.
I was ranked number seven by Jody van Wey, but higher by the other panelists. John Nigro ranked me five, and Steve Stratton ranked me third. I had worked for years with Jody, and she was not happy having a blind employee. The problem revolved around her relationship with an employee on her team named Joe Monahan. Jody and Joe were married, but not to each other. They both lived in Independence, Missouri, and drove to and from work together. They always went to lunch with each other and did on-site investigations, taking adjoining hotel rooms with a connecting door. They were frequently observed holding hands. My former branch chief chided them for playing footsy in staff meetings. At a party at the regional director's home my wife, who has some sight, observed Jody sitting on Joe's lap.
Years ago there was office talk about not selecting Jody as branch chief. When she called me into her office to ask what was going on, I told her that people were concerned about her relationship with Joe. Jody gave a forced laugh, saying she and Joe were just friends. I did not contradict her.
Splitting the Baby
The EEO investigator wrote a good report on the complaint, but it contained no conclusions. I made a critical mistake by opting for a decision by the Department's general counsel rather than a hearing by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The decision stated that the Department was in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the ADA by failing to provide reasonable accommodations for the written portion of the test. A notice of this decision was to be posted on OCR's bulletin board for sixty days and should not be altered or defaced. The OCR managers were required to attend eight hours of disability training.
The problem with the decision was that, even though the Department was in violation of the civil rights statutes it enforces, the Department attorneys ruled that this was not enough to constitute discrimination and that there was no individual remedy. In other words, I would not receive a GS13 position.
The decision also stated that I could appeal this ruling to the EEOC. My elation at finding that the general counsel had found the Department in violation was overshadowed by the knowledge that I would not receive the promotion to which I felt I was entitled. Where was I to go?
For over twenty years I have belonged to AFGE local 3892, and I knew that they maintained a legal services office. I shipped the two thick notebooks constituting my case file to the union's legal services department in Washington, D.C. I had several conversations with a union attorney.
A few weeks later I received a letter from her saying that the union could not help me with my case. She explained that my case affected only one person and was not precedent-setting. She said the union had limited resources and had to make sure its funds were spent effectively.
I began my own search for an attorney and eventually hired Dale Ingram, who developed a ten-page legal brief which EEOC received on May 18, 2001. Ingram explained that the oral interview process had been tainted, as revealed in contradictory testimony from the witnesses who participated in the EEO hearing. He argued that the main problem was the failure of the written interview to ensure my anonymity. He requested that the case be remanded back to the Department for additional investigation.
The most difficult part of such a process is the waiting. EEOC deals with cases alleging discrimination in the area of employment. It had a backlog of 100,000 complaints and a staff of fifty lawyers. Gary Wunder and the Missouri affiliate were just about my only encouragement. Gary put my case on the agenda at board meetings, and meeting after meeting I regularly informed the patient board members and audience that I had no news.
I also sent letters to Senator Carnahan and Senator Bond about my case. Melissa Ortega, staff member in Senator Bond's office, was particularly helpful. She succeeded in advancing my case upward in the mountainous pile of cases to be assigned. On June 26, 2002, she gave me the encouraging news that my case had been assigned to an attorney.
I called, and the attorney of the week told me that they would not give me the name of the attorney to whom my case had been assigned. There were to be no ex parte discussions (talking) between the complainant and the assigned attorney.
I then asked how my case would be decided if I could not talk to the attorney to tell him or her at length about the discrimination on the basis of blindness to which I had been subjected. She explained that the case would be decided on the record, that is, by the evidence contained in the case file.
How long would it take for the assigned attorney to render a decision? There was no telling. It would depend on the schedule of the assigned attorney and the complexity of the case. Moreover, the attorney's decision would have to be reviewed by his or her supervisor before the final decision was signed by the EEOC director.
On August 27, 2002, my lawyer reported that he had received the decision from EEOC and that I had won my case. The EEOC decision provided for the GS13 with back pay and interest and attorneys' fees. The Department had thirty days to appeal EEOC's decision.
I showed this decision to an attorney knowledgeable in civil rights. He could not believe the totality of the decision. I had won on every point.
The EEOC decision said that Bill Dittmeier had used the wrong legal theory, disparate impact, in writing the Department's EEO decision. He should have used the legal theory known as different treatment. Disparate impact refers to groups of people such as minorities, women, or people with disabilities. For example, an investigation might establish that a smaller percentage of minorities than expected had been admitted to law school or, as is often the case, that a higher percentage of minority high school students had been suspended for disciplinary reasons. These bad numbers as we call them are not enough to prove that discrimination has occurred, but they are a good indicator that further investigation is warranted.
On the other hand, different treatment refers to the treatment given to a particular individual. Of the nine applicants I was the only person with a disability who applied for the GS13 position and was not, therefore, part of a group. The question, as Bill Dittmeier should have known, was whether I had been treated differently when rejected for a GS13 position.
The EEOC decision ordered the Department to provide me the GS13 position with back pay and interest. It ordered the Department to post a notice on the Department's bulletin board and leave it there for sixty days and not to alter or deface the notice. The OCR managers were also to take disability training.
EEOC's decision stated that OCR, and in particular Angela Bennett and Steve Stratton, had failed to provide reasonable accommodation regarding the administration of the written exam. OCR had taken elaborate steps to ensure anonymity and assured all nine candidates that their examination answers would be anonymous to prevent bias. But the same person, Steven Stratton, who proctored my exam, also scored it. Such an arrangement clearly did not protect my anonymity since Steve was present throughout the exam, took my exam out of the printer, and sealed it in the envelope.
Response of the Department of Education
Yogi Berra was right again when he said, "It ain't over until it's over." The Department of Education was not giving up. On October 3, 2002, the Department appealed EEOC's decision in its usual confusing way. I telephoned EEOC around October 15 and was told that EEOC had received a cover letter notifying them that the Department wished to appeal its decision and that the appeal would be coming under separate cover. I explained that I had not received a copy of the appeal and contacted the Department's EEO office. The Department's response had been sent to me at 445 East 7th Street by certified letter, which never reached me, because I live on 74th Street.
My attorney hadn't received a copy of the Department's response either. When I contacted EEOC, they told me that my attorney was not listed as my representative. This was puzzling since EEOC had sent him a copy of its favorable August 27 decision. I then telephoned the Department's EEO office to obtain a copy of its response to the EEOC decision. An EEO specialist told me she had better things to do than send me a copy of the response. She explained that this was her last day before she transferred to HUD. She said she was delegating this matter to another specialist.
On October 18 I received a call from an EEO specialist who said that she had faxed a copy to the government union office at work and another copy to my attorney.
The response said that the oral interview counted for 450 points and the written interview constituted 25 points. Thus the written interview counted for only 5 percent of the total points on which the candidates were graded.
They agreed to rectify the problem by giving me a perfect score of 25 points on the exam. With these points added, I would still not have sufficient points to be selected for the GS13 position.
My attorney contacted EEOC and was told that they had not received a copy of the Department's response, so he faxed a copy of the Department's response to them. Now EEOC had the Department of Education's Request for Reconsideration in its hands. I contacted EEOC and was told that the Request for Reconsideration had not been assigned to an attorney because EEOC had 9,000 cases and a staff of fifty attorneys to process them.
I contacted Senator Bond's office requesting the senator's assistance in getting my case assigned to an attorney. I eventually found out that the Request for Reconsideration had been assigned to an attorney. The assigned attorney makes a decision, which is then passed on to a panel of attorneys to review.
If the panel concurs, the decision is then given to the EEOC director for his signoff. If the final EEOC decision is in the complainant's favor, a compliance officer is then assigned to monitor mandatory compliance of the employer with EEOC's order.
We were back in the waiting game. On June 25, 2003, I called EEOC's Office of Federal Operations. I was told that EEOC had reached a decision. Was the decision favorable or unfavorable? I asked. She could not tell me the outcome, but she said the decision was dated June 19, 2003. On June 26 I heard officially from my attorney that I had won the case and eventually received notice of this fact by mail. I would receive the GS13 promotion with back pay, interest, and attorneys' fees. EEOC had sixty days from the June 19 decision date to offer me the GS13.
On July 22, 2003, the Department of Education's EEO office sent a certified letter offering me the GS13 position. The letter did not reach my house until July 28; I responded on the same day, sending an overnight letter accepting the position. The Department of Education's EEO office will compute the amount of back pay and interest to which I am entitled from March 26, 1999, to July 28, 2003, when I accepted the GS13 promotion. After four years of struggle, we finally achieved victory. I am indebted to members of the Federation and to the organization itself for its patience and steadfast support that culminated in success.
A Town Built on Empowerment
by Laura Sullivan
From the Editor: On Sunday, September 14, 2003, the following article appeared in the Sun Journal, a section of the Baltimore Sun. It is an excellent example of the wrong-headed reporting that results when a zealous institutional public relations office gets hold of an unthinking reporter and feeds her or him a story that fits perfectly with the writer's preexisting prejudices. Such pieces cry out for rebuttal, and this one received two letters to the editor. Here are the original article and both letters sent to the paper:
The heavy Alabama heat hangs low over the square of this old Southern town, rising from the pavement beneath the remnants of fancy opera houses and hotels built on the back of the railroad. It could be any other small town, fumbling forward through a century of economic spurts and hardships. And yet there is something different about this place, almost imperceptible at first, but there once you notice it: one in every ten people who live here is blind or deaf.
Largely a result of being home to one of the nation's oldest schools for the blind and deaf, Talladega has drawn people who are sight‑ or hearing‑impaired. The more people have settled here, the more other people want to.
"People graduate and stay here, or they relocate here so their kids can go to school here," says town historian Tommy Moorehead, director of the Heritage Hall Museum. "There's lots of employment here. People learn the lay of the land. Sometimes it's just easier to stay."
The signs are subtle but everywhere: A man passes the town square, stops at the street corner, and presses a button on a pole. "You can cross Battle Street now," the pole tells him, as the man continues on without missing a beat.
The menus at the local McDonald's are written in Braille. The sidewalks are flawlessly even. And most people-‑even non‑impaired people such as the teen‑age girl behind the pizza counter, the store manager at the local pharmacy, the town's police officers-‑have an unconscious habit of signing while talking, no matter whom they are talking to.
Talladega, an Indian word meaning "border town," for its once central location between two great historic Native American tribes, saw its heyday in the late 1800's and early 1900's when a newly built railroad brought thirty trains a day to the center of town.
Business thrived, and the century‑old plantations and manor houses built during that era still line the quiet neighborhood streets. Even then, though, the nucleus of the town was the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind.
Founded before the Civil War by a doctor whose little brother was deaf, the institute has grown over the past century and a half into one of the most renowned institutions for impaired people in the country. The institute runs three of the town's four schools that cater to people who are deaf, blind, or impaired. They are the Alabama School for the Blind, the Alabama School for the Deaf, and the Helen Keller School of Alabama for children or adults who have multiple disabilities.
The institute also runs the Alabama Industries for the Blind, a $10 million‑a‑year enterprise that employs hundreds of deaf and blind people, who make, among dozens of other items, every tie worn by a man in the four branches of the military.
But the institute also employs plenty of non‑impaired Talladega residents-‑more than 1,100 work at the institute or one of its many branches.
"AIDB is such a part of Talladega, you can't see one without the other," says Lisa Sams, a specialist with the Office of Institutional Advancement at the institute and a lifelong resident. "AIDB has certainly helped the [town's] economy, we employ so many people," Sams says. "But it also keeps so many folks coming in and out of town, and a lot of times people decide to settle here. I think they find the small‑Southern‑town community hospitable."
Despite the institute's reputation, though, little is known about Talladega outside the town limits. The reputation it has is more for being close to a NASCAR speedway than anything else.
"We're the best‑kept secret," Sams says. This community "is a way of life. When you go outside to other cities, you look around and actually notice, nobody's signing here."
Along the historic town square and the newer commercial streets crowded with fast-food restaurants, the Winn-Dixie and the Piggly Wiggly, signing is everywhere, from the checkout counters to the video‑rental shop, where all the movies come with optional subtitles.
Where in most towns access between strip mall parking lots is usually blocked, Talladega's strip malls have pathways linking one shopping area to the next, and any hanging branches are carefully clipped. Some blind people in Talladega are so comfortable on the streets and sidewalks that they keep their canes folded up.
Kim Casey, the manager of the local McDonald's, whose boyfriend is blind, says that because Talladega has always been so conscientious about meeting people's needs-‑both disabled and non‑disabled-‑it makes it easy for everyone to just blend together as people.
"I love it here. It's like ... " she pauses, searching for a word. Her hands think of it first.
"It's too cool. It's one of a kind," she says, signing. "But you'll never hear about it." She doesn't remember when exactly she learned to sign. She just always has.
For many years, town officials say, it seemed people would attend one of the schools, either moving here with their parents or staying as boarders, but then would leave after they graduated. The schools emphasize independence, even adventure, and encourage students to go out and join the world.
Back then the schools' higher education programs focused on trade skills, such as piano tuning for blind students, that could be taken anywhere. They also taught broom making, a craft that takes years to learn.
But in recent years, educated under the philosophy that they could do anything, fewer students wanted to stay around to make brooms. Those who left, having developed careers outside Talladega, didn't find much reason to come back.
The advent of computers brought another change. The institute's industries have grown and changed, bringing in millions of dollars, all of which goes to pay salaries and enhance the schools. The industry arm makes computer supplies and designs programs, jobs that many former students find rewarding and are returning to take part in.
Ray Fulghum graduated from the Alabama School for the Blind in 1956. He left Talladega to join a company that makes pianos. For thirty-seven years he lived all over the state, eventually going into business for himself.
By the early 1990's his best friend, whom he met in the school's dorm in second grade, had moved back to Talladega. Fulghum decided to return too, after landing a job with one of the institute's industries.
"I ventured out, I did my thing," Fulghum says. "But sometimes there's something to be said about being in a place where everyone is just like you."
Fulghum has been around blind people his whole life. Both his parents, who also went to the school here, were blind, and so are his son and a granddaughter, all stricken by congenital cataracts. His great‑nephew, though, born with the same problem, has some sight, thanks to advances in medical technology that have corrected the cataracts.
"It's hard out there to get people to accept people with disabilities," Fulghum says. "You get tired of being stereotyped, of people thinking you're drunk.
"People here, they're used to it," he says. "They don't think anything about blind people walking around town. Everybody intermingles here, and life just goes on."
There you have the article. Here is the letter from Michael Jones, president of the NFB of Alabama and a past employee of the institute:
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Michael Jones]
September 15, 2003
Dear Sun Editor:
Please allow me to comment on the Sunday Sun's article regarding "A Town Built on Empowerment." I was a resident of this community for more than four years, and "empowerment" would be the last word that would come to my mind in describing Talladega. I was shocked by the shameless promotion in which your reporter engaged with apparently very little research. Reading this article, one is led to believe that Talladega is a forward thinking and technically progressive community, at least for people with disabilities. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I found the town to be extremely backward in attitudes about the capabilities of people who are blind or disabled. Consider for example a visit that I made to a doctor's office. The personnel in that office were extremely nervous and uncomfortable in their dealings with me. They continually asked me if anyone was with me. Of course no one was since I am quite capable of traveling independently, but this information seemed to unnerve them. I asked one person if she was used to interacting with blind people, and her response was shocking, especially for a town that is supposed to be so progressive. She said, "We are used to you people being brought over by an instructor, not coming alone."
Mr. Moorehead, director of the Heritage Hall Museum of the City of Talladega, brags that people move to Talladega for employment. One wonders where he arrives at such information when the unemployment rate for Talladega is 9.3 percent, a figure almost twice the state average. One also finds it hard to believe that blind and deaf people find the industries for the blind a great employment bonanza, considering that the average wage for a blind worker is a paltry $5.91 per hour.
Lest one think that blind people are getting their fair share from the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind employment opportunity, one might (and your reporter should) consider further that not one blind person out of the reported 1,100 employees of the institute is employed in an administrative or managerial job. That means that not one blind person is empowered with the authority to make decisions at the institute. Furthermore, blind people are empowered with a full 1 percent of the workforce beyond that of production workers at the institute in Talladega.
Now the institute is not alone in its lack of employment of blind people. The local city and county governments have empowered blind people with jobs in their structure at a rate of 0 percent. It is a pity that your reporter could not have opened her eyes to see beyond the rose-colored veil that was pulled over them. I wonder if she asked any of the merchants if they empowered blind people with a job in their businesses.
Empowerment is not, as Talladega would have one believe, red lights that make noise, smooth sidewalks, or smiling faces. It is dignity one achieves by self-confidence gained by belief in one's abilities and competent training. Blind people who think of themselves as appearing drunk are not examples of empowerment, nor are they examples of the type of quality training that one would expect to come from an institute that trains blind people to live in the world. However, poor training standards at the Talladega-based institute are the norm rather than the exception. Consider for example this past year's high school graduation class from the school for the deaf, where only one student out of twenty-eight earned a regular Alabama high school diploma. Also consider that fewer than 10 percent of the school for the blind's graduates ever finish college.
Talladega brags about being the best-kept secret. There is a reason for the town of 15,000 being unknown: it needs to be.
J. Michael Jones, President
National Federation of the Blind of Alabama
Now here is the letter NFB President Marc Maurer wrote:
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Marc Maurer]
September 17, 2003
Dear Sun Editor:
I am writing in response to the Sunday Sun's article titled, "A Town Built on Empowerment." As president of the National Federation of the Blind, a 50,000-member consumer and advocacy organization of blind people, located in Baltimore since 1978, I am disturbed by the implications of this article and especially the incongruity of the story with its title. Where is the empowerment if one's world is redesigned to meet every possible obstacle--a busy street, an uneven sidewalk, or a hanging branch? Where is the empowerment when the aspects of everyday walking are so altered, no matter the well-intended reasons?
I don't doubt that living in Talladega is pleasant. It is a town that takes special care to protect the blind from inconvenience or perceived harm and has a citizenry with a sensitivity and awareness of the concerns of disabled people (Braille menus are welcomed by the blind in any restaurant). But isn't there an implication in the article that living in any other city, Baltimore for example, or New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, would be too difficult or scary for a blind person?
We at the National Federation of the Blind believe that it is impractical and unrealistic to expect major changes in the world in order to be able to live in and enjoy it. And we want to be able to live where we need or want to be. Therefore our advocacy is for more and better mobility training (training that will provide the strategies needed to cross busy streets, to check for hanging branches or uneven sidewalks) and, of course, for more information in Braille. As a blind man I have learned the techniques of travel, and most street crossings (other than ones so dangerous we might all wish for some assistance) will not benefit from audible traffic signals. But I can't read print, access the flat-screen ATM, or surf Web sites not compatible with speech output devices. These are the barriers to education and jobs for which I will require modification.
The National Federation of the Blind has for more than sixty years understood what is really needed to improve the lives of the blind, and its members have been dedicated in meeting the challenge to provide what is needed. In January 2004 the NFB will open its Research and Training Institute in south Federal Hill. The Institute will conduct research into the most effective methods for teaching our children Braille, the technologies needed to improve nonvisual access, and the strategies needed to allow our senior blind to continue living independent lives. The Institute will develop, evaluate, and implement programs to increase employment opportunities for the blind. Provide us the training that prepares us for the opportunities in education and employment, and we will go about our lives very much like everyone else.
Marc Maurer, President
National Federation of the Blind
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Curtis Chong]
Another Accessibility Challenge
by Curtis Chong
From the Editor: Curtis Chong is president of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science. He now lives and works in Iowa. We increasingly hear frustrated comments from Federationists who have butted their heads against the problem Curtis describes in the following article. It will be important in the months ahead for those who have firsthand experience of the problem to register their objections to the companies keeping them out. Remember that the NFB's technology department is prepared to work with Web site developers to ensure that blind users are not shut out. Here is the article:
A growing number of Web sites have started to implement a new method for protecting their valuable data. It involves the display of a picture of text which the computer user must then copy into an edit box. The theory behind this verification scheme is that a human is smart enough to extract the text from the graphic and enter it into an edit box, while software is not. Web sites do not appreciate having their data extracted by automated systems, which can steal more information in a few seconds than a human can in an entire day. The unfortunate result for the blind is that, since our screen-access programs can't extract information from the picture of text displayed, we are effectively blocked from any service secured in this way.
My first encounter with this approach to protecting a Web site occurred about two years ago when I signed up for PayPal, which is a service for people to send money to each other over the Internet. At that time I was asked to copy a string of text displayed on the screen into the appropriate edit box. I was also informed that, if I couldn't see the text, I should click on an accessibility link. When I chose this accessibility link, I was then presented with a choice to play an audio file which would speak the text I was supposed to copy. Even though the recording of text was extremely poor, I was able to sign up for the PayPal service with the help of my trusty Perkins Brailler.
I confess that at the time, even though I was a bit unhappy with the difficulty of signing up for PayPal, I promptly forgot about the problem and went on to do other things. After all, I was done with the sign-up process that had so inconvenienced me, and I subsequently had no problem getting into PayPal whenever I wanted to use it.
My next encounter with the graphical verification scheme occurred last spring when Tom Wlodkowski, director of accessibility for America Online (AOL), came to me with a problem. He said that AOL was looking for a way to prevent computer programs from acquiring screen names for its Instant Messaging service. The method that the company had decided to use was the very same one that PayPal had implemented years before. He wanted to discuss various ways for the blind to acquire a screen name without being blocked by the graphical verification method. I suggested the approach that PayPal had used, but apparently there was a technical reason why it could not be implemented. Reluctantly both Tom and I finally decided that the only immediate way to solve the problem was to suggest that anyone who could not see the graphic of text to be copied should contact AOL at a toll-free number that would be spoken by the screen reading software but not displayed on the screen. Both of us agreed that, working together, we would need to develop a long-term solution that would be more acceptable to everyone.
Now consider Network Solutions (www.networksolutions.com) and its "WhoIs" service. The WhoIs service allows you to obtain information about Internet domains such as nfb.org, npr.org, microsoft.com, or any other domain registered with Network Solutions. This service is supposed to be available freely to everyone. But today it is not available to the blind. Every time you inquire about a specific domain using the WhoIs service, you are required to enter a string of text that must match text contained in a graphic shown on the screen. This is not a one-time inconvenience. Oh, no--this is a real show stopper for the blind! Perhaps most aggravating of all, unlike AOL, Network Solutions never even considered discussing its implementation with anyone in the blind community.
Now I hear some of you asking, "Who cares about accessing information about domain names?" Good question. The fact is that what Network Solutions is doing is only the beginning of what could turn out to be a very serious problem for us. If security administrators get the notion that this graphical verification scheme actually works (and it does), they are more than likely to implement it for all sign-in procedures, and that means that the blind will not be able to sign in anywhere this approach is used. Forget about putting "alt-text" on all graphics or any other accessibility requirements for the Web. If we can't sign in, it doesn't really matter how accessible a particular site may be. If we can't sign in, we can't access anything.
On August 10, 2003, on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science, I sent a letter to the president and chief executive officer of Network Solutions, one W.G. (Champion) Mitchell. It took more than a month, but early in September I received a phone call from Shelley Rawlings, Network Solutions' director of customer care. Ms. Rawlings and I engaged in some frank telephone and email discussions. The result of our discussion is this.
In the short term Network Solutions will implement what is, to us, an unsatisfactory procedure to allow blind people access to its WhoIs service. A message will appear on its Web site urging customers who are unable to interpret the graphical picture of text to call the Network Solutions toll-free customer service number. In theory a customer service agent will be able to help a blind person to interpret the string of text and thus gain entry to the WhoIs service. I say "in theory" because Ms. Rawlings was not forthcoming with specific information about how the entire process would work. In the longer term I was able to secure from Ms. Rawlings an agreement to have the National Federation of the Blind meet with engineers from Network Solutions to discuss a more acceptable solution to the problem. However, Ms. Rawlings made it quite clear that such a meeting would not happen any time this year.
A cynical person might say that what Network Solutions has done is to buy some time--time which it probably needs to deal with a problem it never anticipated in the first place. Such a person might also maintain that Network Solutions has no real interest in solving the problem and will consequently put us off as long as it can. I would prefer to think that the company is sincerely interested in solving the problem, and to this end I am fully prepared to articulate our position at the earliest possible opportunity.
I will be the first to admit that we, the blind, do not have the kind of technical expertise that is available to companies like Network Solutions. However, we do have a unique knowledge of how blind people use computers. Network Solutions, on the other hand, has the engineering talent to protect its assets and, if it chooses to do so, the wherewithal to implement a solution to the WhoIs access problem that makes everybody happy. Accordingly, I believe it is our responsibility to tell the company how we want a solution to behave, from the blind computer user's point of view, and let the company figure out how to develop it. Assuming that we can get one company to do the right thing, it will be somewhat easier to deal with other companies when, as I fear will ultimately happen, they decide to protect their assets by requiring everyone to copy a string of text from a graphic shown on the screen every time the person wishes to sign in.
Before we can suggest any solutions to the graphical verification problem, it is important for us to understand that graphical verification is not likely to go away anytime soon. The state of technology today is such that this method of protection actually does prevent computer programs from stealing valuable data. Accordingly, we cannot simply demand that a company stop using it. We have to try to meet them halfway.
To begin with, I submit that any solution involving a phone call to a customer service agent is not acceptable under any circumstances. While we might reluctantly agree to this as an interim measure, we should not settle for a permanent solution that requires us to call someone every time we need to have a string of text verified.
Second, I do not object in principle to the procedure implemented by PayPal in which the computer user can play an audio file to hear the string of text that must be entered. What I do object to is the way in which PayPal has implemented this system. The problem with the current implementation is that the quality of the audio is extremely poor, and there is no way to repeat what has been spoken. However, if a company chooses to provide audio information of a better quality and if a repeat function is available, then an audio file which speaks the text string to be copied can serve as an acceptable solution for the blind.
Finally, if a company such as Network Solutions does not want to implement an acceptable audio approach, we could suggest the way the security interface should behave from the blind computer user's point of view and let the engineers figure out how to make it happen. It is conceivable, for example, that we might suggest an entirely new way of verification which proves that the computer user is in fact a human being, while at the same time making it difficult or impossible for automated solutions to hack into the system.
Consider, for example, a string of text that might be displayed in a fully accessible (to the screen-access software) edit box. Instead of copying all of the text, the computer user might be asked to select certain specific characters from the string and enter them into the verification area. The choice of what characters to copy could vary randomly, and the instructions could be written in such a way as to make them impossible (or at least fairly difficult) for intrusion software to comprehend. This is only one of many schemes I could think of, given enough time.
But before we can begin to contemplate the techniques that might be employed to supplant the graphical-verification technology that is growing in popularity, it is critical for the dialogue to begin between companies considering this technology for security and the organized blind. I am happy to report that the dialogue that began last spring between AOL and the NFB continues. We have the beginnings of some positive dialogue with Network Solutions. And I have every hope that as Federationists we will exercise the methods we know well to begin discussions with other companies as we become aware of their use of this technology.
Make no mistake: graphical verification works. It protects Web sites from automated data-grabbing software and, for the time being at least, the blind. While it is mostly an annoyance that some of us have tolerated over the years, if unchecked, it will become the next accessibility barrier for the blind. I am confident that we as active members of the National Federation of the Blind will not let that happen.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Joy Thomas]
First Impressions: My Conversion into Blindness
by Joy Thomas
From the Editor: Ordinarily I would hold stories like the next two for the December issue, where the convention bulletin appears. My reasoning is usually that articles recounting the powerful impact of a national convention may help persuade a reader or two to decide to attend the annual convention of the NFB during the following summer. With the convention bulletin right there, such folks might just make their reservations immediately and begin planning for the event that could change their lives.
These stories are appearing in November because this issue also includes the announcement of the national scholarship program for 2004. Our program is far and away the most valuable one in the blindness field, and it is important for us all to recognize that fact and take pride in it. But this is only the first truth to acknowledge. Ask most scholarship winners, and they will tell you that the most important gift they have received from the NFB scholarship program is the organization itself and the freedom and independence one can acquire as a result of adopting the NFB philosophy.
Joy Thomas is a graduate student in education at Aurora University in Illinois. She plans to teach Spanish and social studies in middle school and to get a Ph.D. in educational policy. She is well on her way to becoming an outstanding teacher and mentor. Here is the story of her first convention:
In every person's life there comes a turning point where one must choose between what is true and what has lived inside as a lie for his or her entire life. It always helps if one knows the difference between fact and fiction when it comes time to make such a decision. Oftentimes, realizing this difference occurs because of a particular person or relationship. For me that person was my scholarship mentor on one of the final days of the convention, and the relationship is with the NFB.
As a scholarship winner new to the NFB and therefore new to the national convention, I felt overwhelmed when I first arrived in Louisville. I had never been around so many blind people. I felt as if I was at a busy marketplace in a foreign country. But instead of hearing, "Potatoes--four for a dollar!" I heard "East Tower this way! West Tower over here! Get your snack pack here!"
From the moment I stepped off the plane, people asked what I thought of the convention. I thought to myself, "Think of what? The convention hasn't really started." Then it began, and I had no excuse for not having a solid answer when people asked my opinion. Not until later did I realize people were not really asking what I thought about a particular session or meeting. They were wondering what I thought about the NFB's philosophy of blindness, and at the time I really had no answer.
When people began sharing their NFB experiences with me, many of which were reminiscent of a religious conversion, I admit I was a bit skeptical at first. I just waited for my own experiences in order to form my opinions.
When I came to the convention, I naively thought that the convention began with the first general session and of course ended on Friday with the final session. While this may be technically true, the convention really begins when we, the blind, first set foot in the hotel, where we share experiences, encouragement, and a common cause.
After a few days of speakers, seminars, and motivating conversations with Federationists, I certainly felt energized. Yet I still did not get it. I thought I did, and I know I tried to convince others that I did. But my Thursday mentor saw right through me.
Since he was speaking at one of the general sessions that day, we really had no time to talk except during the short intermissions when door prizes were called. Yet he took that time to lean over and say exactly what I needed to hear at exactly the right point in my life. In a gentle yet firm way he laid it all out for me to ponder. Knowing that I have retinitis pigmentosa and currently have high-partial vision, he said that it might be easy to fall into the trap of the hierarchy of sight, but chances are that I will lose more vision in the future and therefore need to think about the way I view blindness. "If you think of yourself as luckier or somehow better than someone who is totally blind, what does that say about what you think of yourself compared to totally sighted people?" That hit me--hard. Tears began to form in my eyes and slowly roll down my cheeks--tears of regret for the times I, or another blind person, tried to speak on behalf of the needs of blind people; tears of shame for the many times I have tried to fake being totally sighted; tears of sadness for the times I looked at my life as a culminating tragedy; tears of bitterness for the times I let people make excuses and decisions for me; and tears of joy for the freedom that I have found. It is respectable to be blind.
This mentor also told me his own story and explained that he did not want me to end up, like he did, at age fifty with a law practice and five kids, but with no blindness skills. He encouraged me to seek out effective blindness training where I am now. And he ended with "You will be okay." And for the first time in my life, I believed it.
To some degree I have felt inferior my entire life. I used to wonder how my life would have been if I had had perfect sight. What accomplishments would I have made? What different relationships would I have? What strange questions to ask myself.
The national convention was not about the scholarship, although I originally thought it was. It was about the nineteen-year-old I met who had a better outlook on blindness after being blind for four months than I have after losing vision over twenty-five years. It was about laughing over blind-moment stories with fellow Federationists until 4:30 a.m. It was about learning to embrace my future instead of fear it.
So, yes, in a way I was converted, but not to some strange religion for blind people. My outlook on blindness was transformed, and I choose fact over fiction: blind people are not defective sighted persons.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Katrilla Martin]
My Second National Convention and I Am Still Growing
by Katrilla H. Martin
From the Editor: The following article appeared in the summer 2003 issue of the Vigilant, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. Katrilla Martin has been a member of the NFB for only a short time. However, she has incorporated the positive philosophy of the Federation into her own and her family's life. Now read about her experiences at her second convention, where she was an NFB scholarship winner.
In October of 2001 I went to my first NFB chapter meeting. It was in Fredericksburg (the chapter was only a month old when I became a member). Blind people in Fredericksburg decided it was time for them to become visible as an integral part of the small, conservative, family-friendly community. One year later the new chapter's twenty core members demonstrated our potential by hosting the NFB of Virginia's 2002 state convention in our city. What a wonderful way to celebrate our chapter's first year.
I hold the Virginia affiliate in high regard. Our state officers demonstrate effective leadership through their dedicated effort, whether it's traveling several hundred miles to attend a chapter function or meeting a financial need so that everyone who would like to attend a convention can do so. I deeply appreciate their leadership.
Not only are the state officers extraordinary, but the NFBV members are themselves changing what it means to be blind by doing what they can to impart Federation philosophy to loved ones, co-workers, colleagues, state agencies, and other blind Virginians. Because of one of those members, Robert (Mac) McDonald, who established a fellowship program, I had the opportunity to attend the 2002 NFB national convention.
It was my first national convention, and to say the very least, I was overwhelmed! My family and I drove twelve hours from Fredericksburg to Louisville. It was a beautiful drive through the mountain country of West Virginia.
Once we checked in at the Hyatt Regency, we immediately went to the Galt House to register. We visited the exhibit hall, the Sensory Safari, and the hotel's restaurant before heading back to our room at the Hyatt. Nearly every day, we followed the same pattern of activities and meetings. I would rise, dress, eat, and head to the Galt House for sessions. My husband and son would meet me for lunch, and we would all attend the afternoon activities. Most evenings I skipped dinner because I wanted to attend every session possible. From the National Association of Blind Students (NABS) meeting to the NFB-NEWSLINE demonstrations, I was there.
That week I never met an unfriendly soul; I felt the love of my new NFB family. On the drive home I remember feeling newly empowered, as if I bore the letters "NFB" on my chest. At that convention I had felt like a member of a majority, and I didn't feel embarrassed when my cane tapped the foot of a sighted person. That new confidence took me well into the next summer when I attended my second convention.
Oh yeah, I was hooked. Although my second national convention was held in the same city as my first, my experiences at the 2003 convention as a national scholarship winner were very different. Yet the spirit of the Federation remained positive and upbeat. No long hours of giving directions from the passenger seat of our car--this time we flew to Kentucky. It was the first time flying for my son and husband. I was reminded how much we still have to do to educate airline employees. The flight attendant told my son and husband to make sure they mask themselves first before helping the blind invalid. How surprised that crew member was when I informed her that they would most likely need my assistance since it was my umpteenth time flying, and I was certified in CPR, first aid, and public emergency. My school, Mary Washington College, requires certification in these skills.
At this convention I vowed that I would pace myself. I focused on attending division meetings, the state caucus, and convention sessions--all of which related to my new status as a national scholarship winner. I didn't attend as many meetings as I had the previous year, but I did pace myself and seemed to get more out of each session. At the general sessions I was unable to yell from my home state; however, I was able to do so from five other states while I followed my scholarship mentors. As a scholarship winner I was assigned a daily mentor and sat with that mentor's delegation that day. It was great to get to know Federationists from New York, New Jersey, California, Hawaii, Maryland, and Texas, but I missed sitting with my fellow Virginians.
Highlights from this convention included the close bonding of the 2003 national scholarship winners, the banquet address, the interplay and jests between Dr. Maurer and Door Prize Diane, the confidence behind our logo, Whozit, and the realization that I am a living example of the NFB message the symbol embodies.
On Friday, July 4, at 5:00 p.m. the convention ended too abruptly for me. On the flight home I began to make my own resolutions. To begin with, I will become more involved in my state's student division, distribute more NFB literature whenever the opportunity arises, and enroll in an NFB-affiliated center to gain proper training.
My experience in Louisville was a fun-filled learning opportunity times two. Louisville will always be special to me because of that. As I lie in my bed wondering what is in store in HOT-lanta in 2004, I fall asleep with two conventions under my belt and memories of both echoing in my head. I can still hear the phrases: "Excuse me, I didn't mean to step on your dog. What state are you from?" "Get your Iowa scissors!" "Which way to the general session?" "We won't quit!" "Now, Mr. Gashel, he said that he would consider it." "Get your Jernigan raffle tickets! "How about a door prize, Diane?" "Katrilla Martin, Virginia, Virginia." "Get on the PAC Plan."
The 2004 National Federation of the
Blind Scholarship Program
This year's scholarship program will be the twenty-first since the organization determined to expand the number, variety, and value of the scholarships presented each year at our annual convention in July. Assisting the nation's most talented postsecondary students to fulfill their academic and professional dreams is one of the most effective ways for us to demonstrate our conviction that blind people deserve the chance to enter whatever field they demonstrate themselves equipped to succeed in.
Scholarships will be presented this year to thirty college, vocational-school, and graduate students. Again this year the NFB awards will range in value from $3,000 to $12,000. This top scholarship has been named the Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship and is presented by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. We will, of course, also bring the winners as our guests to the 2004 convention of the National Federation of the Blind to experience firsthand the excitement and stimulation of a gathering of the largest and most dynamic organization of blind people in the country today.
Again we plan to present at least three of the scholarships to students who won scholarship awards in a previous competition. The purpose of these special awards is to nurture in today's students an ongoing commitment to the philosophy and objectives of the Federation. The students so designated will be recognized and honored as the 2004 tenBroek Fellows. All current students who were scholarship winners in previous years should take particular note of this program and consider applying for the 2004 National Federation of the Blind scholarships.
Full-time employees interested in pursuing postsecondary degrees should take a close look at the scholarship form because one award may be given to a part-time student holding down a full-time job.
Every state affiliate and local chapter can help in spreading the word of this extraordinary opportunity for America's blind students. The scholarship application is now available for downloading from the NFB Web site <www.nfb.org>, and forms have been or soon will be mailed to financial aid offices in educational institutions around the country. Many of these will be filed away and forgotten by the time students come to ask about financial assistance. It is very helpful to have local representatives deliver or mail forms to the actual college administrator who works with blind students. Being identified with such a valuable national scholarship program gives the local chapter and state affiliate prestige and respect, and the local touch insures that more blind students will actually have an opportunity to apply for these scholarships.
Anyone can order scholarship forms from the Materials Center, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, or <[email protected]>. State presidents and members of the 2004 Scholarship Committee will also be sent scholarship forms. These may be copied as long as all sides of the form are reproduced. The 2004 scholarship form is now downloadable from our Web site, <www.nfb.org>. Please do what you can to spread the word about this program.
Planned giving takes place when a contributor decides to leave a substantial gift to charity. It means planning as you would for any substantial purchase--a house, college tuition, or a car. The most common forms of planned giving are wills and life insurance policies. There are also several planned giving options through which you can simultaneously give a substantial contribution to the National Federation of the Blind, obtain a tax deduction, and receive lifetime income now or in the future. For more information write or call the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.
A German Voyager's Bold Vision for Tibet's Blind
by Jim Yardley
From the Editor: The following story appeared in the September 20, 2003, edition of the New York Times. Whenever I read anything about Sabriye Tenberken's work with the blind children of Tibet, I am reminded of the lyrics of the song, "High Hopes," all about an ant who succeeded in moving a rubber tree plant. No one thought it could be done because of the overwhelming size of the problem, but the ant was not discouraged, and neither was Ms. Tenberken. Her life and work are a reminder that remarkable things can be done by those who refuse to take no for an answer. Her attitudes and teaching techniques will seem familiar to those acquainted with the methods and philosophy of NFB training centers. Here is the story:
Upon arriving in Tibet, Sabriye Tenberken decided to tour the countryside, not from the comfort of a car, but atop the hard saddle of a horse. It was a chancy decision, not only because the rugged Tibetan landscape can be unforgiving and treacherous, but also because Ms. Tenberken is blind.
She thought the horse was perfect. She knew that blindness carried a terrible stigma in many parts of Tibet, and she had been told that many blind children were living in isolated, rural villages. She had started riding as a child in her native Germany, one of many lessons in self-reliance, and she wanted to instill a similar sense of independence in Tibetan blind children. So she saddled a horse and, with three other people, began riding.
She was less prepared for what she and her traveling companions discovered. "It was quite depressing," she recalled. "We met blind children who were four or five years old and looked like infants. They hadn't learned to walk because their parents hadn't taught them."
The memories are still fresh six years later, though now Ms. Tenberken is seated in a bright second-floor sitting room above the school she has founded for blind Tibetan children in the land she has adopted.
Her partner, both personally and professionally, Paul Kronenberg, is working on a computer in the next room, as voices of children drift through an open window from a courtyard below. The children are practicing a play written by one of them.
In a Himalayan region known as "the roof of the world," where high-altitude sun exposure contributes to unusually high rates of eye disease, Ms. Tenberken and Mr. Kronenberg, who is sighted, now run Braille Without Borders, a program for blind children in Tibet.
She created the first Tibetan Braille system, which she is now teaching to her students, and her memoir about Tibet, now available in the United States, was popular in Germany.
Nor is Ms. Tenberken, thirty-three, finished. In coming months she and Mr. Kronenberg plan to open a second Braille Without Borders program in northern India, a first step in their goal of expanding their work to other developing countries. Mr. Kronenberg, an engineer by training, is also trying to develop a lighter, less expensive Braille machine.
Tall, with straight, sandy brown hair, Ms. Tenberken still remembers the skepticism she faced when she presented her plans to local officials in Tibet. She had first tried to get a job with different international aid groups, but she says she was told that blind people were prohibited from doing field work.
So she decided to start her own organization. Everyone, she remembered, thought she was crazy. "They couldn't imagine I could come to Tibet," she recalled. "They said, `It's not possible. She's blind; who can take care of her; who can take her around?'"
The chaotic streets of the old Tibetan quarter near the Jokhang Monastery present a disconcerting mess for sighted people, yet Ms. Tenberken navigates them herself and expects her students to learn to do the same. Her own childhood was filled with such challenges.
Ms. Tenberken was raised in Bonn. Her father was a pianist, and her mother directed children's theater. Her brother is now an artist, prompting her to observe lightly that she came from an artistic family.
"I'm the only one who is a little bit practical," she said. She learned about independence from her mother, who as a student in Turkey during the 1960's dressed as a man on research trips because women were forbidden to travel. In Turkey her mother also chose the name "Sabriye," which means "patience" and "small hedgehog."
When Ms. Tenberken was only two, her parents learned that she would gradually lose her sight. They did not tell her about her condition, and by age thirteen she was blind. Her parents, though, had spent the intervening years filling her life with images. They took her to museums, traveled extensively, and filled her eyes with colors. "I have all my visual images in my head," she said.
She says she agrees with her parents' decision to keep secret her impending blindness, because knowing might have terrified her. But not knowing did make her condition baffling. She kept banging into things without knowing why.
She finally put a name to her problem when she met another young girl who was blind. "It was a relief because suddenly I had a word for something that wasn't functioning as well as others were functioning," she said.
Her parents encouraged her to discover her own boundaries as a blind person, a philosophy reinforced when she attended a leading German high school for the blind. She learned to ride horses, ski downhill and cross-country, and kayak in white water. "They showed us the teaching and methods and said, `Okay, you have to do something,'" she recalled. "The whole world was open to us if we knew the techniques and methods."
She has adopted a similar philosophy for teaching her twenty-nine Tibetan students, ages four to twenty-one. In August the group went white-water rafting, and they plan to climb a nearby Himalayan peak next year. The program emphasizes living skills like cooking, hygiene, and self-reliance, yet it also teaches workplace skills like computer use and Tibetan, Chinese, and English. Training is also offered in careers like massage therapy and music.
Ms. Tenberken's interest in Tibet took hold at Bonn University, where she decided to major in Tibetology. She was the only blind student in the program, and Tibetan had not been translated into Braille. So she did it herself. Her first trip to Tibet, in 1994, ended quickly. She came down with altitude sickness and had to fly home.
Undeterred, she returned for good in 1998, starting her school with one teacher and six students. They were quickly evicted from their first building for lack of money.
Financing remains a juggling act. The monthly budget for the entire program is $1,900. Proceeds from her memoir, My Path Leads to Tibet, helped buy the current building, while donations have come from people in Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.
She has set up a Web site called <braillewithoutborders.org>.
Finishing her cup of coffee, Ms. Tenberken offers a tour of the school while the students practice their play. The playwright, Kyila, seventeen, who once lived in a small village in northern Tibet, could not read or write when she came to the school a few years ago. Now she is making plans to become a massage therapist, while her twin brothers, both blind, want to open a teahouse.
Soon four other students will leave the program to enter a regular Tibetan school, the first to make that transition. "The kids ask us every day, `When do we go?'" she said.
Her own future will remain busy, with planning for more programs in more countries. She and Mr. Kronenberg hope one day to open a training center, possibly in southern India, where they could train others in starting up their own programs for the blind. The main goal remains instilling self-confidence and self-esteem so that blind children will "not be embarrassed anymore."
A blind child, she notes, will never be able to drive a truck. "But they can read and write in the dark," she said. "And who can do that?"
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Tony Candela]
A Rehabilitationist's Notebook:
Oliver Sacks on Blindness
by Anthony R. Candela
From the Editor: Tony Candela sent the following thoughtful article to the Braille Monitor two weeks after the publication of a long and interesting article by Oliver Sacks in the July 28, 2003, New Yorker magazine. Dr. Sacks is a fascinating writer with a lively curiosity. He is certainly not an expert on blindness or the experience of blind people, and Tony Candela's concerns and criticisms of his article seem well founded. Even without reading the original essay, thoughtful people should find what he has to say of interest.
Mr. Candela has worked as a rehabilitation counselor and employment specialist in the blindness field for more than twenty-five years. He has worked for the Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped and Lighthouse International in New York and is currently a national program associate in employment with the American Foundation for the Blind. He has a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling from Columbia University. Blind since birth, Mr. Candela has participated in wrestling, scuba diving, and long‑distance running. He lives in Berkeley, California. This is what he says:
The July 28, 2003, issue of the New Yorker magazine featured an article by famed clinical neurologist Oliver Sacks, in which he continues his lifelong quest to understand brain, mind, and the total human experience by tackling the latest phenomenon to capture his interest: how people who lose their sight in adulthood see the world. I believe Sacks's attempt to explain something fundamental about human functioning from the experiences of only a few blind people is scientifically misguided and may have deepened certain stereotypes about blindness held by the general public.
Sacks became interested in how blind people who once possessed eyesight now perceive visual images. If they still conjure up these images in their heads, what accounts for this ability? What do we make of documented differences between blind people in their ability both to retain images from when they could see and to create new images from present-day experiences? In short, Sacks wonders what happens inside the brains and minds of blind people that enables and indeed inspires these images and what this can tell us about how the human brain works in general.
Skilled as he is in clinical neurology, Sacks in his attempt to make sense of disparate reports from blind people is hampered by his failure to include not only psychological and social factors but even some physiological elements necessary to fully understand the experience of the blind people he studied. With a faulty foundation, it is not surprising he had difficulty making sense of what he heard. More important, we must ask what ideas about blind people the sighted readership take away from the article.
I have been visually impaired since birth and blind since middle adulthood. As someone who also has worked with blind people his entire career, I understand that blindness cuts across all strata of the human condition-–including all manner of mental capability. As a professional rehabilitation counselor trained in the social sciences, I favor methods of inquiry about the human condition that incorporate both a close understanding of people's individual circumstances and a broad-based perspective on large groups of people with similar concerns.
As a medical scientist, Sacks misses some of these nuances because he approaches his inquiry into the human experience through case-by-case analysis. His goal is to uncover the physiological foundation of mental experience. The medical case study, a technique used by physicians for centuries, is a modality we social scientists have come both to cherish and to mistrust. It is easy to analyze a few people in detail and think you have uncovered all the secrets of people in the category in which you are interested. In the New Yorker article, for example, Sacks employs information from only five blind people in his exploration of human mental imagery.
Most of us have heard of Oliver W. Sacks. He is a clinical neurologist whose most famous books include The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales, Awakenings, An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales, and Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf. Sacks recounts his personal circumstances in two books: A Leg to Stand On (musings while recovering from a broken leg) and Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood (a delightful look into how Sacks's uncle got him interested in chemistry and the scientific approach to knowledge). Here we learn that the young Oliver, growing up in England during the blitz of World War II, was fascinated with physical phenomena from an early age. The fact that his mother was a surgeon no doubt also contributed to his scientific curiosity.
Sacks's style is gripping and enlightening, even if not always scientifically rigorous. He uses the case-study method to delve deeply into the experiences of patients and people struggling to function amidst often peculiar and unfathomable handicaps. For example, Sacks explains with pathos (the human experience deserves no less) what it is like for people to awaken from a coma after being "asleep" for years; trying to climb out of bed with a leg amputated while feeling that it is still attached to one's body; grabbing one's spouse by the head because of mistaking her for a hat; hearing music all the time, even when none is playing; and other similarly unusual experiences.
Sacks has actually come close to writing a book on functional vision. His 1997 book, The Island of the Colorblind, tells the story of how Sacks traveled to a few islands in sun-drenched and glary Micronesia, where there live pockets of achromotopes, people who, through geographic isolation and genetic inbreeding, are unable to perceive color. Sacks comes to understand that the problems of the achromotopes extend beyond their color-blindness. Extreme photophobia and poor visual acuity complicate their lives. To ease their pain (literally), Sacks and his colleagues provide the inhabitants with wrap-around sunglasses and other corrective optics.
Sacks's scientific and medical roots compel him to look at the world from a positivist perspective, believing that we shouldn't waste our time trying to figure out things that cannot be truly known (that is, reduced to basic rules). This means that Sacks's sincerity when he tells the world that not everything about the human condition has an explanation is tainted by his own deep-seated desire to provide one. When he cannot, he generally moves on to another line of inquiry.
What frightens me is Sacks's fixation on explaining human existential experience through brain function, while at the same time assuring us that he would never cheapen the human experience by reducing it solely to that level. I contend that, as convincing as these words may be, Sacks will not rest easy until he finds universal truths in the neuronal strata of the brain about how we function. Now that blind people have fallen into Sacks's sphere of interest, we may have a public relations problem.
In the New Yorker article entitled "A Neurologist's Notebook, The Mind's Eye: What Blind Men See," Sacks focuses on a thorough and soul-baring exploration of how one blind man's ability to form visual images in his mind vastly differs from that of another whose capacity for mental imagery is extraordinary. John Hull, a British professor of religious education who slowly lost his eyesight until finally becoming totally blind at age forty-eight, reported that he retained no ability to picture things in his mind. In contrast, Zoltan Torey, an Australian psychologist who has not only been blind since age twenty-one but an expert on the brain-mind problem, developed his ability to visualize the world to such a degree that he can picture complicated internal machine designs and indeed the convoluted, multilayered structure of the human brain itself.
Sacks explains recent research into the plasticity of human brain functioning. He informs us that studies of the brains of adventitiously deaf or blind people (people who lost their hearing or vision after developing their auditory or visual brain centers) show that the brain has the amazing capacity to reorganize itself. Functions can be re-allocated so that visual processing activity shows up in the auditory cortex of deaf people, and auditory processing activity can be seen taking place in the visual cortex of blind people. Moreover, documented differences exist among people in their preferred way to acquire information about objects and concepts. For example, some blind people are more innately visual but have developed their auditory and other sensory skills to a greater degree than they might have had their vision not deteriorated. Other people are more auditory and, because their vision is good (and as we know, sometimes not so good), never fully develop their auditory, tactual, and other perceptual skills.
Sacks explains that our ability to visualize comes from the brain's capacity to intermix its own functional abilities: "There is increasing evidence from neuroscience for the extraordinarily rich interconnectedness and interactions of the sensory areas of the brain. The result is increasing difficulty in saying that anything is purely visual or purely auditory or purely anything."
He concludes: "The world of the blind, of the blinded, it seems, can be especially rich in such in-between states--the intersensory, the metamodal--states for which we have no common language."
In the New Yorker article Sacks gives only passing attention to emotional and personality-related elements of human behavior. Take a common personality trait: extraversion. Sacks seems unaware that acquiring a working picture of one's environment takes a certain degree of social energy and outward orientation to ask numerous questions of sighted companions (as illustrated in this article by Arlene Gordon, a retired blind social worker). Moreover, personal reaction to one's physiological state contributes as much to how the brain reconstitutes itself as anything else. For example, if one were to become depressed over the loss of one's sight, he or she might withdraw, close off interest in the aggressive pursuit of the visual images that once came easily, and slowly lose or repress memory of those images.
Take this passage from the Sacks article about Jacques Lusseyran (a blind French resistance fighter in World War II):
A very short time after I went blind I forgot the faces of my mother and father and the faces of most of the people I loved. I stopped caring whether people were dark or fair, with blue eyes or green. I felt that sighted people spent too much time observing these empty things. . . . I no longer even thought about them. People no longer seemed to possess them. Sometimes in my mind men and women appeared without heads or fingers.
Like Hull, Lusseyran simply stopped caring, perhaps withdrawing to an inner sensory world, and because his personality drove him to do so, he developed other ways of perceiving the world. In a passage from the Sacks article I will not include here, Lusseyran relates how he flabbergasted a friend as they walked together by telling him exactly what the landscape should look like. Lusseyran attributes this ability to the remaking of his inner world. His (and Sacks's) failure to include visual memory as a possible explanation illustrates the need for more thorough clinical interviewing before scientific statements can be made about the inner experiences of blind people.
Sacks continually appears awed when he encounters a mental phenomenon that cannot be explained by the sum of all the functional parts of the brain. It is indeed alluring to conceptualize the world in this way, and I think many people in Western society think so too. We tend to believe that everything should be explainable by some sort of unifying theory. That is what makes Sacks so riveting and, for us, the thing that provides a point of concern.
Skillful writers who publish in the popular media have the potential to convey both positive and negative images of blind people. In my opinion the New Yorker article did both. First, it drew the public's attention to blind people in a way that makes it clear that they are not all identical. On the downside it is hard to believe that the article did not also inject into the public mind a new level of occult mystery about what it's like to be blind. For example, most disturbing for our public image are discussions by Sacks of reports from blind people about conjured up, quasi-hallucinogenic visual images. It seems to me that dramatic reports about fantastic images reported by some blind people (perhaps with an artistic flair) do a disservice to the majority of us, who remain grounded in everyday reality.
Sacks begins this part of his discussion by saying that, when blind people can't see an actual visual image, they often conjure up their own image of what they think something might look like. True enough. However, usually they don't go overboard. Passages like the following from the article give the general public a sensationalized image of the inner mental life of blind people:
What happens when the visual cortex is no longer limited, or constrained, by any visual input? The simple answer is that, isolated from the outside, the visual cortex becomes hypersensitive to internal stimuli of all sorts: its own autonomous activity; signals from other brain areas--auditory, tactile, and verbal areas; and the thoughts and emotions of the blinded individual. Sometimes, as sight deteriorates, hallucinations occur--of geometrical patterns, or occasionally of silent, moving figures or scenes that appear and disappear spontaneously, without any relation to the contents of consciousness or intention or context.
Sacks gives the false impression that uncontrolled brain activity is the norm within the heads of blind people. He continues:
Something perhaps akin to this is described by Hull as occurring almost convulsively as he was losing the last of his sight. "About a year after I was registered blind--I began to have such strong images of what people's faces looked like that they were almost like hallucinations."
Sacks neglects to consider the role of literary license in his interpretation of Hull's experiences. He also fails to consider the role of native intelligence (memory, attention, mathematical ability, verbal fluency, etc.) in the mode of adaptation blind people choose to use. For example, a blind person who is extremely bright, has good analytical skills, and a steel-trap memory will retain and perhaps conjure up visual images differently from one who doesn't rely upon memory nearly as much and whose analytical style is different. Some people, for example, can take a few facts and build an accurate and intuitive image of the whole; others need a great deal more concrete information with which to deduce the picture in front of them. Thus, even comparing only two hypothetical people, it is easy to see that so many factors go into how someone perceives the world-–with or without sight-–that ultimately a Sacksian reductionistic explanation is impossible.
In the end Sacks (correctly) leaves us in the lurch. He announces that the phenomenon of sensory perception is too blurred for us to get a clean fix on it and that we cannot know for certain where the realms of sensation, perception, and imagination begin and end. As is his wont, Sacks defaults to the wonders of the mind, claiming that there is a hierarchy to how we process reality:
At this level one can no longer say of one's mental landscapes what is visual, what is auditory, what is image, what is language, what is intellectual, what is emotional--they are all fused together and imbued with our own individual perspectives and values.
Regarding Hull and Torrey, he concludes:
Even though the paths they have followed might seem irreconcilable, both men have "used" blindness (if one can employ such a term for processes which are deeply mysterious, and far below, or above, the level of consciousness and voluntary control) to release their own creative capacities and emotional selves, and both have achieved a rich and full realization of their own individual worlds.
It is probably a step in the right direction that a luminary as bright as Oliver Sacks decided to devote his intellectual and clinical powers to the blind. In his later years he seems to have defined himself as a champion of people with disabilities and a compassionate voice for those who cannot adequately describe their existences to the general public. Although to some extent Sacks's article has helped the public understand that blind people are not all the same, in certain important ways it may have increased the mystery in which we are viewed by those who do not know us well.
Empirical scientists and philosophers have used the blindness model as a vehicle to understand more about knowledge and human perception at least since Diderot's famous letter of 1749 ("Letter on the Blind for the Benefit of Those Who See"). In this letter Diderot popularized a long-standing philosophical question: if a blind person who has never been able to see learns the shape of a cube by touch and then has his sight restored, will he be able to identify the cube by sight?
Notwithstanding the chance that the answer to this question might shed light on human brain development and plasticity, the blind community needs to decide how it would like philosophers and scientists to employ the blindness model in their search for facts about human functioning. Blind people should insist that all physiological elements be part of the calculation. Experiential elements can also play a critical role. To illustrate these points: we all know people who will answer yes when asked if they are totally blind, or if they have always been that way. More careful questioning often reveals the presence of some light perception. Uncovering of primal memories often reveals a visual history temporarily forgotten by the blind person and conveniently ignored by those interested in finding model blind people for their studies of total sightlessness.
Sacks's literary prowess is potentially problematic. He is regarded as an authority, and, even when he himself tries to convey the idea that he doesn't always know, intelligent people take his word as gospel. The following passage from the preface of Andrew Potok's 2002 book, A Matter of Dignity: Changing the Lives of the Disabled shows how Sacks can sway even blind people about personal matters that are important to them:
A while back I sat at a friend's dining table across from Oliver Sacks . . . . I told him that, after a twenty-five-year hiatus, I was painting again . . . . He was polite and seemed happy that I was doing what I wanted to do, and then proceeded to tell us about . . . the color-blind of some tropical island, who were obviously in a very different category than a painter trying desperately, perhaps foolishly, to keep on painting . . . . Tail between my legs, I went home to accept what was really going on--painting might best be left to the sighted.
Because Oliver Sacks has been one of the most successful dispensers of scientific information to the general public over the past three decades, it would behoove the blind community to keep him in the loop on how we feel about what he writes. We should write to him and his publishers and tell them, not only our personal experiences, but how we feel his writings affect our public image.
As for the messages transmitted in the New Yorker, I hope its readership takes the advice Sacks received from Dennis Schulman (a blind clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst): "You are going to have to talk to dozens of people."
For our part we must remember that there is a critical difference between research that uses the phenomenon of sightlessness to tell us something about how all humans function and research designed to tell us something about how blind people themselves function. Often this latter form of research poses its own problems for us. We must be vigilant about the idea that sighted is best or about low expectations that underlie some of the research.
In any case we can rest easy in the knowledge that research of the type described by Sacks in the New Yorker will probably affect us less directly (albeit significant at the important level of public perception) than research on blindness itself. If I were to guess what will happen next, unless we contact him or unless MRI and PET scanning research turns up something new and significantly different, Oliver Sacks will soon move on to the next group of people who interest him-–people whose experiences give him hope of explaining yet another mysterious aspect of the human condition. Who knows whom he'll try to tackle next!
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Syed Yousufuddin]
From India with Hope
by Deborah Kent Stein
From the Editor: Debbie Stein is a leader in the Illinois affiliate and a professional writer. She often uses her talent to introduce us all to interesting Federationists. Here is another profile that will inspire and encourage us all. Meet Syed Yousufuddin:
Syed Yousufuddin grew up surrounded by an aura of privilege. In a family of six children, he was the only boy. Sons were prized in south central India, and Syed was the prince of the household. The girls went to public schools, but Syed was sent to an expensive private academy run by Christian missionaries. At school he fell in love with the game of cricket. He even slept with his cricket bat beside him.
In 1986, when Syed was in ninth grade, he developed cataracts. The right eye was most severely affected. Surgery proved unsuccessful, and he lost the vision in that eye. Life quickly returned to normal. Syed learned to drive a car and even rode a motorcycle.
Syed's father wanted him to go into engineering, but he struggled with math courses. Finally he decided to major in business. While he was still in school, he took a job selling educational products. He continued in this position after he obtained his bachelor's degree in 1992. The job required extensive travel, and he visited cities all over India.
In 1991 Syed noticed a slight blurring of his vision. The doctor was shocked by what he saw-‑a major retinal detachment in Syed's left eye. He couldn't understand how Syed was managing so well. Half‑joking, Syed replied, "I am courageous." Syed's father rushed him to the city of Madras, where he saw a specialist at India's finest eye hospital. The doctors said there was still a 50/50 chance that Syed's vision could be saved; surgery was his only hope. He underwent the operation to reattach his damaged retina. When the doctors removed the bandages, he couldn't see a thing. The doctors assured him that his vision would recover slowly.
Syed returned home, where his friends and family waited on him as though he were royalty. Someone was always standing by to cut up his food, do his laundry, even to escort him to the bathroom in his own house. He scarcely took a step on his own. As the weeks passed, the doctors' predictions came true. Little by little Syed's vision began to return. Eventually he went back to his studies and his sales job.
In 1995 Syed started his own investment business, buying and selling stocks. About a year later he again noticed fuzzy vision in his left eye. When he went back to Madras, the specialist told him that he had glaucoma. This time the doctors advised against surgery. They thought the condition could be controlled with drops. The drops didn't seem to help. As his vision faded and his pain increased, the doctors grew evasive. They never gave him straight answers. They simply increased the dosage of his glaucoma medication.
Once more Syed's devoted sisters were there to help him. They led him from place to place and waited on him day and night. Syed assured himself that his vision would begin coming back as it had after his surgery years before. But as the months passed, he could see less and less. He could no longer read print or recognize faces. He couldn't see steps or obstacles in his path. Finally he had to admit to himself that he no longer had any useful vision.
Syed knew he couldn't spend the rest of his life being waited on. He had to do something constructive. When he heard that a friend was selling a small business, he purchased the company, which trained students to use computers. Unfortunately the business was shaky when Syed bought it, and it failed within six months. Once more Syed was in limbo.
Surely, Syed thought, somewhere there must be a cure for his blindness. He knew he had exhausted the medical resources in India, but perhaps a doctor in the United States would be able to help him. His doctors in Madras didn't offer much hope, but reluctantly they gave him the names of a few American ophthalmologists. Syed wrote first to a doctor in New York; he had a friend in Connecticut who could provide him with a place to stay if he went to consult with her. The doctor wrote back and asked to see Syed's medical records. For the next year they exchanged letters and even phone calls while the doctor weighed the question of whether it would be worthwhile for Syed to make the trip. At last she agreed to see him, and he hurried to the U.S. consulate to obtain his visa. Eagerly, fearfully, he prepared for a solo journey halfway around the world.
Since losing his sight, Syed had never traveled alone, not even in his own town. Now his family drove him to the airport and left him in the hands of a friendly flight attendant. To his relief the journey was a smooth one, and his friend was there to greet him at the airport in New York. The next day Syed went to see the ophthalmologist. He had come so far to see her that he was convinced she would be able to work a miracle. But after she examined his eyes, her voice was grim. She could do nothing, she told him somberly. His blindness was irreversible.
Syed was still not ready to give up. His father had a longtime friend who lived in Chicago. Syed contacted his father's friend and arranged to stay with him while visiting a doctor there. The ophthalmologist in Chicago was a bit more encouraging and suggested that Syed might eventually be a candidate for laser surgery. However, it would take time. First they would have to bring down the pressure in his eye; then they would find out what could be done.
Syed had a number of relatives in the Chicago area. As soon as he arrived, distant cousins and their families began dropping in to visit him. Everyone made a great fuss over him. Again and again he heard what a poor fellow he was and what a burden it must be to live as a blind man. Their words grated on his soul. He didn't want anyone's pity. Blind or sighted, he wanted to rebuild his life.
To get to know people in Chicago, Syed began to visit an Indian community center. People there told him about an Indian man named Naweed who was blind and worked as a computer programmer for All‑State Insurance. It was the first time Syed had heard of a blind person who lived independently. He called Naweed, and they had a long talk. Naweed gave him a list of resources, and Syed started making phone calls. One of the organizations on Naweed's list was the National Federation of the Blind.
The national office put Syed in touch with Steve Benson, then president of the NFB of Illinois. Syed told him he wanted to learn to get around on his own, and Steve promised to find some people to help him. Syed had no idea that the NFB is an organization of blind people. It never occurred to him that Steve Benson was blind himself.
A few days later two members of the NFB Chicago chapter appeared at Syed's door. Steve Hastalis and Steve Handschu had come to give him his first lesson in cane travel. When he discovered that both of them were blind, Syed was astonished. How had they found his house? And how would they be able to teach him the things he needed to learn? They had brought him a long NFB cane. When he took it in his hands, Syed felt a change come over him. He had never wanted a cane before, but now he realized it was the key to freedom. Out on the street with his two new friends he explored the sidewalk and the grass and noted curbs and driveways. After his second lesson he began exploring on his own.
In May of 2001 Syed Yousufuddin attended his first NFB chapter meeting. Suddenly he was in a room with dozens of blind people who led interesting, productive lives. Vileen Shah, a chapter member who was also from India, showed him the Braille alphabet. When he gave him a week to memorize the Braille symbols, Syed protested that it would be too hard. "Well, if that's too hard, I guess you won't learn Braille," Vileen said. Syed took it as a challenge. By the next day he had learned the Braille alphabet by heart.
One day Syed received a surprise call from Steve Benson. "Syed," Steve said, "How would you like to go to BLIND, Inc., in Minnesota?" Syed had only the vaguest idea what the NFB training centers were like. He had never imagined that he could attend one. Somehow Steve Benson and Joyce Scanlan had made all the arrangements. On June 15, only a month after he attended his first NFB meeting, Syed entered boot camp for the blind.
Syed stayed at BLIND, Inc., for six months, learning Braille, travel, computers, and a host of daily living skills.
Taped speeches by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan and Dr. Marc Maurer impressed him deeply. Seminars and informal discussions transformed his attitude about blindness. He returned to Chicago, confident in his abilities and eager to make his mark on the world.
While searching for a full‑time job in sales, Syed sells products for a cosmetics company. He volunteers at the Lutheran Ministry in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, teaching English and minding the desk. He would love to work at an NFB center some day, teaching the skills he learned in Minnesota.
Syed is profoundly grateful to the many people who have helped him along the way. His cousin Azra Qadri and her husband Namadh Qadri have been a source of boundless support. Patti Chang and Joyce Scanlan gave generously of their time and expertise. He is especially grateful to the three Steves--Benson, Handschu, and Hastalis--who gave him his first taste of Federationism and helped him understand that it is respectable to be blind.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: During the service component of the Braille Is Beautiful curriculum, Brandon and Stephany, Davis Drive sixth-graders, Braille a deck of UNO playing cards that will be given to a blind child.]
The Learning Curve
by Marnie Utz
From the Editor: January, Braille Literacy Month, is just around the corner. In the July 2003 issue, we reprinted a news article about the experience the sixth grade at the Davis Drive Middle School in Cary, North Carolina, had when they used the NFB's Braille Is Beautiful curriculum. Here is Marnie Utz, the teacher who initiated the program talking about the experience from her point of view:
"Braille-O!" Kassandra shouted across the room. The sixth-grader from Davis Drive Middle School (DDMS) in Cary, North Carolina, stood beside her chair, eyes wide with excitement, as students in adjacent desks cleared their cards with chagrin. On this day my enrichment class was engaged in a test of knowledge--not the usual multiplication tables or countries and capitals, but Braille letters. Braille-O was just one wonderful activity in the Braille Is Beautiful program created by the National Federation of the Blind.
I first read about the Braille Is Beautiful program in a pamphlet that appeared in my box in the office, along with a dozen other catalogues and flyers about new teacher resources. The color pamphlet caught my eye, and after reading it, I couldn't contain my enthusiasm. I spoke with my colleagues immediately, and we wrote to our school PTA for funding. Although the funding to purchase the basic curriculum came through expeditiously, we had to scramble to acquire all the extra equipment and materials we needed for our 130 students: more slates, more styluses, and more Braille paper. Eventually we managed it, however, and my colleagues, the students, and I began our two-month journey into the world of the visually impaired.
Although the lesson plans included in the program were thorough and creative, we teachers had a lot to learn. At first the students participated in activities such as creating skits in order to dispel myths about the visually impaired and designing posters depicting the lives of Helen Keller, Ray Charles, and Jacobus tenBroek. Around the third week of the program, the curriculum--with precise instructions and vivid diagrams--introduced Braille letters and numbers.
My teammates (Marcella Cox, Jon Corcoran, and Mary Swedbergand) and I would sit down at our weekly meetings and practice making Braille letters and numbers together before attempting to model the procedure for the students. We enjoyed learning to write Braille ourselves, and I remember the common question, "How do people do this so fast?" arising as we spent ten minutes punching in our first names using the slate. Invariably we would take the paper out of the slate, turn it over, laugh, and realize that once again the letters of our names were backwards. Surprisingly, after wiggling in their seats with excitement as the slates and styluses were passed around, the students picked up the concept immediately and surpassed our expectations and skills within two days.
The students' reaction to the entire experience was incredible. Not one student refused to work or even seemed uninterested. During lunch and break times various kids asked to use the Braille materials to write notes to their friends, label a textbook, or number their lockers in Braille. As a team we had introduced several enrichment programs to the students, but this one was by far the most intriguing to our adolescents.
Having taught sixth grade for a while, I felt that the students needed a way to connect what they were learning with real life. So my colleagues and I established a relationship with the Governor Morehead School for the Blind (GMS) in Raleigh, about twenty minutes away. The principal, Keri Loheimer, was thrilled with the idea of an exchange, consulted her faculty, and together we designed a visiting day. I am grateful to them and to James Benton of the Governor Morehead School outreach program for their eagerness to make this program a success.
Because of the large number of students from Davis Drive, we visited GMS in shifts. On each visit the students broke into small groups and participated in four activities led by the faculty, staff, and students of GMS. At any one time students could be seen in mobility training walking blindfolded in the texture garden with a cane; touring the on-site museum, which housed photos from the 1800's when the school was founded; typing on the computer using the JAWS program; or playing a game of goal ball in the gym. After the sessions had ended, the DDMS students joined the GMS students for lunch in the dining room.
Likewise the GMS students visited DDMS for a day of trivia games, Braille UNO, and a party. On both visits the students were able to connect personally. They talked, laughed, and found those things common to all twelve-year-olds: pizza and the opposite sex. Even a few phone numbers were exchanged.
We also had the opportunity to meet a representative from the National Federation of the Blind of North Carolina. Hazel Staley came to the school and spent time with our students talking about Braille and observing what we had accomplished.
Needless to say, the Braille Is Beautiful program was a complete success; I would recommend it highly to any teacher. It is unlikely that my students will forget the experience and the new friends they made. Thank you to the NFB for making it all happen.
Blind Teens Gain Work Experience during Center's Summer Program
by Shawna Hickman
From the Editor: The following article is reprinted from the August 7, 2003, Littleton, Colorado, Independent. It does a fine job of capturing the variety and effectiveness of the NFB adult rehabilitation center programs for teens. Here it is:
Twice a week Raven Johnson tells stories to toddlers and holds babies to calm them at the Highline YMCA. At first glance the sixteen-year-old appears like the rest of the staff, playing with the kids. Only the white cane lying within reach gives her away.
Johnson is one of about twenty youth attending the summer program at the Colorado Center for the Blind, which is located in the former Littleton YMCA. During the eight-week program youth in middle school, high school, or college learn or improve their Braille, computer, travel, and work skills. All of the twelve high-schoolers have jobs for four weeks.
Johnson wants to be a teacher someday, so she worked with Buna Dahal, employment specialist at the Colorado Center for the Blind, to find a job working with kids.
"I love the kids," Johnson said. "I like to write stories, and it's a pretty good guarantee that I'll get several kids around me when I start telling a story."
From Richmond, Virginia, Johnson registered for the summer program after a friend recommended she do it. There have been tough times, she said, but she's had a lot of fun, too. Youth work hard on skills but also have fun playing sports, rock climbing, and going to events, including a Rockies game.
The summer program has given Johnson more confidence to go after her dreams.
"It's given me more confidence," she said. "I used to be really leery about being a teacher even though it was something I really wanted to do. Now I know I can do it."
Co-worker Michelle Tappenier said she's enjoyed working with Johnson and is amazed at the way she can calm even the crankiest babies. Johnson's blindness has not been an obstacle in her work. In fact, a week ago Johnson helped lead some of the kids outside to the playground with other staff for a fire drill.
"The obstacles she's going to have will come more from the adults than the kids," Tappenier said. "They don't know she can't see."
Dahal said she's enjoyed working with Tappenier because she expects a lot out of the Colorado Center students who work at the YMCA.
Dahal said the blind teens learn a lot more from their supervisors if they expect them to be responsible, to be on time, and to work at the same level as sighted people. Teens in the program are expected to get to work on their own using public transportation and to come to work ready to work hard.
That is exactly why Sharina Kershaw came from Missouri to Littleton. "I'm going to be a senior this year, and then I'm off to college," said Kershaw. "I depend a lot on my mom, so I decided I needed to learn to do things on my own--and one way to do it is to get away from my mom," she said.
Kershaw's sight began to deteriorate at the age of two. Over time the deterioration has progressed slowly but steadily. She has lost her peripheral vision, and someday she will be completely blind.
For José Trujillo, Kershaw's manager at her job at José's Restaurant, Kershaw's remaining sight was what made him feel comfortable in giving her the temporary job.
Trujillo hasn't worked with a blind person before and was nervous about how a blind person would stay safe in the kitchen with hot pots and sharp knives around.
"(Dahal) is one little persistent lady," Trujillo said. "I was a little skeptical at first, but she kept asking and told me a blind person could work here. It helped that Sharina has some sight."
Dahal kept asking, though, and her persistence paid off.
"José's educating the public that blind people can work and be effective," Dahal said. "That's the exciting part."
Ashli Gross also came to Littleton to learn some independence and deal with her blindness. In Montana she lives near a highway where there aren't any sidewalks.
"If you go somewhere, you have to walk in the ditch, so I don't go many places unless it's an emergency situation," she said.
While she doesn't go many places on her own, she said she hasn't been treated as a blind person. She was never given a cane as a child or treated any differently. Gross was born with a detached retina in her right eye but still has near-sighted vision in her left eye.
"At home it was like I was just someone with a different-colored right eye," she said. "Coming here made me realize I really am blind, and living in the blind community has made me accept my blindness."
Gross is working at the Littleton Municipal Courthouse on the computer and filing tickets.
"It's been great," said court clerk Pat Spindler. "We've been really busy and short-handed . . . she's been a great help to us."
Gross's constant surfing of the Internet at home has paid off. She knows her way around the computer well enough that Spindler said she would only have to explain something once and Gross would remember it. Gross, in turn, said she likes working under the high expectations.
"I really like the idea that they don't baby me at all," she said. "I've been to blind camps before, and all they did was baby me. I've done more at home than I did at camp."
The work experience the teens are getting this summer will pay off someday, Dahal said. Many blind adults have a hard time finding a job because they haven't worked before. By offering teens a chance to work, it helps them find jobs later, Dahal said.
Working with the teens this summer has been a good experience, Dahal said. Their energy and self-confidence have been refreshing.
"Teenagers want to go do things," Dahal said. "Adults have a lot of hesitation, but teenagers don't have that. They just want to get out there and do it, and when they leave here, they will have changed lives."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Al Spooner (right) works with Kotumu Kaamara from Liberia at a computer station.]
A New Beginning
by Al Spooner
From the Editor: Contrary to what Al Spooner says in the opening line of the following article, it has been almost five years now that he has been a Federationist. From the moment he joined a chapter, he was a leader. I remember answering his questions in the meeting of the Public Relations Committee at his first national convention, which took place in Atlanta. He was obviously a bundle of energy and ideas. He was also alight with what he was discovering about the potential of blind people, and he was determined to kindle everyone whose life he could touch. I thought to myself that, if we could place an Al Spooner in every chapter of the organization, we would be a household word in no time.
I can't tell you why this story has sat in my computer for a year. In part the answer is that it is timeless, so it got displaced by time-sensitive pieces. The details of the Al Spooner story are unique to his life, but the truth it expresses is truly universal. This is what he says:
I have been a member of the National Federation of the Blind for the last three-and-a-half years. Over this time many friends and strangers have asked why I dedicate so much of my time to a nonprofit organization such as ours. After all, we don't get paid for our efforts. I hope this article will provide an explanation--only one of many--for being an active participant in this organization.
At the age of forty, and after twenty years of being a productive, tax-paying citizen, I became blind. At the time this seemed an almost insurmountable loss, but mustering a positive attitude, I told myself that life wasn't over quite yet but had just changed course, so I tried to remain optimistic. I enrolled in the Idaho Commission for the Blind training program in Boise to learn about the alternative techniques that blind people use. I was told that I could perform on the job by using these new blindness skills.
One month after completing my training, I met the National Federation of the Blind. I attended a state convention in Pocatello, Idaho. I told them my dream of becoming a teacher. Over most of my previous career I had sold computers and developed and taught computer classes to many of my customers. During that time I discovered how much I enjoyed teaching. In fact, I remember telling many of my customers that, if I ever got a chance to start over, I would be a teacher.
The people I met at this convention not only encouraged me with their positive spirit but backed it up with money in the form of a scholarship. I was excited to find other blind people who shared the same positive philosophy as I had espoused before my blindness. I truly wanted to believe that they were right and that my future could still be bright.
That summer I attended my first NFB national convention in Atlanta, Georgia. Words cannot describe the variety of emotions I felt as I met the people at this convention. I was greatly encouraged, yet overwhelmed. I found blind people from all walks of life who were successful in a multitude of careers, people with personal goals and a purpose for their lives.
I met people my age and in similar circumstances. They were receiving scholarships and moving ahead with their lives. I was assured that my blindness did not have to be a limitation and that, if I applied myself and worked hard, I too could succeed. I entered college that fall with new hope and much higher expectations of myself.
The National Federation of the Blind put its money where its mouth was, so to speak, by awarding me a second state scholarship the next year and selecting me as a recipient of a national scholarship, which I received at the NFB national convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This convention totally changed my life.
By this time I had helped organize a local chapter for which I served as president, and I had recently been elected second vice president of the NFB of Idaho. In other words, I was not merely a member, but an active member--there is a difference.
During this national convention I had the opportunity to meet many of the most successful blind people in this nation. I discovered that they were ordinary people like you and me, but with one unique difference--their attitude. An entire book could probably be written about what this attitude entails. Suffice it to say they live the truly successful and independent lives that we all strive for as blind people. Most important, however, these were people whose opinions and advice I knew I could trust. They seemed to believe in me more than I believed in myself.
Now let us fast forward through the next year of fundraising, chapter meetings, state board meetings, college classes, working with Congress in Washington, D.C., hosting the NFB of Idaho state convention in my home town, and other NFB activities too numerous to mention, to the 2002 NFB national convention, held in Louisville, Kentucky.
Just like the previous two national conventions I had attended, new and exciting experiences aplenty bombarded me. It seems obvious to me now that each national convention is unique, and one comes away with new ideas, attitudes, friendships, and a better understanding of our cause and oneself. At this convention, however, I came away with something even greater, a job offer. I was approached by BLIND, Inc., of Minneapolis, Minnesota, which offered me a position as the computer instructor at its training center for the blind--in other words, teaching computers. For me this position is a dream come true, because computers are my forte, and teaching has been my career objective.
Why do I tell you all of this? Well, I believe it was my own active participation in the National Federation of the Blind that created this opportunity. I had a choice when I joined the Federation: I could sit on the sidelines and shout the hoorays, or I could become actively involved. I chose the latter. By doing so, I met and became friends with others who are intentional in changing what it means to be blind. These people in turn learned about me and my strengths and experience. More important, however, they encouraged and motivated me by their own attitudes and abilities.
Some might say that I just got a lucky break or that I just knew the right people at the right time. I would respond, yes, I did know the right people at the right time, but it wasn't luck. I simply played an active role, as any member of the NFB can and should. I sought out opportunities in the organization that capitalized on my skills.
Others might say that I had an advantage because I was a national scholarship winner. This is also true. I met a lot of people this way. However, I discovered at my very first convention that, if I simply introduced myself to any of the state presidents or other leaders in this organization, they were warm, friendly, and excited to meet new people. In other words, finding and making the most of opportunities in the Federation takes more than words; it takes action.
Simply put, become actively involved in the NFB, seek opportunities that can use your God-given talents and abilities, and you will create your own lucky breaks in life. These breaks may or may not come from within the NFB, but active involvement in the Federation will give you more confidence and a better attitude about your own abilities. This change in you will be noticed by others, including future employers.
For me these changes have created a new beginning in my life. I say it that way because I don't look at my opportunity as a destination, but as a success in my life that will only create greater opportunities for me to grow and develop.
As my good friend and president of the NFB of Idaho, Larry Streeter, once told me, "The NFB is not just a philosophy; it is a way of life." I believe this, and the sooner every blind person understands this truth and believes it, the sooner we can all rise to the level of success each of us desires. By living this philosophy, we can and will change what it means to be blind.
This month's holiday recipes have been gathered by members of the NFB of Oregon.
by Sally Edmonds
Sally Edmonds has served as treasurer of the Lane County Chapter since 1994. Two of her four children are blind, including Carla McQuillan.
2 parts strong cold coffee
1 part bourbon
1 part vanilla ice cream
Method: Combine all ingredients and serve cold.
Hot Crab Triangles
by Sally Edmonds
6 ounces cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
dash cayenne pepper
6 ounces white crab meat
2 tablespoons minced chives or green onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons finely chopped almonds or walnuts
6 slices bread cut into triangles
Method: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine all ingredients except bread and paprika until well blended. Spread crab mixture on bread triangles. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake for ten to twelve minutes. Transfer to platter and serve immediately.
by Sally Edmonds
1/2 pound chicken livers
1 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 can water chestnuts (drained and chopped)
4 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
1 teaspoon chopped green onion
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon ginger
garlic salt to taste
Method: Sauté livers in oil. Puree in food processor. Combine all ingredients except bacon, chestnuts, and green onion, and blend in food processor. Stir in water chestnuts and bacon. Chill. Before serving, garnish with green onion. Serve with crackers.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Carla McQuillan]
Hot Spiced Cider
by Carla McQuillan
Carla McQuillan is president of the NFB of Oregon and a member of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind.
1 orange (washed)
10 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
2 lemon slices
1 gallon apple cider
Method: Pierce orange in several places. Insert stick end of each clove into the orange rind. Place all ingredients in a slow cooker or large covered pot. Heat for at least three hours, maintaining a low simmer. Serve hot as is or spiked with vodka or rum.
by Carla McQuillan
1 gallon cranberry juice
16 ounces frozen orange juice concentrate
1 2-liter bottle of 7-Up or club soda
Method: Combine all ingredients in a punch bowl. Stir until the orange juice is fully melted. Serve as is or spiked with vodka or rum.
Garlic Dipping Oil
by Carla McQuillan
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 to 8 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 to 4 sprigs fresh basil, chopped (optional)
French bread for dipping
Method: Combine salt, garlic, and basil. Crush in a mortar and pestle or with the back of a spoon to release flavors. Add oil. Stir and let stand for at least one hour. Drizzle over slices of fresh bread. Serve on bread plates with balsamic vinegar.
by Carla McQuillan
Carla says that this is not your same old boring veggie plate!
1 9-ounce package fresh cheese tortelloni or ravioli
1 can (14 ounces) quartered artichoke hearts packed in water, rinsed and drained
1 small red pepper, seeded and cut into 40 chunks
20 small fresh mushrooms, cut in half
10 jumbo pitted black olives cut in half
10 large pimento-stuffed green olives cut in half
20 wooden skewers (10 inches long)
1 bottle fat-free Italian dressing
Method: Prepare tortelloni according to package directions. Rinse with cold water. Drain. Cut large artichoke heart quarters in half lengthwise in order to get twenty pieces. Thread ingredients on skewers as follows: pepper chunk, mushroom half, tortelloni, black olive half, artichoke heart, green olive half, tortelloni, mushroom half, and pepper chunk. Arrange kabobs in a single layer in a shallow dish. Pour dressing evenly over kabobs, turning them to coat. Cover. Chill at least two hours, turning kabobs occasionally. Drain off dressing before serving. (Reserve drained dressing for other uses.)
by Bob Brock
This is a traditional appetizer from Burgundy. Carolyn Brock, president of the Rose City Chapter, says: My husband Bob and I have lived for long periods in Burgundy, France. The local appetizer is a sort of puff pastry, salty instead of sweet, containing cheese. They are called gougères (pronounced "goo-jhair"), and they are wonderful. I wish I could claim to be the expert, but Bob has adopted them as his specialty, and I specialize in eating them! The recipe is very easy if you don't mind physical labor.
5 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup grated Gruyère cheese (regular swiss cheese will do, but it's not as good)
5 large eggs, room temperature (very important!)
Method: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Set oven rack in top third of oven. Lightly grease cookie sheets and set aside. Add butter, salt, pepper, and nutmeg to one cup water in medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When butter is melted, reduce heat to low. Add flour all at once to saucepan and cook over low heat, beating with a wooden spoon for one minute, until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove pan from heat. Add cheese to flour mixture and beat in with a wooden spoon until well incorporated. Add four of the eggs, beating each in until it is completely absorbed. Continue beating mixture until it is smooth, shiny, and firm. (If you don't fear that your arm will fall off, you're not doing this properly.) Drop mixture by spoonfuls onto the greased cookie sheets. Beat remaining egg with 1/2 tablespoon of water, then brush tops of the gougères with the egg glaze. Bake gougères for fifteen to twenty minutes, or until they are golden brown and have doubled in size. Serve hot or at room temperature. Makes about three dozen.
Dilled Chicken and Potato Salad
by Linda Hubbard
Linda Hubbard is a relatively new member of the Rose City Chapter, having joined when an NFB Corps team revitalized the chapter in 2002. She is the mother of two grown daughters and has recently returned to school. She was a 2002 NFB of Oregon scholarship winner.
3 medium red potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
1-1/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, poached and cut into bite-sized pieces (or a package of Louis Rich grilled chicken)
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried dill
3 green onions, finely sliced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Dash cayenne pepper
Method: In a medium saucepan cook potatoes covered in boiling salted water until just tender, about ten minutes. Drain. Toss warm potatoes in oil and vinegar. Let cool for fifteen to twenty minutes, tossing several times. Add chicken, dill, onions, lemon juice, salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Toss to mix well. Cover and refrigerate until serving time. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.
by Linda Hubbard
3/4 cup shortening (I use butter or margarine)
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons molasses
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
Method: Thoroughly cream shortening and sugar. Add molasses and well-beaten egg. Add dry ingredients and beat or stir well. I have found that I have to add a little more flour or the dough is too sticky. [The editor uses an almost identical recipe and chills the dough before making out the cookies, thus avoiding using additional flour.] Roll into small balls, dip or roll in granulated sugar, and place two inches apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for eight to ten minutes. Store in airtight container.
by Ruth Ann Homan
Ruth Ann Homan is a retired elementary school teacher who has lived in Asia for most of her career. She has recently volunteered to serve as the coordinator for a proposed senior blind division in Oregon. She is also trained as a clown and volunteers her talent in children's hospital wards and in hospice. Ruth joined Portland's Rose City Chapter in June of 2002. She is a motivational speaker who believes that enjoying good food is one of the pleasures of life. Bon appétit.
4 or 5 large tart apples, peeled and sliced (other fresh or frozen fruit may be substituted)
1/3 cup butter at room temperature
2/3 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup oatmeal, not instant
1/2 cup flour
nutmeg and cinnamon to taste
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an eight-by-eight-inch square baking dish and arrange apple slices in dish. Sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg. In a small bowl blend butter and sugar together with a pastry blender or two knives used scissor fashion. Then add oatmeal and flour. Stir to mix and sprinkle this crumble over the fruit. Sprinkle more nutmeg and cinnamon on top. Bake thirty minutes. Serve warm with light cream or eggnog.
News from the Federation Family
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Edmund Beck]
Richard Gaffney, president of the NFB of Rhode Island, recently wrote:
I am sorry to announce that on Wednesday, August 6, 2003, a former president and dedicated, longtime member of the NFB of Rhode Island, Edmund Beck, passed away. Ed worked very hard in the legislative area both locally and nationally. He worked for passage of many pieces of legislation sponsored by the NFB of Rhode Island, including in more recent times our Braille bill. Ed advocated with former Senator John Chafee on the necessity for change in the copyright laws so that blind people could have books faster in an accessible format. As a result, in 1996 President Clinton signed into law the Chafee Amendment.
Ed was the president of our affiliate from 1977 to 1978 and 1980 to 1984. He did a lot to promote our organization everywhere he went. He was a true Federationist. Although he lost his sight later in life, he learned Braille and developed good mobility skills. He was always on the go until he became ill five years ago. All of us will miss him sorely.
Recorded Book Available:
Federationist Jim Omvig's important book, Freedom for the Blind: The Secret Is Empowerment, is now available from the National Library Service. Its number is RC 55216. To order, call your cooperating library.
Business, Leadership, and Superior Training Conference, 2004:
Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, makes the following announcement:
Mark your 2004 calendar for our spring conference scheduled April 13 to 16 at the Rosen Plaza Hotel, across from Pointe Orlando, Orlando, Florida. Travel to Orlando for a truly rewarding experience and receive unbelievably low room rates good from Sunday, April 11, through Saturday, April 17. You can visit with merchants, agency partners, and suppliers, and even give yourself time to relax and enjoy all that Orlando has to offer (City Walk, Universal Studios, Disney World, California Adventure, and more). Conference activities BLAST off on Tuesday afternoon, April 13, and conclude midday Friday, April 16. So, if you wish, you could travel to sunny Orlando on Sunday, April 11, and stay through Saturday night, April 17, and experience a great Business, Leadership, And Superior Training conference, BLAST `04, and mini vacation.
We will be in meetings Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. We are planning receptions, a leadership breakfast, and a luncheon banquet--a first-class training agenda. Those who attended our Nashville BLAST say that they gained much from the innovative, interactive, and informative training. We are working now to develop the training curriculum for BLAST `04. Your suggestions are welcome and appreciated. The goal of the BLAST `04 Spring Conference is to target training to meet the specific needs of blind entrepreneurs and our agency partners.
This year registration is $150 and will cover all conference activities and training materials. Those who register before March 1 will pay only $100, a $50 discount for early registration. Checks should be made payable to National Association of Blind Merchants and sent to 18121-C E. Hampden Avenue PMB #196, Aurora, Colorado 80013.
The Rosen Plaza Hotel offers luxurious lodging at low rates: $80 for single, double, triple, and quad per night all week long. All rates quoted are net per room, per night, plus the current 12.5 percent tax. The Rosen Plaza Hotel is one mile from Universal Orlando and SeaWorld, and five minutes from Wet `n Wild. It is across the street from Pointe Orlando--a seventeen-acre entertainment and shopping complex, home of FAO Schwartz and over seventy other stores.
For hotel reservations call The Rosen Plaza Hotel at (800) 627-8258. Tell the agent you are booking at the group rate for the National Association of Blind Merchants. Make your reservations now. For further information and to offer your suggestions, contact Kevan Worley, president, National Association of Blind Merchants, at (303) 306-7122, or email <[email protected]>. Make plans now to join us in Orlando. It's going to be a BLAST!
The Appalachian Trail Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland was organized at a luncheon meeting held at Richardsons' Restaurant in Hagerstown on August 9, 2003. Current plans call for this chapter to serve Hagerstown, Fredrick, and surrounding areas. In Maryland the historic Appalachian Trail makes its way through the heart of this area. The following chapter officers were elected: Alan McGinley, president; Dan Barnhart, vice president; Danielle Shives, secretary; Rick French, treasurer; Becky McGinley and Sherrie Shives, board members. This chapter was organized through the efforts of Jennifer Kennedy and Richie Flores, NFB Corps volunteers working in Maryland this summer.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Jim Bowen]
Loss in the Florida Federation Family:
Dan Hicks, president of the NFB of Florida, sent us the following sad notice just as this issue was going to press:
With great sadness I must report that Jim Bowen, president of the Jacksonville Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida, has died. He apparently passed away on Saturday morning, October 4, 2003, at about 1:00 a.m. The cause of death appears to have been a heart attack or blood clot. One of his sons was present and administered CPR. Jim was then taken to Memorial Hospital but never regained consciousness.
Jim Bowen and his wife Beth were founding members of the Florida affiliate. Beth served as state president and on the NFB board of directors in the 1970's and 1980's. Jim was always there to help and support her--no job too large or too small, too important or too humble. All who knew him were impressed by his energy and commitment.
Jim and Beth Bowen were the first Florida Federation members I ever met. It is hard to overstate Jim and Beth's importance to the affiliate over the years.
It is with this kind of spirit that Jim had been anticipating the upcoming 2004 convention of the NFBF in Jacksonville. He had big plans for this convention; I know that the leaders and members of our affiliate will not let him or Beth down.
I spoke with Jim several times recently. He expressed his excitement about the upcoming convention and about his involvement in local politics. We talked about other things also, since Jim was a man with many interests and a great sense of humor.
Please keep the Bowens in your hearts, prayers, and thoughts. The convention and the work of the Federation will go on, but we will all deeply miss Jim Bowen.
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.
Pennsylvania College of Optometry Scholarships:
The Pennsylvania College of Optometry, Department of Graduate Studies in Vision Impairment, is seeking people who are blind or visually impaired and interested in receiving a master's degree or certification in education of children and youth with visual and multiple impairments, rehabilitation, orientation and mobility, or low vision rehabilitation. The programs encompass a mixture of classroom, laboratory, clinical, research, and field-based learning geared toward meeting professional preparation needs in the field of vision impairment. Rolling admissions and scholarships are available. For further information contact Sharon Jackson at (215) 780-1363 or <[email protected]>. You can also visit <www.pco.edu> and click on Academic Programs.
Audio Outdoor Magazines Available:
Audio America Outdoor Magazine is a general interest outdoor magazine for individuals and families who have varied outdoor interests but limited time to enjoy them. This magazine includes wildlife profiles, heritage stories, interviews with outdoor authorities, and original music and poetry.
Outdoor Sportsman Audio Magazine is a fast-paced magazine for serious outdoor enthusiasts featuring more technical information, e.g., interviews with industry professionals, gear and equipment reviews, outdoor heritage, conservation stories, outdoor sounds, and additional information.
These quarterly magazines are distributed by America Outdoor Audio Magazine (AOAM) distributors. For more information call (888) 840-1129. The Web site is <www.outdooraudiomagazine.com>, email <[email protected]>.
New ADA Impact Report Now Available:
"The Impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on the Employment of Individuals Who Are Blind or Have Severe Visual Impairments, Part I: Elements of the ADA Accommodation Request Process" is available. This report, the first of three, examines the impact of the ADA accommodation request process on the employment opportunities of people with severe visual impairments. The monograph includes an extensive literature review of attempts to evaluate the ADA and a qualitative interview study of the accommodation request process from three perspectives: people with severe visual impairments, rehabilitation professionals, and employers. A draft of a survey that will be modified and used for the second phase of the project is also included. The report can be purchased for $20 from the Mississippi State University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (MSU-RRTC) by contacting Kelly Schaefer (662) 325-7825; email <[email protected]>.
Book PortÔ Available:
Book PortÔ is a flexible book-reading device consisting of a small, portable unit with a keypad and earphones, plus accompanying software. It features both text-to-speech capabilities and digital audio support. This means you may read electronic files (with synthetic speech) or digital recorded books (with human speech). You can even use it as a recorder to make notes about the material you read. For more information visit the APH Web site <www.aph.org> or call (800) 223-1839 to order. You may also contact Roberta Williams at extension 357 or email <[email protected]>.
"English Braille American Edition 1994, Revised 2002" Now Available:
The Braille Authority of North America (BANA) announces that "English Braille American Edition 1994, Revised 2002" is available in Braille (# 5‑35932‑00) and print (# 7‑35932‑00) for $20 U.S. from the American Printing House for the Blind, 1839 Frankfort Avenue, Louisville, Kentucky 40206‑0085. English Braille American Edition is the code book which gives the rules for contracted Braille.
A compendium of the changes to "English Braille American Edition 1994" from 1995 to 2002 is available for downloading in Braille and print formats on the BANA Web site at <http://www.brailleauthority.org/downloads.html>. For those unable to access the Web site, Braille and print hardcopy may be obtained without charge by writing to Eileen Curran, BANA chairperson, National Braille Press, 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02115; phone (617) 266-6160, ext. 17; toll‑free (888) 965-8965, ext. 17; email <[email protected]>.
Ann Morris Catalog Available:
The 2004 Ann Morris Enterprises, Inc., product catalog is now available in large print or four-track cassette free of charge; Braille is $12. Downloads are available from <www.annmorris.com> or at <[email protected]>. New items include a talking TV remote, talking sign, light gathering magnifier, two color identifiers, and much more. Contact Ann Morris, 551 Hosner Mountain Road, Stormville, New York 12582 or call (800) 454-3175.
Sue Slater is a blind travel agent working from home. She has arranged a seven-night round-trip cruise from Seattle to Alaska through the Inside Passage-Hubbard Glacier on the Holland America's brand new ship Oosterdam. She handles everything: all booking arrangements, meetings, a cocktail party for the group, volunteers to help with check-in and check-out on the ship and to go on tours or shopping in ports of call, and Braille and large-print cruise materials.
The dates are June 12 to June 19, 2004. Pre- and post-hotel packages in Seattle are available. Onboard cabins begin at $1,200; price includes all port charges, taxes, and gratuities.
The Saturday-to-Saturday itinerary is as follows:
Saturday: leave Seattle at 5 p.m.
Sunday: at sea
Monday: Juno 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Tuesday: Hubbard Glacier all day
Wednesday: Sitka 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Thursday: Ketchekan 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Friday: Victoria 8 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Saturday: arrive in Seattle at 7 a.m.
A deposit of $350 is required at time of booking. Final payment is not due until seventy-five days before sailing. To book a cabin or to get more information, call Sue at (314) 726-6893, or email her at <[email protected]>.
First Blindness Web Site in India:
The Shruti Information Centre of Delhi, India, has launched its Shruti Web site <http://indev.nic.in/shruti/>. It is dedicated to the print‑disabled of India and is aimed at vision‑impaired professionals and students in higher education. It is fully accessible and, for ease of direct access, has ten sub‑portals.
The Web site's first division, Text Resources, lists reading materials for the blind, including audio books, Braille, electronic texts, and magazines in special media. The second division, Information Resources, offers data on concessions and opportunities and directories of blind schools; museums; computer courses; organizations of, for, and relevant to the blind; eye hospitals; eye banks; and low‑vision clinics. It also has a section on aids and appliances, a Who's Who for the blindness field (with international and Indian entries) and a glossary covering general terms and those from the world of computers and ophthalmology.
The third division comprises two online magazines to help make the blind community in India more active. Shruti Magazine, intended for adults, reports news and developments in the blindness field. It also focuses on one or more major issues important for the print‑disabled. There is an audio special using a recording of an eminent figure from the blindness field. The inaugural issue features George Abraham and how he came to transform blind cricket from a backyard pastime at blind schools into a world sport. Shruti Junior, meant for young readers, aims at developing a love of reading through stories, folk tales, fairy tales, and interesting features.
For further information write to the Web Master, Professor Vinod Sena, at <[email protected]> or <[email protected]>.
Audio Services Available from R.O.F. Studios:
Looking for Christmas gifts or audio services? Interested in old‑time radio? Over 300 one-hour programs, digitally mastered and denoised for Radio Reading Service broadcast. To cover material cost and handling, we ask for a donation of $5 for each one-hour show or 5 shows for $20.
We also offer Top 40s songs on CD by the year, from 1937 through 1965. Any single year $5 or your choice of five different years for $20. The real deal: all twenty-nine CDs for $100.
We will restore your records, eight-tracks, and reel‑to‑reel tapes and put them on CD. Want to know more about us or place an order? Visit <www.rofstudios.com> or call us in Colorado at (720) 334‑1482.
Elementary Braille Music Instruction Available:
How to Read Braille Music, by Bettye Krolick, is available in print ($12.95) and Braille ($19.95) from National Braille Press. This book explains the music Braille symbols most frequently found in elementary-through intermediate‑level music. It's written at a fifth-grade reading level, so it's suitable for both children and adults.
You can read more about this book and others available from NBP at <www.nbp.org/august03.html>. To order, send payment to NBP, 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02115‑4302, or call and charge it toll‑free (800) 548‑7323 or (617) 266‑6160, ext 20. Or email your order to <[email protected]>.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Foresight founder and president, Mark Davis (right), and his guide ski downhill.]
Foresight Ski Guides:
Foresight Ski Guides is a nonprofit organization, founded by a blind skier, designed to offer an adventurous and affordable winter sports experience for blind and visually impaired people. With Foresight you will have the opportunity to explore downhill and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing at some of the world's top resorts, including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, and Keystone.
As a member of Disabled Sports USA and a member school of the Professional Ski Instructors of America, Foresight works hard to develop and maintain the level of expertise needed to provide a safe, professional, and affordable experience for its participants.
For a suggested contribution of $50, Foresight Ski Guides provides all participants with everything needed for a great week, including a trained guide, a lift ticket, transportation from either Denver or Eagle/Vail airport, rental equipment, and lodging assistance. Advanced notice and reservations are required. For details and additional information, log on to <www.foresightskiguides.org>, or call Mark Davis toll free at (866) 860-0972.
The notices in this section have been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.
Three-year-old Sony VAIO Notebook Computer in Pristine condition: 650 MHZ, Windows 98 operating system, 9 Gig hard drive, 384-megabyte RAM, CD-ROM and floppy disk drives, 2 USB ports, 1 serial and 1 parallel port, PC card slot, and 56K modem. Battery and power adapter included along with recovery disks from Sony. External ACER CD burner without software is also included. This computer has been adapted for blind user. Asking $1,800 shipped within the USA. Payment through Western Union. Contact Bill at <[email protected]> with questions. Serious inquiries only.
I have a fairly new Type Lite, purchased last January. It comes with the battery charger, serial port cables, telephone wire and adapter for email, Braille and tape manuals, and soft leather carrying case. Asking $3,995. This unit retails for $5,995. If you are interested, contact Jan at <[email protected]> or call Bill (305) 987-6954.
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.
Braille Is Beautiful--
A Disability Awareness Program for Sighted Children
This innovative program teaches sighted students how to read and write the Braille alphabet code and increases students sensitivity and understanding of blind persons. The Braille Is Beautiful program targets grades four through six. However, it can also be used effectively with younger or older children, and in community youth programs as well as in the classroom.
Video Set: $50
Option 1: Includes two videos, Jake and the Secret Code (for children) and That the Blind May Read (adults), a 30-page video discussion guide and resource list with instructions on how to demonstrate writing Braille with a slate and stylus (also included in the set), and a Braille alphabet card.
Option 2: A second video of Jake and the Secret Code is substituted for That the Blind May Read.
Curriculum Program: $250
This program has all the materials needed to instruct a typical classroom of children. It includes the Teacher’s Guide, the Video Set (Option 1), 30 sets of the student instruction book and workbook, a ream of Braille paper, 12 sets of slates and styli, 48 paperback books with real and fictional stories about Braille and living with blindness, 30 Braille alphabet cards, a teacher’s guide on teaching Braille writing with a slate and stylus, and materials and instructions for doing Braille service projects.
Braille Is Beautiful
Video Set: Option 1 (LPA58V) ____ Option 2 (LPA59V) ____
$50 + $9 (s/h) = _____
$250 + $30 (s/h) = _____ (LPA50P)
TOTAL ENCLOSED: ___________
** Shipping is UPS Ground. Call for other shipping options. **
Please make check or money order payable to NFB and mail with this form to:
Materials Center, National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998
Email: [email protected] Phone: (410) 659-9314