THE BRAILLE MONITOR
Vol. 47, No. 6 June, 2004
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
Web site address: http://www.nfb.org
NFB-NEWSLINE® number: 1-888-882-1629
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should be sent to the National Office.
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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
[PHOTO/CAPTION: The lobby of the Atlanta Sheraton Hotel]
Have you been putting off making your room reservation for this year's convention? The Marriott Marquis is just about full. Those holding room confirmations from the Hilton will have them honored. But the Atlanta Sheraton Hotel, 165 Courtland Street, is now our official overflow hotel. This newly refurbished facility is about two blocks from the Marriott. Room rates are the same at both hotels. To make a room reservation at the Sheraton, call (404) 659-6500.
Vol. 47, No. 6 June, 2004
The First Jernigan Institute
Technology Training Conference..........................................................................................................
by Betsy Zaborowski
The Heart of the Technology-Training Conference................................................................................
by Anne Taylor
The Topography of Technology, Blindness,
and the Luddite....................................................................................................................................
by Marc Maurer
Striving for Excellence:
The Role of Technology and More.......................................................................................................
by Joanne Wilson
Access Technology and Disabilities
in the Twenty-First Century..................................................................................................................
by Ray Kurzweil
by Katie Keim
Eddie and Maria Bell Have Adjusted Gracefully
to Life--and Parenthood--without Sight................................................................................................
by Sarah Rozeboom
Training on Blindness from the Blind Themselves..................................................................................
by Mark A. Riccobono
by Barbara Walker Loos
The Latest News at NFB-NEWSLINE®.............................................................................................
by John G. Paré Jr.
Copyright© 2004 National Federation of the Blind
[LEAD PHOTO: Ray Kurzweil, recognized innovator, inventor, futurist, and longtime friend and colleague of the NFB, delivered a thought-provoking speech on the future of technology at the closing banquet of the Technology for Technology Providers Conference, which took place April 7 and 8 at the NFB Jernigan Institute.
PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Pictured here is Ray Kurzweil gesturing at a complicated graphic visible on the screen behind him.]
1. The auditorium of the Jernigan Institute was filled during the general sessions.
2. Trainers and participants alike enjoyed the opportunity for hands‑on assessment of the access technology products demonstrated.
3. Students listen intently to their trainer explain optical character recognition during one of the eight training sessions.
4. Participants had ample time to discuss technology products with vendors in the exhibit hall. Richard Fox of Dewitt and Associates talks with three women in front of his display.
5. Participants had a chance to tour the NFB's International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. Maurice Peret (seated center left) stands speaks to the group.
The First Jernigan Institute Technology Training Conference
by Betsy Zaborowski
From the Editor: Dr. Zaborowski is the executive director of the new National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute:
April 7 to 9, 2004, our new National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute hosted a truly unique and highly successful training event, "Technology Training for Technology Trainers," cosponsored with Mississippi State University. Ninety participants, all of them technology, accessibility, or rehabilitation specialists from agencies all over the United States, attended. This was the first program conducted in the Jernigan Institute building, and it took great advantage of our beautiful new auditorium, the technology training lab, the spacious Members' Hall, and our extensive suite of conference rooms.
The training was delivered by our expert access technology team at the NFB's International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC), led by Anne Taylor, with the participation of four highly experienced access technology experts from the Iowa Department for the Blind. What made this training event unique and especially effective was the extensive participation of technology vendors in the training sessions themselves, particularly with the hands-on demonstration segments of each session. In addition to the training sessions, the Jernigan Institute's Members' Hall was transformed into a lively exhibit hall, showcasing the products of seventeen vendors of access technology products and related services. Participants were able to spend ample time conversing and networking with the vendor representatives and learning about their products and services.
To quote a highly satisfied participant, "What a superb job on this conference! I felt the tone was different than other conferences. Everyone in attendance is working with blindness and has something to share; the consumer-driven aspect helped shape the direction taken by vendors; and the size of the event was big enough but not too big." Another participant exclaimed, "The topics were very well laid out. Those who planned the program were very insightful to our needs. Again the NFB has outdone themselves!" Additional comments were equally congratulatory: "What I liked best was the attitude of inclusion, the depth of knowledge, and the quality of instructors"; and "the size of the groups allowed for great interaction with the trainers as well as networking with other professionals in my field."
In addition to eight separate technology topic sessions, three general sessions took place during the three-day event. Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the NFB, presented a thought-provoking speech entitled "The Topography of Technology, Blindness, and the Luddite." We were very pleased to have the Honorable Joanne Wilson, commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, speak to us on "Striving for Excellence: The Role of Technology and More." Finally we were highly privileged to have our longtime friend and colleague, Dr. Ray Kurzweil, nationally recognized inventor, entrepreneur, author, and futurist, deliver a truly mind-bending presentation on "Access Technology and Disabilities in the Twenty-First Century." The texts of these speeches appear elsewhere in this issue.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Anne Taylor, NFB training leader for this event, took the opportunity to thank participants for their enthusiastic engagement during the training sessions.]
The Heart of the Technology-Training Conference
by Anne Taylor
From the Editor: Anne Taylor is the NFB technology education manager. The primary responsibility for planning this conference was hers. This is the way she describes the hands-on sessions:
The "Technology Training for Technology Trainers" seminar provided participants a unique opportunity to take part in one of the most engaging and dynamic access technology training seminars ever offered anywhere in the country. This event provided an unprecedented venue for participants (all of whom work in the fields of rehabilitation, education, or access technology) to receive training directly from NFB technology experts as well as from experts associated with the leading access technology suppliers. Further, the seminar was conducted in eight small-group, interactive, hands-on sessions covering subjects important to the blindness access technology field. The participants were divided into groups that rotated through all eight sessions, each described briefly below.
"Portable Braille Devices" was presented by Anne Taylor, NFB technology education manager, with co-presenters from three companies in the access technology industry. The portable Braille devices demonstrated in the session were Elba Braille Assistance (demonstrated by Tommy Craig, Sighted Electronics), BrailleNote (demonstrated by Mathew Janusaukas, Pulse Data Humanware), and PAC Mate (demonstrated by Mark Reumann, Freedom Scientific).
In the session participants learned how portable Braille devices benefit blind people. They also learned what factors should be considered when purchasing a portable Braille device. Participants had plenty of time to get a firsthand look at each product represented, guided by the product suppliers.
According to the participants the session was well structured. An enthusiastic trainee commented, "Great format allowing us to see each product up close and personal. Well done group presentation." Another participant exclaimed, "Excellent! I really appreciated the detailed information as well as the opportunity to work hands-on with the devices."
"Citrix Metaframe and Windows Terminal Services: Increased Accessibility and New Job Opportunities" was presented by Brad Hodges, NFB technology accessibility manager, and co-presented by Gareth Collins of Dolphin Computer Access and Doug Geoffray of GW Micro.
The purpose of the session was to address opportunities and challenges for providing access to computer systems which operate over a Citrix Metaframe and a Windows terminal service network. Participants also learned how two screen-access software programs (Window-Eyes from GW Micro and Supernova from Dolphin Computer Access) interface with these programs.
Even though this topic is new and quite advanced, the session was a success because of Brad Hodges and the co-presenters' knowledge and expertise. A trainee commented on the session, "They made a very complex issue understandable. I had never even heard of Citrix before today. This was informative and beneficial. Very good introduction for me, this is a new area to me."
"EBooks," presented by Steven Booth, manager of the NFB's International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, and Dr. George Kerscher and Annemarie Cooke from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D). Under the instruction of Steven Booth and Dr. Kerscher the participants gained knowledge of how to use the various forms of electronic books (eBooks). Participants also had an opportunity to see demonstrations of hardware and software eBook players and discuss emerging issues relevant to the electronic books market.
Even though the topic was new to many people, the presenters were able to assist everyone to understand how to take full advantage of under-used eBook resources. A trainee, impressed with the instruction, commented, "Fantastic! This program was worth the price of admission. My understanding of the topic was less than zero. Now I have an excellent understanding of the process. This was presented very well. The trainers know their information and were very enthusiastic about the problems either solved or minimized by new technology."
"Braille Translation: What Technology Trainers Need to Know" was presented by Curtis Chong, program administrator for field operations and access technology with the Iowa Department for the Blind. Curtis is one of the leading access technology experts in the nation and is president of the NFB in Computer Science. Curtis is known for his captivating teaching style and his presentations always packed with tangible tips. This Braille translation session was no different.
The goal of the session was to convey the generalities of Braille translation: the technical process, the tools (hardware and software components of the Braille-production process), and the role of Braille translation in access technology for the blind. Curtis also spent some time discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the most current and widely used commercially available and no-cost Braille translation software.
Curtis's advanced knowledge of Braille and Braille production and his concise presentation style were welcomed by the trainees. One trainee commented, "I learned more about what good Braille is in that brief period than in two years of working on it. Mr. Chong is knowledgeable and very personable. Lots of great information to pass on. Loved the material Mr. Chong provided in our manual, it is an excellent resource."
"Optical Character Recognition (OCR)" was presented by Mark Riccobono, the NFB's coordinator of educational programs, along with representatives of two optical character recognition software suppliers: Stephen Baum from Kurzweil Educational Systems, Inc., and Dusty Vorhees from Freedom Scientific.
This lively and engaging hands-on session was designed to highlight the usefulness of optical character recognition technology for the blind as well as to demonstrate the capabilities of the technology in both the workplace and educational environment. The training room was equipped with scanners as well as twelve computers, which had both the OpenBook software and Kurzweil 1000 software installed on them. The structure of the session allowed the trainees an opportunity to evaluate the two OCR applications in a noncompetitive format so that the participants could draw their own conclusions about the products' capabilities, make comparisons, and determine their own preferences. One attendee commented, "Allowing us to access and use the software was helpful. I liked being able to play with the software firsthand. The vendors presented helpful information on commonalities and differences as well as the strengths and weaknesses of their products."
"Screen-Access Technology: A Discussion about Informed Consumer Choice" was presented by Brian Walker and Michael Barber, technology analysts for Project ASSIST, Iowa Department for the Blind. Michael and Brian are top experts on screen-access technology and are well known by professionals in the industry.
In this hands-on session Michael and Brian instructed the trainees how to identify those for whom a screen-access software application should be recommended over other access technology solutions. The trainees evaluated each of the three most widely used screen-access programs, observed the strengths and weaknesses of the products, and discussed when to choose a screen-access program over other access technology solutions and vice versa.
One impressed trainee commented, "The information was very helpful to remind me of the screen-access choices available today." Another participant was pleased that the "subject matter was interesting and worthwhile."
"Tactile Graphics: A Touching Experience" was presented by Robert Jaquiss, NFB access technology specialist and a top expert in the tactile graphics arena, and by representatives of three companies specializing in tactile graphics technology: David Skrivanek of Repro-Tronics, Steven Landau from Touch Graphics, and Robert Sander from ViewPlus Technologies. Together they made this session a success.
This session was designed to give attendees an overview of the need for tactile graphics and the technology available for producing it. The technologies demonstrated were those currently in use and the emerging tactile graphics production technologies that will be available in the near future. One attendee commented, "very impressive training material, very useful in many different areas, and very up-to-date content." Another attendee added, "The presenters seemed very knowledgeable, and their use of multimedia was good."
"Integrating Technology in the Work Place" was presented by Richard Ring, rehabilitation technology specialist with the Iowa Department for the Blind. Richard taught a very effective session that helped participants gain necessary knowledge and insight into conducting a worksite assessment for their clients. He suggested specific technical solutions to specific situations that rehabilitation counselors may face when assisting their clients to gain meaningful employment. A satisfied trainee commented, "Well done and very informative! Mr. Ring's stories are good. It helped to know that even people like Mr. Ring are challenged for proper access."
In summary, the NFB Jernigan Institute's first access technology training conference, cosponsored with Mississippi State University, was a resounding success. Many attendees asked about plans for conducting these conferences in the future. Based on the very favorable participant evaluation feedback, it is clear that this event met the needs of the access technology community and should be continued.
The NFB Jernigan Institute staff are currently working on a long‑term strategic plan for NFB-sponsored training activities. This plan will span the range of consumer and professional needs. Follow-up on access technology training will certainly form a central element of that plan for the future. However, the challenge which we are eager to meet is to find creative ways to produce these training events in the most affordable, high‑quality, and participant‑responsive manner.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Marc Maurer]
The Topography of Technology, Blindness, and the Luddite
by Marc Maurer
From the Editor: On the first morning of the technology conference President Maurer addressed conferees, anchoring them in the reality of the blindness experience. This is what he said:
When I think about blindness and technology, the word that comes to mind is "ambivalence." What will the next generation of products do for us, or (which is more likely) what will these products do to us? The next generation of devices may give us greater opportunities than we have today, but they may make ordinary tasks more difficult.
I am reminded of the Luddites of England, who flourished from 1811 to 1816. Named, it is said, after Ned Ludd, who had smashed some frames used in industrial processes, the Luddites objected to the establishment of factories using labor-saving devices because industrial processes took jobs away from factory workers. The protests took tangible form with the Luddites breaking industrial machinery to prevent its use.
As part of my effort in creating the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, I spent some time recently examining kitchen appliances--stovetops, ovens, microwaves, dishwashers, and refrigerators. At one time or another all of these devices have been easily usable by the blind. However, the control mechanisms now being installed in these appliances are almost universally built with touch-screen technology. Much of the time they are interactive. Pressing the right spot on a touch panel illuminates a menu that offers choices available through touching other spots on the screen. Quite often the menu appears only for a few seconds. The operator of the appliance must be swift and sure in the touching. Without speed and accuracy in touching the right selections, the appliance will not work at all.
Needless to say, the blind, who cannot see the proper spots to touch and who cannot read the menu selections, cannot set the temperature on the oven, cook on the stove, set the temperature in the refrigerator, or set the amount of cooking time for the microwave. I have sometimes been tempted to take my palm and rub it over the entire touch screen just to see what would happen. When the inaccessibility has been monumental, when the day has been long, when the unwillingness of others to comprehend the need for the blind to be a part of society has been overwhelming, blind people sometimes have an appreciation for Ned Ludd. Smashing the stove or the refrigerator won't make it work, but at least there would be a recognizable protest.
Televisions, stereos, cellular telephones, and dozens of other electronic products present similar impediments. Some have buttons that can be felt; others do not. Even with the tactilely identifiable buttons, often the devices have visual displays that must be read to operate them. It is a temptation to say, "A pox on all this new-fangled technology. Give me back my microwave with the buttons and dials."
Just as in the 1800's industrial development could not be stopped, so it is in the twenty-first century--the so-called advances in technology cannot be halted. I remember a serious proposal in the early 1990's from some blind members of the National Federation of the Blind that we undertake to sue the Microsoft Company to prevent it from developing and distributing its graphical user interface--the Windows Operating System. In the 1980's a great deal of development work had been performed to make computers widely accessible to the blind for the first time. When the new technology came out, it was touted by Microsoft as a great advance, but it made computers impossible for the blind to use. Accessibility to computer information had become available through extraordinary effort, but it was being taken from us by a theoretical advance in technology. Because blind people were losing jobs through the dissemination of the graphical user interface, I was tempted by the proposition that we sue Microsoft for an order requiring them to stop distributing Windows. However, I judged that the groundswell had already reached proportions that could not be stemmed. It would be better, I thought, to hunt for ways to get at the information using additional technical development.
Today methods have been identified to make information presented graphically into audible or tactile form, and laws require purveyors of technology to make the systems they sell to government entities accessible to the blind. However, the methods necessarily employed to get at the information within the computer for audible or tactile presentation are inherently unstable because the operating system design does not take into account that audible or tactile presentation is needed, and the programs to offer these forms of presentation are, from the point of view of the designers, an afterthought. Consequently, even with computer access technology for the blind installed, the technology used by blind people is less useful than similar technology used by the sighted. Some programs routinely employed by sighted people will not run on a computer adapted for the blind, and even when the programs being used can be presented audibly with adaptive equipment, computers that blind people use crash more often than the ones used by the sighted.
During the debate about the graphical user interface (a debate that waxed hot and acrimonious), one question which often came to mind was one of fairness. Should the blind be able to prevent the development and dissemination of computer technology simply because it is not accessible in nonvisual ways? If a computer program can illustrate a scientific experiment through pictures that shift and change over time, should the sighted be prevented from having the experience of these pictures because the blind cannot see them? Or is this formulation of the question itself inherently unfair?
The objective in a scientific experiment is to learn information that has not already been discovered or to illustrate information that is known. Presenting the information in a book or on a computer screen is intended to illustrate what is already known. We believe that ways exist to do this that do not require vision, and we have seriously pursued the establishment of policies that require nonvisual access.
We do not object to pictures, and we would not inhibit the development of interesting new ways to present information--visually or otherwise. We do insist that nonvisual methods be employed in presenting information available to everybody else.
Failing to employ nonvisual techniques creates the Rapunzel effect. According to the fairy tale, Rapunzel, one of the most beautiful girls ever born was put into a tower by an evil witch. The tower had no doors and only one window high up in one wall. Rapunzel was trapped in the tower with no way to escape, and everybody else was kept out. Rapunzel eventually found a way to foil the wicked witch by letting her long hair hang out the window so that the handsome prince could climb up, look her over, fall in love with her, and eventually plan to go away with her to his kingdom.
In the case of the blind without adequate nonvisual tools, the computer doesn't even have the window high up in the wall. Getting into the system, the tower, is impossible, and we haven't had the good fortune to find a beautiful woman hanging her hair out of the side of the computer to help us climb up.
A few years ago a representative came to the National Center for the Blind from the Microsoft Corporation. Microsoft was planning to create the Microsoft Reader. The Microsoft vision was that all people everywhere would be able to read books--especially eBooks. The Microsoft Reader was going to make the world of eBooks available to everybody, including the blind.
Later Microsoft said that there had been a little problem. Some of the publishers thought that accessible books--those that could be read using speech--might interfere with the sale of audio books. Consequently the Microsoft Reader would not make eBooks accessible to the blind. This would remain so even if blind people paid good hard cash for the books themselves. Are books for everybody? Should there be universal access to information? Not according to Microsoft. Microsoft has decided it would rather lock its information in a tower with no doors.
In the early 1980's Microsoft created MS-DOS, the disc operating system. It was not accessible by the blind. With considerable effort a number of blind people built applications to speak the information presented in this computer environment. By the early 1990's Microsoft began widely distributing its Windows product with the graphical user interface. It was not accessible to the blind. Through considerable effort a number of blind people created accessibility software to provide the information within the computer system through speech or Braille. In each instance Microsoft periodically changed the operating system, distributing what they said were improved versions. Each time the accessibility programs had to be modified to make these new versions of the Microsoft system accessible.
During the 1990's Microsoft itself had a go at making its software accessible to the blind, but it abandoned the effort within a short time, saying in effect that it wished blind people well but it had no further interest in trying to help. Part of the problem was that Microsoft had built a program it called a screen reader. The screen reader was a dismal failure, and blind people proclaimed this widely because we did not want the uninformed to buy the product in the mistaken belief it would solve the problems of access to information. Microsoft did not say so directly, but many blind people got the idea that they were telling us that, if we didn't appreciate their hard work and good intentions, they would take their marbles and go home.
Today it is rumored that Microsoft is creating still another operating system which will be faster, better, and more robust than all of its previous ones. This new system is intended to take advantage of the advances in computer chip and hardware development. It will come as no surprise that the rumors also tell us Microsoft is not planning to make this software accessible to the blind any more than it made its previous operating systems accessible. Unless a way is found to induce Microsoft to include accessibility for the blind in its planning, we who are blind will be faced with building yet another accessibility program.
Programs to provide accessibility will of necessity be unstable if they have not been incorporated in the design of the operating system itself. These accessibility products are add-ons to the operating system--half measures to try to get at the information that the operating system manipulates. If the computer operating system is not designed to work seamlessly with access technology for the blind, other applications run on computers using these operating systems (or at least some of them) will not be accessible to the blind. Even when they are accessible, they will be slower, more cumbersome, and more subject to computer glitches than would be the case if accessibility for the blind were incorporated into the original design.
With this in mind we should insist that Microsoft and everybody else build products so that accessibility can be a part of them. However, Microsoft does not know about accessibility. It cannot do an adequate job of building its programs to be accessible. Microsoft tried, and it failed. In order for companies to build adequate accessibility tools, the blind must be a part of the process.
Most of the time the blind have been at a disadvantage when trying to get information. But occasionally we have had as much as anybody else, and sometimes we have had more.
In the 1970's the National Federation of the Blind participated in the development of Dr. Raymond Kurzweil's reading machine. We said that we would help him build the device if we could have the opportunity to assist in the design. The partnership worked, and the machine was much more useful than it might have been because of the contributions made by the blind themselves.
This partnership has been reestablished. Today the hand-held reading machine is a goal we are jointly trying to achieve. A proof-of-concept device has been built consisting of a very small computer attached to a digital camera. The user can snap a picture of a page of text, which the machine will read.
The objective is to make a pocket-sized reading machine. In the beginning it will probably be able to read only text, but it will read text in many, many environments. We believe that the machine will be able to read the displays on electronic devices or the words on a computer screen. We believe it can be used to provide the information contained in a cash machine, a voting machine, the devices at checkout counters, the labels on consumer goods, and other printed text. After a time, we expect the Kurzweil National Federation of the Blind Reader to give us the information on street signs, storefronts, and the sides of buses.
When the subject of text has been mastered, we believe the Kurzweil National Federation of the Blind Reader will be able to perform other jobs. The camera built into the machine could be used to record a library of objects. The machine could learn the appearance of an office, a recreation room, a gymnasium, or an auditorium. Those who come late to a lecture might be able to ask the machine to point out where in a lecture hall the empty seats are located, and the machine might be able to give directions.
The library of objects is only the beginning. The machine might also be able to store a library of faces. In a political gathering the Reader could identify senators and point out the direction to travel to meet these people--or to avoid them. These are only a few of the imaginative notions that might be built into the Kurzweil National Federation of the Blind Reader. As you observe from these comments, we are beginning the design of machine-based vision.
In the 1980's the prototype of the first hand-held notetaker for the blind was constructed by Dr. T.V. Cranmer, a member of the National Federation of the Blind. He called it the Pocket Braille. Deane Blazie studied the device and decided that there was a market for it. Working closely with Dr. Cranmer and other members of the National Federation of the Blind, Deane Blazie built the Braille 'n Speak--the first readily available Braille-based notetaker for the blind. From this early beginning came the Braille Lite, the Millennium notetaker, the PAC Mate, and the BrailleNote. I am told that there are other notetakers in development.
Deane Blazie came to the convention of the National Federation of the Blind and told our members what he had done to alter the Braille Lite and the other Blazie notetakers. During the course of his recitation, Deane Blazie was interrupted. A member of the audience asked him why he had spent time and effort creating the improvements that he had listed. Why had he not put his efforts into something else? Deane responded by saying, "These are the changes you asked me to make." In other words he had a continuing commitment to work with the blind to build the products in the way that blind people wanted them built. His wish to listen to the consumers helped him to build a company that was extraordinarily successful even though it was designing a completely new product for an unknown market.
Sometimes we have designed our own access technology. The National Federation of the Blind NEWSLINE® system was created by the blind themselves through the National Federation of the Blind. Through this newspaper delivery system with a hundred newspapers, we have a greater quantity of newspaper information available to the blind than has ever existed before in history. Most sighted people do not have as many newspapers as the blind who use NEWSLINE. One does not wish to be uppish, but it is nice to be ahead just once.
In my house I have a stereo, a VCR, a DVD player, a television, a tape deck, and a radio. They all have remote controls. So far my stove, my refrigerator, my telephone, my furnace, my microwave, my washing machine, my dryer, my freezer, and my computer do not. I have been able to use the remotes to get the machines to do what they were designed to do most of the time. If manufacturers insist on designing electronic products with visual touch-screen displays, I want the manufacturers to build these products so that I can use my universal remote to operate them. This is, of course, not the only way to make such devices accessible, but it is a solution that the manufacturers appear to understand.
What makes me ambivalent about the future of technology is the real possibility that such development may leave us behind. If we are unable to ensure that nonvisual access principles are incorporated in future designs, we will be cut out of commerce. Those who control information are in control of the entire society. One of the essential characteristics of a free society is freedom of speech, which implies freedom of thought. Unless we who are blind have the ability to get at the information which is used to compose the thought, we cannot be full participants in the planning and the discussion and the labor and the governance of the society in which we live. Consequently we will not tolerate a system that builds methods for obtaining information but prevents us from getting at the same sources.
When we are a part of the development of new technologies, everybody benefits. The machines work better for us and also for the sighted because the interfaces designed for their operation are less ambiguous. But there are also other advantages. A reading machine designed for the blind can also be used to provide information to sighted people who have not become literate. The Jobline for the blind program can also give the sighted access to job information. When we have created machine-based vision systems, they can be built into automobiles so that sighted people can drive more safely. The lesson of our experience is clear. We must be a part of the development process.
Many people believe that building devices for the blind is a matter of charity--an afterthought--a part of business that is unimportant. Our task is to change this comprehension. We do this through argument and persuasion when we can. We do it through an appeal to enlightened self-interest when we find somebody prepared to listen. We do it through more confrontational methods when we have no alternative.
Some years ago AOL's online information service was sweeping the nation and fast becoming the standard for the design of online information services. AOL was not accessible to the blind. When we asked that the service be made usable by blind people, we were told that this would be accomplished when AOL had the time. However, that would not be until the online weather service, the online television service, certain streaming video functions, and a number of other products had been perfected. To add insult to injury, one blind person who was solicited by AOL sales personnel was told that although AOL was not accessible to the blind, blind people should buy it anyway because it would become accessible sometime--probably.
When we sued AOL, a number of its officials wondered what all the fuss was about. They seemed to think that we were overly aggressive and unreasonably demanding. However, AOL is now accessible to the blind. But it would have been accessible earlier and AOL might have retained its market share if it had been prepared to work with us in harmony to seek methods for achieving accessibility for the blind.
Which brings me to the Diebold Corporation. We became acquainted with Diebold by observing that this manufacturer of ATM systems had placed a number of inaccessible machines in public places in and around the District of Columbia, and we sued them. Diebold's president, Wally O'Dell, asked us why we had done such an unfriendly thing, and we responded that we wanted his ATMs to be accessible to the blind. From this strange beginning a partnership has developed in which we have joined with Diebold to promote accessibility through ATMs, voting machines, and other devices to be built in the months to come. Diebold understands manufacturing, and we understand accessibility for the blind. Not long after our partnership came together, we approached members of Congress about the urgent need of the blind to be a part of the political process, with the result that the Help America Vote Act incorporates provisions requiring nonvisual access to polling places by 2006. Diebold builds voting machines with state-of-the-art access technology included in them.
What do the blind want, and how do we intend to get it? We want access to the same information that is available to everybody else. We want to be able to use the machines that other people use. We want an interface with digital equipment that will permit us to get at the functions of the machines without the use of sight. In the past we have had buttons to press, and this is acceptable if the interface does not demand vision. We would be willing to have voice control rather than push-button control, but the interface must be nonvisual.
The telephone, the tape recorder, the MP3 player, the computer, the radio, and the digital camera (we are told) are coming together with wireless worldwide communication built in. We want to be able to use the resulting devices for the purposes they were intended to fulfill with the same ease that other people use them. Furthermore we expect to be consulted in the process of designing the nonvisual interfaces.
In the past many people have told us that they know what kinds of specialized products we need. A man came to me once from a benevolent organization to tell me that blind people needed a special cigarette lighter. The cigarette to be lit was placed in a tube attached to the side of the lighter. The flame came from the lighter at the very tip of the cigarette within the tube. The man brought me such a lighter, and I lit a cigarette with it. I wondered as I did so if he had thought blind people were unable to smoke before he created his invention.
We are no longer prepared to have others tell us what we need. We will participate in the development of technology, giving advice about how to make things accessible, and sometimes creating accessible systems ourselves. We will work to ensure that policies are enacted that promote the design and construction of accessible products. We will continue to support legislation to ensure nonvisual access to information, and we will ask that the courts enforce the law.
When the blind are involved in the design of new products, everybody benefits. When we are not involved in the design of new products and when these designs are configured so that we are kept out of the channels of commerce, the systems of education, or the framework of government, there will be conflict. We are not prepared for the blind to be brushed aside or ignored or forgotten. Above everything else we must be a part of the process. In the creation of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute we have made a powerful commitment to participation and to growth within our culture, and this is a commitment that we intend to keep.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Joanne Wilson, commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, delivers the keynote address for the April 8 conference session. President Maurer stands behind her.]
Striving for Excellence:
The Role of Technology and More
by Joanne Wilson
From the Editor: Dr. Joanne Wilson is the commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration. Before joining the Bush administration, she established and directed the Louisiana Center for the Blind. She was president for many years of the NFB of Louisiana and a member of the NFB board of directors. Her commitment to delivering effective services to blind people and other people with disabilities is the hallmark of everything she does. On the second morning of the technology conference she delivered the keynote address. Here is a summary of what she said:
A professor walked to the front of the lecture hall carrying a big jar. He began placing large rocks in it until no more would fit. He then asked the class if the jar was full. The students said that it was. Then he pulled a jar of pebbles out from under the table and poured a number into the jar. Again he asked if the jar was full, and again he was told that it was. Then he produced a jar of sand and poured it into the rocks and pebbles until it reached the top. He asked a third time if the jar was full, and was told that now it really was filled. Finally he produced a pitcher of water and poured it into the jar and said, "Now the jar really is full."
When he asked the students what the point of this demonstration was, they offered platitudes like "you can always fit a bit more into your schedule," or "a busy person can always find time to do something more," and other such lessons. But the professor said that none of these had been his point. He wanted them to remember that, if the big rocks had not been put in first, there would never have been space for them once the pebbles, sand, and water had been added.
So why are we here today? Dr. Jernigan told this story illustrating the importance of priorities years ago, and his point is still true today. We need to decide what the big rocks are in the blindness field today. What do we need to be doing differently to make rehabilitation more effective? We are meeting today in one of the answers to this question. The Jernigan Institute is going to provide new answers--some of the rocks that need to be put in first when we think about rehabilitation and training for the blind. This building, dreamed of and built by blind people, will be a center where knowledgeable people will be thinking and talking about education and training and research and technology for blind people in new ways. For the first time in history blind people will be able to shape their own destiny and determine the most effective ways for programs and research to affect the lives of generations of blind people to come.
As many of you know, in the past much of the programming and technology for blind people has been designed and executed by well-meaning sighted people, usually with little or no participation by blind people. With the Jernigan Institute that will change, and this facility will be a real asset and treasure. You are here because you are interested in technology, and technology is a very important part of the future outlook for blind people.
When I became commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, I had to decide where to start. I began listening to the people we serve. I asked them what they liked and didn't like about the rehabilitation they receive. How could it be more effective? I had learned from my experience with the National Federation of the Blind that it was important to listen to the people we serve before making policies or developing new programs. By taking part in this conference, you are benefitting from the distilled wisdom of blind people, for that is what this institute offers you.
As I listened to people, I began to develop a set of principles that I believe should guide the rehabilitation world. Let me articulate these principles--the rehabilitation rocks that belong in our jar--as they apply to blind people. My first principle is that blind people can lead independent lives and can hold down high-quality, competitive employment in integrated settings. In other words, they can lead normal lives and share in the American dream.
For the first twenty years or so of the rehabilitation program in this country, no one believed that blind people had any employment possibilities. The rehabilitation program really wasn't meant for them. In fact, if we look at the statistics for the rehabilitation program during those first twenty years, an average of 4.5 blind people per year per state were becoming employed.
Then things began to change because blind consumers themselves began to object. They said that blind people could work, and gradually the law began to change. Concepts such as "most significant disability," "high-quality employment," "comprehensive services," "full potential," "individualized services," "emphasis on wages," and "civil rights" entered our vocabulary. The law began to change, not because a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington decided that it should, but because they began listening to blind people.
In the 1950's no one had ever run a mile in less than four minutes. Then, on May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister broke that barrier; he ran a mile in 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds. Six months later someone else broke that record. Within a year several more people had broken the barrier of the four-minute mile. It took one person to believe that things could be different to raise the bar of expectation for everybody.
Why are you here at this conference? Because you believe that technology is one of those things that can open the future in a new way for blind people. Used right, it can raise the bar and change things for blind people for the rest of history. But bars will be raised and programs will be changed only when we listen to blind people--listen to what consumers are saying.
My second principle is that the major barrier preventing blind people from getting high-quality employment and leading independent lives is not blindness itself but the misconceptions and the stereotyped notions people hold about the disability. These notions exist in blind people themselves, in providers, in family members, in employers, even sometimes within the rehabilitation profession; and the resulting misconceptions and low expectations are often the major barrier to blind people's achieving full integration into society.
The other day a member of my senior management team came to me having just had cornea transplant surgery. He was sighted, but he needed this surgery. He was really having trouble with his recovery. The surgery had not gone well, and he was having problems getting around and reading. Using the computer was giving him real trouble. I suggested that we have adaptive software loaded onto his computer temporarily at least. He had been working for rehabilitation for years. He had seen lots of blind people, including me, working effectively within our system. But he refused point blank to accept the help that was available for him, and he continues to refuse the equipment.
Why does my colleague have such trouble taking this step? The answer is the same thing you face when you begin working with blind customers in the technology field. It was his attitude; he was embarrassed to be thought of as a blind person and to use the equipment that could make him productive. We all have areas in our lives in which we harbor low expectations for ourselves. In these areas we sell ourselves short.
I often tell the following story. In the rehabilitation center I ran that Dr. Maurer referred to earlier, I was working with some of the students, moving some furniture around. We had a big desk to move into another room. I said that we couldn't do it ourselves because we could not get it through the doorway. The students disagreed. They pointed out that, if we just took off the door, we could get it through easily. I immediately called the sighted shop instructor to have him take the door off the hinges for us. But the students said, "No, no, we can do the job ourselves; we don't need J.D." They showed me how to pull out the pins and remove the door. We carried the desk through, put the door back on, and replaced the pins. There was nothing to it. I had sold myself and these blind students short. I had believed that, because we were blind, we couldn't do that task. Lots of us do that kind of thing. Whether it's touching a computer or doing day-to-day tasks, we can sell ourselves short because of misconceptions about our disabilities.
When I first became commissioner, I decided that I just had to figure out why disabled people were having such trouble getting jobs. I called in some folks from Cornell University, where they do lots of research about people with disabilities. I asked them to tell me the secrets revealed by their studies about why some people with disabilities become employed and some do not. They cited one study of blind people preparing for employment. They asked them at the beginning whether they expected that their blindness was going to be a barrier to getting a job. Two-thirds of the participants said that they expected blindness to be a barrier. By the end of the study, 80 percent of that group were unemployed.
When they looked at the results for the third who had said that they did not expect blindness to be a barrier to employment, they found that 80 percent of that group were employed. I asked how the second group had absorbed the healthy attitude about employment. The answer was that some force in their lives--a family member, a teacher, a rehab professional--had convinced them that blindness would not be a barrier. The National Federation of the Blind is such a force, and as you go out to teach technology across this country, you also have the opportunity to be such a force in the lives of your students.
Why do people come to rehabilitation agencies? Maybe they want a college education or a particular piece of technology. Those are the surface reasons, but mostly they come because they see us as the experts on blindness. They believe that we can give them the answers about how they are going to be able to live independently and to go back to work. They are looking for hope from us. It's not just our job or the job of this new institute to provide information or equipment; part of our job is to help consumers deal with the adjustment to their disability, to give them real hope, to teach them a defined philosophy about blindness.
We must help them to sort out their emotions about blindness and to discover which of their notions are true and which are not true. Someone once told me that whoever controls the circumference of your mind controls the circumference of your being. Unless we help people to stretch their minds and build a healthy philosophy about blindness and the possibilities open to them, all the equipment and technology training and tips about daily living will have only a limited effect on their lives. This new Jernigan Institute will offer hope, and if you choose to, you can be the conduit for it.
My third principle is that I really believe that blind people have the right to choose their own employment outcomes: what they want to do with their lives, what kind of jobs they want to have, who they want to have provide the services they need. This is really important in technology. People have a right to understand what is available and decide what will fit their needs.
How do individual people make those choices? When I go to the NFB convention, I spend time in the exhibit hall. If you ever go to the convention, you will see the same thing. People move around, looking at the displays and listening to what the vendors have to say. They begin nudging each other and asking the more experienced users how well particular equipment has worked for them and how well they like using it. Before they commit to a purchase, they ask around the convention, gathering information and advice from other blind people. That is how people come to an informed choice. We need to help blind people come into contact with other blind people. That's how most of us make the big purchase decisions in our lives: we get perspective from others who have already made such choices and will share their experience. The Institute will provide this perspective for blind people and give them the information that will allow them to make informed choices.
My fourth principle is that the real purpose of the general rehabilitation program and the technology training you will be doing is to empower blind people by giving them the training, the services, the equipment, and the education they need; but beyond all of that they need confidence and high expectations for themselves--the conviction that they truly can become fully integrated and contributing members of their communities. All this takes time, and it isn't cheap or easy. But once we have empowered people, we have truly changed their lives.
I remember reading a little piece in the Reader's Digest when I was in high school. One woman in a small town was the envy of all her neighbors because she always had the very best household employees in the community. When she was asked about her ability to hire people who would do a wonderful job, she explained that she used the broom test. Before a job applicant arrived, she would lay a broom on the ground just outside her door. Candidates who simply stepped over the broom on their way in received no consideration. She made her choices from among those who bent down and picked up the broom so that they could prop it in the corner, out of the way. They were the folks with that little something extra.
In my rehabilitation center I conducted a class a couple of times a week in which we discussed all kinds of things. I used to ask the students this question: if you were an employer, and you had two employees who were in every single respect equal except that one was blind, which one would you hire?
The question always resulted in lots of discussion even though no two candidates are ever exactly equal except for one characteristic. Mostly the students decided that they would hire the blind applicant. Then they were shocked when I contradicted them. I pointed out that, if all other characteristics were in fact equal and one person was blind, any good business person would hire the sighted person. The students would be furious. "What do you mean that you wouldn't hire a blind person? How do you ever expect us to get jobs if even you wouldn't hire us?"
My answer was simple: "You are going to get jobs because you are going to work so hard that things will not be equal." Blindness is a problem with many employers and on lots of jobs. The job of effective rehabilitation training is to make sure that graduates have more skills, a better work ethic, a better personality, whatever it takes so that blindness becomes the characteristic tenth or eleventh down the list of factors to be weighed in the hiring decision. Teaching your students technology is one of the factors that will make a difference, but it is only one of many factors. That's why you can't just settle for teaching technology. Our blind graduates have to be superior to their sighted competition, not just equal. This new institute brings the collective voice and experience of blind people into this effort as part of what you can offer your students.
The final principle I want to talk about today is this: I believe that true rehabilitation, the actual changing of blind people's lives, comes not just from technology experts or blindness professionals like me but from our working in partnership with consumer organizations. Consider the general business picture. When you look around at ordinary companies, you will see that some are just getting along and some are thriving. What makes the difference between these two groups? The successful businesses are able to reach beyond the standard resources that we think of: products, personnel, technology, and financial resources. They are tapping into hidden resources that have been under-used. The evidence shows that they are looking to their consumers, the people to whom they provide services. They invite consumers to join their boards and to take part in analysis of their products and services. In short, they are listening to consumers.
I was on a plane the other day and listening to a program. A man from an organization called Redhead Technologies was being interviewed. He explained that the company had not been doing very well. They looked at their corporate structure and discovered that they had a lot of inbreeding. So they began consciously listening to the people who used their products and making decisions based on what they learned. When they began involving consumers, the business took off. This is what the rehabilitation world needs to do. We can tap a valuable resource if we will partner with the organized blind in doing training and rehabilitation and education. We have vastly under-used that resource. We have maintained a wall between rehab professionals and "those wild blind consumers." Sometimes we're practically at war--we certainly don't value the other's opinions or cooperate, much less do things together. We have always viewed doing so as unprofessional, and the result has been that we have lost a valuable group of experts on blindness. This does not make any sense. The business world has discovered that it doesn't make sense, and we in rehabilitation need to discover that it doesn't make sense.
We must tap the resources you have seen here today--the commitment, the expertise, and the role modeling; these can be made available to our customers. As professionals you can do some of what I have talked about here, but you are busy. You are at your desk or trying to sell or teach technology. But you can't do it all, and you can't do it alone. The National Federation of the Blind is a valuable resource. The National Center and the Jernigan Institute are here for you to use, and NFB members can help instill confidence in your consumers and speed their adjustment to blindness.
Those of you who have been in this field for a while or who are blind yourselves, you know what happens when one blind person meets another who has mastered the skills and has the confidence to succeed. A bond is established because someone else understands. People begin going off to conferences and conventions and observing other blind people. They say, "I don't want to be like that blind person, but I sure would like to be like this one." They get perspective and begin to understand just how far they can push themselves. They see blind people doing things they never thought they could do, and they find that others have already articulated the fuzzy thoughts floating around in their own minds. All this helps them define their personal philosophy about blindness.
Not only do they learn about resources and opportunities, but they learn to advocate for themselves. They come to recognize that there is strength in numbers and that they are not alone. They come to understand that together they can change the world, and this discovery is energizing. They discover help and support for themselves when they are facing hard times, but they also find a group to which they can contribute.
I believe passionately that we must break down the barriers and find a way to use the thousands of volunteers who are out there ready to help us do the real rehabilitation, education, and training of blind people if we are truly going to change the system and make a real difference.
I will conclude by telling you a bit about my own life because it is not just my story, it is the story of most blind people. I grew up with RP [retinitis pigmentosa]. I knew I was going to become blind, but I had no one to tell me the truth about blindness. My family and I drifted along, doing the best we could, but I was surrounded by attitudes of pity and protectiveness and low expectation. No one knew what would become of me. As a teenager I remember crying myself to sleep at night, thinking that my friends would leave home and get jobs, marry, and have children; but what future did I have? Like everyone around me, I assumed that I would always be dependent on my family.
Eventually I went off to the public rehabilitation program in my state. It was the Iowa Commission for the Blind, run by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. For the first time I actually saw professionals and consumers working together, and it changed my life. I met professional staff members who truly believed in me as a blind person. They taught me new attitudes, and they pushed me to learn new skills. Very simply they made me a different person. Why? Because they themselves had positive attitudes about blindness, a new philosophy about blindness, and high expectations for blind people. Their beliefs were different from those of most blindness professionals because they had been around blind people. They had immersed themselves in the writings of blind thinkers and gone to conventions and taken the time to really listen to what blind people and consumer groups of blind people thought and hoped and dreamed. Moreover, they had hung around with blind people and had made friends with them.
The result of all this was that they had a different attitude about blindness. And they conveyed that attitude to a young blind kid from a small town in Iowa. They had me read the material written by the organized blind, they pulled me into discussions that helped me sort out my thoughts about blindness, they encouraged me to attend conferences where I could gain a healthy perspective on my blindness, and they had me hang around with the kind of blind people who could serve as role models and give me hope and encouragement. All this taught me that I could advocate for myself and others, that I should have high expectations for myself, that I had a right to the American dream. They taught me a defined philosophy and gave me a support group that I could give back to. All this made a huge difference in my life. Because of those experiences the big rocks were put into my jar. After that the rest just fell into place.
That is why I am very glad that I was invited to come to talk to all of you today. I believe that all this is your job, and I sincerely ask you to be vehicles for putting the big rocks into the individual lives of the people you work with, but also into the rehabilitation, education, and training professions. Those big rocks are the healthy attitudes, the beliefs, the new truth about blindness, and the recognition that we can partner with the Jernigan Institute, with the National Federation of the Blind, and with other blind people to carry out our jobs and make a difference in the lives of blind people.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Jim Gashel, Ray Kurzweil, and Marc Maurer enjoy dinner together before Mr. Kurzweil's banquet remarks. ]
Access Technology and Disabilities
in the Twenty-First Century
by Ray Kurzweil
From the EditorM Raymond Kurzweil is an inventor, entrepreneur, author, and futurist. The Wall Street Journal calls him "a restless genius"; Forbes magazine refers to him as the "ultimate thinking machine." He has many firsts to his credit: developer of omni font optical character recognition, inventor of the first text-to-speech reading machine for the blind, developer of the CCD flat bed scanner, inventor of both the first speech synthesizer and a music synthesizer that reproduces the grand piano and orchestral instruments, and developer of the first large-vocabulary speech-recognition system.
Dr. Kurzweil is also the recipient of many awards and honors: the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, inductee to the Inventors' Hall of Fame, and recipient of the National Medal of Technology. But, more important than all these honors to members of the blindness community around the world, Ray Kurzweil has exhibited a close personal and constant commitment to improving the lives of blind people. He awards scholarships to the most deserving blind students each year. He is also working closely with the National Federation of the Blind to develop a pocket-size reading machine that can be used anywhere. On April 8, 2004, Ray Kurzweil addressed the attendees at the first technology conference to be held at the NFB Jernigan Institute. Here are his after-dinner remarks:
This has been the most meaningful working relationship I have had. I started my inventing career with a reading machine for the blind and was gratified to get this very enthusiastic organization not only to back the effort but to work closely with me. We worked with a team of scientists and engineers from the National Federation of the Blind, which I really attribute the success of that project to. It's been a very rewarding effort, so I have kept a close involvement in this field for over thirty years. One gentleman, who is here, Steve Baum, has been a tremendous contributor to that technology and has led the software effort for the last--fifteen years is it?--twenty-two years. Yes, time goes by quickly when you are having a good time.
As Jim mentioned, we are working together again. I'm working with the National Federation of the Blind, and we are going to be using Kurzweil educational software to create a pocket-size reading machine. I'll talk a little bit about the status of the project and what my goals are. But what I'd like to talk to you about is the future of technology. Really my interest in being a futurist stems from my interest in being an inventor, and that goes back to this first major project, the reading machine. I realized that my project had to make sense when I finished the project, not when I began it, and invariably the world was a different place when we got the project done three or four years later. Everything changed--the technology, enabling factors, the market distribution channels, the tools of distribution, and development systems.
Mostly projects fail, not because the R and D department can't get the project to work, but because the timing is wrong--the projects are too late, or they are too early. It's kind of like surfing, catching the wave at the right time, and it's very hard to get that timing just right. Invariably projects are too early, and not all the enabling factors are in place. So I became an ardent student of technology trends. I began to track trends very carefully, and this has taken on a life of its own. I have a team of ten people who gather data about all the different aspects of technology (computation, communications, biological technology, different kinds of electronic technologies), and I work with mathematicians to develop mathematical models, then use that to anticipate technology and have used that really to time the project so we can catch the wave at just the right time.
This has actually enabled me now to invent with the technologies of the future, and not just projects of three or four years from now, but to anticipate what technology will be ten years, twenty years, thirty years hence. While we can't build a circa-2020 product today, we can envision what it would be like and then we can contemplate what its impact will be on society.
So that's what I'd like to talk to you about: where technology is headed, what kind of capabilities we'll have twenty or thirty years from now, and what impact that will have on the world in general and in particular on disabilities and on blindness technology. This will affect everyone; it will have a profound effect on disabilities. I would say that already technology has been a great leveler in that it can really overcome the primary handicaps associated with disabilities, provided that the technology is designed correctly, that people know about the technology, that people have the right training, and that the technology really meets the needs of disabled people.
That's really the purpose of this research and training institute. Technology is accelerating, and I think Dr. Jernigan was very prescient to have the urgency he did despite a fatal illness. He realized there really was no time to wait, that this was the right time for this very daunting project. We do need a national leadership institute such as the Jernigan Institute to guide technology and also to train the world to use the technology effectively. I think the need for that will become more apparent as I go through some of the future trends.
The one trend that has impressed me most deeply from these models that I've developed is that the pace of technology itself is accelerating. It's not a constant. You might say, "Well okay, that's obvious; things are getting faster." It's remarkable that so few otherwise thoughtful observers really take this into consideration. I would say 95 percent of Nobel Prize winners don't factor this in.
I was just at a conference a few months ago, and we were talking about the promise and peril of technology--and I will try to touch on that--and we were talking about the dangers of nanotechnology. One Nobel Prize biologist said, "Oh, we're not going to have self-replicating nanotechnology for at least a hundred years."
I said, "That's actually a very good estimate of the amount of technical progress needed to achieve that milestone (that matches my own models) at today's rate of progress, but we're doubling the paradigm-shift rate, the rate of technical progress, every decade, so we'll make a hundred years of progress at today's rate of progress in twenty-five years." That is consensus in the nanotechnology field.
Generally scientists look at the work they've done recently. They'll have an intuition, "Okay, over the last year we've solved one percent of the problem." It might be hard to define exactly what that means, but their intuition is actually pretty good. Then they'll say, "Okay, we'll take ninety-nine years to do the other 99 percent," not realizing that the pace of progress is going to accelerate greatly because the tools get more and more powerful. That particular insight is very rarely taken into consideration.
I'd like to show you some of these trends. I'm going to talk through the screens for those who are visually impaired. Most of the screens just show a graph that goes up and up. These are what are called logarithmic graphs, which means that going up the chart represents multiplying some key value by a constant, rather than just adding to it. For example, if you have something that doubles every year, a linear chart would show a curve as the slope got more and more extreme as you went to the right. On a logarithmic chart that would be a straight line. So a straight line on a logarithmic chart means exponential growth, and all of these, except for one which I will point out, are logarithmic graphs. This is the growth of the phone industry over the last 110 years. Basically the only point here is that it took half a century for the telephone to be adopted by a quarter of the U.S. population. Here is a more recent technology, U.S. cell phones, and we have the same progression in only ten years. This is one example of the acceleration at all different levels of technology--not only the power of the technology, but the adoption and impact that it has had.
If we put a lot of different communication technologies on a logarithmic graph (the telephone, radio, television), each took quite a few decades to be adopted by a quarter of the U.S. population. The World Wide Web took about five years, reflecting this ongoing acceleration. If we take a broader view of technology, in fact see technology itself as an outgrowth of the biological evolution that led to the technology-creating species in the first place, we actually see that this exponential growth of the rate of progress goes back billions of years to the beginning of life on this planet. The first paradigm shift, cells and DNA, took billions of years.
Evolution works through indirection. It creates a capability; then it uses that capability to create the next stage. That's why an evolutionary process like technology or like biological evolution accelerates. So once we had DNA, which is actually a little computer system that evolution devised to keep track of its experiments, the next stage, the Cambrian explosion when all the body plans of the animals were evolved, went relatively quickly. It only took about ten or twenty million years, which is hundreds of times faster. Biological evolution kept accelerating. Homo sapiens, our species, evolved in only a few hundred thousand years.
Then again, working through indirection, evolution used that creation, homo sapiens, to bring in the next stage, which was human-directed cultural and technological evolution. That again was faster. The first stage in that took only tens of thousands of years. Fire, the wheel, stone tools evolved much more quickly than our species evolved. Each new stage of technology was used to create the next stage. So a thousand years ago a paradigm shift like the printing press took about a century to be adopted, but recent major communication technologies, new paradigms, have been adopted in only a few years' time.
This next chart goes back a certain amount of time and is a double exponential chart that shows the time that particular paradigm took to be adopted. It creates a straight line, really showing that technological evolution was an outgrowth and a continuation of biological evolution. The cutting edge of evolution on our planet is not biological evolution anymore. It's the evolution that we are creating, and we use each generation's tools to create the next.
The first generation of computers were drawn by hand using pencils and straight rules and wired with screwdrivers and individual wires. Now a computer designer will sit at a computer station, design some high-level parameters, and twelve different layers of intermediate design will be automatically computed. A very complex design will be done in a matter of hours, rather than years.
This is some personal experience. When I was a student back at MIT in 1967, a computer that took up a room bigger than this auditorium cost a few million dollars. It was less powerful than the computer in your cell phone; it was a quarter of a MIPS [million instructions per second]. Today a notebook computer, like the one I am using here which costs $2,000--it's actually already less--is four thousand times faster. That's twenty-two doublings of price performance in thirty-six years. So every nineteen months the power per dollar of computers has doubled, and that's actually a pretty conservative statement.
Many of you, I'm sure, have heard of Moore's Law, which reflects the exponential growth of computation. While we're doubling the rate of progress every ten years, the actual power of the technology per unit cost is doubling, generally about once a year. That's actually a deflationary effect of 50 percent. The economists are now worried about deflation when we used to be worried about inflation. They are worried about deflation because we had deflation in the Depression, and they think deflation is a harbinger of depression. That deflation was because of a collapse in consumer demand and the money supply. This deflation is because of an improvement in price performance, and it's actually leading to economic prosperity. It leads to greater productivity; and, as I'll show you later, our actual economic output more than outpaces that 50-percent deflationary factor.
The one factor that has fueled Moore's Law is that on an integrated circuit we shrink the size of transistors, which are microscopic in size, by 50 percent every two years. The transistors also run faster because the electrons have less distance to travel. We basically double the price performance of integrated circuits every twelve months.
Many observers have said, okay, we're going to run out of room in that particular paradigm within--actually they keep pushing the date back--but now it's twenty years. Within fifteen to twenty years the key features of transistors will be a few atoms in width, and we won't be able to shrink them any more. So will that be the end of Moore's Law? Well, the answer is, yes, that paradigm won't work anymore. But the real question is, will that be the end of the exponential growth of computers and all the other things that stem from electronics, like communications and so on? It's really a key question as we consider the twenty-first century because of the profound impact that computation is going to have on many aspects of our lives.
So as one way to examine this question I put forty-nine famous computers on a logarithmic graph, which you see on this slide. This goes back one century, so at the end of the nineteenth century, in the lower left-hand corner, we had a computer that automated the first American census. It used those little punch-card machines. (I think those were subsequently shipped to the Florida Election Commission.) [laughter]
In 1942 we had a different type of computer, based on relays used from the telephone system that Alan Turing and his colleagues put together to crack the Nazi Enigma code, which provided Churchill and Roosevelt a complete transcription of all of the German messages. Actually this was quite a dilemma for the leadership because they didn't want to use the information too freely, or they would tip off the enemy that they had cracked the code. So Churchill knew that Coventry was to be bombed and wasn't able to warn the city. They would try various ruses to try and convince the Nazis that they had gotten the information in some other way. So if they knew a convoy of ships was coming, they would send over a lone flyer, and the Germans would say, "Oh, we've been spotted." In fact the English knew all along where the convoy was coming from, having cracked the code. But then in the Battle of Britain they used the information without reservation. Despite the fact that the RAF was greatly outnumbered, England won that battle, giving us a launching pad for the D-Day invasion.
In the 1950's a different type of circuit came in--vacuum tubes--completely different from relays. CBS used it to predict the election of a president for the first time, President Eisenhower. They were shrinking vacuum tubes, making them smaller and smaller to keep this exponential growth of electronics growing. Finally that paradigm hit a wall. They couldn't shrink it anymore and keep the vacuum. Then a completely different paradigm came out of left field with transistors, which were not small tubes; it's a different technique, and it kept the exponential growth going. Then integrated circuits came.
So every time one paradigm ran out of ability to keep this exponential growth going, another paradigm emerged. Generally, as we could see ahead of time the end of a paradigm's ability to produce exponential growth, that fact would create pressure on research and development to create the next paradigm. That's happening right now, despite the fact that we're fifteen to twenty years away from the end of the current paradigm, which is the fifth, not the first, paradigm to provide exponential growth in computing.
Now that we can see that we will be unable to shrink transistors on an integrated circuit, we've already been doing extensive work on the sixth paradigm, which is three-dimensional molecular computing--building computing devices at the molecular level in three dimensions. When I wrote about this five years ago in the book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, it was considered a controversial notion and was not a mainstream view. There has been a real sea change in attitude among mainstream scientists as to the feasibility of three-dimensional molecular circuits. There has been so much progress, really in the last two years, it's now a mainstream view that, why of course, we'll have three-dimensional molecular circuits, and they are already working on a small scale. My favorite, which I said would most likely work five years ago, are carbon nanotubes, which are hexagonal arrays of carbon atoms that are extremely strong. They're fifty times stronger than steel, and they are extremely fast in terms of computation. A one-inch cube of nanotube circuitry would be a million times more powerful than the computational ability of the brain. I will come back to that, the human brain.
We'll be able to keep this trend going really through the twenty-first century by going into the third dimension. Chips today are very dense, but they are flat. Our brain is organized in three dimensions. Even though our brain actually uses a very cumbersome and inefficient signaling system (it uses an electrochemical computational method that is a million times slower than today's electronic circuits), it's organized in three dimensions, and by using the third dimension, which we might as well do since we live in a three-dimensional world, we'll be able to compete with the human brain. I want to come back and talk more about that.
This curve up here on this chart is not a straight line; it's another curve, meaning there is actually exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth. It took us three years to double the price performance for computation at the beginning of the twentieth century. We are now doubling it every year. That's going to continue as well.
These graphs are all different exponential charts. I won't dwell on this because I want to talk more about the implications. But these are different ways of measuring the exponential growth of electronics. These are different Intel processors growing along, doubling time every 1.8 years. Here's the average transistor price in 1968. You could buy one transistor for a dollar. I remember in the 1960's hanging around the surplus electronics shops in New York on Canal Street--they're still there. I could buy the equivalent of a transistor, which at that time was a relay with support circuitry, a large device, about the size of a small toaster. It cost about forty dollars. Today you can buy ten million transistors for a dollar. That has come down in price by half every 1.6 years, so you can buy twice as many transistors for the same price every 1.6 years. Unlike Gertrude Stein's roses, it's not the case that a transistor is a transistor. As we make them smaller, they're actually better. By being smaller, they run faster. Electrons have less distance to travel, so the actual price performance of electronics is doubling every 1.1 years.
The next question is, is there something special about electronics? Some people have said that it's a self-fulfilling prophecy, that the electronics industry has noticed this so-called law, so all the companies know where they need to be at different points in time, and it kind of perpetuates itself. So I examined other areas where people have not talked about Moore's Law or exponential growth. These are completely different types of technology--magnetic data storage. This is not packing transistors on an integrated circuit. This is packing magnetic bits on substrate. So this is a different technical problem. But we find exactly the same exponential growth, doubling time every fifteen months.
DNA sequencing, a different technical problem. This is how much biological information you can sequence per dollar. This has doubled every year. The price performance, the speed, the bandwidth of DNA sequencing have doubled, and this has fueled another profound revolution that has enormous implications. We are understanding biology, life, aging processes, and disease in terms of information. We are understanding the software of cancer, of heart disease, diabetes, the fifteen processes that underlie aging. We're actually figuring out how to change those so that we can reverse aging. There are, I would say, hundreds of different developments and methods and drugs in the pipeline that detect very precisely the different steps in the sequence of these diseases.
I believe we will largely eliminate cancer and heart disease over the next ten years. I mean, there are drugs right now in the pipeline for approval (there was just an announcement just this morning) that will wipe out heart disease if you take advantage of these methods over the next three or four years now that we are really understanding these processes in information terms. This technology is also accelerating, doubling in power the amount of genetic information every year. This graph is a logarithmic plot of the amount of DNA information we have sequenced. Basically we are doubling the amount of information we have about these processes every year.
So, if you remember, it took three years to sequence the HIV (AIDS) virus; SARS took two weeks. This is a good example, and it gives me a lot of comfort about our ability to deal with biological viruses. A lot of concern has been expressed about the potential for biological warfare and biological terrorism. Here we had a new virus, much more dangerous than HIV. HIV is hard to spread; you have to really work at it. SARS spreads in the air. It's very communicable. It's much more deadly. HIV is dangerous, but with SARS 20 percent died. The other 80 percent are not doing well. It is a very dangerous virus. We were able to contain that very quickly with a combination of modern technologies, the Internet (where information about it spread very quickly), the ability to sequence it in two weeks and then develop testing methods in a matter of days. Then also we used some ancient methods of physically separating people who have the disease and so on. But it does give me some comfort that we were able to understand this new outbreak about which we had no information and contain it very quickly.
This is a profound revolution, now that we have the intersection of biology and information science. It's subject to the same law of accelerating returns. Communication, another technology, and I won't dwell on these charts, but it's the same thing. It's not Moore's Law. This is a different kind of technology, and there are thirty different ways to measure it: wired, wireless, fiber optics, modems, ISPs--different ways to look at this, all doubling every year.
Here's the Internet. When I wrote my first book in the mid-1980's, The Age of Intelligent Machines, I had only a little piece of this chart. It wasn't called the Internet; it was called the ARPA Net. ARPA is the Advanced Research Project Agency of the Department of Defense. We had gone from twenty thousand nodes serving a few thousand scientists to forty thousand in one year. The next year it was eighty thousand. Very few people had heard of this phenomenon. It was clear to me that that exponential trend would continue, and if you do the math and keep doubling, we would get to ten million, go to twenty million, go to forty million nodes in the mid-1990's. So I predicted that by the mid-1990's this would be on everybody's radar screen and we'd have this universal communication network expanding the globe, and that's exactly what happened. You can see it if you look at the exponential trend.
This next chart is the only one I'm going to show you that's on a linear graph. Of course, when you look at it in a linear graph, it looked like nothing was happening, and then it suddenly exploded in the mid-1990's and came out of nowhere. This is how we experienced the Internet; this is how we experience technology because we live in a linear world. But if you look at these trends exponentially, you can see them coming. Exponential growth is very seductive because it looks like nothing is happening. Exponential growth looks completely flat at first. It's like living on a pond with lily pads. Lily pads grow exponentially. So someone is waiting, doesn't want to leave on vacation because he doesn't want the lily pads to take over his pond, but there seem to be no lily pads, so he waits until the very end of the year, then takes off, and comes back two weeks later to find lily pads have covered the pond completely. It's that last burst of exponential growth that really takes over.
In 1990 the chess champion, Kasparov, looked at the very best chess machines and said, "They're pathetic; they are never going to touch me. They are very crude; they don't have human ways of performing." People told him that they were growing exponentially, but he didn't understand what that meant. He just looked at the best, and it seemed like they would never be able to perform. But in 1997 they soared past him and defeated him. We'll see that in one area after another.
Here is another very important trend. This is a chart showing the same thing in terms of miniaturization, things getting smaller at an exponential rate. We are shrinking the size of technology at a rate of four or five per linear dimension per decade. That exponential rate of shrinking is true of electronic technology. It's also true of mechanical systems. The state of the art is that we can create tiny little machines using the same technology we used to create our chips. There are already four major conferences on building blood-cell-sized devices to go inside the human bloodstream--right now we are testing them on animals--to keep us healthy and do diagnosis and therapy.
One scientist actually cured type 1 diabetes in rats using this type of device. It's a little computerized device that lets out insulin in a controlled fashion and monitors the amount of insulin. It's a very clever device that presides in the bloodstream. It's nanoengineered; the features are measured in billionths of a meter. The same technique will work in humans because it's the same mechanism of diabetes. There are dozens of projects like this already on the drawing boards, so putting intelligent devices in our bloodstream to keep us healthy (there are a number of applications that are more exciting which I will talk about in a few moments) is not so futuristic. This is already working in animals.
This whole field began in the mid-1980's at my alma mater, MIT. This is a little animation of a design by Eric Drexler, who founded this field of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is building little machines at the nanoscale, which is billionths of a meter. It really means building them out of atoms and molecular fragments. He had these theoretical designs, and they have since been simulated on supercomputers. These are little machines that work at the molecular level, and we already have machines like this working. I would say the golden age of nanotechnology, where we really can build very intelligent machines at this level, will be in the 2020's.
One of the implications is that we will really marry these trends of miniaturization, our understanding of biology in information terms, computation, and communication; they will all come together. We'll have little devices that go inside our bodies and bloodstream and greatly enhance the human potential. They'll have profound implications for disabilities, which I want to talk about in a few moments, but it really will advance our health and longevity.
I believe radical life extension will be coming within a couple of decades. I think it's already feasible for baby boomers like me to essentially postpone aging indefinitely. I have a book coming out on that this fall, How to Live Long Enough to Live Forever. It talks about three things: bridge one is the knowledge we have today that can slow down aging to such a degree that we can remain alive and healthy and viable until the full blossoming of the second bridge, which is biotechnology. That will expand our lifespan to the point which will take us to the third bridge, which is the full blossoming of the nanotechnology revolution, where we can really enhance our biological systems with these nanoengineered devices.
So we really do have the means today to dramatically change the nature of human aging and human lifespan. This brings up natural controversies, but my view is that what is unique about the human species is that we seek to extend beyond our horizons and limitations. We don't celebrate our limitations; we celebrate our ability to overcome them and extend beyond them. We didn't stay on the ground. We didn't stay on the planet. We are not staying within the limitations of our biology, which incidentally was a life expectancy of thirty-seven in 1800, and that's pretty recent in terms of evolution or even human history. Most of us in this room wouldn't be here if we had not extended human potential through our technology.
This is one design where I know that brilliant nanotechnology theorist Rob Freitas has actually designed a robotic red blood cell, called a respirocyte. It's actually a pretty simple device. The red blood cell just gathers oxygen in a certain way and lets it out at prescribed times. Detailed studies of these respirocytes indicate that, if you replace 10 percent of your red blood cells with these respirocytes, you could do an Olympic sprint for fifteen minutes without taking a breath. You could sit at the bottom of your pool for four hours. We are actually very limited when it comes to breathing. We have to be in the vicinity of breathable air all the time. It's a pretty big limitation. It will be interesting to see what impact these devices have on our Olympic contests. Presumably we'll ban them, assuming we can detect them, but then we will have the specter of kids in their junior high school gymnasiums routinely outperforming Olympic athletes.
It's actually not that complicated a device, and it does show up a key insight into the design of our biology. You commonly hear people say how remarkable the design of our biology is and how intricate the designs are, how clever evolution is, and how perfect the design of our biological systems is. On the one hand, they are remarkably intricate; on the other hand, they are very suboptimal. Once we reverse-engineer our biological systems--that is to say, understand how they work, which we are increasingly learning now (that process is also accelerating)--we can re-engineer these systems in our bodies to be thousands of times more capable. These respirocytes, a pretty conservative design, are about a thousand times more powerful than our red blood cells.
The most important example is our thinking. Thinking takes place in the interneuronal connections, the connections between our neurons. We have about a hundred billion neurons. There's an average fan-out of a thousand to one, so we have a hundred trillion connections, dendrites and axons. That's where the bulk of our thinking takes place. It uses an electrochemical signaling system that is literally a million times slower than our conventional electronics. So once we can build electronics in three dimensions, we'll be able to build circuits that are millions of times more powerful than our interneuronal connections.
Basically our biology is very limited because biological evolution adopted certain techniques, and then it got stuck in those designs. I mean, everything is built out of protein. That's a very limited construction set, and proteins are physically weak. They don't signal very well. There are a lot of limitations. We already have means of engineering things far more powerfully.
This picture shows another design called a microbivore, which is basically a robotic white blood cell. Our white blood cells are very clever devices. These are the warriors, the soldiers of our immune system. They actually go out and detect pathogens of different kinds: viruses, fungal particles, or cancer cells. Then they sneak up, engulf them, and destroy them. Again, they are remarkable but also very limited. I've actually watched my own white blood cell in a microscope sneak up on a bacterium, engulf it, and destroy it. It was clever; except it was very slow and very boring to watch. It took about an hour and a half before it was complete. This device does the same thing, except it does it in a few seconds. It's a thousand times more capable. It can download software from the Internet for any particular pathogen.
If that seems unusual, we already have neuro-implants. I am actually talking about an FDA-approved device for Parkinson's patients that is planted in the brain, and it replaces biological neurons, and the biological neurons nearby get signals from this implant, which replaces the neurons that were destroyed by the Parkinson's. The neurons that remain and get signals from the electronic device are perfectly happy to get signals from an electronic device as if they were getting signals from the original biological neurons. So you have a hybrid of electronics and biological signaling that works perfectly fine. The original devices were hardwired, but this recent version now has downloadable software from outside the patient, so you get the latest software upgrade to your neural implant from outside.
These devices will download software and will be able to destroy any kind of pathogen. They will basically eliminate cancer and any disease caused by a disease agent, to the extent that we have not already done that with biotechnology. So nanotechnology is going to be kind of a clean-up to overcome any aging disease processes that we can't actually direct just by re-engineering our biological processes.
Coming back to that chart of the exponential growth of computing, this is the same chart you saw before. The left-hand side has the forty-nine famous computers, showing the exponential growth of computing power through the twentieth century projected through the twenty-first century using three-dimensional molecular computing. We can see that a thousand dollars of computation, like the computer I am using up here on the stage, is somewhere between an insect and a mouse brain but will intersect the capability of a human brain in terms of raw power, or computation, by around 2020. Then it will go on to greatly exceed that.
Does that mean that computers will have the intellectual capabilities of humans by 2020? No, it really answers one aspect, will we have the raw computational power? That also was a controversial notion when I wrote about it five years ago. I would say most scientists didn't agree with me. Today the mainstream view is, Why of course we'll have plenty of computation to emulate the human brain. Now the challenge is, will we have software, or will we just have extremely fast calculators that don't have the suppleness, subtlety, tremendous insight, and flexibility of human intelligence?
Now we go to a different field which is also growing exponentially, not surprisingly--knowledge of the human brain. Our ability to see inside the brain, reverse-engineer the brain, understand its principles of operation, are also growing exponentially. I work in a field called artificial intelligence, where we try to teach computers to do things that otherwise required human intelligence. Up until now there has not been much contribution to AI (artificial intelligence) from understanding the human brain because our tools for seeing inside the human brain have been very crude.
Suppose you were trying to reverse-engineer a computer, and you didn't know anything about it, and all you had were these sort of crude magnetic sensors that you could place outside the box. When you were storing something in the database, you'd pick up a little signal--ah, there's something going on over here. You would develop a theory that, okay, this big circuit board is doing something to format the information. Then you'd hear some noise on another device and say, okay, this device which says "disk drive" on it must be restoring the information. You would develop a theory like that. The theory is correct, but it's very crude. It doesn't really tell you how these processes take place.
That's pretty much been the state of the art in brain scanning and reverse-engineering. You had relatively crude ways of seeing what's going on inside the brain. But the resolution, the precision, the speed, the spatial and temporal resolution, the performance of brain scanning is also doubling every year. Some new techniques are now emerging--for example, a new scanning technique from the University of Pennsylvania that can actually see the individual signaling on interneuron connections in a cluster of thousands of neurons in real time. So for the first time we can now see exactly what's going on inside the brain in response to different tasks. If you asked an electrical engineer to reverse-engineer a computer, he or she would say, "Well, I want to place individual sensors on each of the wires, and I want to be able to track them at high enough speed." Of course, that's exactly what an electrical engineer does when reverse-engineering a competitor's product.
We are now getting to the point where we can do that with the human brain. It has led to some interesting insights. One insight is, not only does our brain create our thoughts, but our thoughts create our brain. We can actually see this in real time. When someone thinks about something, we can actually see new synaptic connections being created in real time from that activity.
There is an interesting study with violinists in which researchers saw that the part of the brain dealing with sensing the four fingers on the left hand, if the musician was right-handed, was actually greatly enlarged. They figured, maybe people with enlarged sensitivity for those fingers decide to become violinists. So they took people who were not violinists, taught them violin, and within three months they showed the same thing happening. Then using high-speed scanning, they could actually see the creation of these new connections in real time. It's long been known from the study of Einstein's brain that the regions of his brain dealing with mathematics and the types of analytical skills needed for physics were greatly enlarged.
We really do create our own brains with our activities. But we're also learning exactly how those methods work. This is a block diagram that I won't explain, but each one of these little boxes represents a region of the brain. Based on the information we have from brain scans and other types of neurological information, a group of scientists on the West Coast has actually created a mathematical model and a computer simulation of each of these regions and then has created basically an artificial system that recreates these fifteen regions of the brain having to do with processing auditory information. Then applying psychoacoustic tests to this computer simulation gets the same results as applying the same kinds of tests to human auditory perception, indicating that the model and the simulation are reasonably correct.
Another group has actually simulated the human cerebellum, which comprises nearly half of the neurons in our brains. That's where we learn skills like talking and walking. They take place in the cerebellum. We have a computer simulation, again, which operates very similarly to the way the cerebellum works in the human brain. If we ask, well, how complicated is the human brain? I mean, okay, we are making progress in certain areas and simulating certain regions, but isn't the whole thing vastly beyond our capability of understanding? Doug Hofstadter, who is a famous scientist and Pulitzer Prize winner, has been saying for many years, "Well maybe our intelligence is just below the threshold needed to understand our own intelligence. If we were smarter, then our brain would have to be more complicated, and we still wouldn't be able to understand it, and we could never catch up." He compares it to a giraffe, whose brains are really not that different from ours. A giraffe is clearly not capable of understanding its own brain; maybe we're not capable of understanding our own brains either.
But we're finding that the brain is only several hundred regions. We've already reverse-engineered about twenty of them. Once we get the data, we can develop these models and understand how they work. The brain itself has a lot of content in it. I mentioned the hundred trillion connections. There are thousands of trillions of bytes of information to characterize the state of all the neurotransmitters in our brain. But how complicated is the design? The design is captured in the genome. The genome is six billion bits, eight hundred million bytes; it's replete with redundancies; sequences are repeated hundreds of thousands of times. If you just take out the redundancies and use data compression, there are about thirty million bytes of information in the genome. Two-thirds of that, twenty million bytes, describes the human brain. That's less than Microsoft Word.
Now, you might say, How can that be? How could a twenty-million-byte design describe the brain, which I just said requires thousands of trillions of bytes, which is to say, millions of times more information than is contained in the genome? Well, the design of the genome actually describes an evolutionary process. It describes something that actually evolved just like human beings. It typically takes place in the course of our lives, and it happens very rapidly in the first few years of our lives. We can actually simulate these evolutionary algorithms on our computers. We can have a very compact program that sets up millions of examples of itself, and then they compete with each other in a simulated evolution. They ultimately create a much more complex system than the original design. That's in fact exactly how the brain works.
A very small amount of information in the genome describes the wiring of the cerebellum. It's very simple, so this may be a few hundred bytes of information in the genome that describes how the cerebellum, which is only four different types of neurons, is wired. It says, okay, repeat this ten billion times with some random variation. So you get this randomly wired cerebellum before birth. Then the newborn child starts interacting with a complex environment. It's learning skills, and the cerebellum and all the other parts of our brains begin to organize themselves. It is self-organizing and ultimately contains a lot of meaningful information. The actual design is relatively compact, and it has a level of complexity that we as humans are capable of understanding.
I will just say a few words about the economic impact because I want to cover the impact for disabilities. Our economy has been growing exponentially and is growing exponentially because of the exponential price-performance improvement in productivity. I mentioned that we have 50 percent deflation in electronics, and you might say that's going to lead to the decreasing size of the electronics industry in dollars if you can buy the same stuff for half the money. But in fact the electronics industry has more than kept up. There has been an 18 percent per year growth in real dollars adjusted for inflation despite the 50 percent deflation in the electronics industry, and that is really what is fueling economic growth today.
Let's talk about a few scenarios. By the end of this decade computers are going to disappear. They're going to be so small that they're going to be in our clothing, in our eyeglasses. We are going to be online all the time with wireless, extremely high-speed connection to the Internet. There will be a profound impact for visual impairment. We are working now, as Jim mentioned, to develop a handheld reading machine. That project is going very well. We have a prototype of a standard camera that can read material of substantial diversity. It's connected to a notebook computer. The next step will be to eliminate the wire so you will have a wireless connection to a notebook and will ultimately use a very small computer that you can put in your pocket or carry on your belt, which will communicate wirelessly with the pocket-sized camera.
So these two very small devices will use standard electronics. We decided on that early on, rather than trying to build a specialized device which would be obsolete by the time we designed it. This way you can take advantage of the tremendous accelerating price performance of consumer electronics. It's always important to do that. We were talking at dinner about the fact that Braille displays have not enjoyed that kind of improvement because it's a small, orphan market of a certain number of Braille readers who are not able to take advantage of the price performance of consumer electronics.
We expect next year to have a major testing program involving hundreds of people. We expect this to be a real consumer product by the year after that, 2006. Around that time this should really be just one device--it won't require the two devices. It uses standard reading-machine software, which we are using from Kurzweil Education. But it requires solving some other problems. If you are using a standard scanner, standard reading-machine software will allow only a 5-percent skew. You are lining up the reading material at the edge of the scanner, but if you are just holding a camera, our experiments show that you will have much more rotational skew than that, so we have to correct things like that.
The illumination will be very uneven. If the illumination in the scanner is controlled, you have a controlled environment in which the illumination is perfect. But in the real world you have all kinds of strange lighting conditions. Formats are much more complicated because you are taking a picture of text on a wall or out in the world on a sign with lawn and trees behind it. So you have to deal with the vagaries of the many kinds of text in the real world. We are developing software outside of standard reading-machine software that deals with these kinds of complexities.
Ultimately this type of device will also be able to describe things other than reading material. It will be able to identify what's in a room, describe people and types of objects, tell you where they are, and even recognize faces. There is already very good face-recognition software. For example, the Department of Homeland Security is using such software in airports to try to recognize terrorists. That's actually a very daunting problem, because they might be trying to recognize a thousand terrorists out of millions of people who walk by. Generally we have fewer people we want to recognize. We may have a few dozen friends whose faces we wish to identify.
Over time this reader will provide more and more sophisticated descriptions of real-world scenes. It can be integrated with GPS to provide information about what's in the real world and actually download information about specific objects and buildings and guide you using GPS direction. These will evolve into kind of an intelligent sighted assistant that can guide you in the real world. It will get more sophisticated over time, and it will get smaller and smaller. There are already actually some very high-resolution scanning cameras that are tiny enough to be built into a pair of eyeglasses or pinned on your lapel and look in all directions. This is a direction that this type of project is headed in.
[Mr. Kurzweil then played a recording of computer software at work translating speech from one language to another.] That's using speech recognition that one of my companies developed. It is using the latest in speech synthesis, which is the synthesizer used in the Kurzweil 1000 reading system, and contemporary language translation. I actually held a conversation with a woman who spoke only German. I spoke in English; she heard me in German. She responded in German, and I heard her in English. We were able to converse quite well. I think you will see systems like this in the future. They will also be integrated into these reading systems, so if you take a picture of a sign while you are traveling in another country, you can hear it in the language of your choice.
If we go ahead twenty-five years and talk about the end of the 2020's, these trends of exponential growth in computation, communications, our understanding of biology and the human brain, reverse-engineering of the brain, and developing artificial intelligence will really have come to fruition. Keep in mind the power of exponential growth, that, for example, the progress we are making in the 2020's will be far greater than the progress we are going to make in this decade because the ongoing power of advancement will be at an exponential pace. By that time a thousand dollars of computation will be a thousand times more powerful than the human brain. We will have reverse-engineered the human brain, really understanding how it works. We will be able to use those insights as templates of intelligence for our intelligent machines.
Computers will pass what's called the "Turing test," which is to say they'll have the suppleness and subtlety of human intelligence. Nonbiological intelligence will then combine the flexibility of human intelligence, which is really based on pattern recognition, with some of the ways in which machines are already far superior to ours. I mean, this computer here can remember billions of things accurately. We are hard pressed to remember a handful of phone numbers. Once a machine masters a skill, it can do it very quickly. It can do it repetitively and tirelessly.
Most important, machines can share their knowledge. If I read War and Peace or learn French, I can't just download that knowledge to you. Human beings do have the ability to communicate. They have a very slow bandwidth channel to do that in, which is language. But at least we have language, which is a major technology--it was the first technology, aural language, then written language--that enables human beings to communicate at all. Animals don't have that. Another unique aspect of human beings is that we have a shared knowledge base that we pass down from generation to generation. The size of that knowledge base is, not surprisingly, growing exponentially. It's doubling every year, and language is the key to this growth. Other animals don't have a knowledge base; they don't have a language to embody it in.
Nonetheless, language is very slow. If we teach a subject to someone else, it takes months or years. Machines can share their knowledge instantly. We, for example, spent years training one computer to understand human speech. We taught it like a child, and it actually had self-organizing methods just like the human brain does. We exposed it to thousands of hours of recorded speech, and we automatically corrected its mistakes, and patiently over years it got better and better. Now finally it does a commercially good job of recognizing human speech.
If you want your computer to do the same job of recognizing speech, you don't have to go through those years of training it like we have to do with every human child. You can just load the evolved patterns of our research computer. It's called loading the software. So machines can actually share instantly the results of their learning. Once they can learn as well as humans can, they can go out and read all of human knowledge, which is increasingly out on the Web, and master all of human knowledge and share it among themselves.
But the key impact of all this, in my view, is not going to be from an alien invasion of intelligent machines to compete with us, because they are not coming from over the horizon. They are emerging from within our human civilization, and they are already a tool that is expanding the human intelligence of our civilization. We're going to merge with this technology and become more capable. I've mentioned some early examples of that, where we are already putting intelligent machines in our bloodstream. We have a lot of human beings walking around with neural implants in their brains.
If we get to the 2020's, it's going to be a ubiquitous phenomenon because we're going to be able to essentially merge with our technology noninvasively. We'll be able to have billions of nanobots in our bloodstream. They will reverse the aging process, stop disease, keep us healthy, and provide radical life extension. But they will also greatly expand our mental capabilities. These devices will be able to communicate with our biological neurons. We have already demonstrated that with our neural implants today. They'll be on the Internet. We'll be able to communicate with each other on a wireless local area network.
Let's take one application of virtual reality from within the nervous system. You want to be in real reality: the nanobots don't do anything. You want to be in virtual reality: then the nanobots shut down the signals coming from your real senses--your ears, skin, whatever--and replace them with the signals you would be experiencing if you were in the virtual environment. Your brain feels just like it's in that virtual environment. You can be there by yourself or with other people. Some of these virtual environments will be recreations of earthly environments; some will be fantastic environments that have no earthly counterpart.
Design of new virtual environments will be a new art form. We will have what I call "experience beamers," people who put their whole flow of sensory experiences on the Internet the way people now beam images from their Webcams. You will be able to plug in and experience what it's like to be someone else, kind of like the plot concept of being John Malkovich. You will be able to relive archived experiences. Designs of virtual experiences will be another new art form. But, most important, it will be a profound expansion of human intelligence because right now we're limited to a mere hundred trillion connections. That might sound like a big number, but speaking for myself, I find that quite limiting. Many of you, like Dr. Maurer, will send me books to read and Web sites to look at, and we have a very limited human bandwidth. It could take a long time to read one book. And there are so many different books that we would like to read. We would ultimately be able to greatly expand our mental capacity. We could have a hundred trillion connections times a thousand or times a million. These new connections can operate a million times faster. We would be able to greatly expand the kind of human intelligence we have, while also having an intimate connection to new forms of nonbiological intelligence that would be very powerful.
What will all of this mean for disabilities? I mentioned that disabilities have already been greatly affected by technology. A major handicap associated with a disability of blindness is the inability to access ordinary print, and reading machines and screen readers have been major steps forward, but they still have limitations. You have to bring your reading material to the machine. Well, the portable machine will address that particular handicap. So bit by bit, as we identify each handicap associated with a disability, we really can overcome it.
Would we want to create artificial vision? That's actually a more complicated question than it might seem. I think it's fortunate that we have an institute such as this one to answer these kinds of questions when these technologies come up. As I mentioned, our thoughts create our brain. A scientist named Broca a hundred years ago did experiments in which, when particular regions of the brain were disabled, he found that those people lost particular skills. He developed a theory that the brain was hardwired, that particular regions of the brain dealt with particular things. So one region of the brain dealt with processing vision, and another dealt with hearing, and another dealt with memory, and another dealt with emotion. Maps of brain function were devised.
We realize now that this is not the case. It's fortunate that that's not the case because we can all use all of our brain, and we use our brains for whatever it is we think about. All of our brain matter is devoted to that optimally. What if someone hasn't been processing visual signals for ten years or for their whole life? That brain matter will have been doing other things. So you can develop a rehabilitation program to relearn those skills. Is that a good use of resources? It's actually going to come down to detailed issues of what the technology really does, what other disabilities a particular person has, and the state of technology at any given time. It's going to be a complicated question, and there are going to be a lot of complex questions like that.
We want technology in general to be enabling rather than creating new barriers. We have certainly seen that. I mean, Windows was a step forward in some ways, but it created new barriers for quite a long time which we are still struggling with. We now have a profusion of electronic devices, all of which have displays, all of which are incompatible with each other. This has now created another barrier despite the fact that these technologies also enhance our lives in many ways.
All of these technologies are going to create many new questions, but ultimately they provide new ways of communicating information, which will give us many new strategies for overcoming the handicaps associated with disabilities. It is already the case today that, with the right training and right strategies, there are no real handicaps that cannot be overcome. We want to make that easier and easier. We want to avoid introducing new handicaps. That's really what this institute will do.
We will ultimately have new ways of communicating from one brain to another wirelessly that don't just rely on the conventional senses. So our expansion of human intelligence is something that will be open to everyone. I don't see us having to compete with machines. I think machines are something we are creating in our civilization to enhance our own potential.
I will show you one last slide and then be happy to take questions and dialogue about these issues. This is a slide that looks like the other ones I have shown. It's a graph of human life expectancy, going back to the 1800's. In 1800 it was thirty-seven. In the eighteenth century every year we added a few days to human life expectancy. In the nineteenth century things really picked up; we improved sanitation and made other innovations. We added a few weeks every year to human life expectancy. In the twentieth century we had antibiotics and more powerful medical technologies. This curve actually now is starting to accelerate because we are in the early stages of this profound biotechnology revolution--the intersection of biology and information. We are now adding about a hundred fifty days per year to human life expectancy. Many observers, including myself, believe that within ten years, as we get to the more mature phase of this biotechnology revolution, we'll add more than a year to human life expectancy. So as you move forward a year, human life expectancy will actually move away from us. If you can hang in there for another decade, we may get to appreciate the remarkable century ahead. Thank you very much. [applause]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Katie Keim swims close to shore in the Pacific off Waikiki Beach, not far from Diamond Head Crater.]
by Katie Keim
From the Editor: Katie Keim is an active member and leader of the NFB of Hawaii. She loves swimming in the Pacific Ocean. In the following article she outlines some of her techniques and describes some of her adventures. This is what she says:
What kind of spear gun is that? I am asked this in even-numbered years in my neighborhood. Even-numbered years are when our ocean area is reopened for fishing. I walk down our retaining sea wall to the stainless steel staircase that allows us to access a natural, sandy-bottomed lagoon in the midst of a great reef.
"Snub-nosed," I respond. Most spear fisherman use a tri-tip, but I use a white cane with a metal tip.
"To fish with?" Not really. I am headed to my favorite place, the Pacific Ocean. My husband and I live in an apartment building at the edge of the Pacific. Front yard or back, the Pacific is my yard. Our apartment building is constructed on land, but the retaining wall is what keeps us from floating away. As I approach the ladder, I locate a five-inch tuck in the wall I call my locker. Storing cane and towel in this nook, I reach out into open space, leaning carefully out over a twelve-foot drop. Yes, the metal railing is there, so down the stairs I go into the sea.
As someone who has always had an affinity for the open ocean, I was afraid nine years ago, when I became blind, that I would never again experience the fullness of my previous life in the sea, but I was determined that somehow I would get back to play in my beloved Pacific again. True to my nature, I gradually found my way back to swimming and playing again in the Pacific, even participating in some sports I had never tried before, like outrigger paddling and ocean kayak surfing. I was inspired by a new friend and neighbor to do some long-distance rough-water ocean racing soon after my rehabilitation to blindness. The Waikiki International rough-water swim is held in Waikiki, Hawaii, each year on Labor Day. About a thousand people register, and who knows how many more do not, but participate anyway.
Since that experience and because of my membership in the National Federation of the Blind, many NFB members across the country have asked me how I do orientation and mobility at sea--a very long white cane? (The depth of the water in the areas where I swim near my home in Honolulu varies from twelve to fifty feet, so it would be a very long cane indeed.) People also want to know about mobility on the beach, and, most important, they want to know how I find my cane again.
We all have our own tricks. Mine depend on where I am swimming. But I usually stash my things near a permanent sound mark that I can locate from anywhere on the beach as I approach with shuffling feet, in case I happen across sleeping bathing beauties. But here are my serious and detailed answers to the questions I have been asked.
My success has taken lots of love and hard practice. I have played in the ocean my whole life. My parents first introduced me to the water when we arrived back in California. I was eighteen months old when I crawled my way into the ocean waves, and that has been a comfortable place for me ever since. So when I became blind, I knew that I must return, without knowing how. I had never been a distance swimmer, but I was a strong one--endurance, slow but sure, is true to my physiology. So distance swimming seemed only natural.
When I decided to undertake rough-water ocean swims, I spent about 60 percent of my waking hours in or watching and listening to the ocean, reorienting myself to the special sounds of it and what they meant. I was working as a consultant for the Department of Education in Honolulu, and I did most of my work at home. This allowed me to work at odd hours and gave me the daytime hours to focus on swimming. I would sit for hours listening to the sound of the ocean while I was on land. It took me some time to figure out how far away the water was, how big the waves rolling into shore were, how far up the sand they came, and which sounds from shore meant high tide and low tide. All this was important to know before I began spending time in the water. I had figured out the spacial distances through sound rather than by sight. I knew that being in the water was going to be a whole new ball game and not always familiar from my previous experience.
I left Hawaii in March of 1995 because of my blindness and returned again that December for the same reason. Seeking shelter when I became blind in what seemed the only reasonable place at the time, I left my home in Maui to go to my mother's home in the Sierra Nevadas of California. While I was waiting to go to a residential rehab center in California, my mother got an interim job in Hawaii. So back I came to Hawaii for a brief spell. In those months of waiting I started to get back into the ocean water, but it was slow. At first I went only where I could stand. Knowing that currents, undertows, and waves could wash me away in a moment, I felt that I needed to be able to get and keep my bearings and stable footing. I had bought myself a folding cane, not knowing any better. I collapsed it and attached it to my suit with a bungy. Sometimes I used it as a depth sounder; sometimes I used my feet. Mostly it got in my way, but it was my first attempt at trying independence in the ocean.
My mother enjoys the water, just not for the lengths of time I always have. Eventually she would get out and sit on shore. In the first few months my mother was always nearby. But she often fell asleep, and I would call to her to find my way back to our towels, sandals, etc. When I returned to Hawaii from rehab in early 1997, my mother went back to California, so I got busy networking and making friends. When I began working for the Hawaii department of education, I made a point of making swim friends and then joining a swim club at my local beach. When I could, I spent hours with them in the water swimming and asking lots of questions.
At first the echo from the ocean floor often sounded as if something (a wall, a body, or the great white shark?) was in my way. Gradually I learned the difference in sound between coral and sand. I learned to approximate the depth based on sound echo. I am not really skillful at this between fifty and two hundred feet. Beyond this depth I am not at all sure, but I know at that depth that it is way too deep for most people's comfort. It is just very deep. Sound bounces off swells and can be very unreliable. If you have ever walked near the shoreline, even on a sidewalk, you may have noticed that sounds can seem to be near you, then far away, and then near again. This is due to the nearness of the water and the fact that its surface is not flat but undulating. Our ability to hear accurately depends on how high or low the ocean swell is and how much wave activity is going on. I may hear a voice but find it is behind me and not in front as I had first thought.
As I began spending time doing distance swimming, getting ready for several races ranging from a mile to 2.5 miles, I found many people eager to tell me how a blind person might navigate. Most of these suggestions were sound-oriented. But swimming at speed for significant distances would not work using sound. Each time I put my head up to hear, I would have some residual water in my ears, distorting the sound.
Other people devised tactile methods. Some suggested towing a mop behind a kayak for me to keep track of the whole way. I knew that this would not work either. Suppose I went off course, which is quite easy to do with current, swell, wind, and waves. I would just keep going or have to fall back on inaccurate sound cues, putting my head up, losing speed, and--if the current was strongly against me--losing distance and momentum.
I should explain that I use the sounds of the land to orient me to the shore. If I am too far away, I use the direction of the sunshine to orient myself, just as many other blind people do when traveling. I learned to use the sounds in water I had taught myself to interpret both underwater and above water, according to my needs. It is a bit like using multiple languages to express an idea. You choose the language that will express the concept you need to communicate. I use water sound to determine more or less what kind of environment I am in, safe or precarious. I use land sound and sunshine to get back home again. As I worked to solve the orientation problem, I concluded that a tactile form of navigation, communicating by tapping somehow, was essential to my actually getting efficiently from point A to point B, head down, arms moving, and legs kicking for all I was worth.
My first actual race was one mile. I used several swimmers to guide me. This was a problem since we all swam at different speeds. All but one of them soon swam ahead of me. That one was bound and determined to see me finish the race, no matter what. I learned that I was not as good a swimmer as I had always thought, and I found it hard to push myself to the finish line without visual cues to inspire me.
It took a while to learn how to interpret the information that I had a hundred yards to go, or only fifty yards left. But my big problem was handling the boom of the starting gun, the rush of adrenalin, and 400 people running for the surf line at the same time. Five hundred yards out I started to hyperventilate. Then the surf picked up, from flat to five feet. This would not have been too bad, but the race was on the north shore of Oahu, the famous Sunset Beach. In the summer the surf is small or nonexistent. In the winter this surf break has the world-famous, big-surf competitions--forty foot waves. This race took place in the summer, but this surf is not gentle at any height.
My swim buddy and I had an exciting Jet Ski ride that day. The lifeguards were pulling everyone out. The guard shouted to us to climb onto his Jet Ski. The back of a rescue Jet Ski has a full-length boogie board with handles for two people in case an unconscious swimmer is being rescued. Woo hoo! I had never been on a Jet Ski, let alone on the back of a rescue board. We flew into the face of a very strong five-foot wave and were airborne out the back. Many people needed to be pulled out of the water that day.
My next race was a 2,000-meter success. I completed the race and was not last. I had one person with me on a boogie board. She would tap my shoulder when I needed to adjust. If she had been swimming, she would have had to maintain my pace and work harder to chase me down if I got off course. She would also have had to focus on me as much as on where we were going. The system worked pretty well that day, but I went back to the drawing board to work out a better plan.
After my first race I learned not to kick for the first five hundred yards at least--arms only. Swimming is most successful when you expend 90 percent of your energy using your arms to propel yourself and only 10 percent on kicking your legs. This kept me from hyperventilating. Kicking accelerates the heart and breathing rates and keeps them running like nobody's business. As for solving my navigation problem, I finally worked out a system with two paddle or boogie boarders, one on each side. If I veered too far left, I got a tap on the left shoulder. Too far right, and the tap was on my right shoulder. This allowed me to stay focused and maintain my momentum.
In my longest (2.5-mile) and roughest rough-water swim, I put my head down and didn't come up for a sound check until my fingers touched the sand at the finish line. I thought I had only been swimming about an hour and a half; I had actually been swimming two hours, thirty-nine minutes, and fifteen seconds--forty-five seconds away from not having my completion counted as official.
Even though I never put my head up to listen, I had a good sense of where I was during the first mile and at the final turn buoy. I had spent a lot of time in these areas of the ocean, and I was familiar with the sounds under the water. But the stretch between those two points was not as familiar to me.
People ask me if I ever swim alone. Yes, but close to shore and on days when it is not rough and currents are not pulling out to sea. I never swam alone as a sighted person; why would I do it now that I am blind? What would I be trying to prove? The ocean is not an environment ever to turn your back on. There's a good reason why all safety classes teach buddy systems to those playing in and around water.
These days I do not race but still swim, frolic, and play as regularly as my schedule allows, although I have just signed up for a race later this spring. Mostly I swim three days a week after work and then spend weekends doing water activities of all sorts. I shoot for seven days per week in the water, but not very often does this happen anymore. I always swim with someone, and I try to keep my fingertips brushing a hip or shoulder to maintain an accurate course. If we are out past the reef or in an open area where I can swim freely, I just go for it, not worrying where I am until I come up for sound; then I relocate my friend.
I swim just to swim and play, rather than to achieve the distances I did when I was racing. My network of people that I trained with no longer exists. It took me three years of serious work and then eighteen months of daily training to accomplish my final and greatest rough-water race: two-hour swims five mornings a week and seven afternoons a week--a minimum of three hours a day. I would need six months to get fully back into gear to do serious racing again.
I now have a full-time day job with the state of Hawaii as a rehabilitation teacher for the older blind. Swimming as part of my home teaching? Well, no, at least not to my consumers, just to brave friends who trust me and whom I trust.
I love being out in the ocean. I get to move without anyone in my way and without my cane. I like my cane just fine, but I enjoy the balanced movement I have not been able to achieve while traveling cane in hand. Maybe I should take up two canes. I guess I am a mermaid at heart. I still spend time listening to the sea, but my spatial awareness has become quite attuned to distance, height, and depth in the ocean.
I am thankful that I was able to create opportunities for me and for others to follow me in participating in what has always been my joy and even my health in life. As all blind people do, I have found that I often have to point out to my sighted friends when we are not where we are supposed to be--too close, too far, or wrong place--based on my knowledge of sound. The sounds of land, sea, and under water have become fairly integrated into my ability to orient and mobilize myself, whether on land or at play in the ocean.
I have now taught two blind friends who never thought they would swim, let alone in the ocean, how to do it with great love, joy, and confidence in their safety. They have been able to pick up quickly what it took me so long to teach myself. The time commitment for them has been in becoming comfortable in the water and feeling safe and not panicky. My experience was the opposite: I was comfortable in water but had to learn what it all felt and sounded like, even what taste meant--brine or saline, the daily differences of salt and mineral content, even seaweed (yuck), dead fish too. The worst taste experience, though, was when a friend and I were racing out to sea as fast as we could, breathing at breakneck speed. A surfer had recently passed in front of us. As we crossed his wake, we both came up choking. He must have put on a lot of cologne just before entering the water. We got a mouth- and lungful--sputter, spew, and spit!
My friends have been able to learn from my experience, and they continue to do so. One was out with me recently. She heard a wave coming, knew she wanted to get out of the way, but was too late. She called for help to direct her closer to shore, but the wave caught up with her and went right over her head. She did not panic, even though water over her head is still a bit frightening to her. But once again we talked afterward, and she learned another point of ocean safety: face the wave; dive through it. Do not put your back to it. When your back is to the wave, it will go over you and keep pushing you right along at the front edge of it. You will be under water longer than if you face it and push through to the back side, where it can not catch you and keep you with it.
She began asking me about being out in waves and the other things I do in water. I told her that I typically trust my environment. One time I was catapulted out of a kayak as I surfed down a wave. I flew through the air for twenty to thirty feet, hoping I would land in water and not on dry reef. For some reason in that experience I kept hold of the paddle, not letting go until I landed in the water. Then, needing my hands to swim, I let go. My friend had been holding onto some water dumbbells when the wave caught her and she did not let go either. After my story she realized she would have been better off if she had let go.
The next time she will be just that much better at maneuvering the wave. I enjoy sharing what I love with those who want to try, believe, and be a bit resourceful in the process. A little step at a time is all that it takes. My friends say they will never get to where I am, but they never thought they would be where they are today, so who knows?
If I had any doubts or fears about whether I would ever again have the fullness of ocean experience that I had before I became blind, they have certainly been put to rest. I have a different ocean life today, but it is as full or fuller now.
You can create a gift annuity by transferring money or property to the National Federation of the Blind. In turn, the NFB contracts to pay income for life to you or your spouse or loved ones after your death. How much you and your heirs receive as income depends on the amount of the gift and your age when payments begin. You will receive a tax deduction for the full amount of your contribution, less the value of the income the NFB pays to you or your heirs.
You would be wise to consult an attorney or accountant when making such arrangements so that he or she can assist you to calculate current IRS regulations and the earning potential of your funds. The following example illustrates how a charitable gift annuity can work to your advantage.
Mary Jones, age sixty-five, decides to set up a charitable gift annuity by transferring $10,000 to the NFB. In return, the NFB agrees to pay Mary a lifetime annuity of $750 per year, of which $299 is tax-free. Mary is also allowed to claim a tax deduction of $4,044 in the year the NFB receives the $10,000 contribution.
For more information about charitable gift annuities, contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Using their white canes, Eddie and Maria Bell go for a walk with daughter Victoria between them.]
Eddie and Maria Bell Have Adjusted Gracefully
to Life--and Parenthood--without Sight
by Sarah Rozeboom
From the Editor: The following feature appeared in the February 29, 2004, edition of the Northwest Arkansas Times. Eddie and Maria Bell are Federation leaders wherever they go. Both were NFB scholarship winners, and even Victoria is an experienced conventioneer. They agreed to do this interview as a favor to a friend. It is a fine example of the way we can often educate a reporter while providing the story he or she has come for. Here is the story:
Each month during the first year of Victoria Bell's life, her mother, Maria, took her to JC Penney to have her portrait made. Some of those images of the auburn‑haired little girl with huge dark eyes, along with a few photographs taken by Maria herself, have been hung with pride upon the walls of the family's home. Others are tucked securely into albums or placed in piles awaiting frames.
Neither Maria nor her husband, Eddie, has ever seen any of them. Both of the older Bells are blind; Victoria, who turns two on March 9, is not. Eddie and Maria believe their daughter senses something is different about her parents, but they don't think she's old enough yet to comprehend that difference. "With other people she can catch their eyes across a room and smile," Maria said. "We can't have that spontaneous interaction with her." But the couple does read books to Victoria. They go for walks. They play in the snow. They watch Finding Nemo together, a lot. Some have called the Bells' decision to have Victoria courageous. Others have thought a blind couple incapable of raising a child. Still others have assumed Victoria was born to help her parents when she gets older. But Eddie and Maria say none of these is correct.
Theirs is the story of a family that is normal--or, as Maria puts it, "unremarkable, really."
Twists of Fate
Originally from California, the fifth of her family's six children, Maria was born with a degenerative condition called retinitis pigmentosa. The disease affected none of her siblings. As a child Maria could see almost perfectly. But as the years went by, her sight faded in stages. First she experienced night blindness, followed by loss of peripheral vision. Then she lost the ability to see colors. Eventually dark patches dotted the images she saw, such that her brain automatically filled in the voids and enabled her to "see" whole objects.
At age eighteen, Maria's vision was poor enough that she began using a cane. She was embarrassed at first and used one that collapsed discreetly into her purse. But she began overcoming her embarrassment as she discovered the cane went a long way toward explaining little mistakes she made from time to time, such as going into the men's restroom at a public place or ignoring a cashier holding out a handful of change. By age twenty-two, the rest of Maria's residual vision had disappeared. "It was almost a relief to stop having to adjust," she said. "The process of having it go was more frustrating than it being gone."
Undaunted, she earned a bachelor's degree in social work and went on to get her master's in special education to work with the blind. In 1993 she was working at a rehabilitation center for the blind in Alamogordo, New Mexico, when she met her future husband. Eddie Bell was raised the youngest of four children in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was seventeen, with a fairly new driver's license in his wallet, when a drive-by shooting claimed his sight. Unlike Maria's progressive loss of vision, Eddie's happened in an instant. "I was absolutely devastated, depressed-‑suicidal," he said of the first few months after the accident. But then he was accepted into the Alamogordo training center.
"One of the first things that struck me was how happy and normal everyone at the center seemed," Eddie said. "And everyone there, even most of the teachers, was blind." One person in particular inspired him: Maria. After learning that she had visited Europe and done some other traveling, he assumed she was sighted. But then he discovered she was blind too, and his hopes for living a normal life increased. "A personal testimonial is much more powerful than anything you read in books," he said. Maria's influence helped Eddie get through college at California State University in San Marcos, where he earned a bachelor's degree in human development.
The pair then moved to Ruston, Louisiana, where Eddie earned his master's degree from Louisiana Tech University. They were married four years ago and stayed in Ruston for awhile, with Maria working for Louisiana Rehabilitation Services, a state agency that offers training to the blind with the goal of finding employment. Eddie worked at a private training center teaching cane navigation. When Eddie decided to pursue a doctorate in rehabilitation education and research, he chose the University of Arkansas. So in June 2001 the Bells made the move to Fayetteville. Three weeks after they arrived, Maria learned she was pregnant.
There was never a question in the Bells' minds that they could raise a child. Eddie and Maria are members of the National Federation of the Blind, a 50,000‑member organization for the blind and visually impaired, parents of blind children, and anyone else with an interest. Through attending NFB conferences in places such as Washington, D.C., and California, they have made numerous friendships. "We know lots of blind people with children, so we knew it could be done," Maria said. But despite their initial confidence, when Victoria arrived, the Bells reacted like any first-time parents would. "I was anxious but not because I'm blind," Maria said. "I was anxious because I was a new parent." One of her concerns was, should Victoria become sick, how would they give her medicine? The answer came from Maria's sister, who suggested they use an oral syringe. Scoring the syringe with a knife produced a tactile identifying mark so Eddie and Maria would know how far to fill it.
As their daughter became increasingly mobile, more safety issues arose. "When Victoria first started crawling, I would crawl around or walk barefoot to make sure there was nothing on the floor," Maria said. "I probably vacuum a lot more than other parents too." And when Victoria pushed a screen out of a low window in the living room last summer, Eddie installed a wooden lattice barrier in front of the screen. "Our house is probably better child-proofed than many sighted people's, because we don't assume we'll see everything," Maria said.
A typical day for the Bells begins at 6 a.m. or earlier, depending on how long Victoria has chosen to sleep. The family gets up and eats breakfast together. Eddie usually checks his email using a Microsoft program called JAWS [actually, of course, Freedom Scientific sells JAWS] that reads messages aloud. Then he catches a shuttle to his internship, where he spends twenty hours a week as a vocational rehabilitation counselor with the Department of Human Services, Division of Services for the Blind. Maria stays home with Victoria and takes care of the housework and errands. When the weather is nice, she puts Victoria in a backpack carrier and walks to the post office, bank, or pharmacy. If she needs to go grocery shopping or do other errands that require a car, the Bells have hired people to help them.
The helpers also aid Maria in going through the mail and ensuring that bills get paid on time. "Paying people gives us a little more control over the situation. They're more dependable, and they take it more seriously," Eddie said. "With volunteers we're at their mercy." Making grocery lists is accomplished using their Braille writer, a workhorse that resembles an old manual typewriter, Maria said.
Dinnertime is a chance for Eddie to show off his culinary skills. Before he lost his sight, he had begun helping his mother by doing some of the cooking. After the accident, cooking was one of the first activities he returned to. To identify various spices or canned goods, the Bells create labels using labelmaker tape and tools called a slate and stylus. The slate, made of metal, contains holes arranged to form the Braille alphabet. It serves as a guide as the stylus is used to push dots down onto the label tape. Then the labels are stuck onto the cans. Eddie also enjoys barbecuing. He can tell when the meat is done by judging its texture and how long it's been on the grill. He even has a talking meat thermometer--though he's used it only once.
In the evenings the family often watches TV or a movie or reads with Victoria. They have an impressive video collection including Chicago, Forrest Gump, Harry Potter, A Few Good Men, Ice Age-‑and of course Finding Nemo. Maria said they usually don't have difficulty following movie plots, but for more action-oriented stories, Descriptive Videos are available that narrate the goings-on in between dialogue. The books they read to Victoria are kid-friendly with colorful pictures and large words; they also contain Braille writing. Some books they've ordered; others they've translated into Braille themselves using the slate and stylus and clear adhesive plastic.
Eddie and Maria liken learning Braille to learning a foreign language as an adult. They can't read it as quickly as they could read words before they lost their sight. But Victoria's godmother, who has been blind since age three, can read up to 400 words per minute. The Bells say there are times when they're saddened at missing Victoria's first smile, first step, or any of those other firsts that sighted parents are privy to. But they don't dwell on the negatives. "I still get frustrated, tired of being blind. There are times when I think, 'Gosh, I wish I could see that,'" Eddie said. "It's disappointing, but not devastating. It doesn't diminish our lives."
Instead of focusing on what they're missing, the Bells concentrate on ways to make the most of every opportunity. For example, Maria rarely lets a photo op pass her by. When a snowstorm hit last year, she was determined to take pictures of Victoria playing in snow for the first time. She considered asking a friend to take the shots, but decided it might take too long to track someone down. "I thought, `By golly, I am not going to miss this chance,'" Maria said. "And I got my little girl playing in the snow." Sure enough, she did. After the Bells have a roll of film developed, they ask friends to help them sort through the snapshots and tell them which ones are keepers. The picture of Victoria in the snow is now ensconced in one of the family's albums.
Eddie recently gave Maria a gadget called a color identifier. Holding it against a piece of clothing or other object produces an automated voice announcing in a British accent such detailed descriptions as "dark gray‑purple." There are some color identifiers that recognize 1,700 colors, Maria said, but theirs isn't quite that sophisticated. Maria intends to use it to sort colored construction paper for art projects with Victoria when she's a little older.
The Bells say that though they have adversity in their lives, their situation is no more difficult than the ones facing other people with setbacks, whether physical or emotional. "Everyone has their own set of circumstances," Maria said. "It's easier for us to raise a child than for a single mother. I can tell Eddie, `Here you go. I'm going to take a long bubble bath.' Single mothers don't have that luxury."
Making a Point
As evidenced by their education and career choices, both Eddie and Maria are committed to helping the blind and visually impaired live normal, productive lives. They're also concerned with dispelling stereotypes. While they acknowledge that some blind people do become charity cases, the Bells live their own lives as independently and actively as possible. "We don't lie in bed in the morning and think, `Now how am I going to measure out the water for the coffee pot?' Most things don't take us an inordinate amount of time or extra energy. We don't think of ourselves as disabled. And we don't feel people's faces and do all that goofy stuff!" Maria said with a laugh.
The Bells are active members at St. Joseph's Catholic Church. They stay on top of world and national events, and they always vote. Eddie is currently involved in a project with the Iowa Department for the Blind. The department contacted him last summer to help build a mentoring program that matches newly blind people ages sixteen to twenty-six with older blind or visually impaired mentors. "It's kind of neat for me to get in on the ground floor of the project," Eddie said.
At a recent speaking engagement at a local shelter for troubled teens, one of the kids asked Eddie what he would ask for if he could have one wish. He didn't wish for his sight to return. "I wished for happiness for my daughter," Eddie said. "Like any parent, I wished happiness and safety and for her to grow up and become a productive member of society."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mark Riccobono]
Training on Blindness from the Blind Themselves
by Mark A. Riccobono
From the Editor: Mark Riccobono is the Jernigan Institute coordinator of educational programs. He has been working hard to plan and launch the online courses that are one of the Institute's inaugural programs. Here is what he reports about this exciting project:
The National Federation of the Blind has been involved in education of one form or another since its beginnings in 1940. Whether it be educating parents, legislators, blind people themselves, or simply the general public, we have used our collective experience to educate. From our strong leaders to our wealth of literature, the NFB is a rich resource for teaching the truth about blindness and the key ingredients of successful education and rehabilitation of the blind.
While our education program has been effective, we all recognize that we have much more to accomplish. With the establishment of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, we are tackling the challenge of innovation and imagination in a way that no one else in the blindness field has done before. In that spirit the Jernigan Institute, as one of its three inaugural projects, has launched a new vehicle. The NFB Jernigan Institute Online Education Program will further enhance the rich information, expertise, and empowering approach to blindness that have made the Federation's outreach successful in the past.
What is the NFB Jernigan Institute Online Education Program? With the support of Learning House Incorporated, the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute has developed an interactive learning portal on the Internet to allow for concentrated delivery of information, resources, and presentations about blindness. The introductory phase of this project will present four courses designed to teach people about critical topics affecting the blind. Building on the extensive literature, expertise, and leadership within the Federation, our Online Education Program will use the power of the World Wide Web to deliver information about blindness from the blind themselves. The first four courses, to be available by the time of the NFB National Convention, are:
* Introduction to the Education of Blind Children in the Regular Classroom --This course provides participants with an understanding of blindness, discusses important issues related to the education of blind children, and provides resources and information about appropriately integrating blind students into the general education classroom.
* Introduction to Braille--This course teaches the uncontracted Braille code and discusses various issues related to the use of Braille, Braille with technology, the history of Braille, and important factors in good Braille reading. The course also offers resources for learning contracted Braille.
* Introduction to Access Technology for the Blind--This course provides a survey of access technology for the blind. The various types of access technology are discussed. Their usefulness to the blind and the current products available on the market are briefly introduced.
* Introduction to Nonvisual Web Accessibility --This course provides an understanding of how the blind access the Internet and guides participants through analyzing the nonvisual accessibility of Web sites. In addition, the process for increasing nonvisual accessibility of Web sites is discussed.
How do these courses work? The learning portal, found at <http://learning.nfb.org>, presents visitors with the course catalog, an opportunity to take a demo course, and other information about the National Federation of the Blind. No special software or hardware is required to access and navigate the portal.
However, those who wish to take one of these courses should examine the recommended computer resources to get maximum performance out of the portal. Those interested in taking a course will need to register and, if required, pay for the course using the e-commerce system built into the portal. The introductory courses are asynchronous, so you can begin a course whenever you want and can go at whatever pace suits you. All of the content for the course is provided through the portal, and any supplementary material required that is not available online can be purchased online.
Who should take these courses? Each of the NFB courses is targeted at a particular population, but enrollment is open to anyone. For example, the first course available, "Introduction to the Education of Blind Children in the Regular Classroom," is primarily targeted for general classroom educators and paraprofessionals. However, many others (parents, school administrators, and people who lead community after-school programs) will benefit from the knowledge and understanding that come from taking this course.
Similarly, the "Introduction to Access Technology for the Blind" course, will give a general overview of access technologies used by the blind and the products currently available on the market. While this topic is of particular interest to technology specialists wishing to gain a better understanding of technology used by the blind, many others can use this overview of technology in the field to assist in making informed decisions about purchasing these technologies. While the introductory phase of the program does not present courses specifically targeted for a blind audience, they are all fully accessible to the blind.
Additionally professionals and paraprofessionals who are required to obtain continuing education units (CEUs) will be pleased to know that the NFB Jernigan Institute Online Education Program offers CEUs. The Jernigan Institute has partnered with the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) to offer CEUs for courses in the NFB Jernigan Institute Online Education Program. Those taking an NFB course for CEUs will be required to achieve a passing score on all quizzes and exams and complete an evaluation at the end of the course. The opportunity to receive CEUs for participation in the NFB Jernigan Institute Online Education Program means that, not only can educators receive a better understanding of blindness and working with the blind, but their employers will be even more supportive of these courses because they are part of a professional development plan.
How much do the courses cost? Each of the first four courses is available at a cost of $89.95 per course. There is no additional cost for those taking the course for CEUs. More detailed information can be found on the learning portal or on the NFB Web site under the link for the Jernigan Institute. School districts, agencies, and others who enroll a number of students in NFB courses will receive a discount. For details on discounts and special agreements, please contact the coordinator of educational programs for the Jernigan Institute at (410) 659-9314, extension 2368, or by email at <[email protected]>.
What does this program mean to Federationists? The NFB Jernigan Institute Online Education Program is a significant step in reaching the general public with our information about blindness. As future phases of this project evolve, we will develop more content for members to use in reaching people in their communities. For now, the introductory courses provide a good base for outreach to regular educators, those hoping to learn more about Braille or technology, or those needing resources to make their Web sites accessible to the blind. A local chapter may want to pursue a grant to provide local support to individuals taking the "Introduction to Braille" course.
Maybe an appeal can be made to a local school district to encourage general educators to take one of these courses as part of the district's coordinated professional development plan, or community colleges could become partners and include the access technology course as a supplement to a general technology-training program, with local chapter members providing face-to-face discussions about access technology issues. The possibilities are limited only by our ability to dream of creative ways to use this program. It will be important for Federation members to be aware of new NFB online courses as they become available.
How will the program evolve in the future? This is where the unique consumer approach of the Federation and partnerships developed through the Jernigan Institute will come together to find the best ways to meet existing and future needs. The Jernigan Institute has established an advisory committee to assist in developing long-range plans for this program. Additionally, as with any other Federation program, it is critical that the membership provide feedback about existing needs, the way the program is being used to enhance the efforts of local chapters, improvements that can be made, and partnerships that can further expand the impact of the program.
Suggestions are welcome at any time, but those planning to attend the 2004 NFB national convention may want to take note of the Jernigan Institute Education Initiative Forum, which will take place on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 29. This gathering will provide members with an opportunity to hear about current educational projects and to provide suggestions from the grassroots level, which has always been a critical part of making our programs unique and successful.
Is there a need for online courses for the blind? What information should be available in a course for the general public? What audiences do we most need to reach? What content might help drive innovation in rehabilitation and education of the blind? Should there be content for blind youth? If so, what should it be? Are there others we should partner with to develop online content?
We will be dealing with these questions and many others as we dream up the future of the NFB Jernigan Institute Online Education Program. In just the first month of the program, comments from members and others who have learned about it confirm the importance of our expansion into the world of online courses. We can imagine a future full of opportunities for people to learn about blindness in a positive way and a whole new core of people implementing high expectations and positive attitudes in our communities. It is starting now, and the results are sure to create a brighter future for the blind. The Jernigan Institute is wasting no time in changing the possibilities for the blind. Let's get people signed up for an education the Whozit way.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Barbara Walker Loos]
by Barbara Walker Loos
From the Editor: After the following story appeared in To Reach for the Stars, the twenty-fifth in the NFB series of paperbacks, the Kernel Books, Barbara Walker married Brad Loos. She continues to live in Lincoln, Nebraska. Her story begins with President Maurer's introduction:
Barbara Walker lives in Nebraska. She is well known in the National Federation of the Blind for her quiet integrity and her thoughtful leadership. She is active in the United Methodist Church, and I am sure that her friends there find and admire in her those same qualities. With both love and joy she shares the progress she has made in helping others to understand that it is respectable to be blind. Here is what she writes:
The circumstances which brought Trinity United Methodist Church Circle III together in the kitchen that night weren't altogether pleasant. A former member who had moved away and recently returned to Lincoln had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing treatment. We had decided at our previous meeting to do a cooking night at the church to make about fifteen recipes geared to provide most of what Laura and her two children would need for the next month.
A day or two before the event, I felt myself waffling. Other avenues, such as making something on my own, began to look both easier and more practical. After all, wasn't the main object to get food to Laura and her children? No one would be likely to question my change of plans. Maybe they'd even be relieved. I already knew some were uncomfortable with me and uncertain about a blind person's ability to help in the kitchen. And, frankly, that kind of noisy, multitask environment isn't really my thing. Then I thought about Laura. I didn't want just to provide food for her. I wanted to emulate her spirit. She is a champion of people's interdependence. When we were both in choir, she suggested that I contact the church to see if I could get bulletins on computer disk so I could run a Braille copy to use during Sunday worship.
When I commented that I felt bad prodding people to work out bugs in the system, thinking that I was imposing on them, she said that I was actually being instructive, not imposing. She added that I had as much right to participate in things with relevant, usable information as others did.
I began by getting bulletins on disk. Now I receive not only those but also the church newsletter and other communications via email. I have the options of reading them from my computer with speech output from a screen reader, printing them in hard copy with a Braille printer, or putting them into a notetaker with a refreshable Braille display. It occurred to me that Laura would see my impending cop-out for what it was and would probably find it disappointing.
Shortly after I arrived at the church kitchen, the woman in charge asked how I was. Determined not to be dismissed and trying not to betray my edginess, I said I was feeling useless and would like an assignment. Activity bustled around me. I heard the sounds of the chopper, the utensil drawer, the dishwasher, the microwave, food packages, and recipe papers. The aromas of main dishes mingled deliciously with those of desserts as upwards of ten women threw themselves into the tasks at hand. Think "instructive," I told myself, not "imposing."
"Can you chop onions?" It was Deanna. Feeling at once both aware that no one else would be asked such a question and grateful that an opportunity was being offered, I responded enthusiastically in the affirmative.
The chopper was bigger than any I had ever seen and required that I slice and place the onions under it before firmly rapping on the top to press the blades through. Several recipes required onions, and I was asked to make sure they were finely chopped, since the family preferred them that way.
Someone asked if I needed to have them pre-sliced. To my surprise, a simple "No, thank you," from me resulted in her replacing the knife on the cutting board. No hovering. No motherly admonitions about sharp objects. Wow! Were my years of persistence paying off?
That job completed, Deanna invited me to scoop out baked potato halves for twice-baked potatoes and to fill them after other ingredients had been added. Then some dishes needed to be dried. As I dried them, I remembered a time some five years ago when I had gone to the kitchen after an event and asked if anything needed to be done. The response was "nothing." But, when someone else came in and offered to dry dishes, she was welcomed by the comment that with her help everyone would get out of there more quickly.
That exchange had both humiliated me and fueled my resolve to continue to participate and educate. Now it seemed fitting that years of effort were coming to fruition during an event for Laura. I hoped that this labor of love would nourish her body as it had fed my spirit. Handing the dampened dishtowel over with a smile to be laundered, I could hear her husky chuckle of approval.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: John Paré]
The Latest News at NFB-NEWSLINE®
by John G. Paré Jr.
I am the new director of sponsored technology outreach for the NFB and would like to take this opportunity to tell you a little about myself and give you a status report on the NFB-NEWSLINE® service. First, a big thank-you to Dawn Neubeck, our outgoing director, for her wonderful enthusiasm and dedication to the NFB-NEWSLINE® service. We wish her well in her future endeavors.
While my wife and I were living in Florida, I discovered the NFB in general and NFB-NEWSLINE® in particular. Due to cone-rod retina degeneration, I began losing my eyesight about ten years ago. In 2001 my sight had deteriorated to 20/200, and, in spite of still being in my early forties, I resigned from my job as a successful technology salesperson to go on long-term disability. The big question was how to accept and live with my blindness. I began learning Braille, purchased screen-magnification software, and attended an independent living class at the Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind. Adding my past skills to my new ones, I settled for working on my accumulated savings as my own financial analyst. This work was enjoyable but not challenging. While I had learned many of the basic blindness skills, blindness had damaged more than my eyesight; it had reduced my desire to succeed. Simply put, I had lowered my expectations for my life to a level I believed I could more easily meet.
It was my ophthalmologist who alerted me to NFB-NEWSLINE®. As a financial analyst I needed to read the Wall Street Journal along with several other prominent newspapers every day. NFB-NEWSLINE® helped keep me informed and made a significant difference in my work performance.
My daily use of NFB-NEWSLINE® triggered my interest in the NFB. I attended a meeting of the Tampa Bay Chapter and was immediately intrigued by the go-getter members--their activity, skills, and professionalism. They certainly did not conform to the model of blindness I carried in my mind.
The 2003 NFB of Florida convention took place in St. Petersburg, a short drive from Tampa. My wife Cindy and I decided to attend. This convention was a turning point in my life. I was immersed in energy, enthusiasm, intelligence, and mentorship. Dr. Maurer was the keynote speaker at the banquet. That night he focused on issues blind parents face when raising a family. The speech inspired me to get more involved with the NFB. This organization was clearly going where I wanted to be.
At the banquet I happened to sit next to Dr. Tom Hartig, the NFB-NEWSLINE® coordinator for the state of Florida. Dr. Hartig was looking for a new volunteer, and I quickly agreed to join his committee.
I attended the 2003 NEWSLINE® seminar at the National Center for the Blind and the 2004 Washington Seminar, in which 400-plus NFB members walk the halls of Congress to inform the legislators how best to help blind Americans. I worked closely with Mr. Gashel on both occasions. In February I interviewed with both Dr. Maurer and Mr. Gashel. Dr. Maurer offered me a position at the National Center, and here I am.
Now let's talk about NFB-NEWSLINE®. This service gives blind or print-disabled people access to over one hundred daily or weekly newspapers. It is free of charge to the user and is accessed by calling either a local or toll-free telephone number. The service is sponsored on a state-by-state basis with, currently, thirty-four active states and more than 45,000 registered users. My primary job is to work with the nonsponsored states to help them find an NFB-NEWSLINE® champion and then work with that state to get the needed funding. We will not be satisfied until every state has this service. Every blind American has the right to read the newspaper and get the weather, sports results, national or international news, or the hot news of the day like the antics of the political candidates.
Over the past twelve months we have had several major accomplishments. First, we added the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as the one-hundredth newspaper. Second, we added service in three new states: Mississippi, Hawaii, and Virginia. Mississippi and Hawaii are in service right now, and Virginia will join us on July 1.
Our next major announcement concerns the nationwide availability of magazines. Since May, 2004, NFB-NEWSLINE® magazine service has been available in every state. The two initial magazines provided are The New Yorker and The Economist. The Library of Congress National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) is sponsoring the NFB-NEWSLINE® magazine service for eligible readers throughout the country. As with the NFB-NEWSLINE® newspaper service, the number and types of magazines will grow over time.
Two upcoming features currently under development are auto log-on and caller redirection. Once auto log-on is complete, the system will automatically recognize your telephone number and will log you in. You will not have to enter your six-digit identification number or four-digit security code. If you are calling from an unrecognized number, you will still be able to use the system but will be prompted to enter the user information.
The caller redirection feature is designed to help alert you to a new local NFB-NEWSLINE® telephone number. Over the next several months we will be supplementing our current national toll-free telephone number, (888) 882-1629, with a series of local telephone numbers. The NFB-NEWSLINE® program receives a substantial cost savings if you use the appropriate local number as opposed to the national toll-free number. When you call NFB-NEWSLINE®, you will be alerted to the local number, if one is available. The system will state the number and ask you to use it in the future. If there is no local number in your area, you will continue to use the same toll-free number you are using today.
If you are not already signed up for NFB-NEWSLINE®, please call your sponsor or give us a call at (410) 659-9314, extension 2317. Matters dealing with day-to-day sponsorship or customer service issues should be directed to Maurice Peret, program manager for NFB-NEWSLINE®, at (410) 659-9314, extension 2356, or by email to <[email protected]>. Matters regarding sponsorship continuation or potential sponsorship where the NFB-NEWSLINE® newspaper service is not available should be directed to John Paré. I can be reached at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2371 or by email at <[email protected]>. The NEWSLINE® team welcomes your calls and ideas.
As a personal note you should know that my wife Cindy and I have now started to put down roots here in Baltimore and have purchased a home near the National Center for the Blind. This means that my daily commute is just a walk across the park. Considering what we were facing three years ago, my formerly reduced approach to life compared to the chance to serve the entire NFB throughout the United States, this is the opportunity of a lifetime.
Speaking as a committed user, I have found NFB-NEWSLINE® an outstanding service and, for those who want more, a wonderful way to become connected with a positive approach to blindness and to the NFB. As your new director of sponsored technology outreach, I promise that we will make this service grow, and this is only the beginning.
This month's recipes come from members of the NFB of Texas.
Jaybo's Lone Star Beer and Garlic Herb Bread
by Jay Wolf
Jay Wolf is a singer/songwriter who plays guitar and fronts for his band. His commercially available CD Where It All Came From is due out June 26. You can learn more about Jay's music or order the CD online at <www.jaywolfmusic.com>. Jay also designs and builds solid wood furniture. At the moment he is building end tables for all the apartments at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Jay's wife Angela is second vice president of the NFB of Texas and president of the National Association of Blind Students. As the title of this recipe suggests, this bread is Jay's own creation. He reports that he does the lion's share of the cooking in the Wolf household. After reading his contribution to this column, I suspect that many of us will be angling for invitations to the Wolfs' home for dinner.
2 packages active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups all‑purpose flour
3/4 cup whole‑wheat or other flour
1/2 cup warm water
1 12‑ounce can of Lone Star Beer; can substitute other beer if desired, but who would want to?
2 tablespoons honey or molasses
4 tablespoons margarine
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 teaspoons salt or sea salt
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 tablespoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Other herbs as desired
Additional butter or margarine
Method: Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm, not hot, water and set aside. Heat one can of beer, margarine, and honey or molasses in small saucepan until margarine is melted, margarine and honey are distributed throughout the beer, and the entire mixture is warm.
Pour this mixture and the dissolved yeast into a large buttered bowl. Add caraway seeds, salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, any other spices you want to add, and 3/4 cup flour. Beat or stir until mixture becomes smooth.
Add the remaining four and a half cups flour, gradually mixing as you go until you have formed a smooth dough. Knead dough for about ten minutes. Shape dough into a ball and place in a large buttered bowl. Turn dough once to coat top with butter or margarine.
Cover with a towel wrung out in warm water, put in a warm place, and allow to rise until dough has doubled in bulk. This will take about an hour. Knead dough to release all the trapped air and divide into two loaves. Pat each into a rectangle about nine inches long. Roll each loaf, beginning on a long side and pinching to seal. Place each loaf in a buttered nine-by-five-inch bread pan, seam side down. Return pans to oven or whatever warm place you have chosen for allowing the bread to rise. Let the bread double again, about a half hour, and bake at 375 for about twenty-five to thirty minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when thumped on the top. After removing the bread from the oven, turn out onto a rack to cool.
Tea-for-Texas Grilling Rub
by Jay Wolf
Jay says that he adapted this recipe from an Asian cooking show on public television. He uses this mixture for pork, but at the end he also lists several variations for other meats.
1 tablespoon Chipotle chili powder
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 tablespoon poultry seasoning
2 tablespoons loose tea (I use an organic German chamomile tea, but I suppose just about anything would work. Just like any other ingredient, the better the tea, the better the effect.)
Method: Mix all ingredients together well, and rub thoroughly on the meat to be grilled. The more you rub, the better the seasonings will penetrate the meat. Let stand for at least thirty minutes, and grill to your liking. Sounds kinda strange, but trust my wife, it's good. For beef I usually add a tablespoon of minced onion or onion powder. For chicken I double the poultry seasoning and add a half tablespoon of lemon pepper.
by Jay Wolf
Here's a recipe for an easy-to-make and great-tasting salsa. Jay says that he has found that an antique meat grinder, the kind that clamps on the counter or a table, is the very best way to make this salsa, but a food processor will work fine. That is the equipment he has chosen for this recipe.
4 to 6 large, ripe tomatoes
1 medium onion, the sweeter the better
3 cloves garlic, I usually use roasted garlic
2 fresh jalapeno peppers
Approximately a fourth of a bunch of cilantro, broken up
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sea salt, or regular salt if that's all ya got
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon finely ground cumin
Method: Depending on the size of your food processor, you might have to put a little less of each group of ingredients into the processing container, but don't worry. Just keep the groupings together. Begin with the tomatoes. Process until the mixture reaches desired consistency. The less time, the chunkier. Pour the tomato mixture into a large mixing bowl. Then process the onion and salt. Add this to the tomato mixture. Mix well. Place all remaining ingredients in processor and process into a thick liquid. Add this to the mixing bowl; mix well and allow to sit. Overnight is best, but a half hour will suffice. To roast the garlic, I use a baking dish. Just brush the garlic cloves with olive oil or vegetable oil and place in a 400-degree oven. Roast for about fifteen minutes, turning once.
Leave the husks on the garlic while roasting. You can then just squeeze out the buttery garlic. I also am known to add half the juice of a lime to this salsa as well as half a green or red bell pepper; one cerano pepper, roasted; or even two or three ounces of a fruit to give a little different take on things. Just process these ingredients with the last batch of ingredients in the simple salsa recipe.
Chicken Fried Steak
by Jay Wolf
8 6-ounce tenderized beef cutlets at room temperature
2 cups milk at room temperature
3 cups flour
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon salt
2 cups frying oil, preferably canola
Method: Whisk eggs and milk together in a bowl and set this egg wash aside. Combine the flour and seasonings in another bowl and set aside. Heat the oil in a heavy, 14-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat to 350 degrees. The oil should pop loudly when a drop of egg wash is dropped in.
Dip each of the first four cutlets into the egg wash mixture. Dredge them in the flour, then dip them back into the egg wash, and very gently place them in the hot oil. As you carry them one at a time from the egg wash to the skillet, hold a plate under them to catch the dripping egg wash. There'll be a regular explosion of noisy oil a-popping. Cook for three to five minutes, until breading is set and golden brown. Gently turn each with a long-handled meat fork or long metal tongs. Be careful. Cook another three minutes.
Carefully remove them from the skillet and drain on a platter lined with paper towels. Let oil reheat, and repeat process with remaining four cutlets. I usually serve these with homemade white cream gravy and garlic-bacon mashed potatoes.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Janice Jeang]
Almond Bark Cookies
by Janice Jeang
Janice Jeang, from Katy, Texas, near Houston is a freshman at Texas A&M University, where she is majoring in psychology. Janice has been secretary of the Texas Association of Blind Students for two years, and she is also active in several other organizations, including the Asian American Heritage Club and Aggi Guide Dogs and Networks, an organization for disabled students.
1 package of almond bark
1 jar of peanut butter, creamy or chunky depending on how you like it
1 box of Rice Krispies®
Method: In a plastic mixing bowl melt the entire package of almond bark. (For those who do not know what almond bark is, it can be found in the baking section of the supermarket and comes with several bars in a package.) After the almond bark is melted, spoon the entire jar of peanut butter into the mixing bowl of melted almond bark. Once the peanut butter is evenly mixed in, add about half a box of Rice Krispies®. Once again, mix until the consistency is uniform. You may stir in peanuts, almonds, chocolate chips, or any other items that come to mind. Lightly grease a cookie sheet with Pam, or use a sheet of waxed baking paper. Arrange spoonfuls of the almond bark mixture on the sheets. The mounds can be pressed to any shape desired or just left to resemble cookie shapes. Place in the refrigerator and allow to chill for five minutes. Remove cookies with spatula to a plate or store covered. Ta da! The whole process takes about twenty minutes.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Barbara Shaidnagle]
by Barbara Shaidnagle
Barbara Shaidnagle is a long-time member of the Houston chapter who enjoys cooking and participating in church activities, including a prison ministry. Mrs. Shaidnagle is also in training to become a hospital chaplain. Here are her recipes.
1 pound browned turkey or preferred cut of beef, ground
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped celery
Chili powder to taste
2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon garlic powder or diced fresh garlic to taste
1 jar Pace picante sauce (mild or as hot as you dare)
1 can tomato sauce or tomato paste
Beans, canned or cooked (pinto, kidney, or black beans)
Method: To the meat add the seasonings; let sit for half an hour to allow flavors to mingle. Add beans, picante sauce, and tomato. If mixture seems too thick, add water. Cook over low to medium heat for thirty minutes or longer for a spicier taste.
Easy Cake and Ice Cream Cake
by Barbara Shaidnagle
1 angel food cake
Ice cream, yogurt, or sherbet of choice
Method: Take ice cream, frozen yogurt, or sherbet out of freezer to soften. By the time you use it, it should be easy to spread but not melted. Tear the angel food cake into chunks (about two inches long). Arrange cake pieces in a layer on bottom of a 9- or 10-inch tube pan. Spread a layer of the softened ice cream on top. Repeat layers until all cake and ice cream have been used. Place cake in freezer for at least two to three hours. When ready to serve, loosen cake by running a knife around the outside and inside edges after removing it from freezer. Then invert cake on a serving plate and remove the pan.
News from the Federation Family
Attention Chapter Secretaries:
This is a general reminder that new members have no idea how to get their names placed on the Braille Monitor mailing list. As a matter of course you should send names, addresses, phone numbers, and format preferences for the Monitor (cassette, large print, or Braille) to Marsha Dyer at the National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230. You can fax the list to (410) 685-5653 or email the information to <[email protected]>. To receive an email subscription go to “Braille Monitor” on our Web site <www.nfb.org> and follow the directions. Please help us keep our mailing list up to date.
The results of the April 10, 2004, election of the Pierce County Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington are as follows: president, Chris Jones; vice president, Neil Vosburgh; secretary, Shannon Salazar; and treasurer, George Miller.
Oregon Affiliate Drawing:
Again in 2004 the NFB of Oregon is conducting its travel drawing. The prize is $1,000 of credit at a travel agency, to be spent on anything a travel agent can book: plane or train tickets, hotels, cruises, car rentals, or tickets to shows or other events. It can be used for more than one small trip or for one big event. The only stipulation is that the winner accept the value of the prize in his or her own name for purposes of reporting to the IRS.
NFB of Oregon members are selling these tickets from now until the time of the drawing, which will be held at the banquet of the affiliate convention, November 6, 2004, in Salem, Oregon. You need not be present to win. Only 1,999 tickets have been printed, so the odds are very good. The winner will have from the time of the drawing until December 31, 2005, to complete the travel.
Watch for these tickets on sale at the national convention, and get yours while they last.
2004 National Federation of the Blind Rehabilitation Conference:
The Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University, the National Association of Blind Rehabilitation Professionals, and the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB) are proud to announce joint sponsorship of a rehabilitation conference in Atlanta at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. The conference, titled "Essentials for Effective Orientation and Mobility Professionals," will be held on Tuesday, June 29, 2004, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and will include a rich agenda of key leaders and professionals working in the field of orientation and mobility. Consult your preconvention agenda for room location.
Registration for the conference is free, and will begin at 8:30 a.m. The conference will be of particular interest to those currently working in the field of rehabilitation for the blind, students in professional preparation programs, those interested in travel training as a career, and those with general interest in rehabilitation for the blind. For more information about the graduate degree programs offered by Louisiana Tech University, contact Dr. Ron Gardner at (318) 257-4554, email <[email protected]>; or for more information about the conference contact Dr. Ron Ferguson (318) 257-4554, email <[email protected]> or Christine Brown at (734) 763-1081, email <[email protected]>.
An Event Worth Copying:
Robert Sellers, president of the Clark County Chapter of the NFB of Washington, writes to report a successful event at the Washington State School for the Blind: on Thursday, April 15, the Clark County Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington held its annual NFB night at the Washington State School for the Blind. Students from grades seven through twelve attended the hour-and-a-quarter event. The purpose of the meeting was to introduce them to the NFB, its philosophy, and the way it has affected our lives and theirs.
We discussed the many laws that the NFB has worked to pass during the past fifty years and the difference they have made in blind people's lives. We spent a portion of our time showing NASA's presentation at the dedication of the Jernigan Institute. We stressed science and the science camps NASA is offering through the Institute, and we urged the students to consider careers in science. We also reminded them that good Braille and mobility skills are essential and that the NFB supports students through scholarships and a positive philosophy of blindness. Mike Freeman, having received a BA in physics at Reed College in Portland and then done graduate work at New Mexico State University, shared some of his experiences and described his strategies for success as a blind student in science. The nineteen students were quite attentive and asked several questions.
The gathering ended with several door prizes and ice cream, cookies, and a beverage. The door prizes came from several businesses in the surrounding area. The mobility instructors at WSSB are cooperating with us and will use the door prizes to help the kids work on their mobility skills.
I might add that attendance at this event is voluntary, so having nineteen students in the audience was a good showing. Our first such event had six students. The school administration is very supportive of NFB night.
The NFB of Mississippi conducted its annual convention at the end of March. Here are the election results; Sam Gleese, president; Gwen Stokes, first vice president; Barbara Hadnott, second vice president; Cassie Branum, secretary; Sarah White, treasurer; and Robert Skillon, Ellie Barrantes Bullard, Mae Catherine Lockett, and Ramon Holmes, board members.
Hazel Staley writes to report: on March 2, 2004, the NFB of Alamance County, North Carolina, was organized in Burlington. Chapter officers are Pat Yarborough, president; Michael Sutton, vice president; and Michelle Sutton, secretary-treasurer. This chapter gives every evidence of becoming a strong unit of the North Carolina affiliate.
The Tupelo Chapter of the NFB of Mississippi elected officers for 2004 during its December meeting. The officers are president, Robert Skillon; vice president, Mary Evans; secretary, Lananie Fields; treasurer, Ramon Holmes; and board member, Richard Joiner.
Reminder from Utah:
Don't miss the great values again this year at the Utah table in the Exhibit Hall at this summer's convention in Atlanta! Again this year we will have pocket knives for $2; FM scan radios $3; and Digital Voice Recorders $20. Exciting new items this year include pearl earrings and necklaces at bargain prices. See you there.
In the article titled "Speaking of Gratitude: Givers of Freedom and Creators of Opportunity" by Tonia Trapp, which appeared in the April issue, we made an error in Greg Trapp's job title. He is director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind. We regret the error.
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.
More about Computer Assistive Technologies:
In the February 2004 issue we carried a letter in "Monitor Miniatures" from Marjorie Arnott describing trouble she had had getting acceptable service from a Florida company called Computer Assistive Services and owned by Robert and Stephanie Brown. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) and both state and local authorities told her that they needed more reports of trouble before they could do anything to protect the public. Ms. Arnott requested people who had had problems with the company to contact her. People obviously have done so, and it looks as if progress is being made. Those in the market for access technology should certainly tread carefully when deciding to do business with this company. Here is a portion of an email that Ms. Arnott received from Vann Causey, another dissatisfied customer, and passed along to the NFB:
Well, here is the latest on the Browns. I talked to the BBB [Better Business Bureau] today at Port St. Lucie, Florida. The first words out of their mouths were that the Browns are in deep with credit card fraud. They wanted to know specifics, and I provided them. I also told them about the phones being disconnected. The BBB gave me the number for the Martin County Sheriff's Department, Economic Crimes Division. They also gave me the number for the state of Florida Department of Consumer Affairs. I talked with the sheriff's office today, and hopefully I will make contact with the state of Florida tomorrow.
The BBB told me that they have a two-and-a-half-year history of bad reports on the Browns. The reports range from poor customer support and complaint resolution to credit card fraud. Maybe now the state will get going on this. I am going to make every contact I can. If you know anyone that either had dealings or had problems with the Browns, please tell them to contact the Florida Consumer Affairs Department as soon as possible.
OUB-Sponsored Summer Camp in Michigan:
"Loads of fun," "challenges," "push the envelope": these are popular phrases not commonly associated with blind and visually impaired kids. Sponsored by Opportunities Unlimited for the Blind (OUB), Camp Tuhsmeheta, five miles west of Greenville, Michigan, has six one-week summer camp programs for elementary through high school students (and even parents) crammed with all of this excitement and more. For six weeks, beginning June 13, the sounds of young voices, splashing, running feet, and healthy panting from the exertion of meeting new challenges are all to be expected as blind and visually impaired children experience (many for the first time) the fun of a quality summer camping program in which NFB philosophy is energetically applied. For more information on camp schedules or a camp or employment application, contact Bud Ferrell at (810) 658‑1192 or Larry Posont at (313) 271‑3058, or go to <www.campt.org>. The camp also hires blind and sighted youth to work as staff and mentors.
If you want water, we have five lakes. If you want space, we have 297 acres of woods with trails and fields. If you want adventure, we have kayaks, canoes, and camping. If you want nature, we have all manner of wild flora and fauna to learn about and appreciate. If you have ever wondered if a blind person could climb a tree, swim a lake, build a campfire, take a hike, or identify the trees in the woods, we will introduce you to blind people who do all these things.
The Selective Doctor, Inc., is a repair service for all IBM typewriters and Perkins Braillewriters. Located in Baltimore, the service has done work for the Maryland School for the Blind and a number of other organizations in Maryland. They accept Perkins Braillers sent to them from around the country.
The cost to repair a manual Perkins Brailler is $50 for labor (flat rate), plus parts. Due to technical complexity the cost to repair an electric Perkins Brailler is $60 for labor (flat rate), plus parts. The Brailler will be shipped back to you by U.S. mail, free matter for the blind and insured for $600. The cost of this insurance ($7.20) will be added to your invoice. This listed insurance charge may fluctuate due to rate changes by the postal service.
To mail Braillers using the U.S. Postal Service, send your Brailler(s) to the Selective Doctor, P.O. Box 28432, Baltimore, Maryland 21234-8432. If you care to use UPS or Federal Express, please send Braillers to the Selective Doctor, 3014 Linwood Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland 21234-5821. With your Brailler(s) please include your name and organization (if applicable), shipping and billing addresses, telephone number, and a brief description of your Brailler's needs. Should you require additional information, please call (410) 668-1143, or email <[email protected]>.
The notice in this section has 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.
Wanted to Buy:
Braille printer and computer system with JAWS for our fifteen-year-old daughter, who is totally blind. If you have a reasonably up-to-date computer system in good condition that you would be willing to sell, please contact Janice at <[email protected]>.
She is remarkable, sweet, and loving (I'm not bragging; it is just a fact). Please read her story at <http://www.adoptn.org/janice.html> and hear her sing at <http://www.adoptn.org/blindness.html>.
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.