Braille Monitor                                                                                                 August/September 2004

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2004 Convention Roundup

by Christine Faltz

The Kenneth Jernigan Braille Carnival offered kids and their carnival buddies lots of activities and games.   Here two kids contort themselves to play Twister with a tactile difference, while a volunteer operates the spinner.
The Kenneth Jernigan Braille Carnival offered kids and their carnival buddies lots of activities and games. Here two kids contort themselves to play Twister with a tactile difference, while a volunteer operates the spinner.
For those of us present at the 2004 convention of the National Federation of the Blind at the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta, this recap will surely induce fond and vivid memories of jobs well done, agenda items well received, and time well spent. We hope that those who were not able to attend this year will seriously consider joining us next year after reading about our Atlanta phenomenon--work and play, information and entertainment, networking and nostalgia, commitment and camaraderie—the typical characteristics of a National Federation of the Blind annual convention.

The Georgia affiliate made our Federation gathering positively “peachy keen,” in the oft-reiterated words of host president Anil

Lewis. The hotel staff was courteous and helpful; and the city of Atlanta provided opportunities for fine dining, fantastic shopping, and many sources of entertainment. More than thirty-five committees, divisions, and groups conducted elections and offered attendees many options for initiating or expanding involvement as members of the National Federation of the Blind.

President Maurer sits on the floor, talking to the kids at the opening session of NOPBC activities.
President Maurer sits on the floor, talking with the kids at the opening session of NOPBC activities.

On Tuesday, June 29, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) conducted its annual seminar and daylong smorgasbord of activities for families and educators. President Barbara Cheadle welcomed all and invited them to participate in a morning program for adults and kids, followed by a number of exciting and informative workshops for youngsters and another group for adults. (While the adults were occupied in the late-morning session, children went off with volunteer Federation buddies to enjoy the Braille Carnival or to NFB Camp, a service provided to all preregistered children by Carla McQuillan, who operates Montessori schools in Oregon.)

As usual President Marc Maurer greeted the families and educators of blind children, but he literally got down to business when he addressed the blind children directly. He chatted with them on the floor about his hope that they would let their parents know about the things they dreamed of doing as they grew up, and he assured them that mostly their parents would be the ones to prepare them to do the things they cared about.  President Maurer was asked by a sighted youngster what it was like to be blind and replied that this was a good question, but a hard one to answer. He informed the little boy that it was as if someone asked, “What is it like to be a boy?” because there were as many variables affecting what it is like to be a boy as there are in what it is like to be blind.

President Maurer grew up in a large family, and his brother Dr. Matt Maurer and a number of blind teenagers with whom he is working as a volunteer at the Indiana School for the Blind addressed the audience.

The COGS is a group of blind kids with a specific interest in all things technological-- Heather, Mika, Joel, and Riley, ranging in age from twelve through seventeen, shared with everyone their experiences at both public school and the Indiana School for the Blind and described various aspects of being blind. Following their presentations, the audience directed questions to the panel. The group assured questioners that COGS wishes to connect with blind students in other schools in order to expand the club.

The NOPBC seminar itself opened with a presentation by Joel Snyder from the National Captioning Institute discussing the Visual Made Verbal audio description program. Later that day interested sighted teens viewed videos, then wrote and performed their own audio descriptions for those videos in a competition sponsored by the NOPBC and the National Captioning Institute. The amateur audio describers were judged that evening by blind teens.

Following Braille clues, blind and blindfolded teens searched high and low through the Marriott Marquis for scavenger hunt volunteers representing objects in the solar system.  Luke Brackett tucks his cane under his arm to investigate a model of a comet held by volunteer Zach Rolfe.
Following Braille clues, blind and blindfolded teens searched high and low through the Marriott Marquis for scavenger hunt volunteers representing objects in the solar system. Luke Brackett tucks his cane under his arm to investigate a model of a comet held by volunteer Zach Rolfe.
The entire day was filled with convention activities to meet every interest: technology demonstrations and seminars; workshops on Braille; production of tactile graphics, discussions of socialization skills for blind youngsters (aimed at families and educators); separate conversation groups specifically geared for teenage men or women; an Exploring-the-Solar-System Scavenger Hunt; an NOPBC-sponsored Hospitality Night; a welcoming event for all first-time convention attendees; a dance sponsored by the Georgia affiliate featuring D.J. Pat Andrews spinning hits from the Fifties to the present; karaoke night, sponsored by BLIND, Incorporated; and much more.

Several particularly significant discussions and seminars took place Tuesday afternoon. Topical discussions on rehabilitation and employment, technology, blind seniors, and education were held in an effort to shape the future programs and policies of the Jernigan Institute. Additionally, the Institute’s program officer Mary Brady provided an excellent workshop on grant writing to assist affiliates in fundraising efforts. A lament heard frequently throughout the day and the entire convention was the usual one that there were too many things to choose from, and many wished to attend multiple offerings. In some instances, such as the parent workshops and technology demonstrations, items were offered more than once, which made the difficult decisions slightly less taxing.

The pace diminished not at all on Wednesday. In addition to Sensory Safari and the Exhibit Hall, committees continued to meet; teens were able to drop in any time during the afternoon to a get-acquainted party, sponsored by NOPBC and Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM). The Resolutions Committee, chaired by Sharon Maneki, met to consider and discuss fifteen resolutions to decide which of them would be brought before the convention during the final afternoon of business. Their texts are reprinted elsewhere in this issue.
Serena Cucco and her father Bill examine a monkey at the Sensory Safari.
Serena Cucco and her father Bill examine a monkey at the Sensory Safari.

One of the anticipated highlights of our last seven conventions has been the mock trials presented by the National Association of Blind Lawyers. Federationists crowded into one of the convention-level rooms to be entertained and inspired by the dramatic presentation of a couple of cases merged for the mock trial, in which blind would-be jurors were denied consideration for jury duty; they subsequently sued. The Hon. Charles Brown, judge; bailiff Peggy Elliott; defense legal team Scott LaBarre and Bennett Prows; the plaintiffs’ lawyers Ray Wayne and Anthony Thomas; witnesses for the defense Curtis Chong, Eric Wood, and Dan Frye; and plaintiffs’ witnesses Noel Nightingale, Julie Deden, and Don Galloway used humor to instruct the audience about this chapter in our history.

Wednesday afternoon convention activities were also enlivened by the appearance of a number of television news teams wishing to interview three Federationists (Zach Ellingson, Brandon Ball, and Mike Sahyun), who in all innocence had ventured out to Six Flags Over

Brandon Ball, Zach Ellington, and Mike Sahyoon
Brandon Ball, Zach Ellingson, and Mike Sahyoon

Georgia the evening before. They were looking for thrills and adventure, but they had not expected to get quite as much adventure or as little fun. After paying their entry fees, they found themselves apprehended by park security and held in a public area for an hour while they were questioned about their white canes and asked to demonstrate their blindness by providing “blind cards.” The security officers feared that the canes could be used as terrorist weapons and urged the three to leave their canes behind so that other visitors would not be made uncomfortable by seeing them. Doggedly the three men, all associated with our Minnesota adult training center, BLIND, Incorporated, demonstrated use of the cane, explained that neither they nor others would be safe if they left their canes at the gate, and courteously insisted on gaining entry. Eventually they were allowed to enter the park, but after one ride a downpour of rain put an end to the evening’s excitement. Wednesday, NFB Second Vice President and attorney Peggy Elliott went to the park to demand that park officials provide a written apology, which they eventually did, albeit grudgingly. Atlanta TV stations picked up the story, displayed NFB canes to their audiences, and interviewed the three Federationists. They also provided helpful information to the public about our convention.

Steve Benson
Steve Benson

On Thursday morning many attendees gathered for the meeting of the National Federation of the Blind board of directors, where this year’s class of scholarship winners was introduced.

Prior to this much-anticipated tradition, a few other significant items commanded our attention. As usual, President Maurer asked all in the room to participate in a moment of silence in memory of those who had died during the past year.

President Maurer then reviewed the names of those serving on the board of directors. Six at-large positions were up for election, and there were six hold-over positions. Board members Steve Benson (Illinois) and Carlos Serván (Nebraska) announced that they did not wish their names to be placed in nomination for re-election to the board.

When making his announcement, Steve Benson told Federationists: President Maurer, I have served on the board since 1982. It has been my pleasure and great honor to work with some of the finest human beings on the face of this earth. But it is my desire not to have my name placed in nomination for re-election.

Carlos Servan
Carlos Serván

Carlos Serván indicated that it had been his privilege to work with the greatest people he has ever known, serving the greatest organization in the world, and thanked us for the chance to have served on the board. He too, however, wished not to have his name placed in nomination.

President Maurer replied to both announcements that he was grateful for their service and friendship and would continue to depend on their contributions to the organization.

President Maurer announced that attendees had already registered from the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

During the board meeting we were excited to learn of the locations of future conventions. The 2005 convention will of course take place at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville; singles, doubles, and twins will be $59; triples and quads will be $64. The convention will follow our customary schedule: Saturday, July 2, through Friday, July 8. In 2006 the Federation will return to a favorite city, Dallas, Texas–this time at the Wyndham Anatole, and again we will follow the customary Saturday-to-Friday schedule, July 1 to 7. Room rates will be one dollar a day more than the 2005 rates, and in 2008, when we attend convention at the same hotel from Sunday, June 29 through Saturday, July 5, rates will once again increase by only one dollar. President Maurer then announced that in 2007 we will once again be returning to the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, an announcement which was received with great enthusiasm. The dates for that convention are once again on a customary schedule from Saturday, June 30, through Friday, July 6.

When Diane McGeorge, board member and door prize maven, was introduced to give us information about arrangements for relieving dog guides, many of us learned for the first time with dismay that her husband Ray had been taken to the hospital and diagnosed with appendicitis. We were greatly relieved to learn that he was on the mend and chomping at the bit to get back to the convention. In fact Diane was certain that, if Ray was not back by banquet night, the hospital staff was going to be made rather unhappy.

 James Omvig, president of the National Blindness Professional Certification Board, presented two national orientation and mobility certificates (NOMC) to Brooke Sexton, formerly of California, and Mary Jo Thorpe of Utah. (Mary Jo Thorpe was also a 2004 scholarship winner, and we will meet her and her fellow scholarship winners elsewhere in this issue.)

 Following Mr. Omvig’s remarks, Tom Bickford performed a couple of rousing Whozit songs--a Whozit polka and an ode to Whozit sung to the tune of “If I Had a Hammer.”

Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, proudly displays the PAC Mule.
Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, proudly displays the PAC Mule.

Brad Caswell, representing an organization called Donation Exchange, announced that his group and the National Federation of the Blind now have an agreement. He explained that only 8 percent of wealth in the United States consists of cash. Including real estate and public securities, 92 percent of national wealth is in non-cash assets. Mr. Caswell added that the National Federation of the Blind is competing with about 950,000 other charities when we embark on our fundraising efforts. He suggested that we should solicit high-value items, such as boats and real estate, as well. Donation Exchange auctions off or otherwise turns such high-value items into cash for charities. Now that we have this relationship, we can invite such donations. Affiliates and chapters should note that, in addition to liquidation of assets, Donation Exchange is prepared to manage the assets and analyze the risks and benefits of such donations. If any chapter or affiliate has the opportunity to acquire such contributions, the president should contact the national office immediately for assistance.

Maryland affiliate President Sharon Maneki holds up the PAC Rat.
Maryland affiliate President Sharon Maneki holds up the PAC Rat.

President Maurer next explained that a proposal to establish a group specifically devoted to the concerns of African-Americans had come to his attention. Rather than debate the merits of forming such a group at the board meeting, President Maurer appointed a committee to study the proposal and make a recommendation to the board.

Steve Benson was then introduced to present the Blind Educator of the Year Award to Dr. J. Webster Smith. This presentation is reported in detail elsewhere in this issue.

Scott LaBarre, who chairs the Preauthorized Check Plan (PAC) committee, announced a new contest: the division with the most PAC Plan activity--either increased pledges or new members--would receive the PAC Mule. The state affiliate that met the same criteria would receive the PAC Rat. The first of these awards produced a truly interesting competition between the National Association of Blind Lawyers and the National Association of Blind Merchants, who were stubborn and steadfast as mules in their endeavors to win the PAC Mule. In the end, the merchants emerged victorious.

Additionally, throughout the convention a lively, often contentious rat race between Colorado and Maryland for the PAC Rat took place, but by the time of the final convention gavel, Maryland was victorious and was awarded the PAC Rat.

Sharon Maneki presented the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award to Jan Zollinger, and Norm Gardner presented an Outstanding Service Award to Steven Schechner during the board meeting. A complete report of these events appears elsewhere in this issue.

Gary Wunder informed us that the National Federation of the Blind and the American Red Cross entered into a partnership last May. He introduced Tim English, the Atlanta director of the American Red Cross, who said that the American Red Cross has blind volunteers working across the country, assisting in its mission to prepare for and respond to emergency situations. We now have a formal agreement between our two organizations in an effort to design a program that will make it easier for blind people to participate fully in the efforts of the American Red Cross.

For several months we have been told in presidential releases that a dramatic change in the Associates program would be announced at the convention. Tom Stevens, longtime chairman of the Associates Committee, was introduced to make the final associates report. His report appears in Convention Miniatures. Following this report, President Maurer adjourned the meeting of the board of directors.
Tom Stevens
Tom Stevens

 The afternoon and evening included many annual committee and division meetings. One of the most exciting was the NOPBC-sponsored “Braille: More Than Just Dots” seminar, which was an introduction to Braille for parents and older youth. Following this workshop were a Braille Readers Are Leaders reunion and Braille book flea market, sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille with a grant from the UPS Foundation and volunteers from its Atlanta office. (See the lead photos for details.)

UPS volunteers are a regular and appreciated presence at our conventions. They are a truly supportive group of people who know how to assist us without being intrusive and demonstrate with both financial resources and personal time that they believe in what we do and share our values.

Jerry Whittle’s latest original play, On the Long and Winding Trail, was performed by the Louisiana Center for the Blind Players. Proceeds support the LCB’s summer training program for blind children. In this play a young blind man must leave home to find trust and loyalty on the streets of New Orleans.

Members of Conundrum electrify convention delegates
Members of Conundrum electrify convention delegates.
The Lyke House Drummers from Clark Atlantic University make their instruments talk.
The Lyke House Drummers from Clark Atlantic University make their instruments talk!

On Friday morning Federationists flowed into the ballroom, filling chairs, selling all manner of items, and calling out state delegation names. The air rippled with the energy, commitment, and excitement that are the hallmarks of our national conventions, particularly on the first day of the general sessions. After the opening activities, President Maurer introduced Dwight Sayer, a Federationist from Florida and a former member of the United States Air Force. This was the first time during the convention that Federationists paid tribute to our brothers and sisters in the military who have made significant sacrifices to fight for the freedoms we too often take for granted, including the freedom to organize and promote the rights of all blind people, both here and abroad.

The general session dais of the 64th NFB annual convention with sponsor logos displayed across the front side.  Special thanks go to convention sponsors (left to right) Marriott Worldwide Reservations, Freedom Scientific,VisuAide, IBM, Microsoft, and UPS and partner NASA
The general session dais of the 64th NFB annual convention with sponsor logos displayed across the front side. Special thanks go to convention sponsors (left to right) Marriott Worldwide Reservations Sales, Macromedia, Freedom Scientific, VisuAide, IBM, Microsoft, and UPS and partner NASA.

Of course Anil Lewis addressed the convention as the president of the host affiliate. He introduced Atlanta’s mayor, the Honorable Shirley Franklin, who delivered an impassioned welcome. Following Mayor Franklin’s remarks, we were treated to two percussion groups, Conundrum and the Lyke House Drummers, that definitely added yet more life to the morning. President Maurer then acknowledged the gold and silver convention sponsors. He announced that IBM, Optelec, Freedom Scientific, and others were offering substantial discounts and promotions on their most popular products.

Of course the primary activity of the first general session was the roll call of states, during which affiliates announce delegates and alternate delegates; dates and locations of their state conventions; the identity of their national representatives, if assigned; and any other information they think worthy of announcement. A number of delegates announced the presence of Commission or other state agency directors in their delegations.

Following the lunch break, Federationists scurried to their seats to hear a presidential report replete with Federation philosophy, commitment, and promise. As usual, listening to President Maurer’s encapsulation of the previous year’s Federation activities raised our spirits and strengthened our resolve. The entire report can be found elsewhere in this issue.

Obviously, and with good reason, the Jernigan Institute played a pivotal role in many aspects of the convention, from workshops to discussion groups to agenda items--after all, the Institute is a dream realized after much planning and hard, diligent work. Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, its executive director, presented comments on “The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute and the Strategic Plan” and generated substantial enthusiasm as she proposed the many ways in which the Institute can become a force in shaping attitudes about and realities of blindness. Her remarks are reprinted elsewhere in this issue.

Federationists then viewed the video about the building of the Jernigan Institute, which those attending the grand opening saw in January. This video engenders a genuine feeling of accomplishment and pride in what we have already accomplished and what we plan to do.

Melanie Sabelhaus, deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration, came to the podium to discuss the benefits of entrepreneurship. Her title was “Entrepreneurship: Opportunities for the Blind.” She was a lively and engaging speaker who encouraged blind women particularly to follow their entrepreneurial dreams and demand that agencies like the Small Business Administration recognize their right to assistance. The Small Business Administration funds and supports individuals, particularly those belonging to marginalized groups, with loans and mentorship in an attempt to assist them in realizing their dreams of owning their own businesses and becoming their own employers.

 “Self-Propelled Vehicles: One Possibility for the Blind” was the intriguing title of remarks by Ray Johnson, senior vice president and manager for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). He described the remarkable progress being made in creating self-propelled vehicles.

The Jernigan Institute has been built and some programs already developed and executed, but our strategic plan is still in the works. In order to bring the policies and programs of the Institute to fruition, they must be funded. Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, has been named to chair the Imagination Fund, devoted to raising ongoing funds and building a database of donors. The goal of the fund is to solicit the financial resources essential to enable the Jernigan Institute to shape the future of the blind positively. Kevan Worley asked that each affiliate appoint an Imagination Fund representative to work with him in the coming months. A number of affiliates, divisions, and individuals came to microphones and stopped by the Imagination Fund table to make contributions and pledges of money and contacts. Throughout the week the small bells presented to these donors could be heard ringing whenever the Imagination Fund was mentioned.

Accessible voting has been a Federation priority for some time, and the passage of the Help America Vote Act provided an excellent foundation for our energies to be more directly focused on our goal for a secret ballot. Two individuals discussed “The Blind Deserve a Secret Ballot: It’s the Law” on Friday afternoon as the concluding item on the day’s agenda. Dr. DeForest Soaries, Jr., is the chairman of the Election Assistance Commission, established pursuant to the Help America Vote Act to facilitate our receipt of a secret ballot at long last. Cathy Cox, Georgia’s secretary of state, also weighed in on this vital issue. Both public officials urged listeners to work for implementation of accessible voting machines.

Emily Kuhnwald and James Vallo enjoy a dance.
Emily Kuhnwald and James Vallo enjoy a dance.

Plenty of celebration, Federation division business, information, and entertainment were available Friday evening. The National Federation of the Blind in Judaism celebrated the Sabbath. The National Association of Blind Musicians hosted its annual Showcase of Talent. The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children sponsored four extremely informative workshops: a fun-filled Discovery Time drop-in for families with blind infants, toddlers, and preschoolers; a how-to and forum on sleepshade training for partially sighted children and youth; the annual IEP workshop; and a riveting drop-in-any-time workshop called “Astronomy Is for Everyone.” The last workshop was ably coordinated by Dr. Noreen Grice, author of Touch the Universe, and Dr. Dennis Dawson, her husband and chairman of the astronomy department at Western Connecticut University. They answered questions and described hands-on models and tactile maps for children and adults.

Federationists from Texas invited one and all to STRUMS 2004, an acoustic music fundraiser benefiting the Texas student division. A fine, talented band called Rockin’ Good News provided “Rock and Roll: The Way It Was” for rockin’ and rollin’ Federationists; this musical trip down Memory Lane was sponsored by the Georgia affiliate.

For the first time we conducted a special evening in the exhibit hall featuring Sponsor-Level Exhibitors: VisuAide, Inc.; Freedom Scientific Blind/Low Vision Group; IBM; Macromedia; Marriott Worldwide Reservations; Microsoft; UPS; Optelec; and Roche Diagnostics Corporation. Federationists had an opportunity to visit these displays without the clamor of the daytime shopping sessions.

Carl Jacobsen
Carl Jacobsen

On Saturday morning the ballroom was filled with energetic voices awaiting the report of the nominating committee, chaired by Sharon Maneki. The report was as follows: president, Marc Maurer (Maryland); first vice president, Joyce Scanlan (Minnesota); second vice president, Peggy Elliott (Iowa); secretary, Gary Wunder (Missouri); treasurer, Charlie Brown (Virginia); and board positions Pam Allen (Louisiana); Sam Gleese (Mississippi); Carl Jacobsen (New York); Diane McGeorge (Colorado); Chris McKenzie (Arkansas); and Carla McQuillan (Oregon). The report was accepted and elections were duly held. All candidates were elected by acclamation, and the two newest members of the board were welcomed warmly.

Chris McKenzie
Chris McKenzie

At each national convention we hear remarks from a representative of the World Blind Union, a group of which the National Federation of the Blind is a member in the North America/Caribbean Region. This summer Dr. Susan Spungin, a frequent convention attendee who serves as vice president of International Programs and Special Projects for the American Foundation for the Blind and is a candidate for treasurer of the World Blind Union, spoke to us about “The World Blind Union: A Study in Contrast.” The World Blind Union represents 180 million blind, partially sighted, and deaf-blind people in 158 countries. Dr. Spungin cited sobering statistics about poverty and unemployment throughout the world, obviously focusing her analysis of these data on how blind people are affected globally. Eighty percent of blindness is caused by preventable or treatable conditions, including glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and vitamin A deficiency. She discussed briefly the structure of the WBU and highlighted nineteen organizational position statements. Those interested in learning more should visit the WBU Web site at <www.wbu.org>.

NFB-NEWSLINE® is no longer news to Federationists. But the next agenda item did provide some new information, the most significant being that NEWSLINE® now makes available to its subscribers two magazines: the Economist and the New Yorker, with more to come. Many affiliates are making a concerted effort to include regional and community newspapers and periodicals as part of NFB-NEWSLINE®’s content. NEWSLINE® is popular and always expanding--an unmistakable fact bolstered by the remarks of both James Gashel, executive director of strategic initiatives, and John Paré, director of sponsored technology outreach.

Gilles Pepin, president of VisuAide, Inc., from Quebec, Canada, then discussed “The Digital Talking Book Player and Other Emerging Technologies for the Blind.” Mr. Pepin reviewed the last fifteen years of information technology for the blind and discussed the efforts of both RFB&D and NLS to convert users and borrowers to digital recordings.

Trekker, VisuAide’s GPS device, will tell blind users not only their orientation in a particular city, but what is around them as well: shops, restaurants, parks, and office buildings.

Mr. Pepin informed us that there would be a Trekker navigation contest that afternoon, and the two participants on the winning team would take home their own GPS devices. In addition Mr. Pepin talked about a truly palm-sized PDA which will be accessible to the blind: VisuAide’s Maestro. All of these products were available for demonstration in the Exhibit Hall throughout the convention.

Following Mr. Pepin’s remarks, President Maurer spoke positively of his hopes for the VisuAide-National Federation of the Blind partnership and expressed his hope that Mr. Pepin would continue to attend conventions for many years to come.

GPS technology is one application that is useful to everyone but is of particular interest to blind people because of its tremendous potential for providing dramatic improvements in our ability to navigate unfamiliar surroundings with minimal or no sighted assistance. Therefore any discussion of GPS technology is a sure winner in virtually every group of blind people. “Global Positioning Systems (GPS): The Product Today and Developments for Tomorrow” was discussed by Frank Boynton, vice president of technical sales, Navtech GPS Seminars and Supply. He provided an excellent history lesson on GPS technology and discussed what the technology is and is not at present and where the technology is going. He gave us a rather exciting glimpse into a not-too-distant future where blind people will use this technology to gain independent mobility on par with our sighted peers, including the ability to travel unfamiliar cities and find streets and addresses with ease and independence.

By the time you read this Roundup of Atlanta 2004, two groups of blind youth--one of middle school age and the other of high school age, will have completed separate but equally exciting science camps sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Federation of the Blind. These opportunities represent initial efforts and innovations in our partnership with NASA in promoting scientific exploration, knowledge, and career opportunities for young blind men and women. Dr. Adena Williams Loston, NASA’s associate administrator for education, made it clear that NASA is not only committed to furthering and building upon these nascent efforts, but intent upon mobilizing its many departments in seeking and hiring qualified minority group members. She has no doubt that the twenty-first century is the one during which blind people will make the greatest strides ever in pursuing diverse careers in science and technology.

Saturday afternoon was replete with tours and several hours of time during which we could pursue our own interests and preferred leisure activities. For those who wished to take advantage of them, however, there were seminars on Social Security and SSI, Meet-the-Blind-Month activities, and a Job Exchange Committee gathering for networking; a “Guide Dog in Your Life” seminar; and an informational forum for those interested in blindness training, sponsored by the Colorado Center for the Blind. A night at the movies for families was offered by NOPBC and the National Captioning Institute featuring the audio-described version of Lilo and Stitch. In addition, the National Association of Blind Students sponsored its usual Monte Carlo Night, where Federationists could play all sorts of games and mingle with other fun-lovers.

Dwight Sayer addresses the convention while veterans stand behind the head table on the dais.
Dwight Sayer addresses the convention while veterans stand behind the head table on the dais.

The morning of Independence Day was powerfully bittersweet. Along with celebrating the progress toward independence of the blind, which the National Federation of the Blind has made and continues to make possible, we spent some time honoring current armed services personnel and veterans who have fought for our freedom throughout the 228 years of our nation’s history. Dwight Sayer once again led delegates in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Past members of our armed forces joined him on the stage. Cheryl O’Brien, from Florida, read a poem written by a friend, Mary Shock, when she learned that her brother was being deployed to Iraq. Michelle Gittens of Minnesota then sang “God Bless America.” Theenergy and feeling she brought to her performance were truly moving. The names of the veterans on stage were then read.

Michelle Gittens sings "God Bless America".
Michelle Gittens sings “God Bless America.”

The morning appropriately proceeded to “The Federation in the World.” Mr. Lokman Ayva, a blind member of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, spoke of his life, both its complications and its triumphs, and expressed his intention to keep in close contact with the National Federation of the Blind and to attend future conventions. Daniel Frye, an American Federationist now living in New Zealand, spoke as the national advocate of the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand. He discussed the tremendous changes in the attitudes about blindness and opportunities for blind New Zealanders, weaving once again the common thread of a long struggle toward public understanding, cooperation, and acceptance.

Jim Sanders, president and CEO of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and president of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union, then presented an intriguing item titled “Underwater Baseball.” The title is derived from Mr. Sanders’ first Talking Book, received in 1959. Mr. Sanders discussed the evolution of the Talking Book from large, vinyl records to digital audio technology. Because of the emerging international standards, Mr. Sanders looks forward to exchanging materials from all over the world. He asked us to notice that throughout his comments he had used the pronoun “I.” He stated that we cannot sit back until “we the blind” includes all blind people. Out of the one hundred and eighty million blind people in the world, only a few hundred thousand have access to such technologies.

Having kept us in suspense about the title of the first Talking Book he received, apparently about underwater baseball, Mr. Sanders finally informed us that the title of that book had been 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.

Though talking products which make life more convenient are not a prerequisite for the blind to live independent, productive lives, we certainly appreciate accessing the conveniences of home, work, and travel. It is frustrating, for example, not to be able to keep from freezing or roasting because hotel room thermostats are not marked tactilely. Marvin Sandler, president of Action Talking Products, introduced the Talking Thermostat, which he says will be sold for $129.95. It is fully accessible to blind people. It speaks the ambient temperature, allows the user to set the thermostat to desired temperatures for different parts of the day for efficient fuel use, and has a timer to facilitate this function. Moreover, it requires no sighted assistance to set. Mr. Sandler demonstrated the thermostat and was received with much appreciation.

Another of the convention’s much-anticipated items was “An Overview from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.” This year it included “Highlights from the Music Section.” Frank Kurt Cylke, director of NLS, introduced several members of the NLS staff who were present, then introduced the man responsible for overseeing the library’s music section, John Hanson. Mr. Hanson described his work inputting the library’s repository of Braille music and cataloguing it for easy service to patrons. He said that current patrons (those already registered with NLS) could of course access the various services of the music section. If an interested person is not registered, he or she can either apply to become an NLS borrower or merely a user of music section resources. Resources of the music section can be accessed directly by calling or emailing, without having to go through one’s cooperating regional library. NLS is working with the Danish and Italian Library Services for the blind to acquire more music.

Mr. Hanson also indicated that anyone who had additional music to add to the library’s collection should contact NLS. They are particularly interested in adding to the Braille music books and scores. Recorded books on music appreciation as well as recorded instructional manuals for playing instruments are available. NLS offers three music magazines: Musical Mainstream, for classical music fans; Contemporary Soundtrack, for rock, pop, and jazz fans; and Popular Music Lead Sheets, which is in Braille and contains five songs with each edition. Web-Braille now contains music which can be downloaded, with approximately six hundred titles and thousands more being added.

A significant concern is a shortage of Braille music transcribers and proofreaders. Liner notes of some commercially available music will start becoming available this summer. This is a pilot program, and all of these items can be made available in hardcopy for any patron who requests them.

Joanne Wilson, commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, former director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and former NFB board member, then addressed the convention about “Partnerships in Rehabilitation: The Power of Combined Action.” Her remarks are reprinted elsewhere in this issue.

Dr. Wilson’s excellent and comprehensive discussion was followed by one of the most well-received items on this year’s agenda. Amy Phelps, a candidate in the masters program in orientation and mobility at Louisiana Tech University, offered her remarks as “A Recovering Rehabilitation Professional.” Filled with heartfelt and hilarious detail, Ms. Phelps described her evolution from a supposedly well-educated professional armed with papers and the best in pedagogical theory and techniques of rehabilitation to a skilled professional in the alternative techniques of blindness, which are the real tools of superior rehabilitation training.

 After the lunch recess a long-time Federationist with quite a few years of experience at all levels of the rehabilitation system, Dr. Fredric K. Schroeder, discussed “The Role of the Consumer in the Development of Programs of Research and Training.” His informative and inspiring talk can be found elsewhere in this issue.

Despite the wealth of important and stirring content, the afternoon of Banquet Day sometimes seems to move more slowly than other days. After nearly a week of hectic activity and mounting anticipation, a bit of restlessness can be generated by the middle of the afternoon session. However, such an atmosphere never settled in because Miles Hilton-Barber blasted the audience into the stratosphere as he chronicled his adventures as a blind pilot flying the English Channel. Everyone was in high spirits and alert for the presentations on employment and for welcoming a legislative ally, Representative Danny Davis of the Seventh Congressional District of Illinois.

Dr. Raymond Kurzweil is a familiar name to anyone with basic knowledge of assistive technology. Dr. Kurzweil’s presentations are always informative, always inspiring, and never fail to leave us dreaming of the technological advances to come, including his own inventions. Dr. Kurzweil posed the question, “What will the next thirty years bring?” His answers take one’s breath away.

The next item on the agenda was a panel of Federationists consisting of entrepreneur Mike Bullis, vendor Nicky Gacos, and civil engineer Nathanael Wales. Mike Bullis has established eleven companies. He said that, although business is not the employment answer to every problem and is not right for everyone, it could be an answer for some. But the strength of one’s personal self-concept will likely determine whether or not it is the employment solution any given individual should even attempt. Once you have determined that you can do it, you must prepare, prepare, prepare. You must plan ahead, learn all you can about what you are planning to do, and be organized and disciplined. As a blind person you do not necessarily have to work harder than others; you just have to work smarter.

Nicky Gacos, a blind vendor in the Business Enterprise Program and a board member of the National Association of Blind Merchants, was full of good humor and Federation spirit as he shared folksy reminiscences of his childhood, his introduction to the National Federation of the Blind a little less than a decade ago, and his contention that becoming a blind vendor within the Randolph-Sheppard program is a viable option for employment for blind men and women.

Nathanael Wales described his fascinating work as a civil engineer in California, a profession about which most of us know little, but one which is essential to the smooth and healthful running of a municipality.

It is always a sign that times have changed dramatically for the nation’s blind when we are addressed by one of our elected officials. Politicians are busy people and rarely attend functions in person unless they feel that the constituency requesting their presence not only has a legitimate agenda but is powerful enough to affect their current and future status as legislators. We have forged many legislative alliances over the years, and this becomes increasingly apparent both at our Washington seminars and in the quality of the remarks made by officials who graciously accept our invitations to speak at Federation functions. We thank Representative Danny Davis of Illinois for joining us in Atlanta and spending Independence Day with us.

Federationists hurried from the convention room promptly after session recess to allow Atlanta Marriott Marquis staff to transform the room into one suitable for our 2004 Convention Banquet. Federationists gathered with friends, colleagues, and fellow delegates for the food, fun, presentations, raffle drawings, door prizes--and of course President Maurer’s banquet address.

This year’s master of ceremonies was Dr. Frederic K. Schroeder. Naturally, because it was our nation’s birthday, this theme permeated the spirit of the remarks made throughout the evening and the atmosphere in the room. The Sligo Creek Consortium led banquet attendees in some spirited singing.

Eventually it was time for President Maurer’s banquet address, which is reprinted elsewhere in this issue. It was stirring, humorous, and filled with the conviction and inspiration we in the Federation rely upon from President Maurer, whatever he does and says on behalf of the blind.

As the scholarship class of 2004 made its way toward the front of the room, Allen Harris rose to present the Newel Perry Award, the highest honor the Federation bestows to someone who is not a member of the Federation, but who has partnered with us in our efforts to achieve equality, security, and opportunity for the blind. Dr. Newel Perry inspired Dr. tenBroek and therefore the rest of us. Allen Harris presented the award to Congressman Danny K. Davis of Illinois. A full report of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.

Peggy Elliott, chairman of the Scholarship Committee, then introduced the scholarship winners and presented the awards the committee had painstakingly chosen to present to each one, including the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, which this year went to Darrel Kirby. A complete report of the 2004 scholarship program appears elsewhere in this issue.

Ramona Walhof then presented Priscilla Ferris of Massachusetts with the fourteenth Jacobus tenBroek Award. This award presentation appears in full elsewhere in this issue.

Late in the evening Federationists spilled from the banquet hall to pursue an after-banquet party listed in the agenda or parties of their own making. With yet another day of vital Federation business ahead of us, wise Federationists eventually found their way to a few hours of much-needed sleep.

Monday morning consisted of the usual business taken care of on the final day of convention: our financial report, Washington report, and various other reports and announcements. Monday afternoon was taken up with discussion of the fifteen resolutions which the Resolutions Committee had recommended do pass.

It is no wonder that many of us anticipate the 2007 convention with particular excitement, given that we will be returning to the fine city of Atlanta and the outstanding Atlanta Marriott Marquis. However, we have many things to do, many challenges to overcome, and many goals to strive for before then. In Louisville in the summer of 2005 we will gather for our next national convention, celebrate our victories, and redefine our tactics in order to address the skirmishes and obstacles which remain stubborn and unyielding. But we are more stubborn, unyielding, and committed than they, and we will continue to change what it means to be blind directly and positively.

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