THE BRAILLE MONITOR
Vol. 47, No. 9October, 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
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National Federation of the Blind
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Baltimore, Maryland 21230
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 47, No. 9 October, 2004
I Am a Recovering Rehabilitation Professional
by Amy C. Phelps
Baby Steps, Long Strides, and Elephant Seal Humps
by Priscilla Leigh McKinley
I Do Do It: Three Fundamentals of Cane Travel
by Peggy Elliott
Teaching Exploration: Correcting a Glaring Flaw
in the Education Of Blind Children
by Geerat J. Vermeij
Reflection on a Visit to LCB
and Louisiana Tech University's PDRIB
by Jagdish Chander
Progress in Hawai`i
All You Need to Know about Blindness
You Could Learn from a Four‑Year‑Old Girl
by Sheri Wells Jensen
My First Mission Trip
by Susie Stanzel
Coming to Terms: A Review
by Peggy Chong
Your Panels Leave Me Flat
by Terri Uttermohlen and Jim McCarthy
Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest and Literacy Program
for Blind Youth and Prereaders
Copyright© 2004 National Federation of the Blind
[LEAD PHOTO/CAPTION: Maryland Braille Readers Are Leaders winners Laura Cefarrati, Jason Polansky, and Maurice Hamilton proudly wear "I am a Winner" T-shirts. Others pictured are (l‑r) Jill Lewis, Maryland State Library for the Blind and Visually Handicapped director; Sarah Bloomer, Friends of the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped administrative assistant; Sharon Maneki, NFB of Maryland president; Barbara Cheadle, National Organization of Parents of Blind Children president; and Kit Bloom, Childrens' Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped librarian. Each year Maryland contest participants receive their certificates at a party in the dining room of the National Center for the Blind, sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland and the Maryland parents division. The Friends of the Library present each participant with $10 and a congratulatory letter.]
The 2005 Braille Readers Are Leaders program beginning on November 1 is fast approaching. Again this year the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille are sponsoring a three-month reading contest for Braille readers and a two-month program for Braille prereaders and their families or teachers. For more information about both programs and a form for ordering application materials, consult the information at the end of this issue.
[PHOTO/DESCRIPTION: Two women under sleepshades are crossing a street using long white canes.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Amy Phelps (left) works with Louisiana Center for the Blind student Bandi Bryant on street crossing.]
I Am a Recovering Rehabilitation Professional
by Amy C. Phelps
From the Editor: One of the highlights of the 2004 convention was the final item on the morning agenda on banquet day. Most delegates had never heard of the speaker, and we were intrigued by her title. The speech was delightful, both funny and inspiring. Amy Phelps earned a master's degree from Mississippi State University and became a certified rehabilitation counselor in 1999. As she relates in the following address, she was directing a small adult rehabilitation center (the Reach Center) in Tupelo, Mississippi, when she concluded that, if her students were ever to become more effectively rehabilitated, she had to make some changes in her own attitudes about blindness and approach to rehabilitation. On August 19, 2004, she passed her examination to receive National Orientation and Mobility Certification (NOMC). She will officially receive that certification when she graduates in November from the Louisiana Tech master's degree program in which she is now enrolled. This is what she says about her amazing journey of self-discovery and revelation about blindness:
Hi, My name is Amy, and I am a recovering rehab professional.
When I was asked to give a speech to the National Federation of the Blind, my first thought was to wonder what in the world I, as a sighted professional, could tell you that you don't already know. When I received the invitation to speak, I thought to myself, "What do I have to offer? How can I impact the blind of America?"
Then I began to reflect on the experiences which led me to pursue a master's degree in orientation and mobility through the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University, and this is where, I hope, what I have to offer begins. So join me on the journey of becoming a recovering rehabilitation professional.
Before coming to Louisiana, I was lost. Lost, in that I knew something wasn't right in the services I was providing the blind. I had worked for a state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency for fifteen years, the last eight of which I worked as a rehabilitation counselor for the blind and as the director of a small orientation center. Let me assure you, I thought I knew all there was to know about blindness. I had the degrees and certificates to prove it, or so I thought. I had completed the requirements as a certified rehabilitation counselor and a vision specialist in vocational rehabilitation. I also had special training in deaf-blindness--I was knowledgeable; I had papers!
Then, as time passed, I began to realize something wasn't quite right. I wasn't certain what it was, but I knew something was wrong with services for the blind. Consumers in our state were receiving adjustment-to-blindness training, but some of our consumers rotated through the training centers so many times we considered replacing the entrance with revolving doors. As a service provider I would often question what we were doing wrong. Our blind consumers were receiving training, sometimes going to college, sometimes not, but either way a high percentage of the blind didn't seem to be taking career paths. Could it be we weren't doing something right? Did we need to reconsider our services and attitudes? Did we need to examine our expectations? Of course as a good rehab professional I immediately assumed that it couldn't possibly be me. Remember, I had papers. Besides, this was the way we had always done it, so it had to be right.
Now fast forward with me on a flight to Albuquerque, New Mexico, November 2002. I am on my way to a conference for residential training centers for the blind. While in flight to Albuquerque, I notice a woman on the plane with a long white cane. I automatically assume this woman is also going to the conference because I never imagined a blind person would actually fly somewhere that wasn't work related. A blind person going on a vacation, alone? Unheard of!
At this point I am clueless about the conference, assuming it is going to be another one of those conferences where they tell you what else you as a professional must do to help your consumer become independent--modify this, change that, do more for the consumer, allow him or her to pick and choose the entire program, keep everything safe and comfortable because, you know, the consumer is blind. I am prepared to hear the same old same old--accommodate, accommodate, accommodate.
I am pretty unemotional about the conference. Walking through the airport, I again notice this same woman, whom I had seen on the plane. Wait, she is actually going through the airport by herself, but where is her sighted guide? No blind person can really go through the airport alone. And then I think, "Ahhhh, so that is what superblind looks like." I had heard about it, and now I have seen her.
I arrive at the conference center, and low and behold there are superblind everywhere. People are getting in and out of taxis by themselves, going through the hotel, walking on the sidewalks by themselves. Someone must have emptied the superblind barrel right here in the middle of Albuquerque. There are hundreds of blind people with long white canes, doing exactly the same things I am doing. For the first time in my life I actually see blind people going through a buffet line independently, walking through the hotel, and going to different breakout sessions, and they don't have sighted guides. Heck, they are even able to pour salad dressing on their salads. So, I think to myself, there can't be that many superblind people. I soon learn they weren't superblind at all--just properly trained. They were Pam Allen, Carlos Serván, Roland Allen, Jerry Whittle, Jim Omvig, Joanne Wilson, Eric Woods, Allen Harris, and Jeff Altman. And, oh, by the way, the competent blind woman at the airport was Christine Boone.
So I return to my job; I have seen the light; I am going to start making changes. If the blind in our state can learn to be as independent as the people I saw in Albuquerque, then we won't need to replace that front door. If the right changes are made, once students complete training in a center, they will be empowered to go to work and live truly independent lives, but how in the world will I make this happen? I have a vague idea and a list of names and telephone numbers of people who presented at the conference and this book which soon became my Bible for rehabilitation for the blind. It is called Freedom for the Blind. After reading the introduction, I know I have to call the author. So I pull out the phone numbers from the conference and look up the number for James H. Omvig, and so begins the rest of the story.
At this point I start making phone calls to Pam Allen and Fatos Floyd almost daily; Sam Gleese, president of the NFB of Mississippi, weekly; and sometimes Mr. Omvig hourly, asking questions. Now mind you, prior to this conference I knew almost nothing about the National Federation of the Blind. The only thing I had been told was that the NFB was sue-happy, confrontational, and a group you wanted to avoid at all cost. Here I am, a rehabilitation professional actually calling the organized blind for solutions in providing training to the blind. I am a radical.
So it is official: we are going to make changes in our center–-changes in how we provide adjustment training to the blind. But again I am not certain how to do it. I have an idea of what needs to be done, but I also realize I have much to learn.
Early in the summer of 2003 I went through two very short weeks of immersion training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind; I was beginning to see what needed to take place. I thought I believed in the blind. I thought blind people could do what they wanted without inconvenience to themselves or others. I thought I had the right attitude, until one day during a meal for forty. At that meal, as a student wearing sleepshades, I had to examine what I really believed. While I was sitting at the table, someone asked me if I was going to get dessert. I had made the big mistake earlier of saying it was one of my favorite desserts, and Ron Gardner overheard me. When asked the question again, I declined. Mr. Gardner asked me a soul-searching question. He said, "So, Amy, are you not getting dessert because you don't want it or because you are afraid to go get it--because you are blind?" At that moment I really began to question my beliefs.
Needless to say, I had dessert, but this incident really stuck in my mind. What did I really believe about blind people? I knew all around me blind people were doing whatever they wanted to, but could I? Did I believe that I could do what they were doing as a blind student, or was I talking the talk but not walking the walk? Tough question for someone who has papers!
Now I was back at work, talking daily with staff and students about their attitudes about blindness. Armed with just a couple of weeks of blindness training under my belt I answered what questions I could, leaning on my new NFB family to answer questions I was uncertain about. But still I knew I needed more. Then one day I was talking with a student about blind travel instructors, telling her about Roland Allen, who was coming to work with our O&M instructor. This student, who had been blind since birth, informed me that she would never want a blind travel instructor. She said and I quote, "I don't want a blind travel instructor because who will keep me from walking into the street and getting hit by a car? Blind people have to understand their limitations. Having a blind travel instructor makes about as much sense as blind people cutting their own meat in a restaurant." This, my friends, really brought home to me the fact that as a rehabilitation professional I had missed the mark in the services we were providing.
The days passed. I was receiving great support from the state agency and my new friends in the NFB--daily words of encouragement for trying to make changes, but still I was uncertain. I often talked with my friends and colleagues about what I had seen and been a part of in Louisiana. Both sighted and blind, some were supportive; some were skeptical.
Then one day the home-ec instructor was out sick, and I had to fill in. I was going to go grocery shopping with a student. This student had been through the training program several times, but still she returned unable to do anything independently. This student and I were going to learn to use customer service. I put on my sleepshades, grabbed my cane, and off we went. The whole time this student was complaining about going grocery shopping alone. She would never do her own grocery shopping; she had friends who shopped for her. She didn't know anything about shopping and had no desire to learn. Needless to say, she was a bit cranky during the entire trip.
Once we returned to the center after shopping, I asked her about going shopping and how she felt about it. She again reiterated that she would never go shopping alone and that I was exceptional if I could. I was astonished. This attitude was the product of low expectations in the education system, society, and rehabilitation; and it had to stop.
What had I done as a so-called professional? If I-–after only a couple of weeks of training under sleepshades–-was exceptional, there were huge problems. I had to do something. I realized as a result of the Albuquerque conference, my brief visit at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and the support of the National Federation of the Blind that it was time for me to take action. I no longer wanted to be a mere professional with papers; I had to make a difference.
The time had come for me not only to push my students out of their comfort zone and become independent but also for me to do what I was asking my students to do. I as a professional had to come to know emotionally as well as intellectually that I could be independent and self-sufficient. I as a professional sighted or blind person had to be able to serve as a role model for my consumers. No longer could I sit back and talk the talk; I had to learn to walk the walk. I must be able to grab my sleepshades and long white cane and just do it.
At this point I decided I would no longer live a life of low expectations for consumers; I would raise the bar so that consumers could learn to travel independently without inconvenience to themselves or others. This, my friends, is what led me to leave my job of fifteen years to pursue a master's degree in orientation and mobility through the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University. I chose this program, not because I wanted more papers or a string of letters behind my name, but because this program is the best, with a foundation developed for the blind by the blind, grounded in the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. I chose to pursue a master's degree in O&M because I knew the training I would receive through the Institute on Blindness would have high expectations for me as a student, therefore equipping me to be a blindness professional who could really make a difference. I had to prove to myself that I could travel independently as a blind person. I realized having papers was not enough.
So I challenge you today to choose to make a real difference. Whether you are a professional in the field of blindness wanting to become a recovering rehab professional or a college student looking for an exciting career, choose, as I did, to make a real difference. Consider a master's degree program at Louisiana Tech University; contact our director Ron Gardner, or visit with staff and students at the Institute on Blindness table in the exhibit hall. Oh, yes, let me warn you. Be prepared for high, and I do mean high, expectations.
To sum everything up that I have learned since Albuquerque, blind people are nothing more than normal people who cannot see. Blind people can go where they want to go when they want to, without inconvenience to themselves or others. But, most important, it is respectable to be blind. This is why I am proud to say I am a recovering rehab professional, and I am very proud to say I am a member of the National Federation of the Blind, and as a rehabilitation professional it is my privilege and responsibility to help change what it means to be blind.
Charitable Remainder Trusts
A trust is a plan established to accomplish goals for the individual making the trust and for the beneficiary. The donor creates the trust, appoints a trustee (the donor, a family member, a bank trust officer, etc.), and designates a beneficiary. In the case of a charitable remainder trust, money or property is transferred by the donor to a charitable trust. This trust pays income for life. After the donor's death the funds remaining in the trust go to the National Federation of the Blind.
There are two kinds of charitable trusts. The first, a charitable remainder annuity trust, is set up to pay income to the donor based on a fixed percentage of the original gift. The second is a charitable remainder unitrust. The income from this trust is based on the annual assessed value of the gift. Both types of charitable remainder trust are common and relatively easy to set up. Appreciable tax deductions are available, depending on which type of trust is selected.
The following examples demonstrate how trusts work, but the figures are illustrative, not exact:
Michael Brown, age sixty-five, decides to set up a charitable remainder annuity trust with $100,000. He asks his brother John to manage the trust for him. During Michael's lifetime John will see to it that Michael is paid $5,000 each year (5 percent of $100,000). In addition, Michael can claim a tax deduction of $59,207 in the year the trust is established.
Mary Ellen Davis, age sixty-five, sets up a charitable remainder unitrust with $100,000. She asks her attorney to act as trustee. During Mary Ellen's life her attorney will pay her an amount, 5 percent, equal to the annual assessed value of her gift. If the $100,000 unitrust grows to $110,000, Mary Ellen will be paid $5,500. If it grows again to $120,000, she will be paid $6,000 in that year, and so on. Also Mary Ellen can claim a tax deduction of $48,935 in the year she establishes the unitrust.
For more information on charitable remainder trusts, contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, phone (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Priscilla McKinley]
Baby Steps, Long Strides, and Elephant Seal Humps
by Priscilla Leigh McKinley
From the Editor: Priscilla McKinley was a 1996 National Federation of the Blind scholarship winner and a 1998 tenBroek Fellow. By the time the NFB first made contact with her, Priscilla was well on her way to developing for herself the philosophy that characterizes Federationists. The Federation certainly speeded her evolution into a healthy, contributing blind woman and a leader of the National Federation of the Blind, but she was heading in the right direction when we met. Until she and her husband Brian Miller moved to California last year so that he could take a job with the Rehabilitation Services Administration, Priscilla was president of the Old Capitol Chapter of the NFB of Iowa. She received her master of fine arts degree in creative nonfiction writing and is now working on her Ph.D. in language, literacy, and culture through the Department of English Education at the University of Iowa. She expects to finish her dissertation in December of 2005 and then hopes to teach creative nonfiction writing, ethnographic methods in literacy research, or approaches to teaching writing to English as a second language to students. She is vice president of the National Organization of Blind Educators, and until September she served on the board of directors of the NFB of Iowa.
Here is Priscilla's description of her early days as a blind person and her struggle against learning to use the long white cane.
One October day about seven months after I start losing my sight due to complications from juvenile diabetes and pre-eclampsia during the birth of my son, my mother drops me off in front of the hospital for an eye appointment. When the humming of her Chevy disappears in the direction of the parking ramp, I stand and listen for the sound of the forced-air, temperature‑controlled open entrance of the hospital. I have memorized the way--stepping through the open space, passing straight through the lobby, turning left to the elevator, pushing the third button from the bottom on the panel, getting off at the second floor, and following the walls down the hall to the eye clinic--left, left, and left again. But, because of the cold weather, the open space has been replaced with glass doors, and I walk into them, face first.
The pain spreads from my nose to the rest of my face, causing tears to well up in my eyes. I must look crazy or drunk, and a number of people run over, asking if I need help. "Are you hurt, honey?" "Are you here alone?" "Where are you headed?" Stunned by the pain, I can't answer. Even though my nose hurts terribly, I do not cry because of the physical pain. The pain I feel pushes up from the pit of my stomach, pulsating through every part of my body. For the first time I realize that I need to make changes in my life. I admit that I am blind.
That was the way my life as a blind person began, like a slap on a new baby's bottom. Welcome to the world of the blind! But how does a woman all of a sudden change the way she has done everything throughout her life--reading, writing, and even walking? She doesn't, or at least I didn't. I wasn't willing to accept the fact that I would never see again, nor was I ready to do anything to help myself adjust to my blindness, including using one of those long white canes. I figured my sight would come back and my blindness would be one of those conversation starters I could use at cocktail parties, a story to get people's attention. "Yeah, I went blind for a while, and I even learned cane travel, but then I got my sight back." But in reality I would never regain my sight, and I would have to learn the skills I would need to get around in the world. Unfortunately, at that time I wasn't a member of the National Federation of the Blind, and I resisted learning those skills for as long as I could.
In many ways I felt like a toddler, like my son Jonathan, who was exploring the world for the first time. However, I lacked the enthusiasm he did in experiencing new things. While he tried to figure out ways to push round objects through square holes and to catch the chickadees and cardinals that landed on the bird feeder outside the window, I tried to figure out ways to make caring for Jonathan a bit easier. I felt his mouth with one hand while shoveling food into it with the other to avoid getting strained peas or carrots in his eyes or nose, something he managed to do on his own. I used twenty diaper wipes when I changed him, and it wasn't hard to tell when he needed a change.
The pediatrician had told me that Jonathan might be a bit slow from being six weeks premature, so I was relieved when he started moving around, but I was also a bit nervous and put bells on his booties and shoes so I could follow him. Instead of crawling, he humped like an elephant seal. He would scoot his legs up under himself and lunge forward, landing on blocks and other toys, laughing all the while. He never hesitated to hump from one room to another, even when the obstacles were as big as the three stairs from the living room to the family room. However, when he pulled himself up and started taking baby steps around the furniture, he moved slowly, cautiously, much like his mother, who was just starting to learn cane travel.
At first, when Don, an independent living instructor, said a cane was necessary to regain my independence, I protested, saying, "Mary Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie didn't use a cane, so why should I?" Mary walked along the rustic wooden sidewalks, sometimes being led by a sighted person, sometimes counting steps. Don argued that I shouldn't be led around like a dog and that counting steps worked only on television. He also said the method I had been using wasn't very effective--shuffling like an old woman, holding my arms out in front of me, using my feet as a guide. But, even though I didn't want to carry a white cane, letting everyone see that I was blind, I agreed to the lessons.
"When you step forward with your right foot, swing the cane to your left. When you step forward with your left foot, swing the cane to the right," Don reminded me every few steps, his voice echoing behind me.
With the difficulty in distinguishing between gravel and grass on the country driveway, I wandered off into the yard a few times. Don said to hold the cane directly in front of me, using only my wrist to fling it back and forth, but, because I was right‑handed, I tended to hold it over to my right. Don couldn't see how I held the cane, but he knew I wasn't doing it right when I smashed into the tree on my left. Even though I wasn't hurt, I complained enough to put an end to my first lesson.
When another independent living instructor arrived for my second lesson, I hoped for a little sympathy, but Chuck wasn't willing to give it. He wouldn't put up with my stubbornness, my resistance. When I showed signs of giving up, he said, "If I can do it, so can you." I didn't think this was fair. Chuck had been blind since birth. He knew how to read and write Braille, how to use a cane, how to be blind. When I told Chuck my practice only included going up and down the driveway a few times, he suggested we go into St. Ansgar, my small hometown in northern Iowa, and I imagined the people on the street watching me, a lifetime resident. Some would probably feel sorry for me, saying things like, "She can't see! She has to use a cane--a white one. The poor girl." Thinking of these things, I objected to the lesson in town, but Chuck persisted and finally won.
"You have a little sight, right?" Chuck asked.
I climbed out of the car, trying to hide the cane. "But all I can see are light and shadows!"
"Well, then," he said, placing something in my hand, "you'll have to wear these."
I felt the strap and the nylon patches and recognized the sleepshades. I had heard of them and knew I might have to use them for travel lessons, since I could still see light and shadows out of my left eye. "I'm not wearing these," I said, handing them back to Chuck. "I'll just close my eyes. I promise I won't cheat." After telling Chuck I would rather wear a paper bag than the sleepshades, after feeling my eyes fill with tears, I persuaded Chuck to let me go without them, and I took off down the street, passing the produce store and the post office. But on this second cane travel lesson, I didn't feel independent. I didn't run, nor did I walk. Instead I staggered down the sidewalk with Chuck following, listening for my mistakes. When I reached the first curb, I stopped, afraid of falling off the six‑inch drop. When I finally got up the courage, I stepped down and crossed the street diagonally, ending up in the dirt. After I sent my distress signal--the word "shit"--Chuck came over and bailed me out, leading me over to the sidewalk of the second block. Slowly gaining confidence, loosening my grip, swinging the cane back and forth, alternating my footsteps, I pushed on. Then suddenly, in an instant, before I had time to react, my cane flew out of my hand and fell into the deep window well of an old‑fashioned basement barbershop. I heard the cane strike the window, echoing in the well, but luckily I didn't hear any breaking glass.
When Chuck heard me cursing, he came over to see what was wrong. As I explained the situation, I heard the footsteps of the old barber climbing the stairs from his shop. "Did you drop this, honey?" the old barber asked, placing the stick in my shaky hand.
I thanked him, pleaded with Chuck to go home, and climbed into the car, putting an end to my second lesson.
For my third cane travel lesson, my first in Iowa City, where I planned to move with Jonathan, I arranged to meet the travel instructor for the area on a late afternoon in January. Because of the distance from my hometown to Iowa City, I came down the night before and stayed with my friend Lynn, but she had to work all day. Terrified to go out by myself, I spent the entire afternoon cooped up at Lynn's place, watching reruns of Leave It to Beaver on television, listening to Wally and Beaver argue for hours on end, wondering who was in the right.
At the end of the day Lynn held my elbow as we descended the three long flights of icy, wooden stairs, releasing her grip when we reached the ground. Left, left. Right, right. Switch feet or switch cane. Left, right. Right, left. I walked along the sidewalk, tapping the concrete, sticking to snow, taking baby steps all the way. Finally Lynn stopped and said, "Here it is."
I saw a tall shadow and, taking my cane in both hands, I swung it back like a baseball bat and let it fly forward with all my might, expecting to connect with a pole. At the same time I asked, "Is this the bus stop sign?"
"Ugh," a woman grunted loudly. "I'm not a sign."
"I'm sorry," I said, embarrassed. "Are you okay?"
"I'll be fine," the woman answered, her voice shaking slightly.
I heard the bus pulling up to the curb, screeching to a halt. Hunting for the door with my cane, I managed to climb the three steps. I reached into my pocket and took out two quarters. After waving my hand back and forth and searching for the coin slot with my limited sight, I was relieved when the driver finally took the money and put it in the slot himself. I thanked him and sat down, sighing and feeling safe on the bus.
"Have you ever been in this mall?" Joe asked as I got off the bus and entered the mall through the glass doors.
"Yeah, but it's been a long time. I was only here once, before I lost my sight."
After walking a bit further, Joe stopped and said, "Here's what I want you to do. Find your way back to the escalator--we just passed it--and take it up to the second level. Then find your way to the glass elevator at the other end of the mall. I'll be waiting for you when you get off." Then, he placed a pair of sleepshades in my hand.
"What? You expect me to find my way around the mall by myself with these things on?" I gasped, my mouth hanging open. Then, thinking about it, I said, "Okay, but I'm not wearing these things. I'll just close my eyes."
"You can do it. How do you expect to move here if you can't even find your way around the mall? It's now or never," Joe said. When I didn't respond, he added, "You make sure those eyes are shut."
I smiled and turned around, heading back toward the mall entrance, opening my eyes as soon as I thought I was far enough away from Joe. Blocking out the sound of my cane hitting the hard tiles, I scanned the area for the escalator. After running into many shadows, including many angry shoppers, I heard the mechanical sound and located the escalator with the little sight I had left. Reaching out toward the shadow, searching for the rail, grabbing the banister, working my way up, I felt a human arm, a hairy, muscular arm.
"Can I help you?" a man asked, a deep masculine voice.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I thought this was the escalator," I said stupidly, pulling my hand back.
"He's not an escalator," a woman giggled. "It's a little bit further. This is just a bench."
"Sorry," I said, quickly walking away from the couple, escaping further embarrassment.
Why did I depend on the little sight I had left? The light and shadows only led to trouble. I knew I couldn't trust them. I had resisted the sleepshades, but now I understood their purpose. Closing my eyes and listening more intently, I found the escalator by feeling the metal stairs with my cane and gripping the rail with my hand. As the stairs moved, I imagined losing my balance, continuously falling backward as the stairs moved upward. However, this didn't happen. I felt for the tile floor with my cane and stepped off.
As I headed toward the other end of the building, more aware of my surroundings, I relaxed, taking long strides. When I heard the roaring of a blender, I remembered the Orange Julius and turned right. Then I heard the video arcade on my right—Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Space Invaders, all blending together in harmony. Finally I heard the purring motor of the glass elevator. Swinging my cane back and forth, moving slowly toward the sound, I tap-tap-tapped through the already open doors, pushed the lowest button on the panel, and headed down.
When the doors opened, Joe laughed, "I told you that you could do it! You just need a lot more practice. Before you know it, you'll want to run in a marathon. Of course, as fast as you go, your cane will send the sparks a-flying."
Well, to this day, I haven't run in any marathons, and I haven't sent the sparks a-flying, but I have come a long way since the day I ran into the glass doors at the hospital. I moved from baby steps to long strides. However, it wasn't until I discovered the National Federation of the Blind that I took those strides with confidence. The NFB provided the inspiration I would need to travel outside of my comfort zone and into unfamiliar places and explore the world, as my son did when he was a toddler, excited to go to new places and discover new things. Like my son, who faced huge obstacles but confronted them without fear, I began to experience the excitement of doing the elephant seal hump.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Peggy Elliott and Michael Gosse walk together using their canes]
I Do Do It: Three Fundamentals of Cane Travel
by Peggy Elliott
From the Editor: Peggy Elliott is one of the best cane travelers I know. She is president of the Iowa affiliate, second vice president of the National Federation of the Blind, and a busy attorney and city council member in Grinnell, Iowa. All this means that she gets lots of practice using her cane. In the following article she draws from example and illustration to distill what some consider to be her rather eccentric cane technique from three fundamental skills. In addition she throws in a lot more good advice. If the test of successful cane travel is getting where you want to go safely, gracefully, and efficiently, Peggy is among our best travelers, and we should all pay close attention to her comments. This is what she says:
I learned to use a white cane a number of years ago under circumstances that would now be described as discovery learning, but before that term was coined. I was taught the fundamental cane technique of stepping and simultaneously tapping my cane in front of the foot I wasn't stepping on and then stepping forward and repeating the simultaneous tapping in front of the other foot at the other end of an arc no wider than my shoulders. The technique is often called the two-point touch technique. I was taught to center my cane by holding it with my index finger extended and my thumb on top. The cane handle was to be kept near the center of my stomach. I was then drilled with daily practice for about nine months to perfect the skills of tapping, centering, staying in step, arcing widely enough, and trusting the information my cane provided until these techniques became so routine that I no longer needed to think about them and did them unconsciously.
Though I no longer use these techniques routinely, I would absolutely teach a new cane user exactly as I was taught in order to achieve the same result--unconscious and casual reliance on the cane to tell the user information accurately and rapidly enough to maintain safety. In short, I would encourage personalizing the style of cane use only after the fundamentals have been mastered and internalized.
As I say, I don't center, stay rigidly in step, or worry about a precise arc. And, most important to me, I don't tap. Instead I slide the cane from side to side, never lifting the tip off the ground. People have asked me over the years how I was taught, what I now do, and why, usually in the context of discussing some tidbit of cane use or orientation, and often at a big national convention hotel. So I have decided to describe a few of the things I do in case they are useful to others.
While I learned cane travel in a Federation center, not everyone can, largely because the rehab system still doesn't completely believe in our Federation approach. But the Federation approach is not taught solely at such centers. Every chapter meeting, every state convention, every encounter between two blind people can be a context for teaching and learning the Federation approach to cane travel; attending a center merely speeds the instruction and roots it firmly in the mind and soul. But people who never attend a center can and do become fine and safe cane travelers. The only requirements are commitment to learning and practice.
So I have boiled down advanced cane use to several basic concepts. Mastery of these concepts through practice allows anyone to become a safe and efficient cane traveler. Good cane users could add lots of tips and tricks gleaned from daily use, but I think these are the foundation. For true success in cane travel, each must be mastered.
While confidence in the Federation approach to cane travel and daily experience using the cane are the strongest indicators of success in traveling competently as a blind person, these are the three fundamental concepts I use regularly. None was exactly taught me when I learned cane travel. In fact, some techniques I now use are actually contrary to what I was taught. This is partly why I say that confidence and experience are the strongest predictors of success in travel. All successful blind travelers take what they are taught, formally and informally, and create a successful personal style. Trying to travel exactly the way one was taught yields constant nervousness for fear one may be doing things wrong while preventing innovation using one's own strengths and observations.
Successful cane travel seems impossible to the novice; it certainly did to me. Looking back over many years of cane travel, I can say with certainty that, if I had simply kept doing what I had been taught and traveled in familiar areas only, I wouldn't be a good traveler today. Innovation and application of the techniques in new situations have made me a much better traveler. Again, looking back, I once thought successful travel as a blind person was a pleasant myth. Only when I stepped out, white cane in hand, and began applying the techniques and adapting them for myself did I find the goal reachable. I write these words in the hope that others will dare to move into unfamiliar places and situations and find the methods most congenial for them. Then, one day, these experimenters can look back as I do and say that gradually, without noticing it, their style has changed and their skills improved until they have achieved a comfort and confidence they once thought possible only for others. In other words, it works!
Here are the three fundamental concepts I use. Having mastered basic cane technique and these three concepts, anyone can experiment, try new things, and spread his or her wings. The key is to challenge oneself to improve. Here are three ways to do it: mapping, reversing, and pathfinding.
Mapping is the mental gathering and retention of information about an area that allows the blind traveler to travel anywhere in it without other information except that contained on the mental map. Everyone uses mapping to get around. By this, I specifically mean sighted people. Sighted hunters have mental maps of the terrain that leads to their favorite deer stand or pheasant nesting ground. Sighted shoppers, familiar with a mall, plan their stops to avoid doubling back without reference to any but their mental maps. Sighted drivers moving about a familiar city rarely glance at street signs and navigate streets and freeways by referring to their own mental maps along with a sense of accustomed distances and observation of familiar landmarks.
When blind people set out for a destination, why shouldn't they use the same techniques? In fact, why should we not expect ourselves to make such maps for common daily use just as sighted people do? Our maps may have different reference points and landmarks, but they can be equally useful. In fact, since our maps use touch and sound instead of visible landmarks, we can more easily convey them to one another. We can of course use maps or directions from sighted people, but these are often given in visual terms and require translation into tactile and audible ones.
Many blind travelers use this mapping technique when traveling outdoors along streets, especially those set in a grid pattern. But, when it comes to buildings, some of us think that mapping doesn't work or isn't worth the effort. It most certainly does and is absolutely worth the effort.
Let me give a few examples. I first began rigorously to develop this technique inside buildings when traveling to NFB conventions. As soon as I reached my room and shooed out the bell person, I would sit down on the corner of the nearest bed and mentally go over the route from the desk to my room, rehearsing the route until I could remember it flawlessly then mentally practicing the reverse, walking back to the desk. As I traveled and practiced more, my ability to remember the route became more and more routine, so I never sit on the corner of the bed any more. By the time I get into my room, the practice of years has enabled me to lock in the route so that I can call upon it as needed. I usually ask a few questions at the hotel desk like the location of the restaurants, in order to get those on my mental map right away. Then, as I move around the hotel, I add details to the map for each floor. Here are a few examples from Federation convention hotels.
At the national convention hotel in Anaheim, I first stepped onto a floor with smaller meeting rooms to go to a specific room. To reach it, I discovered that one angled about forty-five degrees to the right after leaving the elevator lobby and then straightened out to walk down a long hall in the same direction as one had been going when leaving the elevator lobby. The angled digression was necessary to go around a large open stair well and escalators. Meeting rooms opened off this hall and also off hallways perpendicular to it branching to the right. Later that day I arrived at the same floor looking for a different room and discovered that, to find it, one angled forty-five degrees to the left to reach a different hallway, down which one proceeded in the same direction as one had been walking when leaving the elevator lobby. Rooms opened off this hallway and off hallways branching from it to the left. While the distances were long, the map of the floor was almost complete in my mind.
Still later that day I was at the end of the left hall and needed to go to a room at the end of the right hall. By then I knew that I could have returned all the way to the elevator lobby, walked across to the right-hand hall, and walked back up that hall to the room, since that day I had at different times already walked each piece of this proposed route. However, my mental map also told me that cross halls were very likely to connect the long left and right halls at intervals, allowing people like me to cross between them without having to go all the way back to the elevator lobby. I started looking for such a hall and found one almost immediately, saving myself a two-block detour.
This brings me to an important detail in mapping: which way is north? While I know good blind travelers who rarely pay attention to the cardinal directions, I am not one of them. When I enter a building that I'm going to use intensively, I try as soon as possible to learn which way north is so that I can draw my mental maps using north, south, east, and west rather than right and left, which are obviously dependent on which way one is facing. I find that knowing where north is allows me to make a map of a floor or lobby area that I can mentally look down upon, locate myself upon, and determine my next move, whereas having just rights and lefts requires constant transposition, depending on where one is and where one is going. When I can't find someone who knows which way north is, I simply assign what I call a "false north" (for example, the direction one travels when leaving the elevator), so that I can still have a consistent map that works throughout the hotel and is not reliant on rights and lefts.
Once in a state convention motel I had vague directions for the path from my room to the first convention meeting. I discovered that the path included the entire length of a parking lot, passing along the outside of the lobby and then meandering among several other buildings before arriving at the one we were using. Once I arrived at the first meeting, I reviewed the route several times in my head, since indoors and out it was nearly three blocks long and one of the longer routes I had walked in quite some time. By using north, estimating direction, and drawing my mental map, I discovered that I had walked around three sides of a very large square inside which were located various motel buildings.
I began enquiring about going from my room on the very edge of the square across the fourth side instead of traveling around the other three sides. At first I was told that there was no way to do that, but other convention goers staying down at the very end as I was eventually did discover that there was a way to walk along the fourth side, which went off hotel property and then back onto it. Finding that route earlier would have saved me a lot of walking.
Mapping uses all the tactile and audible features of an area as landmarks. For example, we Iowans quickly and to our delight discovered that, when walking along the ballroom foyer that included all the entrances to the Louisville convention ballroom, we could just keep walking until we stepped from carpet to tile. The next door brought us into the convention hall just behind the Iowa section. In large open spaces I always look for details like low walls, steps, potted vegetation, changes from tile to carpet, and seating areas--details I can find with my cane and use as landmarks or points at which to change direction.
Then there are fountains. I used to hate them. Their constant sound can drown out other information. Then I discovered their utility--a huge fixed point of navigation. You don't have to go anywhere near a fountain to know where it is and to use it as a navigation aid. I remember a state convention with a fountain in the hotel lobby. I arrived at the banquet from one direction and left it in another, heading for the lobby. Using my mental map, I chose a hallway I had never used before, confident that it would lead toward the lobby and that I would be able to tell exactly where I was as soon as I heard the fountain. The plan worked just fine. In fact, my husband and I have a joke that goes, "The fountain is our friend!" by which we mean that some people think fountains are noisy when we think them useful.
When I enter a building I have never been in before, I start gathering information, including asking questions of both blind and sighted people. It's my job to create my own map, and I get information in many ways and make it useful in building my maps. With sighted people I usually point in the direction I think they are indicating and ask if that's what they mean. Once I confirm the direction they mean, I find my own tactile or audible method of getting there.
This same technique works well in airports I use regularly. My own home airport and the one I use most often to change planes, United in Chicago, are both laid out in the shape of a huge print H, which allows me to know at all times both where I am and how to walk to an objective. When the new Denver airport was opened, my husband Doug went through it for a plane change before I did. He came back, pleased that the Denver people had been accommodating enough to build the long United corridor just like our street at home. When we walk out our front door, which is on the side with odd numbers, larger numbers are to our left. This exact pattern--odd-numbered gates on one side, even on the other, and odd numbers arranged like our neighborhood street--makes it easy for us to know from the single fact of the number of our arriving gate exactly which way and on which side our departing gate is located.
Many of us have a mental map of the Capitol Holiday Inn in Washington, and some of us actually retain three or four maps of the ground floor, which has changed over the years. The hotel manager told us last February that the ground floor is changing again and gave a few examples. I encountered him three days later, and he was astonished that I could repeat exactly what he had said. I would have been disappointed in myself if I could not have done so. Having advance notice of a change of map was a real treat. It counterbalanced just a little all those times, especially in airports, when the map that once worked no longer works due to construction.
This leads me to a final tip about mapping. If the map is not working, don't junk the technique; just revise the map. I was recently at a state convention, and one element of my map just wasn't working--the orientation of the elevator on one floor. Everything else worked just fine, but I could never reliably find the elevator on that one floor. We left the hotel and returned, coming in a different door, and I approached this elusive elevator from a different direction, which allowed me to discover that I had one element of my map in the wrong place. On one of the lower floors I had the orientation of the elevator spun ninety degrees, facing south when it actually faced west. When the map isn't working, keep revising, and it will eventually work.
Remember, it's your job to gather the information and to make the map, not the job of sighted people to know how to tell you where things are. In the first place they don't think about tile and fountains and "north" the way we do. In the second place blaming a sighted person for giving bad directions is no different from blaming a bad cane travel teacher or bad genes for not finding a place. The objective is to learn how to talk to all kinds of people and make the map for yourself. Many blind people routinely do this every day, and most of us can learn to do so.
The other two fundamental concepts are actually specific ways of using and enhancing the skill of mental mapping. I call the next one reversing. Reversing is the ability to move unerringly from Point B to Point A along the route one has already walked to get from Point A to Point B. The most common use for reversing is in restaurants, although the skill is universally useful. In restaurants I want to be able to walk to the front door from my table, both for leaving and for finding the cash register, which is commonly by the front door. And I want to be able to return to my table or to the front door from the rest room. In order to do either, I have to be able to reverse a route I have just walked within the last hour or two or the last ten minutes or so. In restaurants I frequent, the need for this specific skill of reversing fades as an actual mental map emerges. But I want to be able to move about in a restaurant I'm going to be in only once. I use the same technique I use when going from a hotel check-in desk to my room, paying attention to turns and other detail such as raised areas, sources of music, changes in flooring, and changes in noise level.
Learning the specific skill of reversing, like learning how to map, is something I made myself do consciously so that the skill became second nature and takes very little effort any more. At first it felt scary to stand up from a restaurant table and start walking toward where I thought the door was. Gradually I learned to pay attention on the way in so that I was no longer guessing on the way back out.
Adding the location of rest rooms is merely a further application of this skill. I can get directions from a server or another diner to the rest room or follow someone there the first time. I pay close attention to the route between the table and the rest rooms. Once there, I can then return to the table by reversing. Or, as sometimes happens, I can add together the two routes, one to the table and the other to the rest room, to make a broader map, allowing me to go from the rest room to the door, where the rest of the party is gathering. All this takes much longer to explain than to do, and all this is easily performed by any blind person who makes up his or her mind to do it. It starts with a determination to develop the skill of reversing and the willingness to try.
The third fundamental concept I use is pathfinding. I became convinced a long time ago that I cannot walk a straight line. Neither can most other people, blind or sighted. Take as an example the sport of orienteering. Sighted people take two things with them into wild country and make a day of going from Point A to Point B, using only these two things. One is a topographical map, and the other is a compass. These orienteers are sighted, but they assume they can't walk a straight line, so they use a compass as one of their two basic tools. Well I can't walk a straight line either. It doesn't matter how carefully I center my cane or standardize my stride. I drift off the straight line. I suspect that this is true of most people and thus of most blind people.
Without additional cues, over a distance anyone will walk at an angle. Sighted people use curb lines and objects at a distance toward which they can navigate, so they seem to walk straight. But send them orienteering, and they'll find out about straight. Blind people don't have curbs at a distance beyond our cane reach to parallel or objects in the distance toward which we can steer unless we're lucky enough to be walking toward a constant noise source like a fountain or a busy street. So I long ago concluded I would have to find auditory or tactile alternatives to guide me in a straight line, and I developed what I call pathfinding.
This was the basis for deciding not to tap my cane. I learned when starting to use a cane to arc the cane from left to right and then back to the left again, tapping at the outer edges of the arc. I used this method for a while and then figured out I was missing all kinds of information by picking up the cane for most of its trip across my path. I found that, by leaving the cane on the ground and gliding it from edge to edge of the arc, I learned a great deal more about the surface on which I was walking and could more reliably keep to a straight path.
The information I acquire using the glide method includes the location of cracks between sidewalk and parking lot, an important pathfinding device when walking along a parking lot; seams in the sidewalk perpendicular to my path, which nonetheless convey direction; and, most important, seams between sidewalk and street, which are often composed of two different materials, also discernible more easily using the glide technique. Using this method, I can detect slopes, both those going across my path, which indicate driveways, and those going in my direction, which indicate the approach of streets or alleys. I can find details in the walking surface which help to identify other cues so that the walking surface itself turns out to contain landmarks like the metal strip in the floor of the east tower in Louisville which, when one crosses it going south, is a signal to start drifting left to find the stairs up to the second floor. I think I also find drop-offs and stairs more reliably when my cane never leaves the ground.
All these changes I have made in my cane technique from the original arcing technique I was taught have led me to make yet three more changes. The first is cane length. I took an informal survey several years ago among people who seem to travel well using a white cane. My survey was provoked by the comment I often receive that my cane is too long. I must say here that I am really the only one who can tell whether or not my cane is too long as long as I am not constantly tripping others. I use a straight cane, meaning one that does not fold or telescope, since I find that canes in sections, while they may be convenient to store, always give me two kinds of information: that which I need and that which continuously reminds me that I am using a segmented cane, which alters the information on its way from the tip to my hand. I prefer to receive information about my surroundings only and not to be reminded constantly that I have sections. The storage problems people anticipate for such long canes (mine is sixty-five inches) are mostly mythical in my experience, and, when the rare problem occurs, I think it's a small price to pay for the purity of information I'm getting.
My informal survey showed that most of my friends who travel confidently carry canes that, when held vertically with the tip on the ground reach a point somewhere between the user's chin and nose. Most of these people also use straight canes. Mine is equal to my height. While every person must choose the cane length of comfort, I do think that my informal survey indicates that good cane users typically use longer canes. I know some fine cane travelers who don't use canes of that length, and I always come back to the stipulation that the cane must be comfortable and safe for the user. But I always urge people to try longer canes. I began my cane use with a much shorter cane. As I grew in skill, I started buying longer and longer canes. For one thing, I can always shorten the cane as needed by holding it more nearly upright and lowering my hand along the shaft, sometimes in crowds gliding my cane tip mere inches in front of my feet, while the handle is by my cheek.
But I cannot lengthen a shorter cane. For another, when I walk at speed, a longer cane gives me another step's warning of obstacles in my path, an extra measure of safety I appreciate when encountering drop-offs and obstructions, before which I can stop well short of the object or flight of steps.
My second change of technique was to abandon for most purposes the strict staying in step and also to abandon the tapping technique. If I were teaching cane travel to novices, as I mentioned previously, I would teach them to tap and stay in step as a way of getting people to pay attention to what the cane is doing. Later in their instruction I would encourage experimentation. Instead of swinging and tapping my cane, I glide it frequently enough to pathfind and identify obstacles. I just don't want to spend any brain power on strictly keeping in step. I prefer to use that brain power to do the pathfinding I described earlier. This can be done only by constantly moving the cane back and forth in the arc that clears the way for both shoulders. I'm just paying attention to the information coming from the tip of the cane in a different way from the way I was originally taught.
Third, I don't center my cane. Rather, I rest the cane in a cupped hand down by my hip in a hold that is comfortable and then impart the arcing motion to the cane by a combination of wrist and finger motion. This is much more comfortable to me than centering and tapping; my cane is long enough to correct for any disadvantage from no longer being centered; and my fingers and wrist are free to gather information as they move the cane, without being held near the middle of my body in what is to me an uncomfortable wrist position.
For this method of using a cane, I find that the very lightweight, hollow, fiberglass straight cane works best. It's got a little give so that it flexes when it gets stuck in a sidewalk crack or at the bottom of an obstruction, allowing me time to stop or hesitate and to move my wrist upward so that I can free the cane without the top of the cane hitting me in the solar plexus. The combination of cupping the cane and its light weight and flex actually tell me things rather than striking me.
One final note on cane physics: change tips early and often. Gliding a tip does cause wear, although I'm not sure any faster than tapping. The tip is a vital part of the information-gathering system. I learned long ago that, when my tip starts sticking, it's time to change it. At first changing the tip every time my cane began sticking seemed wasteful. But every time it sticks and I check it with my hand, the outer steel ring is nearly gone.
Good tip glide is necessary to me for safe, efficient travel, so I change as soon as the sticking begins. If I don't, my cane gets harder and harder to control, and I begin to feel like a bad cane user, missing information and veering more sharply. Changing the tip corrects all that like magic. I used to fuss privately about the cost until I remembered that sighted contact wearers buy cleaning solution. My tip-changing is merely my way of cleaning my contacts, so to speak. I change tips as needed, which can sometimes be as little as seven days and sometimes as much as three weeks.
Back now to pathfinding with this longer cane, this free-form arc, and this comfortable hold. I know some people are frustrated when the cane contacts all sorts of things in the environment. I prefer this. Touching information as I pass it helps to keep me oriented when I already know the path, and it helps me gain orientation if I'm passing by for the first time. Trash cans, poles, retaining walls, columns--all the stuff in my path inside or outside--give me information I can use now or put on my map for later. Holding my cane in a cupped hand allows me to move it out of the way quickly so that I can touch objects and not get hung up on them or raise my wrist slightly to shorten the cane and stop to examine the object. With my relaxed hold I can move the cane quickly to look, learn, avoid, or whatever as I move safely and also continue to refine my map.
While looking around, I am sometimes asked by a sighted person if he or she can help me. I always answer that, no, I'm just sightseeing. Which is quite literally true. The next time I pass that way, I will likely not pause but will touch lightly the objects I now have on my map if I need them as landmarks. But one quick examination makes my map more detailed and precise for later use.
This is especially true in large open areas where I'm looking for information to use later as landmarks. Easy landmarks are often there if you take a minute to observe them in their correct place on the map. Sometimes no information is available until you get to the other side of a large open area, in which case it's important to know the details of how to find the door or hall you're seeking when you get there, and context is important. A good mental map of a large open area uses fixed sounds like escalators and fountains for direction and details like potted plants; the turn of a wall; a change in flooring; or, as outside Champions in Atlanta, a huge model of a baseball for more precise identification of where you are and where you are going.
The convention level in the Marriott Marquis is like that. Numerous large and small meeting rooms are scattered around the perimeter of a huge central space, some opening right off the atrium and some hidden down winding hallways. The most efficient way to look for a door or a hallway in such large spaces is to cross the open area in the general direction of the room you want and then begin to look for details matching information on your mental map that guide you to the specific door once you've arrived at the wall.
Over the years my own techniques have changed as I've observed what works for me and listened to my blind friends describe what works for them. For me the absolute bottom line is that blind people can move successfully and safely through the world by using mapping, reversing, and pathfinding. Some people, both blind and sighted, think this just isn't possible. Many of my blind friends prove this contention false every day. Many more blind people learning to use white canes hope it's true and are working toward proficiency. All I can ask these people to do is to believe it works, keep practicing, and hold tight to the notion that others are now confidently using the techniques. If you start with the notion that "he or she is doing it," then progress to the notion that "I can do it if I try," and just keep working, one day you will look over your shoulder and say with a little surprise and a lot of pride: "Well, it's true! I do do it."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dr. Geerat Vermeij]
Teaching Exploration: Correcting a Glaring Flaw
in the Education Of Blind Children
by Geerat J. Vermeij
From the Editor: Dr. Geerat Vermeij is distinguished professor in the Department of Geology at the University of California at Davis. Last summer he generously contributed his time and expertise to take part in our first science camp for blind teens interested in science. His reflections on that experience and his recommendations to those charged with instructing and inspiring blind young people will be of interest to everyone committed to training them to engage in effective reading, thinking, and tactile observation. This is what he says:
A few years ago I was sitting in David Hillis's office at the University of Texas at Austin. Hillis, a preeminent evolutionary biologist and MacArthur Fellow, was telling me about his research on a small Asian clam that was accidentally introduced by people to North America during the late 1930's. Today this quite ordinary-looking little clam is found in lakes and streams throughout the United States. Researchers once thought that all the Asian clams in North America belonged to a single kind or species; but when Hillis began to analyze the DNA sequences of the clams, he discerned two genetically distinct species.
Hillis leaned forward in his chair. "I wonder if you can tell the difference between these species from the shells," he said.
"Let's have a look," I said, always ready for a challenge. Hillis handed me six specimens, each a little less than an inch long. There were, of course, no labels; it was up to me to decide how to divide these six shells into categories.
I set about my task. First came a quick reconnaissance: I took each shell in my hands, manipulated it with my fingers, and put it down, all in less than a second. Much previous experience with Asian clams and with thousands of other clams allowed me to conclude that, yes, these shells belong to the genus Corbicula: ovate shape, coarse and somewhat irregular growth lines, right hinge characteristics, somewhat eroded beak without well-developed lunule or escutcheon. But all these shells sure looked alike, so a more thorough examination was called for.
The pads of my index fingers traced the outlines of the shells, probed the growth lines for their sharpness and spacing, noted how deeply cupped the valves were, and gathered a dozen other details. With my nails I observed the precise shape of the growth lines--were the lines sharp or flattened, reflected or erect, widely separated or close together, and so on. I repeated these observations, all quite unconsciously, with each shell. I picked up the valves again and again, comparing, contrasting, forming hypotheses in my mind, and putting them to the test with additional observations. I had to decide which features were meaningless variations and which might denote characteristics that distinguish one species from another. I had done this exercise hundreds of times previously, for careful observation of form, life habits, and other aspects of shell-bearing animals lay at the empirical core of my scientific work.
After a minute or two of this directed exploration, I had divided the shells into two groups of three each. The differences were awfully subtle, but I thought they might indeed indicate two distinct species.
I announced my conclusions. My colleague was impressed. "Right on the money," he declared. The distinction I had perceived through careful tactile observation of the shells precisely matched the distinction Hillis had discerned from the DNA that he had extracted previously from the tissues of the clams whose shells he had given me to examine.
I tell this story, not to pat myself on the back, but to make an important point about exploring objects by touch. Quite simply, many blind people could extract far more information from the objects they touch if they developed and perfected techniques and skills for the most effective use of the hand--that exquisite and sensitive organ of touch that we humans have inherited and evolutionarily modified from our primate ancestors.
I was confronted with this larger issue when I was privileged to take part in the National Federation of the Blind's summer science camp for a dozen blind middle-school students. Mark Riccobono of the NFB and school teacher Robin House had invited me to talk about how to do science, how to think in a scientific frame of mind, and how blind people can be scientists. I would not just tell them about my research on shells but would have everyone examine shells so that we could then talk about how to ask scientific questions of these wonderful objects. I would also tell them about the larger scientific questions I have tried to tackle in my own career, questions about how evolution works, about evolution as fundamentally an economic process, and about the role that enemies play in the many directions evolution has taken over the course of the history of life.
We gathered at the Naturalist Center, a first-rate educational museum just outside Leesburg, Virginia. Thousands of specimens from the Smithsonian Institution are available for visitors to handle in a spacious setting where curiosity and free inquiry are the order of the day. I had arrived early to pull out some shells to demonstrate to the students and their enthusiastic adult entourage. Once everyone was settled and I had made some preliminary remarks about myself, about the etiquette of handling specimens, and about science and the blind, each participant was given a shell to examine.
As always happens when I am working with a collection, I was terribly pumped up to see such wonderful objects, even if they were all quite familiar to me. I never tire of looking at shells because I always expect to observe something new. On this occasion I was certainly not disappointed. Picking up a large Triton's trumpet (Charonia tritonis), I happened to notice some small tubercles near the front end of the shell that formed a continuation of a row of sharp teeth along the shell's outer lip. I have frequently handled specimens of this striking species, but somehow this interesting feature had escaped my notice.
But this exercise wasn't for me; it was for the children. I invited everyone to offer a description of the unfamiliar object in his or her hand. What could each person tell me about what he or she had observed?
It became clear that most of the students had spent at most a few seconds of unsystematic exploration and then put the shell down. The verbal descriptions offered were so rudimentary that I felt unable to proceed to the level of thinking about these objects in a scientific way. The point of departure for honing the scientific state of mind is to observe carefully and to be puzzled by the observations that make no sense. If we can articulate what does not make sense, we are well on the road to translating the puzzle in the form of a scientific question. Once we have reached this point, we can proceed to the more standard scientific stages of proposing a hypothesis, testing the hypothesis against alternative explanations, and placing all our findings together with those of others in a coherent theory that will explain, not just the things we know, but many things we don't know yet.
I came away from this encounter with the strong conviction that society--parents, teachers, the blind, and all the rest of us--have largely and dismally failed to teach the skills of exploration. Our hands are powerful sensory tools, capable of discerning fine details, integrating those details into a whole representation, and making sense of the things we touch; but if we don't know how to use our hands in this way, our ability to extract information from the objects we touch is severely compromised. Tactile exploration has been part of my life for so long that I had in many ways taken it for granted. Insofar as I had thought about the matter at all, I held that learning about objects with the fingers came naturally, whatever that might mean. But I have come to believe this is wrong. Tactile exploration is a skill that must be taught and honed.
How does one do this? Although I have no experience teaching blind people, I have thought about how the hand works as a sense organ. The broad outline of the technique I describe briefly below comes from an idealized dissection of how I use my hands, fingers, and associated tools to gain a coherent concept of the things I touch.
Let's think about those Asian clams again. I began with a cursory examination. The hand as a whole--or, if the object is small, the tips of several fingers--scans the object for general shape, weight, and texture. This gives us a general idea of an object, a tactile image we can then use to place the finer details we are about to uncover. The nearly random touching of the first stage is replaced by a much more systematic exploration, mainly using the tips of the index fingers. I may trace the object's contours, noting every detail--angles, roundness, texture, protrusions, openings, and any other peculiarity.
My fingers trace specific paths, informed by the object's overall form and by my hypothesis of the object's orientation. With completely unfamiliar objects, it is helpful to be oriented: where is the front, the back, the left, and the right? If I have handled more or less similar objects before, this orientation, achieved almost instantaneously during the first phase of exploration, comes quite naturally. The pads of the fingers are sensitive but are rather large. If we want still finer details, we need finer instruments. I use the ends of the nails, especially those of the thumb and index finger, to characterize and count small features. If I need to examine the features inside openings too small or narrow to insert a finger, I employ a stiff pin or needle. Vibrations from the pin as I slowly pass the shaft of the pin along the surface of interest will tell me the number, location, size, and shape of the ribs, bumps, and other protrusions I encounter.
The entire examination may last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, but by the time I am finished, I have a detailed, coherent, and I hope accurate representation of the object in my mind's fingers. Further examination would surely yield still more information, as I illustrated above with the Triton's trumpet, but completeness characterizes all scientific efforts.
The key features of this process of tactile exploration are, I believe, accurate initial orientation and systematic (as opposed to random) touching and tracing. As exploration proceeds, we go from the large scale--overall shape, size, and weight; temperature; thickness; and the like--to a finer scale.
This recipe applies equally to tactile illustrations. We must begin by acquiring an overall sense of shape and size, which we do by using the whole hand and as many fingers as the illustration will accommodate. Once this stage is completed, we can begin to trace individual features, note the position of particular items, and observe how features are arranged relative to each other and to the whole.
Years ago, in a letter to the scientific journal Nature, a Canadian research group reported a study of the way blind subjects should read maps. The authors had their blind subjects first trace outlines. According to their data, it took thirty seconds or longer for the average blind subject to trace a given outline. In a comment published later that year in Nature, I pointed out that it would be very difficult to gain an accurate representation of the map if it took half a minute or more to complete the initial exploration. Integration, the key to gaining a representation of illustrations and objects observed by touch, is hard to achieve over time intervals as long as this. No sighted person would ever read a map by first following a country's borders by eye; he or she would quickly scan the map, acquire a general orientation and a sense for its large-scale features, and then concentrate on the details.
The principles that apply to touch apply to the other senses as well. It takes experience and some practice to gain a full appreciation of a piece of music or a bird's song we have heard, a painting we have seen, or even of the foods we taste and smell. Our senses have enormous potential to inform us about the world and to enrich our lives; but we must learn how to use our senses to best effect, how to observe, or to become more aware of our surroundings. This is as true for the sighted as it is for the blind, but for the blind there is the additional obstacle that we lack sight, one of the most integrative of the senses, the one that permits a nearly instantaneous, large-scale, and often distant orientation.
I no longer remember how or whether I really learned to observe, but I do know that my parents and brother were twenty-four-hour tour guides, describing everything and anything wherever we went. More important still, they showed me every imaginable thing--plants, insects, mushrooms, doorways, window frames, walls, brickwork on old Dutch buildings, rocks, models of buildings--the list is endless. In doing so, they stimulated my already substantial curiosity. Yet I wanted more; I hungered to become acquainted with my surroundings, to make sense of them--in short, to understand the world in a scientific frame of mind. I wanted to be aware, not only of the pleasures of my surroundings, but of its dangers and pitfalls.
I could not observe everything first-hand, of course, so I began to read. I read and read and read and read some more, and I still read voraciously. And in order to read and to retrieve all that information, I had to have superior Braille skills. What do superior Braille skills amount to? Rapid and accurate Braille reading, like rapid and accurate print reading, means quick recognition and processing of pattern, attention to detail, and engaging the mind as the fingers or eyes briskly move line by line across the page. There is, I am convinced, a direct connection between learning how to gather information from objects and learning how to read quickly and accurately. This is true for everyone, not just the sighted and not just the blind.
Nothing would help blind children more than being taught the techniques and pleasures of exploration--touch, sound, taste, smell, and whatever vision remains. It is hard to be curious about things if we do not know what those things are like. It is hard to avoid dangers if we are unable to interpret the cues our senses provide about our surroundings. It is hard to gain a sense of aesthetics if we feel, listen, taste, or smell carelessly and casually. And it is hard to get a job if we lack the skills to gain and process information by effective reading and effective use and interpretation of our senses.
We must make exploration a habit, a good habit, a pleasant and rewarding habit. We must educate parents, teachers, and the blind themselves how to observe with the mind engaged. This is not rocket science; in fact, it requires no technology at all other than the biological technology we have inherited from our evolutionary ancestors. How can anything be more important?
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Jagdish Chander]
Reflection on a Visit to LCB
and Louisiana Tech University's PDRIB
by Jagdish Chander
From the Editor: Jagdish Chander is a doctoral student in disability studies at Syracuse University. He has also taught at the University of Delhi and is working to establish a school in India at which students with and without disabilities learn together. This is what he says about his experience in Ruston, Louisiana:
I arrived in Ruston, Louisiana, on the evening of July 21, 2003, and was received by Dr. Ronald Ferguson, my host and advisor, who had facilitated my visit. I started my first day with a tour of the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB) and an introduction to some key people working in the center. I had lunch and dinner with a visitor from Utah there to learn about the operation of the center. The first morning I was picked up by Jim Omvig, the author of Freedom for the Blind: The Secret Is Empowerment, who introduced me to Matt Lyles, a master's student from Yale, who was working in Ruston for the summer.
Matt spent the whole day giving me a tour, and I discovered a lot about the center and collected taped literature, including Mr. Omvig's book. I finished reading the book in two days during breaks in completing several graduate school writing assignments. It was such a light and interesting read that I turned to it for pleasure. However, despite being written with simplicity and clarity, the book was practically a bible on rehabilitation of the blind. Having read the book and gotten to know the author, I concluded that this book should be translated into various languages with minor adaptations to take account of culturally relevant values and omitting some discussions specific to the United States.
So why did I want to spend almost a month in Ruston, Louisiana, during the hot and muggy months of July and August? I attended my first convention of the National Federation of the Blind in July of 2002 in Louisville, Kentucky. The convention was an amazing experience. I had never attended such a large assembly of blind people, almost three thousand. What was most astonishing was that the activities were conducted by blind people themselves. Never in my life had I seen blind people functioning so independently.
Because of this convention experience, I became interested in learning more about the NFB and its philosophy. That July I vacationed in Colorado, where I visited the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB) in Littleton, near Denver. That's when I started learning about the NFB training centers for the blind. The CCB, LCB, and BLIND, Incorporated, are the three privately operated training centers modeled on the Iowa Commission for the Blind, which was designed and developed by the late president of the NFB, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. I could not have found a better place than one of these three centers to interact with and learn about blind people in the United States.
In addition to the LCB, the other major attraction in Ruston is the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness (PDRIB, referred to familiarly as the Institute) affiliated with Louisiana Tech University. From the phrase "research institute on blindness," one might assume this was a facility attempting to cure blindness or perhaps a rehabilitation studies center. Being a graduate student of disability studies--a discipline that looks at blindness or any other mental or physical disability as a social construction--I found the Institute on Blindness and the LCB the best place I have observed to conduct research on the sociological, political, and historical aspects of blindness in the context of the NFB's radical, alternative philosophy of blindness.
Recognizing the importance of the LCB and the Institute on Blindness, I spent four weeks in Ruston, primarily to achieve two objectives: (1) to observe closely the activities of LCB and (2) to identify the relevant literature on civil rights of the organized blind movement in the United States. The former goal was to enrich my personal knowledge about LCB and the experiences of blind Americans, while the second allowed me to identify and collect literature to add to the literary treasure of the Disability History Museum project aimed at developing lesson plans to teach the history of disability at the high school level in the United States. My school, Syracuse University, is involved in developing lesson plans for this project, and I happened to be one of the graduate students working on the project. With the guidance and support of Dr. Ron Ferguson and his wife Jan, I was able to identify immensely valuable literature on this topic. This collection includes little-known, unpublished literature highlighting the contribution to the blind civil rights movement of Dr. Newel Perry, the mentor of NFB founder Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. In addition to enhancing the Disability History Museum project, I intended to use this literature to highlight the contribution of the blind civil rights movement prior to the growth of the broader disability rights movement begun in the late 1960's and early 1970's. By the end of my trip I had read and identified immensely rich literature on the civil rights movement of the blind in the U.S.
Some of the ideas developed by early NFB leaders like Dr. Perry and Dr. tenBroek were far advanced, even radical, in the pre-civil-rights era in the U.S. Dr. tenBroek described three key concepts in his 1948 NFB banquet address: equality, opportunity, and security. These ideas were radical concepts during this period. Similarly Dr. Jernigan's frequently quoted 1963 speech, "Blindness: Handicap or Characteristic?" is an important philosophical and analytical piece challenging the traditional meaning of blindness as defined through the negative attitudes of the public. The approach to the problems of blindness outlined in this historic 1963 lecture is embraced today by scholars of disability studies who adhere to the social model of disability, under which disability is understood primarily as a social construction along the lines of gender and race.
What did I learn during my visit to LCB and the Institute on Blindness? Before visiting Ruston, I did not understand many NFB rehabilitation concepts. I regarded some of these ideas as the products of a misguided philosophy. My observation of LCB activities and discussion with the students and staff of LCB and PDRIB significantly increased my understanding of some of these ideas and concepts. Here are several examples of myths I was able to dispel as a result of my findings during my visit to Ruston:
1. Braille is too cumbersome and slow a method of reading to be efficient, and the NFB over-emphasizes the importance of Braille literacy.
2. Blind mobility instructors cannot teach travel safely.
3. It makes no sense to ask a person with residual vision to use sleepshades during training.
4. Blind students should never be discouraged from walking with a sighted guide or maintaining contact with a blind friend while walking together or in a group.
I will address these four issues, one by one.
1. To my amazement I discovered that some blind people can read Braille at more than two hundred words a minute--a speed at which many sighted graduate students read. With practice a person can read Braille really quickly. To my astonishment, I met a Louisiana Tech graduate student, Brook Sexton, who could read Braille at up to five hundred words a minute. I had always understood the importance of mastering Braille, but I had no idea that it could be read with a speed comparable to that of sighted people reading print.
2. Having been trained by sighted mobility instructors, I always believed it would be difficult for me to feel safe going through O and M training under the guidance of a blind instructor. However, in Ruston I observed blind mobility instructors who have trained many blind students with no injuries or accidents attributable to the blindness of the instructor, and the graduates of this program are both confident and competent independent travelers.
3. From a layperson's point of view, it sounds strange to discourage blind students from using their residual vision while they are undergoing life-skills training. However, after interacting with the staff and students at LCB, I could understand more clearly that blind people can learn to lead normal lives through the use of alternative techniques more quickly and efficiently when they are not straining to use failing vision. Moreover, poor vision usually gets worse, and, if people do not learn to adapt to their blindness using sleepshades, it is harder, slower, and more depressing for them to adapt their alternative techniques to their loss of vision.
4. I have blind friends who resist taking the arm of a sighted guide under any circumstances. Having studied Dr. Jernigan's 1993 speech "The Nature of Independence," I have come to recognize this insistence as a stage (rebellious independence) on the way to complete and well-adjusted independence. It is important for blind people to be confident in their travel skills and competent to meet any situation. But there are times and places when, if sighted assistance is available, it is less obtrusive and more responsible to accept it. Getting to this point of maturity requires much work and training, and students must courteously insist on working through travel problems independently in order to gain the experience they need to travel with full confidence and safety.
In short, my interaction with LCB staff and students and the Institute on Blindness staff, and my observation of the activities of LCB, helped me resolve these myths and convinced me of several facts: Braille can be read as fast and efficiently as print, and all blind children and adults should be encouraged to make good use of it. Blind mobility instructors can be just as effective and efficient as sighted mobility instructors. It is desirable to wear sleepshades during life-skills training to discourage the use of residual sight and to teach students confidence in their ability to manage their lives efficiently without sight. And, finally, it is appropriate for students to avoid using sighted guides during training in order to sharpen their skills of independence.
Thus my visit to Ruston helped me accomplish my twin objectives of observing the LCB program and identifying relevant literature about the civil rights movement of the organized blind. But my visit also helped me dispel certain myths about NFB philosophy and life-skills training in the centers established by the NFB.
Progress in Hawai'i
From the Editor: The following article appeared in the June 29, 2004, edition of the Honolulu Advertiser. It reports on a five-day camp for teenagers and young adults conducted by the state agency for the blind in Hawai'i, Camp Ho'pono. According to NFB leader Curtis Chong, who grew up in Hawai'i, it demonstrates the impact active participation by Federationists can have on a state program. Lea Gruben and Katie Keim work for the state agency, and Katie's husband Virgil Stinette volunteered alongside them during the camp session. Their infusion of Federation philosophy and commitment to their campers clearly elevated this program to an unforgettable experience for campers and counselors alike. In passing the article along, Curtis commented that in his day--long before the New Visions Program--the agency would never have urged and encouraged kids to make such strides. Here is the story:
Boot Camp for the Blind
by Michael Tsai
"If you're blind, you're invisible to the rest of the world. ... I'm usually a loner. Here, I feel like I'm with people that I can trust." -- Karl Pangilinan, camper and Ho'opono employee
He makes it up the steps. With just the vaguest suggestion of shape and light registering through his eyes, he even makes it to the lip of the diving board.
But on this take‑it‑easy first day at Camp Ho'opono--a five‑day retreat designed to help blind teens and young adults make the transition to higher education and the working world‑-diving into the deep end of the pool is a belly‑flop of faith twenty‑year‑old Brandon Young just isn't ready to take. He freezes.
At the opposite end of the pool Young's fellow campers silently wait, eager to hear the great splash that will set the tone for the days to come.
Young's struggle for composure shows in the deliberate breaths he draws through his pursed lips and in the almost imperceptible twitch of his fingers. A long minute passes.
The tension is too much for counselor Katie Keim. "Grab your fear by the throat," she hollers from across the shallows.
Young breathes deeply as if finally ready to make the dive, but then his shoulders slump, and he reaches back for counselor Jon Koki's hand. He steps off the board.
Koki and the rest of the staff and volunteers expect as much, especially this early on. The nine campers assembled here range in age from fourteen to twenty-five. Some come from homes where old ideas on the limitations of the blind are still strong. All have been through a state public school system many say is ill‑equipped to provide the intensive, day‑by‑day training and instruction blind students need to live and function independently.
Like many of his fellow campers, Young comes to the camp with a resumé of hard‑earned accomplishments. Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at age ten, he struggled to keep up in academic and social environments where people meant well but "really didn't know how to help me."
With the support of a strong, vocal mother, Young made his way up the scouting ranks, becoming an Eagle Scout four years ago. A graduate of Kalaheo High School, Young now attends Windward Community College, where he takes liberal arts courses to prepare him for the jump to the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. From there Young hopes to go to law school.
"I want to be as independent as possible," Young says. "I want to be treated like everyone else." For that to happen, Young knows he'll need to push himself even harder. He can't just make it to the end of the board; he has to dive.
"A lot of activities that are geared toward the blind involve leading them around and doing it all for them," says Lea Grupen, a supervisor with camp sponsor Ho'opono, Hawai'i's Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired Persons. "They aren't challenged. This camp is about pushing them, about challenging them to ... "
An enormous splash interrupts Grupen mid‑thought. Campers turn their ears in time to hear the bloop and sizzle of bubbles rising to the surface just in front of the diving board.
" ... challenging them to do more," Grupen continues.
After some reassurance from Koki, Young had returned to the board and, swallowing hard, executed a textbook cannonball. A chorus of cheers rises as Young's hands, arms, shoulders, and head break the surface. He sputters and spits, coughs and laughs, then dog‑paddles toward Koki's voice at the edge of the pool. Grupen smiles broadly. It's going to be a good camp.
According to the state's registry of blind people, there are roughly 3,000 people in Hawai'i whose vision qualifies as legal blindness or worse. Keim, a rehabilitation teacher at Ho'opono who has been blind for nearly ten years, says the actual number is likely double that. The precise figure is particularly hard to determine in a state with large Asian and Pacific islander communities, where people with visual impairments may be reluctant to seek help, choosing instead to get by with the aid of family and friends.
Ho'opono operates as part of the state Department of Human Services' Vocational and Rehabilitation Services for the Blind Division. Its New Visions program is dedicated to helping its clients build the skills and confidence to find employment and live independently.
As Keim notes, advocates for the blind make up the longest‑standing movement among disabled communities, and as such often benefit from separately designated programs. "But," Keim says, "blind [people] are also the least employed because of the misconception that they are less capable than people with ambulatory or hearing impairments."
By learning Braille, walking with canes, and learning other compensatory skills, staffers say, people who are blind also can work through their own prejudices, accepting the tools of self‑sufficiency as positives rather than markers of their disability.
This first‑ever Camp Ho'opono is designed to provide, among other things, a shock to the system of young adults unsure of their capabilities and hesitant about finding out. "We'll push them, but we'll also take time to reflect on how they each relate to blindness," Grupen says. "We want them to get not just their skills but their attitudes right."
Attitude is hardly a problem for Keao Wright. Blind since birth, the Castle High School sophomore‑to‑be is among the most advanced students at the camp. She's proficient with her cane and ranks in the top five nationally in reading Braille. Last summer she read nearly 6,000 Braille pages.
Wright likes novels best. Her favorite is The Count of Monte Cristo. But like other teens she's also passionate about music and surfing the Internet. Her dream is to work alongside Steve Bauer, a blind DJ on ACB Radio Interactive, an Internet station.
Wright chats regularly with online friends via MSN Messenger and the "Our Place" chat room. At school her friends tend to be other students with special needs. "It's kind of hard because I'm the only one in my school who's blind."
Wright says her school "is not really equipped, and a lot of people don't understand about visually impaired people." That's why, despite spending much of the first day at camp by herself, Wright is quickly warming to the idea of sharing time with peers who understand what she goes through each day. "I've never been away from home this long before," she says. "I think it's going to be fun."
Still there are bridges to cross. However politely, several of the partially sighted campers are making clear distinctions between themselves and those who are totally blind. A few say they're here just to have fun, that the skills training doesn't apply to them. "A lot of people are taught to cling to that teeny amount of vision they have," Keim says. "But by doing so they limit themselves."
The nine campers have come from around O'ahu, the Big Island, and Kaua`i to Camp Erdman, located off a remote stretch of highway in Waialua. Though a few have met before, their interactions in the early going are tentative at best.
To build a sense of trust and connection among the campers, organizers require each to wear sleepshades during the exercises. This puts the campers, who range from borderline legally blind to completely blind, on equal footing--even if that footing is less than stable.
"What?" Gilmore Guirao, seventeen, from Kaua`i, can't believe his ears. Guirao was willing to use the cane when asked and willing to put on the sleepshades for the first activity, even if, as he says, "I don't see the point in all of this."
But no one told him that the activity would involve holding hands with his fellow campers, stepping in unison onto a horizontal telephone pole, and balancing long enough to sing a chorus or two of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." He scowls.
Guirao is reluctant to talk about the condition that has rendered him legally blind. He's even more reluctant to use his cane in front of sighted people. Walking among a group of campers at the pool the day before, Guirao misjudged a step and fell on his rump, drawing a concerned look but no sympathy from Grupen.
"I hate to say it, but that's what happens when they don't use their canes," Grupen says. "It's hard for them when they're around other teenagers, but it's something they have to learn to do. They have to get over that stigma."
Actually, what Guirao and the rest have to do right now is find a way to get on that telephone pole. "What?" Guirao grumbles again as the instructions are repeated a second and third time. His lips mouth the word over and over, even after he's stopped talking.
The exercise gets off to a rocky start. Some campers don't want to hold hands. Some step before the others are ready. A couple of partially sighted campers cheat with the blinders, wearing them at an angle over their sunglasses so they can see their feet.
Finally, Karl Pangilinan, a new employee of Ho'opono invited to the camp as sort of an older role model, speaks up. "Let's step up on the count of three and call out when we're on," he says.
The idea sounds good but isn't easy to execute, balance being ever an issue for the blind. But Pangilinan has broken the silence, and a flurry of fine‑tuning suggestions has the group standing long enough to get through the first "gently down the stream."
"Merrily, merrily" ... "Aargh!" Guirao loses his balance and steps off the pole, followed by fourteen‑year‑old Bradon Espiritu. Both hop back on without missing a beat.
Merrily, merrily ... Young wobbles on one leg before falling off, triggering a domino effect from eighteen‑year‑old Hilo resident Roxanne Ramones to nineteen‑year‑old Kaua`i guy Crescenzio Lagazo.
Life is but a dream.
The next drill calls for campers and counselors to balance on a set of one-and-a-half‑foot‑tall stumps arranged in a circle. From there they'll make a full rotation, carefully stepping from stump to stump in time with each other.
The exercise is usually run for sighted people, with only half the group wearing blindfolds and the others guiding. But the Ho'opono philosophy calls for everyone to be equal, so all of the campers and counselors don sleepshades as a gesture of mutual trust.
The stumps themselves are just cleanly cut sections of tree, about eighteen inches in diameter, rooted to nothing. As the campers step, the stumps shift and wobble on the soft, weed‑strewn ground.
The participants make glacial progress at first as they link hands and take their first probing stabs into the dark void around them. Once foot finds stump, the off‑balance campers must carefully coordinate their movements with the people in front and in back of them. Jolene Mariano‑Hardy of Kaua`i, the other fourteen‑year‑old in the group, emerges as a surprise leader in the exercise, calling out stops and starts and doing her best to encourage her increasingly anxious peers.
The tension is high, to be sure. Young, the most physically imposing of the campers, struggles to balance on one leg as he feels for the next stump. Espiritu, the soft‑spoken kid from Kona, clings to volunteer Virgil Stinnett (Keim's husband), his face frozen in barely restrained terror.
Espiritu's fingers have dug into Stinnett's forearms by the time the campers complete their fourth step. The crashing sounds of the nearby ocean fill the long silences that follow each hard‑fought advance.
Before the next step can be made, the undersized stump beneath Young's feet topples beneath his shifting weight. Young tries to stop himself with one leg, but the ankle buckles, and he lands flat on his back, dragging Wright down with him.
Tension broken. The other campers and counselors remain standing on their stumps, but Young's fall has rattled them. A vote is taken, and the group elects to continue for at least a few more steps. "Whoa!" Guirao yells as he lurches onto a low stump.
Nearby Espiritu has gone rigid with fear. His lips move, but the words are inaudible. Stinnett leans in close. "Bradon's coming down," Stinnett tells the group.
Tears of relief stream down Espiritu's face as soon as his feet touch the ground. He takes a seat next to Young on a wooden platform. The two of them sit there silently, heads lowered in undeserved embarrassment and disappointment, as Stinnett tries to console them.
"Today they did something they've never done before," Grupen says. "That's enough. That's a lot."
In the wrap‑up huddle afterward, the group talks through the issues brought up by the exercises-‑the collective fear, the power of communication, the need to trust and to be trustworthy. Pangilinan is taking Young's accident hard. He feels he should have done something to prevent it or at least to soothe the sense of distress that rippled afterward.
Away from the group the twenty-five‑year‑old says he's having difficulty being the positive role model he's expected to be. "My problem is ... I don't know how to express what I'm thinking," he says. "I'm not really a role model. I'm just doing what I'm doing."
Counselors and fellow campers disagree. Through the first two days Pangilinan's opinions have commanded the most attention during group talks. As the oldest of the campers, Pangilinan is keenly attuned to the anxieties and insecurities of his younger peers. While he tries to demonstrate the self‑confidence and self‑sufficiency Ho'opono preaches, he knows why many of the sighted campers refuse to use their canes in front of other people and why most are reluctant to admit the extent of their blindness.
"We're raised in a society where it's embarrassing to be blind," he says. "If you're blind, you're invisible to the rest of the world. People see what they want to see in you." Pangilinan, who was born blind, says he's learned the hard way to be independent, living on his own off and on for the past six years.
His experiences have made him wary of other people. He'd love to see more talking ATMs installed at banks so that he wouldn't have to ask other people for help. "You never know who you can trust," he says. "I've been jumped on the street twice. Once someone took my cell phone. The other time was for my cigarettes."
But the camp has been something of a revelation, he says. "I'm usually a loner," he says. "Here, I feel like I'm with people that I can trust."
Day 3 of Camp Ho'opono promises to be the most challenging, with campers taking on a twenty‑foot climbing wall and a high‑wire rope traverse. No one is sure what to expect after the traumas of the previous day, but a night of "socializing, flirting, and teenage stuff" seems to have repaired the group's spirits, Grupen says.
Sure enough, while only one camper makes it all the way to the top of the wall, everyone-‑including bashful Ramones, who started the day absolutely refusing to get roped up-‑has given it his or her best shot.
The rope course is more daunting. The blindfolded campers must first climb an aluminum ladder some twenty feet to a tiny platform anchored against a tree. Two by two and facing each other, they must then walk sideways along parallel suspension wires high above the ground, grasping each others' hands for balance. The climbers are secured by belay systems, which will keep them suspended should they slip.
Wright and Pangilinan, the only two totally blind campers, are paired together. Trim and athletic, they both scale the ladder with relative ease, pausing only at the treacherous juncture where the top of the ladder overlaps the platform.
Once on the wires, however, they soon lose their balance. A few steps in, Pangilinan finds himself leaning too far back, his body bowed from head to toe. Wright hangs on, her own body bent forward at the waist. She bends her elbows and tries to straighten herself, but it's no use. For two of the most empathetic campers here, it's a problem of over‑protectiveness: Each believes they're holding the other up.
Young is the next in line, but his journey lasts just five rungs of the ladder before a rising fear overflows. He had been dreading the exercise all morning. He choked down his fear just to put on the harness, held it tight in his chest as he took his first steps up the ladder. Still it's too much to contain. He wills himself up one more rung before stopping.
With the same fortitude he showed on the diving board two days earlier, Young refuses to take off his blindfold and descends the ladder unassisted. Back on the ground, however, Young is disconsolate.
"He thinks he failed," says Koki, the Ho'opono manager. "I told him that people put expectations on others and on themselves. He pushed himself to do the most he could, so for him it was a success."
Three days into the camp that's just the way the now close‑knit group of campers feel, too. One by one they make their way over to congratulate him.
It's just past twilight on the last full day of camp when Koki, an accomplished musician, unpacks his acoustic guitar for a round of singalongs. The campers are strewn around a campfire tended by Ho'opono administrator Dave Eveland.
"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine ..."
It was another challenging day for the campers-‑a kayaking trip off of Mokule'ia in the morning and a one‑mile hike over rock fields and thick California grass in the afternoon-‑but all finished well, demonstrating the sort of confidence in themselves and trust in each other needed as they enter the next phase of their lives.
"You make me happy when skies are gray ..."
If this last night together is sweet sorrow for the Ho'opono staffers, the campers themselves are unwilling to part without a proper party. Keao, a past winner of the Hawai'i Stars karaoke competition, joins Koki for a go at "What a Wonderful World." Mariano‑Hardy, the fourteen‑year‑old from Kaua`i, dances hula to "Beautiful Kaua`i."
And all the campers and counselors display questionable acting talents in a trio of laugh‑out‑loud skits. Even the curmudgeonly Guirao gets into the act, hamming it up in old‑lady drag.
"You'll never know, dear, how much I love you."
The party wraps up with a series of heartfelt thank‑yous from the staff that has Grupen and Keim, the self‑proclaimed "queens of mean," bawling buckets. "I can't tell you how proud I am for what each of you has accomplished," says Keim at the start of a speech that has campers laughing, crying, and crying some more.
Keim thanks the campers for reaching out to each other and for stepping so far beyond their comfort zones. She urges them to keep in touch with each other and reach out when they need support. "Don't let this go," she says.
"Please don't take my sunshine away ..."
Then, with the last of the fire flickering to darkness, Pangilinan, the reluctant role model, finally finds those words he's been looking for. "You know what?" he says to the group. "You guys are cool. You may be blind but ... but screw it. You're going to do what you're going to do, and no matter what people think, it's okay. You guys are cool."
Tips for Parents of the Blind and Visually Impaired
Since the first organized advocacy movement for the blind some 80 years ago, the philosophy behind raising children who are blind or visually impaired has changed dramatically. Ho'opono rehabilitation teacher Katie Keim shares a few tips for helping children succeed with their disability.
Stay positive: "The physical obstacles are easy to take care of. It's harder, and more important, to help your child understand that they are normal despite their blindness. They can do whatever they want to do. They can achieve whatever goals they set for themselves, even if they need to approach them differently. I can't overstate how important it is for parents and their children to understand this."
Make them read: "Yeah, it takes effort to learn to read Braille, and it can be tough fighting for your child to get timely transcriptions in school, but it's important that they be able to read and write and keep up with the rest of the class. Some teachers will say they don't need to read because they can follow along with the class, but that leaves your child illiterate."
Cultivate social skills: "Blind people don't have the visual references that the sighted world has, so they don't always realize that certain things they do are inappropriate or distracting in public, and these kinds of things will set them apart from other people. Be tactful and supportive, but don't let them hide behind their disability. Find constructive ways to teach them proper behavior so that they will be accepted in the world they will have to make a living in."
Let them fail: "Part of helping them to develop like other children is letting them do things other kids do. Every kid who rides a bike will fall down at some point, so why is it not all right for a blind child to fall? You don't want to be reckless or negligent, but you have to allow them to learn from their failures and mistakes just like anybody else."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Sheri Wells Jensen (right) with her husband Jason and daughter Claire]
All You Need to Know about Blindness
You Could Learn from a Four‑Year‑Old Girl
by Sheri Wells Jensen
A few weeks ago my husband, my four‑year‑old daughter, and I were driving to the grocery store‑‑he at the wheel, I in my usual place in the copilot seat, our little one chattering away from the booster seat behind us. By now we are used to her marvelous, wild ideas and off‑the‑wall questions; they are the sparkle and zest of our lives. Who on this earth can fathom the quiet depths and quicksilver shallows of a four‑year‑old's mind? That particular day, halfway to the corner of Main and Wooster, she came out with this.
"Mama," she asked matter‑of‑factly, "Will I be blind like you when I grow up?" I can only imagine the gasps of shocked sympathy this question would bring from much of the sighted public: the poor little thing, silently contemplating her terrible, black fate, little heart pounding, afraid for so long to ask the awful question stalking her through her innocent childhood. The pathos is really quite staggering.
I suppose it's possible that some such anxiety may lurk in our daughter's little head, but this question was certainly not the manifestation of it. Sitting calmly in her booster seat, little tennis‑shoed feet swinging idly, her hands busy in her lap with some doll or other, she asked her question with the same casual interest with which she might have inquired if we were having corn or peas with supper that evening. No dread or despair--she just wondered.
Her question made good sense if you think about it. She knows her little girl's body will change slowly over time into a woman's‑‑like mine. She has been told that her golden hair will most likely darken--like mine--and that her angular girlish shape will soften and curve into an adult woman's form. I'm the adult woman she knows best. So it makes sense that she might also reasonably assume that she would be an adult blind woman‑‑like me.
"No, I don't think so, sweetie," I told her.
"Oh," she said, and went back to her doll.
To be honest, we have done very little to try to teach our daughter anything in particular about blindness. Yes, she can write a few letters in Braille and will be taught more as she gets older. She has learned, through casual observation, how to handle a white cane, and she knows how to help label canned goods, but not much beyond that. I sometimes worry that our nonchalance about the topic has left her vulnerable to outside influences, that we were creating a vacuum into which mainstream fears and prejudice might rush, given half a chance. I have sometimes wondered if we were doing enough to prepare her for what lies ahead. Or was it too late already? What did she believe about blindness?
I decided to make a list, from her perspective, of the differences between her sighted father and her blind mother and see what I might learn:
*When you go shopping with Mama, you ride in a taxi, and you shop together with a store employee; when you go shopping with Daddy, you take the car and shop alone.
*Mama always takes her keys and her cane when she leaves the house; Daddy does not own a cane--He always takes his keys.
*Mama writes quickly in Braille and is not good at coloring pictures; Daddy is a good coloring companion, but his Braille is very slow.
*Mama does not need to turn on a light at night to make a snack; Daddy always uses the kitchen light.
*Mama plays Ticklefight and Capture, and she likes to wrestle; Daddy is good at making dollies talk and building Leggo cities.
*Mama bakes bread; Daddy is good at making curry.
*If you nod or gesture at Mama, she won't answer; if you put your feet on the furniture, Daddy will notice first and tell you to stop it.
*Only Mama knows right away what time your violin lesson is this week and whether anyone is coming over to dinner afterward; only Daddy knows right away who the mail is from when you get it out of the mailbox.
*Mama does the dishes; Daddy does the laundry.
*Mama reads in the dark; Daddy reads books from the public library.
*Mama sometimes cannot find things and needs help; Daddy sometimes cannot find things and needs help.
Certainly I cannot claim to have definitive insight into my daughter's mind, but it appears from this list, at least, that the differences between her father and me have much more to do with personality than with blindness. I am a social, physical person who grew up in a big family and hates laundry. My husband is more quiet, artistic, contemplative, an only child. Our daily lives are a dance whose moves are choreographed by our experiences, habits, gifts, and quirks. Blindness is one force that shapes our family life‑‑one force among many, all of which together hold us in balance. It is neither the most powerful nor the most interesting. Our daughter knows my limitations and gifts, as she knows her dad's. So far she has a handle on the situation: an intuitive, realistic perspective on how blindness shapes, and fails to shape, a life. Whatever destructive myths and prejudices about blindness are loose in our corner of rural Ohio, they haven't affected her yet.
Soon enough, though, she'll begin to notice that our family does not hold the majority opinion about what blindness means. When I walk her to school this fall, she'll hear the woman who lives down the block call out: "It's so nice of you to help your mommy find her way, sweetie!" She'll notice, and she'll understand when her teacher says: "You can ask your daddy to help you with this homework." Perhaps worst of all, she will know, along with us, exactly what it means when a family friend exclaims: "Your mother gets around better than I do!" She'll hear; she'll understand; and some days it will burn in the back of her throat as it does in ours. And like the strong, beautiful woman she will become, she'll deal with it, drawing from the truths she learned quietly as a child, and I dare say she'll set a few people straight from time to time.
So I'm not worried about what she believes or what we are teaching her about blindness. At four she already knows everything she or anyone else needs to know.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Susie Stanzel]
My First Mission Trip
by Susie Stanzel
From the Editor: Susie Stanzel is president of the NFB of Kansas. The following story is her account of her working visit to Guyana. She gathered courage for this adventure when she heard another Federationist describe her mission trip to Russia. This is an excellent example of the way we all inspire and encourage each other. This is what Susie says:
I began to be interested in going on a mission trip with the St. John's United Methodist Church back in 2000, when Bill Upchurch, a missionary who serves with his wife Diana in Guyana, South America, came to visit. Our church has supported Bill and Diana for many years, and Bill had come to encourage us to come to Guyana as Volunteers in Mission. He talked of the AIDS epidemic gripping the country, and the stories he told moved me. He said that when mothers find out their children have AIDS, they actually lock the door and will not allow them back in the house. Diana's dream is to build an orphanage for these children and those who have lost parents to AIDS. But Bill described a different construction project (rebuilding a church) where we could be of help. Actually, by the time we would arrive, the old church would have been knocked down, and the new church would be under way. He also told us that English is the language spoken in Guyana. That made me really happy since I don't know any other languages. When Bill asked for comments and questions, I raised my hand and said, "I don't know much about hammering a nail, but I know a whole lot about holding babies. After I've had three girls of my own, childcare is like getting back on a bicycle." I hoped I could find a way to help with the children of AIDS.
We have a very active missions committee, and other trips were planned. Therefore three years went by before we had time to make plans with Bill and Diana. They returned to visit our congregation in August of 2003. This time they talked about what we would actually be doing, the side trips we would take, and the loving people we would be helping. One of the side trips would be to visit Kaiteur Falls, located in a rain forest and five times higher than Niagara Falls. I put down my deposit. Actually I put down a deposit for both my daughter Ginny and me. Several weeks later Nan, the leader of our group, met with me and said she thought I should come on the first trip by myself. I have to admit that the idea of having my daughter along to assist me rather than asking other group members to help when necessary probably had something to do with my decision to take Ginny in the first place. But Nan said, "We aren't even going to think the `b' word (burden)!" Nan's urging made me think back to our National Federation of the Blind convention two months earlier. There I had heard Mrs. Judy Rasmussen's speech about her mission trip to Russia. I said, "If Judy can venture that far out of her comfort zone, so can I." Hearing about the success of other blind people is one of the best parts of being a member of the National Federation of the Blind. Judy's successful trip was my inspiration.
A month before our departure we had disappointing news: Bill and Diana were being called back to the United States. They would be departing from Guyana two days before we were scheduled to arrive. This meant the team would be adopting Plan B rather than the original plan. This had a huge effect on me. Throughout the months of preparation I had been planning to spend some of my time working with Diana and the AIDS victims in George Town. Now, unfortunately, construction, not babies, became my focus. The good part was that I would be with the group for the complete experience.
Our team of twenty-two excited volunteers had monthly meetings with Nan in which we talked about passports, shots, packing, payment schedules, and anything else that came to mind. The best part was that, unlike travelers on previous trips, we needed only up-to-date tetanus shots. But we did need money, so we planned a cookbook sale and a cake and pie auction to raise money to purchase building supplies. As we prepared, we endured the winter of 2003-2004 in Kansas City, which was snowier and colder than the previous few winters. The thought of escaping and going to a warm climate served to help calm the butterflies we all had about making the trip.
On Thursday, March 11, I rose at 3:30 a.m. after a scant four hours of sleep to begin one of the most exciting and challenging adventures of my life. We flew from Kansas City to Dallas, on to Miami, and finally arrived in George Town, Guyana, at 8:30 p.m. We had gained two hours, but we were not yet at our final destination, the YWCA. Finally we arrived to find one of the nicer meals we would be served. We had fish, some kind of potato, and guava juice. Since it was now 11:00 p.m., I was more tired than hungry.
The next morning I regretted that I had eaten so little the previous night. Breakfast was salt fish and bakes--fried or baked biscuits. I do not adore fish under any circumstances, but I absolutely despise it for breakfast. Being tolerant in every situation proved to be important, though. I didn't expect to be served scrambled eggs with small sausages with little flavor and resembling little uncooked hot dogs. One morning I actually ate half of someone else's eggs to avoid eating more salt fish. I thought cool showers were terrible until the water cut off while I was covered with soap and had to wait for the water to come back on. It seemed likely that on this trip no plan would end the way I expected.
On Saturday we made our trip to Kaiteur Falls. We were each weighed and placed on one of three airplanes for the hour-long flight to the falls. The first plane took off, but the weather was not clear enough for the other two to do so, so the first group had completed the two-hour adventure as we arrived. They kept talking about how rigorous the trip up the falls had been. Nan asked if I had been listening and said that, if I wanted, I could stay with the people who had already returned. But I didn't waver. I said, "I am determined to go, and I'll scoot on my bottom if I have to." I knew I had to make the hike successfully because the entire tone of the next week would be set that day.
So I joined the hike and discovered that the first group had not exaggerated at all. The terrain was quite rough. It seemed as if I climbed four feet only to descend that far again the next moment. One time I did sit to slide down a hill. I quickly learned that it was easier to go up than down. One of the disconcerting parts was stepping on slippery moss. Yet this was a beautiful rain forest, and the experience was great. We saw the falls from four different vantage points and listened to the crash of the water as it fell hundreds of feet to the bottom. I completed the tour; so far I had succeeded.
We arrived at the work site on Monday morning. The building frame and four posts were in place, and a mountain of sand lay in the middle. People started shoveling sand. I knew they were not going to invite me to join the effort, so I laid my cane at the base of the building and climbed up, asking for a shovel. I quickly learned that the amount of sand in the shovel was vitally important. Small was essential--if you planned to pick it up over and over again, that is. After moving the sand, we moistened it. To do this we used a drainage ditch at the front of the property and passed buckets of water from one person to the next.
Then we tamped down the sand. I was actually the best tamper. I had a piece of wood attached to a wooden pole, and I simply walked back and forth hitting the sand, just like vacuuming a carpet. Our replacement missionary Kirk had brought his girlfriend to stick with me to provide any help I might need. She kept telling me I was going over the same area. I knew I wasn't, but to pacify her, I assured her that I would move over. She was on the construction site for only the first day. It was clear that I had indeed proven myself. Sometimes a little vision doesn't help as much as I had thought. We were passing bricks from one person to the next in the same way we had passed water. I noticed that the passers on either side of me were faced the other way, so I turned around. Garth, a courageous soul, came to tell me to turn back around because passing bricks was easier if you were facing the person giving you the brick.
During the week I learned about disabilities in Guyana. I did one radio interview and one television interview and visited the Disabled Persons Organization meeting. At that meeting I met a thirty-four-year-old man who had lost his first eye at eight and his other at sixteen. He had had no education past the third grade. While I was helping at vacation Bible school (my only break from construction work), I met a six-year-old deaf child who had never even been to a proper doctor to determine the cause of her deafness. At six she sits at home with no language or education. Our driver in George Town, Derrick, told me his father did not work in the rice mill anymore because he had been blind for ten years. The cause was cataracts, a condition which is almost entirely correctable in the U.S. Now he just sits and drinks. At the end of our trip we returned to George Town, and I gave Derrick my collapsible cane to give to his father. I also gave him a few instructions on cane technique. Preventable blindness because of poverty is a terrible thing.
Guyana is truly a third-world country. It is not the place to be sick, elderly, or disabled. This trip made me realize how much I love our country and why I am delighted to be an American. I'm glad I was inspired by others to go on this trip, and I hope others in turn will be inspired by my experience. I gained respect from my fellow volunteers and all the people I met in Guyana. I believe that the word "blind" gained a new meaning for everyone with whom I came in contact.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Curtis and Peggy Chong]
Coming to Terms: A Review
by Peggy Chong
From the Editor: One of the most common reasons for the popularity of many children's books is that readers enjoy identifying with the protagonist. It's always exciting when word gets around that a book aiming at a positive portrayal of blindness has been released. Blind youngsters have very few fictional characters with whom to identify. Peggy Chong, president of the Des Moines Chapter of the NFB of Iowa, has written a review of a new book that unfortunately does not live up to its promise. This is what she says:
Coming to Terms, by Rose Bevins, describes the visit of a blind youth to the home of a friend of his parents. The book undertakes a positive portrayal of a blind person, but it also hauls out old stereotypes and perpetuates old myths.
After reading this book, I suspect that the author set out to break down myths and stereotypes of the disabled--in this case, blind people. The dust jacket material indicates that the author has written other books about young disabled people in an effort to educate the nondisabled about the abilities of disabled people. But as the saying goes, Garbage in, garbage out. She thanks Bill Kimber from the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind for his review. As Federationists will remember, until very recently the Alabama Institute has not been known for its quality education or outstanding preparation of blind students for the adult world.
The basic plot of the book is solid. After a reluctant start to the relationship between the two main characters, they build a friendship, face adversity, save an older woman during a rain storm, and become fast friends. But that is where the fun ended for me.
Ricky, the blind thirteen-year-old boy who comes to visit, is a stylish dresser, we are told, with one gold earring. Gina, going into seventh grade, is also a hip teen. When Ricky comes to visit with his family, Gina, like most teens, is not pleased that an outsider is ruining her plans for the weekend--and he is blind to boot.
We are told that Ricky uses a folding cane, but when outside, he travels on the arm of a guide and does not use his cane at all. He wears dark glasses. At one point he tells Gina that "Most blind people do." He goes on to say that "Sometimes our eyes are a little discolored. Or they move a lot, even though we don't mean for them to. So we wear dark glasses to hide them. It's kind of like covering a sore with a Band-Aid, I guess. It just looks nicer." Most blind people I know do not wear dark glasses.
Ricky and Gina find things in common such as playing the piano. This is not a bad thing, but again it feeds on the stereotypes many people still harbor about musical blind people.
Then there is the babysitter. Gina has outgrown the need for a babysitter. But the adults conclude that, with blind Ricky in the picture, they should get one, just in case something happens. Many blind kids Ricky's age are babysitting, not having a babysitter. I found this plot twist condescending and unconstructive.
Then a rain storm cuts off the electricity. After Ricky takes Gina's arm when the two go outside, the rain makes it hard to see, so Gina reverses roles and takes Ricky's arm instead. They rescue the babysitter, and all is well. But why was Ricky using sighted-guide technique in the first place?
At the back of the book is a list entitled "And here are some blind people who are or were blind." Again the stereotypes prevail. Four of the nine listed are musicians: Stevie Wonder, José Feliciano, Ray Charles, and Ronnie Milsap. The others are Marla Runyon, Eric Weihenmayer, John Milton, Helen Keller, and Louis Braille. Note, none are graduates of the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind. Where are names such as Jacobus tenBroek, a great professor, legal scholar, and leader of the blind; or Dr. Geerat Vermeij, a nationally recognized marine biologist; Lynda Boose, a blind park ranger; Tony Burda, a licensed pharmacist; Stanley Wainapel, M.D., a practicing medical doctor in New York; author Deborah Kent Stein; Abraham Nemeth, Ph.D., the designer of the Braille math code as well as an excellent teacher; Gilbert Ramirez, a trial court judge in New York City; and many more whom I have not mentioned. We in the Federation know of blind people who are lawyers, chefs, teachers, electricians, office staff, artists, and anything else we can imagine. Why was her list so short and weighted toward the stereotyped and the obvious?
This book might have fulfilled its promise, if only the author had consulted the National Federation of the Blind.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Terri Uttermohlen takes a loaf of bread out of the oven now that she has a stove she can control.]
Your Panels Leave Me Flat
by Terri Uttermohlen and Jim McCarthy
From the Editor: As recently as November of 2000 I returned home from a business trip to Australia to discover that in my absence my husband had purchased a birthday gift for me of a new gas stove. It was installed and ready to go. I had heard of people's problems with inaccessible stoves, so I explored the controls with a certain amount of trepidation. To my joy, the controls were completely accessible--at least they were after I applied Braille labels on transparent Dymo tape. Either I was extremely lucky, or things have become much more difficult in the intervening four years. Here is an account of the adventures of National Federation of the Blind Director of Governmental Affairs Jim McCarthy and his wife Terri Uttermohlen when they set out to buy a gas stove in the summer of 2004:
"What a nice stove!" Jim, my husband, and I exclaimed to each other as we looked through a prospective house. "Even though it has a flat panel control, it has all of those little textured areas to mark what you have to push." We admired the kitchen's many other features as we explored. The modern kitchen sold us on our quirky and beautifully restored North Baltimore duplex. We made a bid that night and moved in a month later.
Typical of those moving, we ate meal after meal of carry-out or delivered food until we finally exhumed our kitchen utensils and pans. To celebrate, we decided to make our favorite baked pork chops with thyme and oyster sauce. We prepared the meat, and put it in the oven. We put on the potatoes and selected some veggies. After about forty-five minutes we opened the oven to see if the chops were done. We expected the mouth-watering fragrance of the meat to waft from the open oven door. It didn't. We were disappointed to discover that the chops were barely warm. We reset the oven as we had been instructed, and after repeating the process unsuccessfully over the course of a couple of hours, we hauled out the skillet and fried the darned things, assuming that we were making an error when setting the temperature.
Over time friends, neighbors, and family members all experimented with the controls. No matter what sequence of buttons we tried, the oven didn't come on at a consistent temperature and was temperamental about registering the increases or decreases we requested. This was no particular problem for folks who could read the display but presented a real problem for us, since we are both totally blind. Assuming that the controls weren't operating properly, we called a repair service.
I explained the situation to the repairman when he arrived. After experimenting for a couple of minutes, the service man said, "It works just like it should." He handed us a bill for $50 and left.
We decided that we had no choice but to resort to reading the directions. After a lengthy search we found the print manual for sale online. When we received it, we explored, hoping to find instructions that would allow us to change the initial temperature setting so that it would be consistent. Unfortunately we discovered that the repair guy was right--the stove did what it was supposed to do. The oven was supposed to start at the most recent temperature used--unless some mysterious combination of keys caused it to reset to a lower temperature. Once the starting temperature was displayed, the user could adjust the heat up and down using the flat panel buttons on the right.
We decided to keep a temperature log, assuming that we could usually adjust from a known starting point. But even with careful recording, the result was disastrous. We singed a pizza at 495 degrees, barely bothered a meat loaf at 120, and finally gave up in disgust.
By mid-June Jim had had enough. He insisted that we needed a new oven. He complained that I never baked anymore. He missed the cookies and homemade bread I made when the mood struck me. I was reluctant. We were trying to be careful with money, and a range costs a lot. Surely we could limp along for a while, couldn't we?
I was inspired to make puff pastry one Saturday a couple of weeks ago to present a treat to Jim Sunday morning. The week before we had baked crab cakes with a verified temperature of 350 degrees. So I figured I'd be safe to turn on the oven and expect my pastry to be warm and brown by the time Jim awakened. I cut sour apples, made the turnover filling, and made the little pies. I proudly arranged them on a cooking stone and opened the oven. Even though the preheat beep had assured me the oven was ready, it felt no hotter in there than a good day at the beach. Since I had planned to cook the turnovers, rather than entertain them, I had to resort to three frustrating rounds of baking in the toaster oven. I reluctantly admitted that Jim was right; we needed to move our search for a range up the fiscal priority list.
Thus began our serious search for an accessible range. Our friend Brad Hodges, technology accessibility manager for the National Federation of the Blind and blind himself, had just completed an exhaustive search for an accessible stove. We asked Brad about his research.
"Terri, dear," he said, "There just isn't much out there that you can use without sticking labels all over it."
We told Brad that we were willing to have labels, as long as that meant the range would do what we needed it to. Brad encouraged us to test whatever we planned to buy by having the store plug the range into a 110-volt socket. That precaution made a lot of sense.
We needed a black, slide-in gas range. We decided that we also wanted a convection oven in addition to several other features. Consumer Reports had rated several convection ovens in our price range, so we went out for a look. The first appliance store we went to was recommended by a friend. We saw a lovely range on display. I began to look for the controls. Unsuccessful, I asked the salesman to show me its location. He pointed to the smooth glass space between the burner knobs.
"Really?" I asked. "There's no tactile indication at all. Could we label it?" We had a microwave with similarly unhelpful controls, and the Braille labels worked fine.
The salesman looked in the book and asked his manager. He said that labeling would block the mechanism that sensed a finger and would thus render the oven controls not workable. Jim and I received this news with disappointment and some skepticism.
The salesman suggested that we call GE and get an overlay for the stove we wanted. Jim called GE on our way home. According to GE, they had absolutely no overlays for gas stoves. They also had no templates for the flat-panel ranges, even though templates or Braille labels would be the only means to make these panels usable. They would, however, be happy to provide an overlay to label a dial--not altogether helpful since they no longer made ovens with dial controls.
We went back home to do more phone and Web research. It seemed that every model and type of stove had its own display layout and look. Even the gas and electric versions of the same stove model differed in panel layout and texture. No one we could find used oven dials anymore. Instead, we could choose from flat panels with buttons behind them that the user could almost feel and flat glass panels with no tactile indication. Both of these panel types needed extensive labeling to be useful at all.
We were wary of purchasing a range with a flat glass control panel, in case the salesman at the first appliance store was right. Unfortunately every available convection oven had that type of totally inaccessible flat glass control panel. We selected two possible models to test but couldn't find anyone willing to let us plug them in to test the behavior of the controls. Usually we were told that the stove (even though it was gas) needed a 220-volt socket. Brad had prepared us for this, but even after we convinced the salesmen that the electronic controls required only 110 volts, they said we couldn't test the stoves for one reason or another.
One store told us that the range was too far from any outlet even to be reached with an extension cord. Another had built the range into a semi-permanent display and couldn't move it or get to its electric cord. One salesman said that he would need a special crew to plug it in and that his boss wouldn't let him get the crew.
We finally narrowed down our choice and asked a shop to order the model we wanted. However, we told them that we could not accept delivery unless we could test the range at the store first. The store manager said grumpily that doing that would be impossible; if we couldn't use it, the store would be stuck with the stove. Of course, if it were not accessible to us, we would be stuck with one more unusable stove, and the inaccessibility of our otherwise perfectly good stove was what got us started on this quest in the first place.
We finally found a young salesman at Sears who understood what we wanted. He didn't hesitate to plug in the range we wanted so that we could test the controls, even though he was going against store policy. This oven had one of those completely flat glass panels, so we would have to label it in order to use it at all. The salesman pulled out several types of sticky labels, and we experimented with laying them over the controls and pushing the space to request an action by the stove. It worked without fail, so we bought the range.
This search was extremely frustrating. Appliance manufacturers are so enamored of the sleek look that even basic household equipment is unusable without significant modification. It shouldn't be this hard to find a workable stove or any other essential appliance. Manufacturers seem unaware that a growing percentage of the population needs to touch rather than see, to operate tools. It would take only a little consideration and design change to make these essential appliances accessible to blind people.
Some manufacturers maintain that they use universal design principles in their appliances. Unfortunately, at the design stage they haven't asked, or even considered, what blind residents of the universe need. Meanwhile we who are blind are forced to solve new problems every year just to maintain our normal lives. We love our house and still love our kitchen. At the moment we are waiting for our new range to be delivered and installed. Once we have it, we must immediately label it in order to make it accessible. We chose to bet the price of the stove that it would work for us. Let's hope we win the bet. After all, we can't really afford to lose.
This month's recipes were submitted by the NFB of Virginia, and we received many more than we could include. Even leaving out recipes that have appeared in these pages before and limiting each person or family to one recipe only, we could not accommodate all the good food Virginians offered to share with us. Affiliate president Charlie Brown mentioned in passing the possibility of assembling a Virginia cookbook. We can all hope that the affiliate does so.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Sue Povinelli]
Peanut Butter Cup Layer Cake
by Sue Povinelli
Sue Povinelli is an active member of the Potomac Chapter of the NFB of Virginia and wife of NFB of Virginia treasurer Larry Povinelli.
1 package of devil's food cake mix
1 1/3 cup water
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup oil
1 cup chocolate chips
2 cans of chocolate frosting
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup butter
2 cups confectioner's sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 miniature peanut butter cups, chopped
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat two 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray. At low speed beat together cake mix, water, eggs, peanut butter, and oil. Beat for thirty seconds. Increase speed to high, and beat for two minutes. Stir in chocolate chips. Divide batter between pans. Bake thirty minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake layers briefly before removing from pans to wire racks to cool for at least twenty minutes.
Filling method: At medium speed beat peanut butter with butter until smooth, about one minute. Reduce speed to low and beat in confectionery sugar, milk, and vanilla until smooth. Stir in chopped peanut butter cups. Transfer one cup of the filling to pastry bag with large star tip inserted. Set aside. Place one cake layer on plate. Spread with filling. Place second layer on top of filling. Cover top and sides of cake with frosting. Garnish frosted cake with filling in pastry bag.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Cathy and Fred Schroeder]
Pineapple Green Bean Beef Stir Fry
by Fred and Cathy Schroeder
Cathy Schroeder is an officer in the Fairfax Chapter of the NFB of Virginia. Her husband Fred is also an active member of the chapter, as well as a past member of the NFB board of directors. This Asian-style stir-fry recipe sounds harder than it is, and the Schroeders assure us that it is worth the preparation time and effort. It is also easy on the waistline.
2 tablespoons fresh, peeled ginger root, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 fresh jalapeno chili pepper, minced
14-ounce can pineapple chunks
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 pound round steak, thinly sliced into strips
1 teaspoon oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup fresh green beans
1 sweet red pepper, thinly sliced into strips
4 scallions, sliced
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Method: Drain pineapple, reserving juice. Combine pineapple juice, ginger, soy sauce, cilantro, and meat in bowl. Cover bowl and marinate for fifteen minutes. Heat oil in skillet, add garlic, and sauté thirty seconds. Remove meat from marinade, add to skillet, and stir-fry until cooked through. Remove meat. Mix together remaining marinade and cornstarch in bowl. Stir to remove lumps of cornstarch. Add beans, pepper, chilies, and marinade mixture to skillet and stir-fry until vegetables are tender and mixture is thickened. Stir in pineapple chunks, scallions, and meat, and heat through. Serve over steamed rice. Makes four servings.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Seville Allen]
Brown Raisin Bread (Amish recipe)
by Seville Allen
Seville Allen is first vice president of the NFB of Virginia.
2 cups all‑purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark molasses
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups bran cereal
1 cup raisins
Method: Sift together flour, soda, and salt and add dark molasses and buttermilk. Mix well. Add sugar, bran cereal, and raisins. Pour mixture into one large or two small greased loaf pans and bake at 400 degrees for thirty to forty-five minutes or until the bread is very brown and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Makes one large or two small loaves.
by Joanne Hall
Joanne Hall (a former teacher) along with husband Ron enjoys cooking. Both of them can be counted on for chapter projects. The Halls are active in church. Joanne has taught Sunday school for thirty-two years.
20 jumbo shells
1 26-to-30-ounce jar Ragu primavera spaghetti sauce
1 15-ounce jar Ragu plain spaghetti sauce
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
24 ounces small-curd cottage cheese
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
grated Parmesan cheese
Method: Cook shells according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cool water. Combine the two jars of sauce and stir to mix. Place small amount of sauce in bottom of greased 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Reserve remaining sauce. In large bowl combine the two cheeses, beaten egg, and bread crumbs. Stuff shells with cheese mixture and place in prepared baking dish. Cover shells with remaining sauce. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over sauce. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly (approximately forty-five minutes). Extra sauce may be passed in a sauce boat at the table. Serves four to six.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Gwen Beavers]
Festive Apple Bread
by Gwen Beavers
Gwen Beavers is the NFB of Virginia's corresponding secretary and a longtime leader of the Blue Ridge Chapter in Charlottesville.
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 15-ounce jar applesauce
Method: In a large bowl mix all ingredients thoroughly and pour into a 9-by-5-inch greased loaf pan. Bake at 325 degrees for one hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
by Kathleen Tozer
Kathleen Tozer is a member of the Fairfax Chapter.
1 deep-dish frozen pie shell
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup cottage cheese
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
spinach, mushroom, or other filling
Method: Combine the three cheeses and eggs. Line the unbaked pie shell with your choice of ingredients. Spinach or mushrooms are excellent together or singly. Pour cheese and egg mixture evenly over filling. Cook for one hour in a preheated 350-degree oven.
Clyde's Meat Loaf
by Clyde Compton
Clyde Compton has many talents. He is always ready to help, whatever the occasion. He is current regional president of the Blind Veterans Association. He is also vice president of the Prince William Chapter of the NFB of Virginia, established in the fall of 2003.
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground turkey
1 can stewed tomatoes
1/4 cup celery, chopped
1/4 cup green pepper, chopped
1/4 cup onion, chopped
pinch or up to 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
pinch or up to 1 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups oatmeal
Method: Place ground turkey and beef in a bowl and blend together to mix well. Add the remaining ingredients to meat mixture. Mix with hands until you can form a loaf. Place loaf in a pan and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for one hour. Remove from pan and serve hot or cold.
Raw Vegetable Salad
by Becky Trautman
Becky Trautman is co-chair of fundraising projects for the Prince William Chapter. She is the unofficial go-fer and chauffeur for many chapter members.
6 slices bacon, cooked, drained, and crumbled
3 cups broccoli, chopped
3 cups cauliflower, chopped
3 cups celery, chopped
1 10-ounce bag frozen peas, thawed
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup Spanish peanuts
1/4 cup sugar (may use Equal or Splenda)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons grated onion
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cup mayonnaise
Method: Place chopped vegetables, peanuts, peas, and cranberries in a large bowl and mix well. Whisk together sugar, salt, vinegar, onion, cheese, and mayonnaise. Pour over vegetable mixture. Chill. (This salad is better if made a day ahead.) Before serving, sprinkle top with crumbled bacon.
Layered Irish Stew
by Dawnelle Cruze
Dawnelle Cruze is a charter member of the Tidewater Chapter and also serves as head of the Virginia Diabetic Action Network..
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup biscuit mix
2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cubed
1 1/2 pounds sliced and peeled russet potatoes (about 4)
1 pound sliced onions (about 4)
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Method: In a bowl whisk together stock and biscuit mix. Set aside. Place half of the cubed lamb in bottom of a large stock pot. Top with half of the sliced potatoes, onions, parsley, salt, and pepper. Repeat layers. Pour chicken stock mixture over top. Place stock pot over medium heat and slowly bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until lamb and potatoes are tender and sauce is thickened, about three hours. Yields eight servings.
News from the Federation Family
AER/NFB Low-Vision Workshop:
The Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) and the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute will collaborate in a one-and-a-half-day workshop on November 4 to 5, 2004, at the NFB Jernigan Institute in Baltimore.
Attention professionals who work with blind people or those with low vision. Be a part of this exciting event. This groundbreaking seminar is co-directed by the new NFB Jernigan Institute and AER and AER's Low Vision Division. Keynote speakers are Robert Massof, Ph.D., director, Lions Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center, Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University; and Betsy Zaborowski, Psy.D., executive director, National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute.
Presentations will focus on practical, hands-on exposure to nonvisual technology and methods helpful to low vision individuals that can complement the many visual augmentation methods available. Registration will be limited to one hundred attendees.
Presenters of breakout sessions will represent a broad spectrum of expertise and will design their one-hour presentations to be fast moving and informative. Participants will rotate through all breakout sessions and have sufficient time to browse through the exhibit area. For more detailed descriptions of breakout sessions, go to <http://www.nfb.org/nfbrti/bridge_sem.htm>.
Exhibits of both visual and nonvisual solutions will be available during the continental breakfasts, lunch, breaks, and networking social on Thursday evening, November 4. Registration is $95 per registrant, which includes all sessions, materials, continental breakfast both days, lunch on Thursday, and breaks. Tours of the NFB International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind will be available immediately following the conclusion of the conference on Friday, November 5, at 12:00 noon.
For additional information and to register, send an email expressing your interest to <[email protected]>. Please use the phrase "Low Vision Workshop" in the subject line of your message. Additional registration and exhibitor information can be found on the AER Web site.
Exhibitors should contact James Deremeik at the Lions Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center, Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University, telephone (410) 502-6431 or email <[email protected]>.
Discounted hotel reservations are available at the Tremont Plaza Hotel in downtown Baltimore. Transportation to and from this hotel will be provided.
Sam Gleese, president of the NFB of Mississippi, reports that on May 29, 2004, Gwen Stokes of Jackson, first vice president of the NFB of Mississippi, and Dr. Ronald J. Byrd of Roundrock, Texas, were married at the St. Peter's Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi. Gwen also serves as president of the Jackson Chapter. The couple will continue to live and work in Jackson.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Judith Tunell stands at the entrance of the hiking trail named to honor her.]
Judith Tunell Accessible Trail Opens in Phoenix:
The following excerpts from the Arizona Business Gazette of May 13, 2004, were written by Luci Scott:
At one point Judith Tunell was running her own business and zipping along California highways in her Mercedes. But she had lupus, and twenty years ago it cost her her sight. The day after the birth of her second son, she went blind and began to lose her hearing.
"I had a baby, and the next day I couldn't walk down the hall," she said. "It has been a long climb back."
In 1989 she moved to Phoenix, and in 1995 she was appointed to the Phoenix Mayor's Commission on Disability Issues, for which she was an active chairwoman from 1997 to 1999.
Now she is being honored by having a hiking trail named for her, the Judith Tunell Accessible Trail in South Mountain Park Preserve.
The trail is two half-mile loops on stabilized granite and contains interpretive signs, water fountains, benches, tree ramadas, and a bridge over a wash. Half of it has a moderate grade, and the other more challenging loop has a maximum grade of 8.5 percent... Although the trail has been in use since fall, the dedication and naming ceremony is scheduled for Saturday [May 15] at the South Mountain Environmental Education Center, 10409 S. Central Avenue. The dedication is from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. ... Folks who don't drive need to use Dial-a-Ride because city buses do not go to South Mountain Park.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mary Jernigan, May 2, 1920 to July 31, 2004]
On Saturday, July 31, 2004, Mary Jernigan, widow of our beloved leader Kenneth Jernigan's only brother Lloyd, died quietly in Michigan. Many Federationists will remember Mary's unassuming but supportive presence at her late husband's side during conventions in recent years. She will be missed.
The Metro Chapter of the NFB of Minnesota held its annual elections during its April meeting. The results are as follows: Jennifer Dunnam, president; Pat Barrett, first vice president; Sheila Koenig, second vice president; Charlotte Czarnecki, secretary; and Sharon Monthei, treasurer.
Special Technology Offer:
Roger Behm is treasurer of both the Rock County Chapter of the NFB of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Merchants Division. He would like to help raise money for the national organization and also offer a special price on a limited number of VoiceNote QT (qwerty keyboard) and BT (Brailler keyboard) PDA's to NFB members while supplies last.
Want to save $100 while buying the rock-solid screen reader Window‑Eyes Professional and also contribute $100 to the National Federation of the Blind? Contact Adaptive Information Systems and identify yourself as an NFB member. Say that you want the Window‑Eyes Professional special for $695. For every copy of Window‑Eyes Professional sold to an NFB member for $695, $100 will be contributed to the NFB national organization. This is an ongoing offer until further notice. So want to save $100 and give $100 to the NFB? Call Adaptive Information Systems at (877) 792‑4768.
New VoiceNote QT or BT PDA notetakers and so much more from Pulse Data and Adaptive Information Systems. Cost is $1,744, including shipping UPS ground, insured, anywhere in the lower forty-eight United States. The quantity is limited; only six left. These are new, still in the box. They have the latest version of Keysoft and all accessories, but when they are gone, they are gone. So don't delay; save $600 off list price; call (877) 792‑4768. Contact Adaptive Information Systems president, Roger A. Behm, 1611 Clover Lane, Janesville, Wisconsin 53545‑1388; email <[email protected]>.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Olie Cantos]
Olegario Cantos VII, known to his friends as Olie, was a 1991 NFB scholarship winner and is a past president of the National Association of Blind Students. We recently received a press release announcing a new position for Olie. Here is the relevant part of the release:
AAPD General Counsel Olie Cantos
Named to High-Level Government Post
WASHINGTON, D.C. (August 6)‑‑At an event hosted yesterday by the U.S. Department of Justice commemorating the Americans with Disabilities Act, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Loretta King announced the selection of Olie Cantos, general counsel and director of programs for the 90,000‑member American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) as special assistant to Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights R. Alexander Acosta. Cantos is to begin service in his new post on Monday, August 9.
Among other duties Cantos will play a key role in strengthening national outreach efforts to disability organizations, expanding the list of jurisdictions under Project Civic Access, and increasing the number of state building codes to become ADA certified.
Since June 2001 Cantos has served as international coordinator of Disability Mentoring Day (DMD), whose purpose is to enhance meaningful internship and employment opportunities through job shadowing and hands‑on career exploration. Under his leadership, the program quadrupled in size and scope. Having just 1,600 mentees in the District of Columbia and thirty-two states in 2001, DMD grew to encompass participation by more than six thousand mentees from all fifty states, three territories, and seventeen foreign countries on five continents. Collaboration with employers from the private, governmental, and nonprofit sectors skyrocketed from 250 in 2001 to almost a thousand in 2003. His efforts led to an expansion of local coordinators from just seventy in 2001 to almost triple that number today.
Cantos said, "Working closely with the assistant attorney general for civil rights to continue to advance equality of opportunity and full societal participation by all Americans with disabilities is a charge I will take very seriously, and I will devote myself to giving this all the energy that I've got."
A Paradigm Shift?
We recently received the following little meditation from Mary Ellen Gabias, who is a longtime Federation leader, now living in Canada. Here it is:
For me the single most annoying stereotype about blindness is the notion that at any given time we do not know where we are. A well-intentioned stranger once informed me that I was in Kelowna, British Columbia. Another person let me know that I was outside, rather than inside. I am heartened by their desire to be of service, and I strive to respond to that helpful intention rather than to their ignorant assumptions. Yet I always cringe inwardly. How would any blind person fare when asking such a person for access to opportunity (a job or civic participation) or any activity that involved moving around?
But in the last three or four months I've had several experiences which give me hope. Our home is located at a corner where three streets come together. Ours is a fairly quiet residential street, but one of the others is the main road leading down from the hills northeast of us, and the third is the main east‑west highway through town. Tourists and newcomers find this confusing and often pull into our street to look at their maps and try to sort things out. With increasing frequency, strangers have called me away from what I was doing outside to ask for directions. My blindness has not been an issue; they have assumed that I could tell them what they needed to know.
Giving directions to a stranger is a small matter. Compared to the problem of a 70-percent-plus unemployment rate, it's undramatic. We will need a torrent of education to erode the stone barrier of misconception. But each time we are perceived as people who can give help rather than people who need it, a drop of education erodes a little more ignorance.
The Visually Impaired Persons of Sequim [pronounced Squim], Clallam County Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington recently elected the following officers and board members: president, Roy Tackett; vice president, Kyle Parrish; secretary, Ella May Parrish; treasurer, Millie Gersenson; and board members Alice Mitchell, Janet Summerour, Richard Fleck, and Blanche Spencer.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Anil Lewis]
Anil Lewis is president of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia and a member of the national board of directors. We recently received the following press release:
Atlanta Disability Rights Advocate Anil Lewis Receives Award
from ABA Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law
The American Bar Association's Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law presented the 2004 Paul G. Hearne Award to Anil Lewis, chair of the board of directors of the Disability Law and Policy Center of Georgia. ABA President Dennis W. Archer presented the award to Lewis during a ceremony at the Omni Hotel on Monday, August 9, during the ABA annual meeting. The award is presented in conjunction with the National Organization on Disability, and includes a $1,000 award from Aetna.
Lewis's vision, effective communication, and persistence resulted in Georgia being the first state to make accessible voting machines available to individuals with disabilities in every polling precinct for the 2002 elections. In 2004 Lewis was instrumental in securing the unanimous passage in the Georgia House of Representatives of legislation bringing to Georgia NEWSLINE, an audio service that enables people with print disabilities to access newspapers via telephone.
The Disability Law and Policy Center of Georgia uses a variety of methods to influence and enforce disability policy. In 2003 the center prevailed in an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit against Atlanta's rapid transit system, a nationally significant case that requires transit systems to make their Web sites accessible to the disabled.
Lewis was born in 1964 in Atlanta. He is the third of four children; both his older brother and sister became legally blind at an early age due to retinitis pigmentosa. Early in his life Lewis was labeled "educable mentally retarded," but as the first member of his family to attend a four‑year college, he excelled academically and received many awards, including numerous college scholarships. Although he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa as a nine‑year‑old, his vision was reasonably unaffected until he was twenty-five.
Paul G. Hearne, for whom the award was named, was born with a connective tissue disorder that physically limited his growth and restricted his movement. Yet through tenacity, intelligence, and initiative, he created opportunities for himself and others and proved a leader for all people with disabilities. Hearne's life was marked by many pioneering endeavors in the legal and disability communities. He served as the director of Just One Break, Inc., the nation's first private job placement agency for people with disabilities; the National Council on Disability; the Dole Foundation for Employment of People with Disabilities; the International Center for the Disabled; the Very Special Arts International Fund; and the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation.
The Paul G. Hearne award is presented each year to an individual or organization that has performed exemplary service in furthering the rights, dignity, and access to justice for some fifty-four million Americans with disabilities.
With more than four hundred thousand members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law in a democratic society.
On June 1 NFB of Wisconsin President Dan Wenzel and his wife Jennifer became the parents of Tanner Austin. He weighed eight pounds, ten ounces, and was twenty-one inches long. Big brothers Roland and Stephen are adjusting well to the competition.
Then on July 31 Andrea and Jeremiah Beasley became the parents of Kyle Barton, who weighed in at five pounds, and measured eighteen and an eighth inches long. The Beasleys, including big sister Katrina and new son Kyle, are active members and leaders of the NFB of Colorado.
Congratulations to both families.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Verla Kirsch]
NFB of Iowa President Peggy Elliott writes with sadness that after a long illness Verla Kirsch of Clarinda, Iowa, died Thursday, July 22, 2004. Verla served the organization long and faithfully, from hosting in Dr. Jernigan's suite at national conventions to serving as officer and board member of the state affiliate. She was a tireless Associates recruiter for many years, and her willing help and dedication to service will be deeply missed.
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.
[Miss Shaffer can copy a graphic image from the Seedling Web site to use here]
New Braille Literacy Pins Available:
Four beautiful, colorful Braille literacy pins have been created for Seedlings. By purchasing a pin, you will help raise funds to bring the gift of reading to blind children, and you will help to spread the word about the importance of Braille literacy every time you wear your pin. The pins have phrases printed on them: "Braille for All," "Read to Succeed," Read with Feeling," and "Readers Are in Touch." The cost is $14 plus $1.50 shipping and handling. Seedlings Braille Books for Children's 2005 Catalog is also available. It includes six hundred books, including sixty new titles. To order, contact Seedlings Braille Books for Children, P.O. Box 51924, Livonia, Michigan 48151-5924, or call (800) 777-8552 or fax (734) 427-8552. The Web site is <www.seedlings.org>.
The National Aquarium Opens Its Doors Wider:
The National Aquarium in Baltimore has a new service for visitors who are blind or visually impaired. An audio wireless tour, currently available, allows blind visitors vastly improved access to the aquarium's exhibits. The wireless tour is part of a continuing initiative, along with programs such as Fridays After Five, to make the aquarium and its many resources available to everyone in the community.
For more information contact Hillary Walker, (410) 576-3860 or visit the aquarium Web site at <www.aqua.org>.
New Curriculum at Pennsylvania College of Optometry:
The Pennsylvania College of Optometry, Department of Graduate Studies in Vision Impairment, announces its transition from a quarter system to a semester system and from primarily classroom-based instruction to online instruction with summer residency courses. The college is seeking people interested in receiving a master's degree or certification in education of children and youth with visual and multiple impairments, rehabilitation teaching, orientation and mobility, or low vision rehabilitation. Rolling admissions and scholarships are available.
For further information contact Tina Fitzpatrick at (215) 780-1360 or <[email protected]>. You can also visit the college Web site at <www.pco.edu> and click on Programs (or Academic Programs for JAWS users).
Congratulations to Craig Gildner:
On Friday, August 5, 2004, the Washington Post published the following brief review of a new CD created by Craig Gildner and his band. Cassette readers of the Braille Monitor will recognize Gildner's name as that of the man who, until late June, ran the NFB recording studio and recorded our publications. Here is the review by Mike Joyce that appeared in the Weekend section:
BLUE SKY 5, "Tin Goose Jump" (Groove Juice)
Blue Sky 5, the Baltimore‑Washington swing ensemble, named its debut release after the prototype for the 1947 Tucker Torpedo, "the car of tomorrow, today." Had dashboard CD players been in vogue back then, the music on "Tin Goose Jump" would have made for a perfectly pitched accessory.
Credit bandleader Craig Gildner for getting the tone right. In addition to adding evocative touches on piano and guitar, Gildner is a capable crooner and a fine tunesmith. He wrote ten of the fifteen compositions, and several of them, including "Say You'll Be Mine" and "What a Thing to Say," summon the past without sounding overly sentimental or conspicuously retro. Mind you, his lyrics aren't always cheery. "How Are You Sleeping These Days?" for instance, concerns "memories of our weekend that brought us to our bleak end," but even this lovesick lament has a certain insinuating charm.
Credit Gildner, too, for surrounding himself with musicians who don't view swing‑era sounds as merely a campy diversion. Tenor saxophonist Tommy Greco and trumpeter Brett Lemley enliven the arrangements (including a few instrumentals) in both robust and subtle ways, while bassist Glen Oliff and drummer James Peachey spend a lot of time generating dance‑hall propulsion. Two guests--the fine singer Cassie Miller and clarinetist‑saxophonist Halley Shoenberg--make the most of their cameos and help round out the ensemble's thoroughly affectionate, finger-snapping take on yesterday.
Nurion-Raycal in Paoli, Pennsylvania, has been developing what it believes to be a revolutionary mobility assistance device for the blind. The LaserCaneTM was conceived and perfected by Nazir Ali, president of Nurion-Raycal. Mr. Ali has spent over twenty years refining his design so that it is now being produced in substantial quantities.
The LaserCaneTM provides audible and tactile warning of obstacles, overhangs, and drop-offs ahead of the user. According to its producer, it greatly enhances the mobility and independence of people for whom guide dogs or other alternatives are not desirable options due to health, expense, or other reasons. The U.S. Veterans Administration recommends it as a primary mobility device, and it has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
One of the LaserCaneTM's many satisfied users nationwide compares the device to a standard white cane with a ten-foot reach, with the added advantages of being able to detect head-height obstacles as well as steps, curbs, and other drop-offs. The developer says that unlike previous laser canes, the LaserCaneTM is sealed so that it can be used in all weather.
Nurion is seeking to develop working relationships with leading providers of service and support to this community in order to make the LaserCaneTM a widely known and available option. The LaserCaneTM is priced at $2,990 each with substantial discounts available for quantity purchases.
For more information contact Nurion-Raycal directly toll-free at (877) LSR-CANE, (877) 577-2263 or visit its Web site <www.nurion.net>.
Attention Young Golfers or Would-Be Golfers:
The Middle Atlantic Blind Golf Association is looking for blind or visually impaired children ages five to eighteen who are interested in learning how to play golf. We will provide each player with a P.G.A. teacher at a golf course near home who will give lessons. This amazing program has been extended from the Middle Atlantic region only to cover the entire United States. The association provides each student with a free golf bag and clubs. Students must provide their own transportation to lessons. The association also sponsors a golf clinic twice a year at the Overbrook School for the Blind; the fall clinic was October 2.
Interested young people should contact Gil Kayson at (215) 884‑6589 or Norman Kritz at (856) 428‑1420. More information about the Junior Blind Golf Program is available at <www.mabga.org>. You can also reach the organization by writing to Mr. Norman J. Kritz, 123 Keats Place, Cherry Hill, New Jersey 08003.
Cross-country Ski Guides Wanted:
The Northeastern Pennsylvania Regional Ski for Light coordinators are recruiting visually impaired and sighted individuals to assist in guiding for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, tobogganing, hiking, and other activities from January 16 through January 23, 2005, at the Vikings Lodge in Sherman, Pennsylvania. The cost for the week is approximately $415 for a double room. Single and triple rooms are available. For an application or further information, contact Barry or Louise Wood at (201) 868-3336.
A Braille Monitor reader recently sent the following reminder to all users of email:
I address this plea to all those who email newsletters, announcements, inspirational or humorous posts, etc., to groups of people. Please, please, use the blind carbon copy (BCC) field for your list of recipient names. All it takes is one recipient with an insecure or, worse, an infected computer to compromise everyone to whom your message has been sent. The entire list of people in the “to” or “cc” fields is vulnerable to receiving the spam and viruses being inflicted on users of the Internet. Because the blind copy list does not appear in each recipient's copy of the message, no one's computer can be damaged because of your message.
One other service you can provide your friends and recipients of forwarded posts is to copy the actual text of the message that you wish to send on and drop it into a new message. In this way none of your friends will have to scroll their way through pages of names and email addresses to find the information you thought important enough to send them. Think of the time these simple courtesies would save the emailing public.
The notices in this section have been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.
Aladdin Classic Telesensory CCTV for Sale:
My mother can no longer use this CCTV, so I would like to sell it to someone who could benefit from using it. We purchased the machine for $1,700, and I am asking $1,200. It is in perfect condition and is just taking up space on my counter. Anyone interested in the machine can contact me by email at <[email protected]‑net.com>, or phone (541) 672‑3404. My address is Bonnie Durick, 4340 Del Rio Road, Roseburg, Oregon 97470.
T-Shirts for Sale:
If ya want it, we got it--new designs at Blind‑Novel‑Tees.
"Can I borrow your car?" hat and T-shirt or "You need not see the stars to reach them" T-shirt.
New products available now; grab yours now while supplies last. Prices as low as $9.95. Check out these and many more designs at <http://www.bntonline.com>, or call in your order to (937) 472-0585 or (937) 456-6611, Monday through Friday, between 9:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. EST. Mastercard and Visa welcome. For more information contact Blind‑Novel‑Tees, P.O. Box 412, Eaton, Ohio 45320.
I have a PowerBraille 40 Braille display, an Enabling Technologies Romeo 25 Braille embosser, and a PowerBraille 80 that need someone to use them. The PowerBraille 40 was used gently for only five months. It is the most popular Braille display and will hook into your computer by serial port or USB port. It works with almost all computers. Asking $1350 or best offer. The embosser has also had little use and needs a good home. Asking $950, negotiable. The PowerBraille 80 is in excellent condition. Asking $2,700, negotiable. Email CJ Sampson at <[email protected]> and leave number or call (801) 367-2559.
Perkins Brailler for Sale:
Asking $450, shipped within the U.S. only. Excellent condition with dust cover. Contact Linda at (973) 202‑1778. If I'm not available, please leave your name and number for me to return the call.
Video Eye power magnification system purchased in 2003 for $1,500. Asking $1,200, including out-of-state shipping. If interested, contact M. Jackson at (207) 725-0868.
Braille Bible Available:
An eighteen-volume English contracted Braille Bible is available free. Interested parties can contact Patty Peacock, <[email protected]> or 10 Stewart Court, Oberlin, Ohio 44074. Shipping will be free matter unless other arrangements are made.
Hewlett Packard Scanjet 6250C flatbed scanner with automatic document feeder. Perfect for scanning books and documents onto your computer to be read by your screen reader. Excellent condition. Includes SCSI and USB cables, software CD, manuals, and Omni Page Pro 11 OCR software. Asking $250 including UPS ground shipping and insurance within the continental United States. For further information contact Bill Porter at (847) 342-7155 after 1:00 p.m. central time.
Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language in seventy-two Braille volumes. Reasonable offers are welcome. Call Barry Wood at (201) 868-3336.
HumanWare BrailleNote for Sale:
This unit is three years old and has barely been used. Has computer keyboard and refreshable Braille display. Features include word processing, email and Internet access, book reader, scientific calculator, etc. Price is $1,700 or best offer. UPS shipping is included in price. Contact Empish by email at <[email protected]> or call her at (770) 981‑3673.
Braille Music and Cookbooks Available:
Free to anyone interested: Braille music books, mostly gospel, and four Braille cookbooks. Call Sherry Ruth at (440) 324‑4218 or email her at <[email protected]>.
Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest and Literacy Program
For Blind Youth and Prereaders
The purpose of the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest and Literacy Program is to help blind and visually impaired children become good Braille readers. Good readers have confidence in themselves and in their abilities to learn and to adapt to new situations throughout their lives. Furthermore, Braille literacy is one of the highest predictors of success in later life for blind students. It’s estimated that about eighty-five percent of blind and visually impaired people who are employed are Braille readers.
However, many parents and children do not know that Braille is a viable alternative to print or that Braille readers can be competitive with print readers. Too many blind children graduate from school with low expectations for themselves as readers. The Braille Readers Are Leaders program generates enthusiasm, raises expectations, and instills pride as children come to realize that reading Braille is fun and rewarding.
The program is cosponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB). Both organizations are affiliated divisions of the National Federation of the Blind.
Corporate supporters of the program include the United Parcel Service (UPS) Foundation, Nestlé USA, and Ty Inc. (makers of Beanie Babies).
The Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest and Literacy Program for Braille Readers and Prereaders has three components: a national contest for students K-twelve, a literacy program for prereaders, and a recognition program for schools for the blind.
The Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest is a national contest for Braille students, kindergarten through twelfth grades. From November 1 to February 1, parents, teachers, or librarians help students keep track of the number of Braille pages they read of extracurricular material. All students receive recognition for their participation, and cash prizes and other awards are given to the top students in each category. Students who read five hundred or more Braille pages during the contest also get special Honor Roll ribbons.
SCHOOLS FOR THE BLIND
Residential or day schools for the blind that enroll a minimum number of students in the contest and in other ways promote Braille literacy and the Braille Readers Are Leaders program during the contest period receive special recognition. Each contestant from the participating school also receives a special prize.
BRL Reading Pals is a non-competitive Braille literacy program for blind infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and older students with reading delays. The program has two goals: to expose families of blind and visually impaired children to Braille and to encourage parents (or other responsible adults) to read aloud to or with their children a minimum of fifteen minutes a day during the two-month program period from November 1, 2004, to January 1, 2005.
Upon registering for BRL Reading Pals, parents receive a reading journal, a print-Braille children’s book, a BRL Reading Pal (a Beanie Baby stuffed animal), instructions about how to complete the program, resource information about sources of children’s print-Braille books, a Braille alphabet card, and other materials about Braille and reading to young children. At the conclusion of the program the parent and child receive a certificate of completion and a tactile coloring book or other prize they can share together. (Teachers or other adults, such as grandparents, may also register a child for this program. However, the adult must have regular and frequent opportunities to read aloud with the child.)
We know that it may not be possible to read together every day, but we set the goal high to demonstrate the importance of literacy and to encourage parents to reach for the stars. Every family that registers and participates in the program to whatever extent possible will be recognized. More important, they will have the satisfaction of knowing that they have made a significant contribution to their children’s readiness to learn to read.
2004-2005 Braille Readers Are Leaders Program
[ ] I request contest entry forms. I understand this is a contest for Braille reading students, kindergarten through twelfth grades (including students in un-graded programs). Please send me ______ entry form(s). Dates: November 1, 2004 – February 1, 2005.
[ ] I wish to request BRL Reading Pals registration forms. I understand this is a pre-Braille literacy program for blind and visually impaired pre-readers (babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and older children who are not yet independent readers). Please send me ________ registration forms. Dates: November 1, 2004–January 1, 2005.
[ ] Parent [ ] Teacher [ ] Librarian Other ___________
Address for receiving forms________________________________________________
City, State, Zip _________________________________________________________
The best way to contact me is by: ____________________________________________
Telephone: home______________ school/office_____________ cell ______________
(PLEASE PRINT LEGIBLY)
For more information about these and other programs sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) or the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB), contact Barbara Cheadle, president, NOPBC, (410) 659-9314, ext. 2360; email: <[email protected]>; or Nadine Jacobson, president, NAPUB, (952) 927-7694.
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.