THE BRAILLE MONITOR
Vol. 48, No. 1January, 2005
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
telephone: (410) 659-9314
email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site address: http://www.nfb.org
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Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about twenty-five dollars per year. Members are invited, and nonmembers are requested, to cover the subscription cost. Donations should be made payable to National Federation of the Blind and sent to:
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
[PHOTO/CAPTION: The Belle of Louisville]
Louisville Site of 2005 NFB Convention
The 2005 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Louisville, Kentucky, July 2-9, at the Galt House and Galt House East Tower. The Galt House West is at 140 N. Fourth Street, and the Galt House East Tower, or Galt House East, is at 141 N. Fourth Street, Louisville, Kentucky 40202. Our overflow hotel is the Hyatt Regency at 320 W. Jefferson Street, Louisville, Kentucky 40202.
The 2005 room rates are singles, doubles, and twins $59; and triples and quads $64 a night, plus tax. The hotel is accepting reservations now. A $60-per-room deposit is required to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if notice is given to the hotel of a reservation cancellation before June 1, 2005. The other 50 percent is not refundable. For reservations call the Galt House at (502) 589-5200 or the Hyatt Regency at (502) 587-3434.
Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations may be made before June 1, 2005, assuming that rooms are still available. After that time the hotels will not hold their blocks of rooms for the convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon.
A covered pedestrian walkway connects the two hotels, and guest-room amenities in both include hair dryer, coffee pot, iron and ironing board, and dataport. Those who attended the 2003 convention can testify to the gracious hospitality of both the Hyatt and the Galt House. Our headquarters hotel has excellent restaurants, first-rate meeting space, and other top-notch facilities. It is in downtown Louisville, close to the Ohio River, and only seven miles from the Louisville airport.
The 2005 convention will follow what many think of as our usual schedule:
Saturday, July 2Seminar Day
Sunday, July 3 Registration Day
Monday, July 4 Board Meeting and Division Day
Tuesday, July 5Opening Session
Wednesday, July 6 Tour Day
Thursday, July 7 Banquet Day
Friday, July 8Business Session
Vol. 48, No. 1 January, 2005
An Overview of Accessible Technology:
Where Are We Now, and What Does the Future Hold?
by Danika Taylor
by Robert Gardner
The Third Time with Even More Charm
by Cathy Jackson
The Play Date
by Mary Ellen Gabias
Focusing on Literacy
by Nancy Burns
My Parents Are Blind
by Maria Rivera Ley, as told to Brooke Lea Foster
I Remember Alex
by David Hyde
For the Blind, a Welcoming Web
by Sarah Lacey
Social Security Disability Insurance: Important Facts
for Blind Vendors and Other Self-Employed Blind Individuals
Revised by James McCarthy
Copyright© 2005 National Federation of the Blind
Those who have visited the National Center for the Blind know that the walls in public areas have been decorated with framed reproductions of famous paintings. The NFB Jernigan Institute has recently been decorated in its own distinctive way. Ninety-nine enlarged photographs of blind people doing all sorts of things have recently been hung in public areas of the Institute. They are mounted using box frames stained the same color as the paneling. The result is that the pictures seem to be embedded in the wall.
[PHOTO 1: A young Jim Omvig glides across a lake on waterskis.]
[PHOTO 2: Kenneth Jernigan and Marc Maurer raise linked hands on the podium at a national convention]
[PHOTO 3: Barbara Loos sits on the floor to read a Braille book to Mikaella Besson.]
[PHOTO 4: David Venit scales a climbing wall at a Meet-the-Blind-Month celebration at Baltimore's Inner Harbor.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Danika Taylor]
An Overview of Accessible Technology:
Where Are We Now, and What Does the Future Hold?
by Danika Taylor
From the Editor: Have you ever considered how many new words have entered the vocabularies of even the least tech-savvy among us? The electronic revolution has radically altered everything from advertising to zoo management. Those using access technology have to understand an entire additional layer of terms and concepts--the ones that make our participation in this brave new world possible.
The following article provides a broad survey of the field of access technology as it is seen by the men and women who are shaping it. Danika Taylor, NFB copy editor, has conducted exhaustive interviews and research into the current and future state of this field. Here is her report:
Access to technology for the blind, particularly access to the Internet and the World Wide Web, has been a subject of extensive interest both in the media and among blind consumers. Curtis Chong, internationally recognized expert in access technology for the blind and president of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science, has written extensively on the subject of accessibility, and one recommendation he has given to Web site developers is to keep in touch with nonvisual access technology developers and the National Federation of the Blind to ensure that they maintain a "keen awareness of the continually improving capability of nonvisual access technology." Certainly it is important that developers--not only developers of Web sites, but also developers of screen access software, refreshable Braille displays, notetakers, Braille embossers, and optical character recognition (OCR) software--make this contact a priority as well so that we can keep them informed about what blind consumers need in technology access.
The constant involvement of the National Federation of the Blind has been a pivotal factor in improving the accessibility of technology, and because of improvements in Web-browsing and screen access software, the problem of inaccessible Web sites has decreased in recent years. In addition, the 1998 amendment to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that federal agencies' electronic and information technology be accessible to people with disabilities, including the blind (this law applies to all federal and federally funded Web sites--not private sector sites). Obviously we have come a long way in having access to the World Wide Web, but have we really come far enough in accessible technology in general? Further, where is accessible technology destined to go in the future? Are developers keeping up with new trends in the field of technology to make sure that blind consumers have access to the most up-to-date technology available?
I interviewed the CEOs of several companies that specialize in nonvisual access technology. These are some of the principal companies that develop products such as refreshable Braille displays, screen access software, notetakers, Braille embossers, and OCR software. We must remain vigilant in our efforts not only to ensure that the products developed, manufactured, and marketed by these companies remain up-to-date with current technology but also to make certain that these products are able to keep up with technology as it evolves.
For example, Microsoft will tentatively release a new operating system--codename, Longhorn--in 2006. We must make sure that the companies that develop access technology are updating their products as needed so that we will be able to use them to run the new Longhorn operating system and other systems that have yet to be developed. Will Jaws, Window-Eyes, and Super Nova, for instance, be compatible with Longhorn? In other words, if we use one or more of these screen access software products, will we be able to run them with Longhorn? The question of compatibility with Microsoft's new Longhorn operating system is not the primary focus of this article, but it is an important question that needs to be answered when we consider the fact that, according to Microsoft, around 95 percent of PCs run a Microsoft operating system.
Because it is important that consumers be knowledgeable about current and potential future technology, I asked the CEOs of some of the major players in the field of nonvisual access technology about their products, their future plans, and their notions about how to make nonvisual technology even better for their blind consumers. Here is what they said:
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Steve Palmer]
Dolphin Computer Access
The Dolphin Group has headquarters in the U.K., Sweden, and San Mateo, California. Dolphin is primarily a software development company that markets its products and services internationally and employs more than sixty people throughout the U.K., U.S.A., and Sweden. Dolphin, whose products include a selection of screen access software, started in 1986, and the Dolphin Group took over the Swedish company Labyrinten in 1999. At the time Labyrinten was the leading developer for the DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) consortium.
Steve Palmer, CEO of the Dolphin Group, says that future accessibility is a priority and that the company is "continually speaking with other software development companies and has very good links with the operating system development teams to ensure that requirements to enable accessibility to new systems are always considered and included in the products."
Mr. Palmer understands that technology is constantly evolving and developing, and he believes that the rapid pace of technology is often "at the expense of the blind and low vision markets." Although he does not mention specific dollar figures, Mr. Palmer says that Dolphin spends about "30 to 35 percent of the company's global annual turnover" on product development and support in order to stay up-to-date with developments in technology and user needs.
Mr. Palmer says that Dolphin has considered the release of Longhorn and plans to make Dolphin products compatible not only with new technology from Microsoft but also with any new operating system, system upgrade, or application from other companies as well. Mr. Palmer considers compatibility to be a priority because "it is very important for our customers that we keep pace with changes in technology. We want to make sure our products are both compatible and function robustly with any new products, if not at, then as close to their release as is reasonably possible." He says that developers at Dolphin work closely with the Microsoft development and accessibility teams, and Dolphin is a member of Microsoft's Assistive Technology Vendor Program. Members of this program must have a proven track record in designing, building, and supporting assistive technology products to meet the needs of their customers.
Mr. Palmer says that Dolphin has "invested continuously over the years to redesign and re-engineer the company's products, both to take account of and to incorporate the latest advances in technology." He says that he views this continuing development "not as a cost but rather as an investment for the future." He confidently states that Dolphin's investment in technology means that the company is "in a great position to move ahead." Furthermore, he claims that another advantage of this investment is that it "enables Dolphin to offer free technical support to all users of Dolphin products," because the company's support request rates "continue to be low throughout the world."
Mr. Palmer assures us that "Dolphin will continue to keep pace with advances in technology and maintain its position at the forefront of accessibility." "Supernova," he explains, "continues to be Dolphin's flagship product around the world." He notes that Supernova is "the only product available that integrates a full screen reader with a full screen magnifier and also provides Braille support."
Mr. Palmer claims that he makes this distinction only to point out that "there is no need to buy a separate screen reader and screen magnifier because Supernova has everything needed for screen access, whatever your level of sight or whatever needs you have to support in the workplace."
Mr. Palmer says that he and the R & D team at Dolphin are "always looking for ways to improve" the company's products. Compatibility, stability, and ease of use are all considered when new products are developed and current products are improved. "We are continually updating our products and developing new products to keep ahead in the market and provide solutions for our users to ensure that they have access to the same system as non visually impaired users," He says, "We are continually looking to bring innovative products to the market."
Mr. Palmer is willing to give us a glimpse into some of Dolphin's most confidential plans for the future of the company's upcoming products. "No doubt my marketing department will be surprised that I am willing to tell you at this stage that right now we are close to going into beta testing for our access products for the Pocket PC environment." He says that the company's vision is to have a product that will enable customers to "buy an off-the-shelf PDA, load our software, and have a fully accessible portable device in their pockets."
Mr. Palmer says that a goal at Dolphin is to "try to make our products easy to use" to lessen the need for extensive training. To assist users, though, Dolphin products include self-voiced installation and comprehensive online documentation and tutorials. In addition, he notes that Dolphin products contain training guides to get the programs started and a full user manual with exercises which are available as hardcopy, online, or in Braille if requested. Further, all product training is available for all Dolphin products either directly from the company or outsourced to the company's dealers, who have all been trained in the use of Dolphin products.
Mr. Palmer projects that in the future "portability and access to information will become king." He believes that there will be a "greater migration to the mainstream in the blind and low-vision arena, especially for portable devices and PDAs." He is optimistic that full accessibility will become the norm, and developers will have to find a way to deliver equal accessibility.
If he could change anything in the field of access technology, Mr. Palmer says he would introduce the technology and expertise that reside in access technology companies like Dolphin into the mainstream because "there is a lot of technology which comes from our industry which could be of huge benefit for everyone." "If we could do that," he says, "and open up into a larger market, accessibility costs would become almost negligible."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Tony Schenk]
Located in Jensen Beach, Florida, Enabling Technologies has been manufacturing Braille-production equipment for over thirty-three years, which makes the company one of the oldest in the access technology industry. Company President Tony Schenk says that throughout these years Enabling has "continually improved and updated product lines to meet the demands of an ever-changing marketplace." To keep up with changing technology, Enabling has "always invested approximately 8 percent of its annual revenues on R & D projects and new-product development."
Mr. Schenk believes that his company "offers the broadest product line of any manufacturer of Braille production equipment." With more than sixteen models available, Mr. Schenk says that "customers can select a model of embosser that is directly suited to their specific production requirements. No one model of Braille embosser could possibly address the wide variety of applications that exist worldwide."
While Enabling manufactures many models of Braille embossers, Mr. Schenk says that the company's most popular products are its Romeo and Juliet series embossers. "We currently have thousands of these machines in service," says Mr. Schenk. "In fact, many of the original Romeo embossers produced in the 1980's are still in service today, producing hard-copy Braille for schools, libraries, and individuals around the world."
Like his colleagues Mr. Schenk takes very seriously the release of new programs and operating systems, and the upcoming release of Longhorn is no exception. "Every manufacturer of adaptive devices must consider the release of Longhorn and precisely how it will affect our industry," He insists, "I am not aware of any company in our industry that is not making preparations for the release of Longhorn."
Enabling Technologies seems to be on track with the release of Longhorn. Mr. Schenk says that his company is "in the process of incorporating a USB serial port on all of our existing product lines to ensure compatibility with Longhorn." In fact, Enabling appears to be a step ahead, because the company's newest product, the Romeo Attaché, already has this technology installed.
Mr. Schenk says that it would be irresponsible to discuss the company's future plans in detail before new products are ready to be introduced to the market, but he assures us that Enabling is "continually developing new products to address the changing needs of our customer base."
Mr. Schenk is optimistic about the future of accessible technology. He "expects technology for the blind to continue to improve and become more widely available." He notes that in the more than twenty years he has been involved in this field, "the cost of adaptive devices has dropped dramatically, while the quality, reliability, and total features available have improved tremendously." He asserts "twenty years ago consumers could not purchase a Braille embosser for less than $15,000, and the product was the size of a small refrigerator and required frequent maintenance."
Today personal embossers are available for less than $2,000, and maintenance requirements are usually minimal. If these trends in technology continue, we have good reason to be optimistic about the future.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Lee Hamilton]
Freedom Scientific, based in St. Petersburg, Florida, is a familiar name in the field of access technology. Dr. Lee Hamilton, CEO of the company, claims that Freedom Scientific "invests more in new product development than any other company in the industry"; however, for business reasons Dr. Hamilton could not disclose information such as financials or product plans. Since the April 2000 merger from which Freedom Scientific emerged--a move that combined three of the best-known companies in the field of assistive technology, including Arkenstone, Blazie Engineering, and Henter-Joyce--Freedom Scientific "has grown to over a hundred fifty employees, more than one-third of whom are visually impaired."
Freedom Scientific's JAWS screen reader software is one of the best-known products associated with the company. According to Dr. Hamilton, "keeping JAWS in sync with the industry is critical to our consumers." This means that compatibility with new technology is definitely a priority for Freedom Scientific. Like the Dolphin Group and Enabling Technologies, Freedom Scientific is a member of the Microsoft Assistive Technology Vendor Program. Dr. Hamilton says that participation in this program "gives us insight into the progress of future applications and operating system innovations, including development-stage releases like Longhorn." He also claims that his company works closely with Microsoft's developers, and "Freedom Scientific is committed to having a Longhorn-compatible version of JAWS as close to Longhorn's release date as possible."
"JAWS supports more software platforms, more applications, and more languages," says Dr. Hamilton, "than any other screen reader in the world." Two free updates for JAWS have been released in 2004, and another major upgrade is scheduled to ship before the end of the year.
The PAC Mate, "the world's first accessible Pocket PC device," is another important product for Freedom Scientific. Three free updates have been added this year, and Dr. Hamilton tells us that more are in development.
"Training and customer support," according to Dr. Hamilton, "play increasingly imperative roles as products become more complex." Freedom Scientific has a training group that "provides self-paced user training, worldwide Train-the-Trainer programs, and Web site training tools, in addition to the extensive built-in help that comes with our products." Freedom Scientific is taking other steps to improve product technical support. The company is making it possible to hire support technicians to work remotely, rather than having them work strictly from the St. Petersburg support center. This means that customers from other areas will be able to receive better technical support for their Freedom Scientific products.
Dr. Hamilton realizes that technology has become an essential part of everyday life and that companies that specialize in assistive technology must keep up with the pace of this changing technology in order to provide the best services possible and to remain competitive in the industry. To accomplish this, Dr. Hamilton believes that "companies will be forced to abandon proprietary software that is custom-built for the blindness/low-vision market and focus on making mainstream software accessible." He also believes that products based on "Closed proprietary software and that are not compatible with mainstream technology will fall further and further behind the mainstream because assistive technology companies simply do not have the resources to keep up with the mainstream features that customers want and need." This can, however, cause other problems.
Cost is one factor. The growing power and complexity of mainstream technology causes assistive technology product development to cost more. The example Dr. Hamilton gives is the expense of the PAC Mate, which cost more than one hundred times as much to develop as the original Braille 'n Speak. This cost increase is a result of the complexity of the technology involved in developing the PAC Mate and keeping it competitive. The rapidity with which technology changes and advances only compounds the problem of cost. To put this into perspective, Dr. Hamilton notes that the PAC Mate has "forty-four times more software, twenty-three times more memory, and twenty-six times more processing power than Freedom Scientific's Braille Lite Millennium," even though the Millennium is only four years old.
Dr. Hamilton projects that, as development costs continue to increase, fewer companies will be able to make the investment required. To illustrate this idea, he notes, "at one time, more than ten companies were in the screen-reader business. Now only a few are left, and one, JAWS, has by far the largest market share." He predicts that the release of Longhorn and the transition required to implement it will narrow the field even more.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dan Weirich]
Dan Weirich is CEO of GW Micro, a Fort Wayne, Indiana, company that specializes in access technology. Mr. Weirich would not disclose a percentage or dollar figure for the company's R & D costs, but he says it is a six-figure sum.
GW Micro, manufacturer of Window-Eyes screen access software, is a member of Microsoft's Assistive Technology Vendor Program, and Mr. Weirich says that GW Micro is "always considering operating system changes and works as closely as possible with Microsoft."
As for compatibility, Mr. Weirich says that "it is extremely important that GW Micro products work with new operating systems before they are released to the public." The R & D team at GW Micro "always tries to think of future developments and build them into Window-Eyes as soon as it is feasible."
Mr. Weirich believes that when it comes to technology, "there is always room for improvement, and this is especially true of screen reading software.” He says that "a screen reader, more than any other software, must be compatible with all application programs and also change as the operating systems change." This means that development is never really finished but is an ongoing process.
Mr. Weirich could not divulge plans for future products, but he assures us that GW Micro has many plans for future R & D projects. As for product training, he says that "GW Micro began formal training classes two years ago, and the classes have been very successful." The company does not have current plans to outsource product training, but Mr. Weirich says he is always thinking of improvements. In fact, he says that the R & D team at GW Micro "never stops trying to improve Window-Eyes." These improvements include supporting new operating systems and applications and adding new features.
Mr. Weirich believes new products should be as simple and user-friendly as possible. "I challenge all assistive technology developers to emphasize working well right out of the box instead of relying on complex and version-specific add-ons. At GW Micro we work hard to make Window-Eyes work right out of the box as much as possible." If products are user-friendly, then more people are likely to benefit from them, and that is the real reason why assistive technology exists.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ray Kurzweil]
Kurzweil Technologies, Inc.
Ray Kurzweil is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Kurzweil Technologies, Inc. He is also the founder of about nine other companies that deal with everything from nutritional supplements to cyber art. Mr. Kurzweil collaborated with then NFB President Kenneth Jernigan and the National Federation of the Blind to develop the first print-to-speech reading machine. Mr. Kurzweil believes firmly that the organized blind must play a significant role in the development of effective access technology. "That project [development of the first reading machine] would not have met the success that it did had we not had this close collaboration on all aspects of its development. I'm excited to be working closely again with the National Federation of the Blind on a portable reader under President Maurer's leadership."
Mr. Kurzweil is confident that technologies such as reading machines and screen readers will continue to improve rapidly in their effectiveness over time. "The key," he says, "is providing the right technology and the right training to develop alternative ways of accomplishing tasks. For both of those reasons the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute plays a vital role."
The Jernigan Institute provides the means by which developers and blind users can have the close collaboration necessary to provide the best technology possible. Mr. Kurzweil believes that the need for this alliance is more important now than ever before. "This needs to go beyond including a few blind people as beta testers," he says. "It requires a sophisticated effort by the organized blind with expertise in all facets of accessibility technology and all facets of technology development. That was Dr. Jernigan's insight when he committed the National Federation of the Blind to build what is now the Jernigan Institute."
"It's a lot easier to build accessibility into products before they are designed rather than afterwards," he says. "Very simple accommodation can make products accessible, but this can become extremely difficult if it's attempted as an afterthought."
He also believes that these efforts should not be ad hoc, because then we have a "bewildering array of inconsistent standards. That was another of Dr. Jernigan's insights in building the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute."
Mr. Kurzweil recognizes that the rapidly moving world of technology creates many challenges in providing accessible technology. "Screen readers provided equal access to text-based computers, but then along came the graphical user interface, and it was years before screen readers were again adequate," he says.
Portable reading machines are important because they provide access to print information that would not normally be accessible to the blind. "Although we do have--thanks to the National Federation of the Blind's efforts--accessible ATMs and voting machines, many other types of displays are not yet accessible. Screen readers have been important in providing access to the screen of your own computer, but printed information surrounds us as one goes through the day. The goal of the portable reader is to provide access to print on cereal boxes, menus, handouts at meetings, signs on the wall, electronic displays, and so on."
Mr. Kurzweil projects that "around the end of this decade we'll have systems that continually provide important information about the visual world to a blind user, identifying and locating people and objects in the surrounding area, assisting with mobility, of course providing access to the world of print in the real world, and even translating it from one language to another."
Mr. Kurzweil is also optimistic about the possibility of a car designed for blind drivers. "A car has already been demonstrated that drove itself across the [open] country with no sighted driver. It was just given directions on what routes to take, so cars that a blind person can drive are not that far away."
"Where we need to be," says Mr. Kurzweil, "is at a place where we can provide inexpensive, rapid access to every kind of information. We're close enough already so that with the right training, a blind person can be fully competitive today in essentially every type of job, except, well, for driving a taxi. But we'll get to that too."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Annette Fasnacht]
Annette Fasnacht is president of this Netherlands-based company, a newcomer to the field of blindness-related technology. Optelec entered this market in 2004, and Ms. Fasnacht projects that by 2005 the company will have invested more than 1.2 million dollars in blindness-product development alone. "The goal of this development," according to Ms. Fasnacht, "is the launch of a portable product portfolio to serve the ever-changing needs of blind consumers in the classroom, workplace, and home."
Optelec has considered the launch of Microsoft's Longhorn, and the company is constructing product lines so they will be compatible with the new operating system. Ms. Fasnacht claims that the company is "working closely with Microsoft and will strive to keep all applicable drivers [and other applicable products] compatible with Longhorn." She assures us that she is quite confident that Optelec's approach will be successful and will keep the company's products on the cutting edge of mainstream development for years to come.
Currently Optelec's top-selling product intended specifically for the blind is the Braille Voyager, a refreshable Braille display device. The Mountbatten Pro products, which are distributed by Optelec for Quantum, are the second-biggest-selling products for Optelec. These products are designed to assist with Braille instruction, which is very important to Ms. Fasnacht, who "fully supports" increasing Braille literacy among blind youth. "Still," she stresses, "Optelec monitors product quality continuously and is always open to suggestions for improvement."
Concerning new-product development, Optelec purportedly has big plans for the future. Recently Ms. Fasnacht told us that Optelec was going to be "doing things in an exciting way." I asked her to elaborate on this statement, and this is what she said:
Optelec will be releasing an accessible speech-driven PDA later this year and has begun to import and distribute the Mobile Speak cellular phone screen reader. The year 2005 will be filled with a revolutionary launch of the most innovative wireless refreshable Braille solution to hit the market in quite some time. For more detail on that, I can only say, "stay tuned."
Ms. Fasnacht would not reveal any specifics of future development efforts, but she guarantees that large-scale development plans are underway that will make access to technology even better. She says that Optelec is working with "a few key suppliers and Microsoft to strive for the best access humanly possible."
Optelec has assembled an international team that is led in the U.S. by Larry Lewis, formerly of Pulse Data and now vice president of blindness sales at Optelec. As reported in the April 2004 Braille Monitor, "Lewis has an extensive background in assessing, training, and recommending systems for those who require adaptive speech or Braille solutions." Optelec assembled this team so that the company could have experienced blind consultants to give the developers accurate advice about what the blind need for more accessible technology.
In the future Ms. Fasnacht hopes "to see a day when technological advances are equally accessible to sighted and blind individuals in generally the same time frame." Also she hopes to see "a stronger commitment to Braille literacy in schools because Braille is the key to technology and therefore to a successful future." She acknowledges the problem we have recognized for years: "We shortchange our children when we don't make them Braille literate." She also believes that technology plays an important role in Braille literacy: "Technology can help teachers integrate Braille into the mainstream classroom, and technology can allow Braille to be taught more easily. That's a win-win situation for everyone, especially blind children."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Russell Smith]
Dr. Russell Smith, Pulse Data International CEO, says that his New Zealand-based company currently spends approximately 2.3 million U.S. dollars on R & D for products for the blind and visually impaired and that this amount is spread about equally between blindness and low vision technology.
Pulse Data is currently a leading provider of speech and Braille notetakers in the English-speaking market. Dr. Smith claims that his company has achieved that market position by "monitoring the views of blind individuals on how their needs for access to information can best be met, by keeping abreast of new technological developments which may have application in products for the blind, and by funding and operating a team of highly skilled R & D engineers to create new products."
He says that Pulse Data monitors market needs by "gathering opinions through its very active listservs, conducting formal market research studies to identify needs, extensively beta-testing new products with representative users, discussing user needs with leading organizations serving the blind, and seeking the views of its numerous blind employees." Pulse Data is also working to monitor developments in technology so that their products are current with the latest trends, and the company is a member of the Microsoft Assistive Technology Vendor Program.
According to Dr. Smith the staff at Pulse Data is closely monitoring the development of the Longhorn operating system "to capitalize on any new opportunities which may be created by the significantly different approach taken by Microsoft with this product." Compatibility is a priority as well. "It is essential that our products be compatible with Longhorn from the time of its initial release," he says, "and we are committed to ensuring that happens."
To remain current with the latest developments in technology, Pulse Data maintains an active program to enable users to update the products they have purchased from the company in the past to the latest versions of operating systems and applications. For example, later this year a new upgrade of software for Pulse Data's BrailleNote will enable customers who purchased BrailleNotes as far back as 2000 to upgrade to the most current operating systems as well as the latest versions of all of Pulse Data's applications.
The BrailleNote and VoiceNote speech and Braille notetakers are the company's most successful products. In addition to the availability of a product upgrade for current BrailleNote users, the company launched a new model of the BrailleNote in the U.S.A. this year.
Dr. Smith projects that equal access for the blind to the latest technology will play a major role in improving the lives of users in many aspects of daily life: "I expect that the growing use of digital information will increasingly enable blind people to become fully competitive in the workplace, to have easier access to education at all levels, and to achieve greater access to information of all sorts in their leisure time." He is confident that Pulse Data will be in the forefront of these developments and will continue to build on its established reputation as a provider of products which are both powerful and friendly to blind users.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: David Pillischer]
David Pillischer is president of New Jersey-based Sighted Electronics, a company teamed with Index Braille and F.H. Papenmeier. He tells us that the engineers and programmers at Index Braille have been working assiduously to create Braille embosser drivers that produce contracted-Braille-translated documents from nearly any Windows application. "We call the program `WinBraille,'" says Mr. Pillischer.
The new WinBraille product is a major investment for Sighted Electronics, adding up to more than $200,000 in 2004 alone. "The idea behind WinBraille came because of complaints from people in third-world countries." Apparently some people who had purchased Braille embossers were later told that they must also purchase a software package to make the embossers work properly. WinBraille was created to eliminate this problem. It started as a simple driver, but over the years it has been improved and refined to include graphics, better formatting, many languages, and better American contracted-Braille translation.
Mr. Pillischer and his team at Sighted Electronics are confident that their products will be compatible with Longhorn, which will require new drivers for the company's Braille embossers. They are already working on this project and will have the embosser drivers in place and the macros necessary to work with new applications when the time comes.
Sighted Electronics' partner company Papenmeier has developed a new thin Braille display powered through the USB port found on today's computers. The Braillex EL 40s (“the 40 Slim”) weighs less than two pounds and uses a smaller, thinner Braille cell. According to Pillischer this new Braille cell requires less power and is more reliable. "We are so confident in the improvements in the Braille cell technology," says Mr. Pillischer, "that we extended the warranty for the Braille displays from one to three years in 2003."
One goal at Sighted Electronics is to make Braille text produced on a Braille embosser as easy to create as printing a document on a laser printer. Reliability is also a priority through the use of the most modern components with the latest technology to make the units lighter, faster, and more dependable, according to Mr. Pillischer.
"We are consistently working to improve on our successes and continue to refine our products so they will not become stagnant," says Mr. Pillischer. "Sighted Electronics and our partners are striving to make Braille available to anyone who needs it. We are working to make Braille devices lighter, easier to carry, and easier to use."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dr. John Gardner]
ViewPlus Technologies, based in Corvallis, Oregon, is responsible for the development, manufacture, and marketing of Tiger embossers. According to Robert Jaquiss, executive director of VIEW International Foundation and a former access technology specialist in the National Federation of the Blind's International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC), Tiger embossers "are unique in that they produce the finest dotted-line graphics of any embosser." The IBTC at the NFB Jernigan Institute has three of the four available models.
Dr. John Gardner, CEO of ViewPlus, claims that because of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants, his company "spends far more than any other U.S.-based access technology company on product research and development." Like other companies in access technology, ViewPlus is thinking of the future in relation to Microsoft's Longhorn operating system. He agrees that it is important that current technology be compatible with future operating systems, and he says his company is taking the necessary steps to make this possible: "We expect most other current software will be Longhorn-compatible.... We maintain a good working relationship with Microsoft and are keeping up with their Longhorn development. Thus far it has not been a major fraction of our R & D costs, but the final push will certainly call for a major ViewPlus investment."
The majority of ViewPlus sales is in tactile graphics and Braille embossers. The Pro (agency workhorse embosser), Max (wide-carriage desktop embosser), and Cub and Cub Jr. (narrow-carriage desktop embossers) have comparable sales figures. So far the ViewPlus Accessible Graphing Calculator is the company's only stand-alone software product, but Dr. Gardner says ViewPlus will have others soon.
ViewPlus has shown prototypes of a new ink attachment for its Pro embosser, which will overprint Braille and tactile graphics with a variety of user options. The company is introducing a new formatter software application for MS Office applications that will translate text into Braille in a variety of languages. In addition, the user will have the option of printing the original text along with the Braille.
ViewPlus requires its dealers and distributors to be fully trained on all ViewPlus products they carry and to provide training for their customers. Dr. Gardner would like to change attitudes among both sighted and blind people about exchanging information. He says he would like sighted people to "understand that it is worth using computer methods that are universally accessible even if this means they would need to learn something new."
In addition he wants to "encourage blind people to insist on direct access and not to accept information that requires another human being to act as a translator." In other words he believes the blind should have equal access to technology without having to rely on another person to access the technology for them. Like Freedom Scientific and Pulse Data, ViewPlus is a member of Microsoft's Assistive Technology Vendor Program.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Gilles Pepin]
VisuAide, which is based in Canada, reportedly has the largest development team of all assistive technology companies. According to VisuAide President Gilles Pepin, the company employs around thirty designers, developers, quality assurance representatives, and technicians. These employees work exclusively on the development of new products and the evolution of existing ones, so it is not surprising that VisuAide spends about 3.5 million dollars each year on R & D.
Mr. Pepin tries not to view the market for the blind as highly competitive. He maintains that his company and others in the field tend to cooperate with each other, and VisuAide distributes some Freedom Scientific and Tieman (Optelec) products in Canada. He also says that it is important for all companies to offer a wide variety of technical solutions to serve the needs of the community better. "We do not believe in building a product identical to or in direct competition with one produced by another company."
A goal at VisuAide is to revolutionize the field of accessible technology. They are moving toward this goal. The Victor Reader and Trekker products are the first in their respective categories--portable reader/CD player and GPS system. Also, VisuAide's new Maestro is going to be the first off-the-shelf PDA designed specifically for the blind.
The concept for Maestro, VisuAide's latest product, was presented at the National Federation of the Blind convention in Atlanta this year. The first shipments of this product began in October 2004. Mr. Pepin and his team at VisuAide hope that Maestro will revolutionize the existing notetaker business in cost and portability. This is why they are pricing this new device at half the cost of the competition, and they claim that the Maestro will be much more portable than other PDAs or notetakers. So is there a hint of competitiveness with the release of Maestro?
"If there is an objective to beat the competition," insists Mr. Pepin, "it is to be more innovative and offer solutions for the needs of the visually impaired that were not served before."
Like other companies VisuAide has considered the importance of compatibility among their products and other more widely used products, such as computer operating systems. This company is also a member of Microsoft's Assistive Technology Vendor Program. VisuAide now has a PC version of its DAISY talking book players that will be able to run on Microsoft's upcoming Longhorn operating system. Mr. Pepin assures us that his company is closely following the development of Longhorn and that they will ensure that all VisuAide products will interact properly with Longhorn. However, only a small portion of the company's resources is being devoted to this particular compatibility issue, since most VisuAide products do not use the Windows system.
VisuAide's Victor Reader players (the VR Vibe, VR Classic, VR Classic +, and VRSoft) are the company's most popular products, but Mr. Pepin says that all VisuAide products are being improved regularly to add new functions and to make them easier to use. For DAISY book reading software, VisuAide is adding NISO (DAISY 3) capability and better handling of MP3 files and folders to those players that do not already have that capability. For Trekker GPS systems, VisuAide is adding better map handling, increasing the resolution of sensors, and simplifying the design of packaging "to make it more flexible and allow visually impaired users to integrate their own peripherals."
VisuAide will have tutorials available to train users, and the company also has partnerships with various organizations for training customers in the use of VisuAide products. VisuAide also works with the Jernigan Institute to develop training programs for their products.
VisuAide seems to be looking toward the future to see what possibilities exist. Mr. Pepin admits that there are still many areas to explore, including smart phones, flexible displays, broadband Internet, voice recognition, object detection, pocket reading systems, automated automobiles, and many other technological advancements that will offer exciting opportunities over the next five to ten years.
The products that are developed, manufactured, and marketed by Dolphin Computer Access, Enabling Technologies, Freedom Scientific, Optelec, Pulse Data, ViewPlus, VisuAide, and others have the potential to improve the lives of the blind, especially if these companies keep up with the pace of the evolution and development of technology as they promise.
In just three decades technology has changed the way people live. It has altered the way we perform our jobs; the way we participate in leisure activities; and, perhaps most important, the way we communicate. Technology is intended to help, not hinder; to facilitate, not obstruct. Technology can truly either enhance or frustrate the lives of blind people, but which will it do? The answer is simple: as more and more software and hardware developers become aware of the benefits of and the need for more accessible technology, the future looks exciting indeed.
The future seems promising as larger corporations recognize the need for accessible technology, and we hope this recognition will trickle down to smaller companies as well. According to Microsoft, which claims to be striving "to build products that are accessible to everyone--including people with disabilities and impairments," having more accessible technology is important because most computer users can benefit from it. Microsoft cited a 2003 study commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by Forrester Research to measure the current and potential market of accessible technology in the United States and to understand how accessible technology is being used today. According to this study approximately 25 percent--that's about thirty-three million computer users--have some form of visual impairment, and virtually all of these users could benefit from more accessible technology. But the users in this 25 percent bracket are not the only ones who could profit from more accessible technology. This same study showed that 57 percent of computer users are likely or very likely to benefit from accessible technology--that's 74.2 million people, and it is a compelling figure. We hope that studies such as this one will convince more people in the technology field to strive to make technology equally accessible to everyone.
At the convention of the National Federation of the Blind in July 2002, the following prediction about accessibility was made: "In the future no competent Web site designer will design a Web site without its being accessible to blind users." That prediction has not been wholly fulfilled yet, but it will be. Likewise we are on the right track in making technology in general more accessible to the blind. Our goal is to have 100 percent of technology accessible to anyone who wants to use it, and we are definitely on our way to making that happen.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Bob Gardner sits on the Acropolis with the Parthenon visible behind him.]
by Robert Gardner
From the Editor: Last September my husband Bob and I traveled to London to visit our son for a couple of weeks. We had lived in London, so we knew the city pretty well, but when we made our obligatory visit to the British Museum, we discovered that one important thing had changed since our last visit to the Greek rooms. This is where the friezes and other sculptures from the Parthenon that Lord Elgin carried off from Athens now reside. One never-to-be-forgotten Sunday morning many years ago a museum guard turned his back while I touched the Elgin marbles and tried to make sense of the worn and pitted high reliefs of the combat of the Lapiths and Centaurs.
We returned to the Greek rooms even though visitors are now securely roped off from the art and can't get close to it. I was expecting to have to make do with Bob's description of what he was looking at. But when the official at the information desk saw my white cane, she immediately directed us to a nearby room where a life-size replica of about thirty feet of the frieze was available for tactile examination. Equally interesting was a meter-long model of the Parthenon. The materials used felt like the marble and wood used in the original, and the pillars were slender and perfectly fluted. I found the whole thing breath-takingly beautiful. One could immediately understand the plan and the proportions of the original structure.
I had walked around the Acropolis in 2001 and, like Bob Gardner on his first visit to the Parthenon, had very little conception of what the original structure must have looked like or what the remains are like today. I wish that I had had the gumption to prepare for my visit the way Bob Gardner did. I am now determined to return to Athens and to do my homework first.
Bob Gardner is a member of the Black Hawk Chapter of the NFB of Illinois and its newly elected president. He is a retired engineer, who lost his sight halfway through his working career. He and his wife Nancy have two grown children and obviously enjoy traveling. Here is Bob's story:
"Good morning," I said.
"Kalimera," replied the young woman brightly. "Good morning." My wife Nancy and I stood there atop the Acropolis, sweating in the heat and humidity of the September day. We had come to a barrier fence in front of the Parthenon, and the woman had come out of a small building reserved for guards.
At least, I thought we were in front of the Parthenon. I am totally blind, and I had to take my sighted wife's word. This was our second visit to Greece, the first trip having been five years before. On that first trip we had stood in this same spot, and I had been in a similar situation. "There's the Parthenon," Nancy had said five years earlier.
When I found we couldn't enter the Parthenon, that no one was allowed inside, I remember thinking I might as well be in my backyard. I was thrilled to be at the Acropolis there in Athens, a place I thought I would never get to visit, but I had no sense of really being at the Parthenon. Visiting the Parthenon, as organized today, was entirely a visual experience.
Nancy and I made a pledge on that trip. We had become intrigued with Greece and Greek culture, and we promised ourselves we would return in several years. Those several years turned out to be five, and in the interim I had discovered the National Federation of the Blind. After that, when I thought about our future trip to Greece, I began to think in different ways. On that next visit to the Parthenon I wanted things to be different.
About six months before our second trip, I began seriously working on the problem. I drafted a letter requesting what I thought was reasonable and relatively modest. I explained I was blind, and all I wanted was to be allowed to stand on the bottom step of the Parthenon. I knew I could then touch that famous Pentelic marble, that I would stand on those steps that Athenians had climbed 2,500 years ago. I would stand on steps climbed by Romans, Crusaders, those in the Renaissance, and all those down through the ages. I could stand on a step that perhaps Pericles himself had stood upon.
The real problem was where to send the letter. Who could authorize my request? Should I contact the Greek embassy in the U.S. or the U.S. embassy in Greece? Should I contact the several Greek organizations associated with tourism? Maybe I should track down some Greek agency associated with antiquities.
I remember my first contacts. I found a private group on the Internet saying their mission was to promote travel by the handicapped. Maybe they would know where to send my letter. A phone call to them resulted in listening to an answering machine. I left my name and number--and I never heard a word from them. Emails sent to our closest Greek consulate and a Greek tourist organization here in the U.S. again resulted in no response.
Then I hit pay dirt. I sent my letter requesting to touch--just touch--the Parthenon to the U.S. embassy in Athens. I soon found myself corresponding easily, thanks to the miracle of global email, with Ms. Ioanna Houndoumadi, a consular assistant at the embassy. For reference, I learned Ioanna would be the equivalent of Joann or Joanna. Wow! Ioanna said she would work on my request.
So Nancy and I stood there on that September morning in 2002. For the second time we stood next to the little guard house in front of the Parthenon. "My name is Despina Tsolaki," the young female guard said. In good but uncertain English she asked, "May I help you?"
I showed her a copy of the email message from Ioanna of the U.S. Embassy telling me the Archeological Office of the Acropolis had granted my request regarding the Parthenon. I sensed Despina smiling, and I also sensed she might not be able to read English since our language uses a totally different alphabet from her native Greek. When I explained the contents of the message, Despina laughed. "Please come," she said. "Follow me." And I stepped over the wire barrier and walked up the west steps of the Parthenon--into the Parthenon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world--into the Parthenon, where no tourists are allowed to go.
Although my original request said I wasn't asking for any special guides, Nancy and I found ourselves following an enthusiastic Despina around the interior of the Parthenon. I soon found a crew was working on restoration inside the temple. There I was, following Despina, walking through what seemed like a chaos of workmen, wooden ramps, and marble pieces of all shapes and sizes.
And there I was with my recently acquired white cane: beautiful, telescoping, long white cane bought earlier in the year during a training seminar at the NFB national center in Baltimore. Five years before, on my first visit to the Acropolis, before I had joined the NFB, I had no white cane.
I asked Despina, "How long has it been since tourists were allowed to walk in here?" I was wondering when someone had last walked through the Parthenon with a long white cane.
"No tourists have been in here for about thirty years," she answered.
Gee, I thought. Maybe no one with a long white cane had ever walked in there before.
I found the size of the Parthenon astounding. Over two-hundred feet long, the temple is about two-thirds the size of a football field. The famous columns, eight on the ends and seventeen on the sides, are thirty-four feet tall--as high as a three-story building.
The massiveness of those columns was surprising. I stretched my arms around one in a bear hug. At six feet in diameter, they were too large for me to get my arms even halfway around. And I was surprised at the roughness of the marble. Centuries of exposure had changed the original smooth surface to more like the unfinished concrete surface of a highway.
Pericles, the leader of the city-state of Athens, started construction on the Parthenon in 447 B.C. He was determined to make a statement about the wealth and power of Athens by building a temple like none seen before in Greece. While temples at that time were fabricated usually of wood, commonly using columns of limestone coated with white plaster, Pericles declared his Parthenon would be made totally of marble. Even the roof tiles were to be of marble. It took fifteen years to complete, and the marble was quarried at the nearby Mt. Pentelis, while builders and artisans from all over Athens were employed to carve the columns, the myriad sculptures, and the countless structural pieces that made up the final temple. I've read that in today's dollars the Parthenon cost a billion dollars to build. I was introduced to Nikos Toganidis, the foreman of the crew working on restoration. He was a big man with big hands. "Do you have any questions?" he asked in soft English.
Feeling even hotter than before, I struggled to think of something intelligent to say. "Uh, how long do you think the restoration will take?"
"Only God knows," replied Mr. Toganidis. He went on to talk of his worries about earthquakes, a relatively common occurrence in that part of the world, and what such an event would do to the Parthenon.
We continued to wander around, and I was given permission to touch the marble pieces on which the restorers worked. We talked with Despina, finding out she was a single parent with a nine-year-old son. She talked of her life, how she lived with her mother, how her job as an Acropolis guard was a good one, but how she really wanted to become a singer. How different our lives were, I thought, yet how similar. How we all worry about our jobs and our children, how we struggle to improve our future. How in the end we all have to laugh and make the best of this world we live in. Despina apologized many times for her English, saying her Italian was better. I could only marvel at anyone who could speak anything more than one language.
Nancy and I later worked our way down the steps of the Acropolis, an exercise in caution. The stairs meander, are worn and uneven, and look like they might be the original steps from fourth-century B.C. "Despina was nice," Nancy said as we walked, broiling in the humid heat, down the narrow streets toward our nearby hotel.
"Yeah,” I said. I thought of the pictures taken by Nancy of Despina and me in the Parthenon. The young guide and I had posed together, our arms around each other's shoulders.
Nancy and I continued toward our hotel, threading our way through the crowds, passing the many little cafes with their delicious aromas of grilling lamb, souvlaki, or maybe moussaka. The tables were usually outside, out in the open air. A great way to eat or relax, Nancy and I had discovered. I could picture those at the tables chattering away as they sipped at their miniature cups of thick, sweet Greek coffee while still managing to survey the pedestrians parading by.
"You got her address?" asked Nancy, referring to Despina.
"Yeah. She wrote it on a card, and it's here in my shirt pocket."
"We should send her a thank-you card."
"Maybe we could send her and her son a Christmas card," I said. We made our turn into Rovertou Galli, the street for our hotel.
"That really turned out good there on the Acropolis," Nancy said.
"Yeah," I said.
"All because you wrote that letter, because you had a dream."
"I'm no Martin Luther King," I quipped. "All I can say is I thought outside the box, then acted on it."
"You made it happen."
"A lot of nice people helped," I said.
"Just imagine," Nancy said. "We were actually inside the Parthenon, one of the seven wonders."
"You know," I said, "I'm not sure now that the Parthenon was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world."
"Well, anyway, we were there."
"And it was a wonder we were there at all."
"So it was a wonder after all," teased Nancy.
"Yeah," I said, holding my white cane, "it was another wonder."
Did you know that you can make a gift to the National Federation of the Blind and save taxes three ways? Well, you can! With a gift of appreciated stocks, bonds, or mutual funds. For more information, contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, phone (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: An entrance to Fourth Street Live]
The Third Time with Even More Charm
by Cathy Jackson
From the editor: Cathy Jackson is president of the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky. She lives and works in Louisville. Here is what she has to say about our 2005 convention headquarters hotel and the changes that have taken place in Louisville since we were last there:
We are pleased to welcome you back to Louisville, "the place to live, work, and play." The members of the NFB of Kentucky are up to the challenge of doing the hard work and planning for the 2005 annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. We believe we can build on the success of the two previous conventions held here in recent years and make this one the biggest and best ever.
From the minute you enter your hotel, through the opening ceremonies, to the fall of the gavel adjourning the convention, the first week of July will crackle with electricity. Make plans to arrive early and stay to the very end. You will not want to miss one minute of the excitement, beginning with the preconvention activities on July 2. Aside from the usual division meetings, activities for parents of blind children, exhibits, general sessions, and of course the annual banquet, you will want to take full advantage of what the Kentucky affiliate is planning.
By the time you are reading this article, we will have kicked into overdrive. Social activities are being planned for your enjoyment so that you can relax and share the good times with fellow Federationists. Ladies and gents will be at your beck and call in the Kentucky suite, serving up a hearty helping of hospitality, Kentucky style. Although many of you have visited here before, there is still plenty to see around Louisville. We are organizing some new and different tours.
While many things remain the same, you can also expect some exciting changes. The remodeling of the Galt House East Tower has been completed. You will immediately notice a much brighter and more spacious lobby as soon as you enter through the huge new revolving door. The layout of the suites is a bit different, but that does not detract from the modern and inviting decor. Two new escalators make the flow of pedestrian traffic between meeting rooms more efficient. The East Tower is now conveniently connected by an enclosed pedway to the Louisville Convention Center, the Hyatt Regency (our overflow hotel), and Fourth Street Live.
Unfortunately the renovations on the west side will not be completed by July. The facade of the West Tower is currently undergoing a construction makeover and will greet you with a more contemporary appearance. An escalator is also being installed at the south end of the Galt House West. The management has assured us, though, that the hotel restaurants will be ready and the outdoor pool will be open this summer. A more detailed description of both towers will appear in a later issue of the Braille Monitor. Remember, folks, Rome wasn't built in a day.
Back in the 1930's and '40's Louisville's downtown business district was thriving. Retail stores, cafeterias, restaurants, and movie theaters brought people by the thousands, eager to spend their money. In the fifties, when cruising became the rage, Fourth Street was a gridlock of cars on Friday and Saturday nights. As the population migrated to the suburbs in the late fifties and early sixties, the downtown area declined. Shopping centers and indoor malls sprang up around these new neighborhoods. By the mid seventies the city planners had a new idea on the drawing board to revitalize the area. They proposed an indoor mall, to be called the Louisville Galleria. Fourth Street would be closed to through traffic, and an entire city block would be enclosed and covered with a glass atrium. Some said that closing Fourth Street to traffic was a mistake and would spell disaster for the city.
In October of 1982 the Louisville Galleria opened, and for over twenty years it served those who lived and worked in downtown Louisville. Those of you who attended the national convention here in 1985 will remember the Galleria during its glory days. By the time you returned in 2002 and 2003, it had become a shell of its former self. Most of the storefronts were empty and the food court was closed--an idea whose day had come and gone.
Well, the Galleria is no more. It has been replaced with Fourth Street Live--the happenin' place in our fair city. This $75 million project is now the heart of the city, bordered on the north by Liberty Street, on the south by Muhammad Ali, on the east by Third Street, and on the west by Fifth Street. The sides of the structure have been removed, and the street has been opened to pedestrians so that they may stroll from place to place in the great outdoors. The glass atrium still remains, a feature that allows many of the restaurants to provide outdoor seating while protecting their customers from the elements.
You can choose from a variety of restaurants and taverns, such as Hard Rock Cafe, T.G.I.Fridays, Sully's Restaurant and Tavern, the Red Cheetah, and the Red Star Tavern. If fast food is what you are hankering for, try the food court. There is no shortage of entertainment either. Lucky Strike Lanes, Felt (an upscale pool hall and cigar bar), and Rascals Comedy Club are just waiting to show you a good time. Connoisseurs of good bourbon will want to make time to check out Maker's Mark House of Liquor. Fashion Shop is open if you forgot to pack a thing or two. Borders Books is much more than a bookstore. It is a unique place to browse. The exercise fiends among us will be pleased to know that there is a Premier Fitness Club. Fourth Street Live is indeed a blend of national, regional, and local businesses. Keep your ear to the ground for announcements about the free outdoor concerts that will be returning this summer.
The Cordish Company is the developer responsible for revolutionizing this urban district. And even though we have just celebrated the grand opening of Fourth Street Live, plans for expansion are ongoing. This open outdoor entertainment district is the anchor for what developers hope will be business and entertainment expansion along the Fourth Street corridor and surrounding streets. This is all a part of the master plan for the rebirth of the great city of Louisville. We can promise you that, by the time you set foot on Kentucky soil, there will be even more to do and see.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Paul and Mary Ellen Gabias with sons Elliott and Philip in front of them]
The Play Date
by Mary Ellen Gabias
From the Editor: Before moving to Canada with her husband, Mary Ellen Gabias was a leader in the NFB and a member of the staff at the National Center for the Blind. She now works in the family business and raises four children. The following story captures both the pain and the possibilities that come as part of the adventure of being a parent. Here is her story:
I choked back the tears as I hung up the phone. It had started as a routine call to arrange a play date for my son Jeffrey. He was four at the time and attended preschool. His older sister Joanne had been at the school for three years and had moved on to first grade. I'd arranged dozens of play dates for the two of them by then, so I was completely unprepared for the embarrassed silence on the other end of the line. Sue (not her real name) hesitated for a long moment and then said, "Well, I don't know how to say this, but--"
I let the silence hang for what seemed like hours (though it was probably only seconds) while I collected my thoughts. Then, as gently and calmly as I could, I asked, "Are you uneasy about letting your boys come here to play because both my husband and I are blind?"
"Well," Sue replied, "I'm sure you manage very well, but I don't know how, and I refuse to take any chances with my children's safety."
"First of all, Sue, I want you to know how glad I am that you're a mother who takes the responsibility of keeping children safe seriously. Knowing that makes me more comfortable in letting Jeffrey visit your home. I'm the same way. I won't let being politically correct interfere with that responsibility. So we're starting from the same values. But we're not starting from the same level of information. Is this the first time you've known a blind mother?"
"Yes. I don't understand how you can look after a child when you can't see. I'm constantly looking to see what mine is doing."
"As they say in those bad old movies, ‘We have our ways.' Seriously, though, I'd be glad to answer any specific questions. But it might be easier for you to talk to one of the other mothers in the class. Do you know Wendy? Her son has been here several times. He's never gone home with an injury. Perhaps you could call her and then call me back with any questions. I'll check back with you in a few days."
Now I had to decide what to say to Jeffrey. He really liked Sue's boys and wanted to play with them. Sue had made it clear that Jeffrey was welcome at her home, but that wouldn't do if she wasn't willing to let her children visit us. We certainly couldn't allow Jeffrey to get the idea that his home was not an acceptable place for his friends to come. Better to put an end to this friendship and cultivate relationships with families who respected us and the way we parented. Still, losing contact with those boys would be deeply disappointing for Jeffrey, and it would be hard for him to understand.
But I had a more immediate problem. I'd just put my friend Wendy on the spot. I had to let her know what I had done.
"I'll be glad to talk to Sue," Wendy said. "I've never told you this, Mary Ellen, but I had some of the same worries when I first met you. I really liked Jeffrey immediately, and so did Ryan. I watched you interact with him and Joanne and went home and told my husband Rick what a neat family I thought you were. We have a lot of the same ideas about how to treat children. But when you invited Ryan over, I wondered out loud to Rick whether it was a good idea to let him go.
"Rick said `Wait a minute! You just spent the last three minutes telling me how much you liked this family. They have two children who seem to be safe and well cared for. You like their approach; you just don't know anything about blindness. Do you really have to know the details? If what they're doing works, and you just told me that it does, then why do you care exactly how they do things? If you keep Ryan from going there just because of what you don't understand, you are being prejudiced.
"He was right. I'll be glad to tell Sue that."
That night over dinner I told my husband Paul about what had happened. He wasn't sad; he was furious! "What's wrong with that woman? We have three children. They're all obviously doing fine. How dare she question your competence as a mother? You don't have to justify yourself to her or anyone else. Tell her you don't want Jeffrey associating with children who have such a stupid, ignorant mother."
But it was Joanne who put the whole thing in perspective. "What's the matter, Daddy? Why are you so mad, and why is Mommy so sad?"
"Sue doesn't think your Mommy can take care of children safely." Joanne looked from her father to me, threw back her head, and laughed.
A few days later I called Sue. "I'd be glad to have my boys come to your house, Mary Ellen. What day works for you?"
She had talked to Wendy and to the preschool teacher. Whatever they told her, it was enough to calm her fears. I let her know that I couldn't guarantee that her children wouldn't fall off the swing and break a leg, but I could guarantee that nothing would happen to them that could be prevented by good adult supervision. She replied that the same was true at her home.
I don't remember many details of the visit. I think her boys preferred wheat bread to my multigrain variety. I suspect I probably hovered over them a little more than necessary. I am sure the boys took turns being Batman, Superman, and the villain.
The next year the boys went to different schools. As so often happens with preschool friendships, they lost touch with one another as they grew older. But I will never forget Sue and Wendy and the lessons they taught me.
I'll always be grateful to Wendy and her husband Rick for having the wisdom and courage to trust the results they observed without needing to know the details of the process that created those results. If we hadn't had the conversation about Sue, I might never have known that Wendy had stretched her thinking to let herself trust me with her child. And I will always remember Sue with respect for having the courage to ask the questions she did and for being willing to be socially uncomfortable to ensure her children's safety.
My husband's instant and vigorous affirmation of my mothering skill has stuck with me, especially during those times when I, like all mothers, have doubted myself. And Joanne's unrestrained laughter sticks in my memory and reminds me not to take myself or my problems too seriously.
In the National Federation of the Blind we know that the public has good will, but not always good information, about blindness. It was through my participation in the Federation that I learned to respect the sincerity of the questions Sue asked, deal with them candidly, and not be discouraged or diminished by her lack of knowledge.
One other mother raised the same issues Sue did, and she was far less willing to be educated. I decided not to allow my youngest son to continue playing with her children because of her lack of respect for me as a blind mother. Though this is sad, I have learned through the Federation that her attitude says more about her than it does about me. I wish her well. Perhaps over time she will come to a different understanding. In the meantime the world is full of people with the willingness to entertain new ways of thinking about blindness. The National Federation of the Blind is creating a climate that is turning this willingness into positive change, not only for blind people, but for the sighted people whose horizons are being expanded in the process.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Nancy Burns]
Focusing on Literacy
by Nancy Burns
From the Editor: Nancy Burns is president of the National Federation of the Blind of California. She reports here on an exciting new Braille literacy project in California and the materials now available to help other affiliates spread the word and the skills. This is what she says:
The right to literacy has been called a civil right. The NFB of California's ambitious legislative program has been devoted to bringing this civil right to all blind and visually impaired students. We have made progress, but we still have much work to do.
We realize that because of the all-too-prevalent de-emphasis on Braille instruction for the past several decades, it will take time to meet the obvious need for Braille literacy instruction. In addition to pursuing our legislative successes, our affiliate also recognized the importance of working with parents of blind children. The NFB of California applied for and received two grants that provided funding for Beginning Braille for Parents workshops.
The Braille Is Beautiful program was designed by the NFB to teach sighted students in public schools about Braille and blindness. The California affiliate has now restructured this concept to work with parents of blind children.
The purpose of these workshops is to introduce the Braille alphabet and use of the slate and stylus to parents. A child who knows Braille but has no one at home to reinforce the system is at a definite disadvantage. As sighted children are learning to read and write, they see print words everywhere, creating reinforcement opportunities. Blind children do not have these same opportunities unless their parents or other family members can read and write Braille.
These Beginning Braille for Parents workshops are usually intensive, one-day programs. By the end of the day participants are familiar enough with the Braille alphabet to write phone numbers and short notes to their children with a slate and stylus. This feat is accomplished with the assistance of a qualified teacher through a creative and substantive curriculum. During the workshop the group discusses the importance of Braille and how to advocate for a blind child. The NFB of California has presented seven such workshops. One was even offered in Spanish.
Most foundations request that the expertise they fund be widely disseminated. For this reason the NFB of California committed to writing an instruction manual for these workshops. This manual is a teacher's guide to the curriculum and much more. The manual discusses budgeting, arranging the venue, materials needed, and many other details necessary for a successful workshop presentation. It is now available from the NFB of California office in both print and Braille. The cost is $35 (print or Braille). To order this workshop manual, contact this office at (818) 558-6524 or <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Keeping the focus on Braille literacy has been a high priority for the NFB of California. This thinking resulted in the development of a Braille symposium, which was held at the Burbank Airport Hilton on October 1, 2004.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dr. Fred Schroeder]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dr. Ruby Ryles]
Our target audience was broad-based. We wanted to appeal to parents, educators, Braille users, transcribers, and others in the blindness field. We assembled a list of dynamic and knowledgeable speakers. The keynote speaker, Dr. Fredric Schroeder, delivered his usual upbeat and thought-provoking speech. The audience listened intently as Dr. Ruby Ryles outlined her research, which demonstrated the connection between literacy and the success of a blind or visually impaired (VI) student. We also discussed Braille instruction for adults, and Braille music. The Department of Rehabilitation and the coordinators for the VI programs spoke on the importance of Braille literacy. Technology, Braille transcription, and the perspectives of parents of blind children were also presented.
The tone for this intensive, day-long symposium was set by comments from Burbank Mayor Marsha Ramos, who has supported many functions of this organization. We conducted a social mixer the evening before this event, allowing time for some casual mixing and mingling. The comments received from the symposium were very positive and encouraged us to present a second symposium here in Southern California next year. A similar symposium is already being planned for Northern California in the spring of 2005. Braille is alive and well in California. We invite and encourage other affiliates to develop similar workshops and symposia.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: The Ley family: Eileen holding Jon Carlos, Tom, and Maria]
My Parents Are Blind
by Maria Rivera Ley, as told to Brooke Lea Foster
From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the September 2004 issue of Parents magazine. Eileen and Tom Ley are longtime leaders of the Federation. They live busy, productive lives, and they are bringing up two delightful youngsters. Now meet the Ley family as viewed by daughter Maria:
Life is surprisingly normal when neither of the adults in the house can see, says this twelve-year-old girl.
Some kids bring their goldfish or coin collection to school for show-and-tell. In third grade I brought my mom. Since she's blind and I can see, my classmates wanted to know: could I steal cookies from the cookie jar without getting caught? I had to laugh. Of course I couldn't. She could hear the jar closing. Even now I think I get away with less than other twelve-year-olds in the Baltimore suburb where we live. My mom is always listening. I swear she can even hear me rolling my eyes at her! And if I choose a low-cut T-shirt when we're shopping, she'll examine it with her hands and make me find another one.
My stepfather, Tom, is blind too. He lost his sight when he was eighteen because of juvenile diabetes, but my mom has been blind since birth. She's never seen my face, yet she knows that my hair is long and dark, my skin is mocha, and I have her wide, almond-shaped eyes. She says she doesn't mind that she'll never see me in a graduation cap or wedding dress because she'll always be there listening and touching. But sometime if I have a soccer game or I'm dancing in a musical at school, she'll admit that she's sad she can't see me in action.
I actually didn't understand that my mother couldn't see until I was five years old. After that I kept asking her to take me to the doctor because I wanted to have my eyes checked. My mom realized I was worried that I'd become blind too, and she explained that I couldn't catch blindness the way I could catch a cold.
Kids--and sometimes adults--assume that, because my parents can't see, I'm in charge. For example, people think I read their email to them. But my mom and Tom read their own email using a special computer device that talks and has a keyboard with Braille letters. People also figure that I lead my parents across the street, read them bedtime stories, and bathe my three-year-old brother, Jon Carlos. Not true. To cross the street, my mother waits at the corner, listens to make sure the cars have stopped, and then leads me across the busy four-lane intersection. At bathtime my mom rubs a sponge along my brother's back, feeling her way down to his toes. Before bed we read books that have words printed beneath Braille.
Like everyone else's mom, mine is always on me about my schoolwork. She makes me read my homework answers out loud to her. Tom used to be a math teacher, so I ask him questions too. Mom has never let her blindness stand in her way. She went to college at Harvard and to Wharton School of Business, and now she works from home part-time selling advertising for a local magazine. This encourages me to work extra hard to overcome my own challenges. I have dyslexia. Teachers assume I'm dyslexic because I have blind parents who didn't read to me. That really annoys Mom. We've always listened to books with our talking computer.
My mom does most of the cooking. We love her rice and beans. Some blind people have Braille labels or magnets on their canned and frozen food, but Mom feels for textures instead. A short, round can is tuna. She can tell the difference between bags of frozen carrots and broccoli by feeling the shape inside.
Mom doesn't let her lack of sight stop us from having fun. We play versions of Monopoly and Scrabble that use Braille. Last year we went to Walt Disney World and Hershey Park. Jon Carlos and I went on the kids' rides, and a guide took Mom and Tom on the roller coasters.
I think we're closer than a lot of mothers and daughters because we've been through so much together. When I was a year old, my sighted father left my mother, and she was single for several years before she married Tom. My father lives a few hours away, and I spend summers with him.
Because my mother and Tom can't drive, she has to find creative ways to get chores and errands done. She's made friends with neighbors who pick up our dry cleaning and take her to the grocery store. Tom takes taxicabs to his job as a manager at UPS's information system. I get rides to and from school. My mom doesn't want anyone to think of us as a charity case. To repay people for their kindness, she'll often drop off a precooked casserole for them, or Tom will fix their computer.
But sometimes things don't work out so easily. Recently we had to take my brother to the eye doctor on the same day I had to go to the pediatrician because I'd hurt my foot. After my appointment we called a cab. Mom waited on hold for more than forty minutes, until her cell phone battery died. We were stranded and had to walk two miles to get home. My foot was aching, and Jon Carlos was getting cranky. Mom balanced his car seat on one shoulder so she could use her white cane. When he refused to walk, we took turns carrying him. "Some people get tough by playing sports," she told me. "We toughen up by getting where we need to go."
We have our hard days. But every day my mom teaches me how to overcome challenges, a lesson she says is the greatest of all. I think it's really cool having blind parents. Some of my friends are scared to be different, but I've always liked the fact that my family is unique.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dave Hyde]
I Remember Alex
by David Hyde
From the Editor: Dave Hyde is a frequent contributor to these pages. He is a leader in the Wisconsin affiliate. Here is a moving profile of a blind man who refused to be conquered by the blindness system in the first half of the twentieth century, even when some of its professionals did their best to destroy him. We all owe quiet men like Alex a profound debt of gratitude. Here is his story:
More than a quarter century ago I made a promise to tell this story at a time when the protagonist had died and when, for that matter, all the characters real and imagined had gone to their rewards. I had to grow into the telling. Maybe now I can do it justice.
I first met Alex when he was about seventy years old; I was in my early twenties. He talked to people who weren't there, was afraid of people he didn't know, and lived in an adult foster home. I didn't know much more than that about him. My wife and I had just moved to Salem, Oregon, where I was working as a counselor in a correctional facility. I saw Alex at our local chapter meetings, where he told us about Braille watches, discount fares on trains and busses, and other things we already knew. One day he talked to me about something serious. I don't know why he picked me and my wife to talk to, but he did. He was in an adult foster home, which provided housing and meals. He told me that he went to the grocery store with the people who ran the home and bought beef, chicken, and other food. He was unhappy because all the residents ever ate was soup--never meat, never fresh vegetables, always soup. He wondered what had happened to the food he bought.
I went to visit his social worker, who told me that this old man was, not to put too fine a point upon it, crazy. He'd spent time in the state hospital for the mentally ill and therefore had no connection with reality. We in the local chapter insisted that the claims be investigated anyway, and they were. It turned out that those running the home were eating very well indeed while the residents were eating soup. The residents were moved to a better facility.
From then on Alex, the "crazy old man," was a family friend. He would call me the Saturday morning after his SSI check arrived and tell me we were going out to breakfast. Generally this was about 6:30 in the morning. My wife, my mother, who lived nearby; and I would get into the car and go pick up Alex. Breakfast was hotcakes at a local restaurant. He insisted on paying. Then it was on to the grocery store, where he bought coffee and tobacco for us. I finally started lying to him about the prices because I could never get him to let us take our turn buying. When in frustration I told him one afternoon that, if he insisted upon paying, we'd just stop going, he told me that he was old and was perfectly willing to sit in my living room until I changed my mind.
Over the years Alex told me his story. His name was Alex Cederov, and he had been a lieutenant in the Russian navy before the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. He joined the White Russian army, which supported the Czar. He moved to Alaska in 1922, where he became a trapper. He joined the large Russian colony there. He and his partner were in the Alaskan wilderness in 1937 when Alex was hit by a shotgun blast and blinded. They traveled by sled for about two weeks to get medical attention. By that time Alex not only was blind but had lost several fingers and toes to frostbite.
There wasn't much for blind people in Alaska in the thirties, so Alex moved to Portland, Oregon. He could live at a blind trade school there and make brooms and mattresses. The institution accepted both men and women. In the mid forties Alex noticed that some of the male staff were, as he put it, "misusing" the blind women. He complained and was told to mind his own business. He then complained to the governor of the state, who investigated and, according to Alex, found his allegations to be true. The administrator was removed, and Alex was fired.
Alex moved to Michigan in about 1949, shortly after the incident at the school. He applied for work there, and the employer checked his work record. This was the time of the McCarthy hearings in Congress designed to root out Communists in the United States. Being branded a Communist or a Communist sympathizer was the kiss of death in most professions. Alex was labeled a Communist by the institution in Oregon. Not surprisingly, he did not get the job in Michigan. The label, he felt, was a slap in the face since he had fought against the Communists in the Russian Revolution.
Alex returned to Oregon, where he went back to the blind trade school. Things didn't go well for him there, and he was eventually placed in the state's mental hospital. He always believed that the reason was his actions to protect the girls. Nonetheless he stayed there for more than twenty years. If he was not mentally ill when he entered, he certainly was when he left. He was paranoid and always believed that those people from the blind trade school were listening to him, following him, and out to get him.
Alex died in the early eighties. I promised him that one day I would tell his story. He had a profound effect upon me and helped shape my beliefs about blindness. I've stopped asking whether his story was true, mostly true, or a total fabrication. If he did everything he said he had done, he was a hero when there weren't very many of us standing up for our own rights, let alone those of others. If it was a fabrication, what a wonderful story of altruism, sacrifice, and tragedy! And occasionally, when the telephone rings early on a Saturday morning, I expect to hear Alex saying, "Davit, you come pick me up. We go to breakfast."
For the Blind, a Welcoming Web
by Sarah Lacey
From the Editor: The following story appeared in Business Week Online on October 27, 2004.
Slowly but surely disability advocates are gaining ground in their quest to make Internet sites more accessible to the visually impaired. Lainey Feingold is trying to use the carrot instead of the stick in her dealings with America's big financial institutions. Feingold, an attorney in Berkeley, California, specializes in brokering agreements between corporations and advocates for the blind, who think companies aren't doing enough to make their bank machines, brochures, and Web sites accessible to the vision-impaired.
Having spent much of her career writing letters in support of ATMs that talk, her latest cause is Web site accessibility. In 1999 the World Wide Web Consortium, known as W3C, which sets computer-programming standards for Web-related technologies, issued voluntary guidelines to help the blind access Web sites.
Setting Standards: To Feingold, who says vision-impaired customers should have the same access to online banking as they do to ATMs, it's a key issue: "You wouldn't put up a Web site and say, `To enter, you need blond hair,' but if you don't code the pages so that a [vision-] disabled person can access it, you may as well have that kind of sign," she says.
Feingold is one of many advocates for the blind trying to woo--not sue--companies into compliance with the W3C's accessibility guidelines. The issue came to the forefront in the late nineties, when banking sites started appearing on the Net. By now many industry watchers expected there would be a law requiring Web sites to adopt the W3C's standards.
So far only a handful of countries, Britain foremost among them, have turned those guidelines into law. In 1999 Web accessibility was included in Britain's Disabled Discrimination Act. The Web accessibility portions just went into effect on October 1.
Mixed Reviews: The U.S. hasn't ignored the issue, but it lags behind Britain. In 1998 the federal government amended the thirty-one-year-old Rehabilitation Act to include Section 508, which requires all federal agencies and companies doing business with the government to comply with some basic Web site accessibility guidelines. Section 508 has received mixed reviews. Many companies seeking federal dollars are still confused how to abide by the law. And some advocates say many sites are technically compliant under Section 508 but still difficult to use.
Instead, most advocacy groups say the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination by employers and businesses, should be the legal benchmark for Web-site accessibility. But that's yet to be tested in court. "There's a misunderstanding that the ADA automatically applies to the Web, and it's not clear at all that it does," says Bradley Hodges, technology accessibility manager for the National Federation of the Blind. "Reasonable people disagree on this."
Count on Eliot Spitzer to use the stick if Web sites don't come through with more options for the nation's ten million blind and visually impaired. In July New York's crusading attorney general announced Web-accessibility agreements with Ramada.com and Priceline.com (PCLN). Spitzer sent a letter to the companies in January and launched an investigation, but they complied before he filed suit and even reimbursed the New York attorney general's office for the cost of the probe. Spitzer had argued that making a Web site that's not accessible violates the ADA.
Site Revamps: Priceline didn't argue and started working on its site right away, says spokesman Brian Ek. By the time the August announcement was made in Spitzer's office, the airline-ticketing part of the Norwalk, Connecticut, discount e-tailer's site had been recoded to be easily read by screen readers. These PC programs typically read sites like a page of a book--left to right and top to bottom. They allow a blind person to hear, rather than read, a Web site. "Once we were made aware of it, we did it because it was the right thing to do," Ek says.
Nonetheless, advocacy groups say they want to keep this fight out of the legal system. "We'd rather not have Congress tell anyone how to design their Web sites," Hodges says. "We'd rather work collaboratively to make it happen."
Web accessibility can be tricky, and guidelines have to constantly be updated. For the visually impaired it's really all about making sure that the programming code used to build the site is friendly to screen readers. That's why many banks now have log-in information on the top-right-hand corner. Before, blind users would have to listen to everything on the page before they could log in to check account balances.
Advocates say they want Web-site usability, not mere compliance. Hodges, who is blind, says he's able to use more sites than he could a few years ago but says few are flawless. By playing nice with companies, organizations like the NFB and other groups hope they can consult with big companies, rather than bicker with them. And because blind people are weighing in, advocacy groups say the results are better.
Friendly Tactics: By all accounts, the amicable approach is working for Feingold, too, who often represents advocacy groups such as the American Council of the Blind. Just last summer she wrote a letter to Citizens Bank of Providence, Rhode Island, asking for talking ATMs and blind-friendly improvements to its Web site. Citizens Bank agreed and three months ago detailed its plans for both by the end of the year.
She's helped negotiate similar agreements with more than a half-dozen other financial institutions, ranging from Bank of America (BAC) to Citibank, part of Citigroup (C). For all the friendly talk, the advocates' attorneys are hardly powerless. There's potential for lousy public relations if a company ignores them. Many believe that the ambiguities of the ADA will be better defined in the courtroom. And companies are always reluctant to lock out potential customers. "We really don't even have an idea how large a market it potentially represents," says Priceline's Ek.
Nonetheless, adding accessibility for blind people to a Web site can be a costly process. If a company isn't starting a site redesign, retrofitting can cost about $160,000, estimates Forrester Research. In the case of Sovereign Bank, Andrew Peterson, vice president of Internet and emerging technology, says there was tremendous pressure to create a flashy, glitzy site--the sort that isn't as easily comprehensible to screen readers. "If we hadn't been contacted by an advocacy group," Peterson says, "I'm not sure we would have addressed it."
Web Watchers: So why do it? Feingold hopes common sense wins out. By making a Web site accessible to a blind person, the bank wins fans and keeps lawsuits at bay. And it's not always expensive--at least if a site is already undergoing a redesign. In the case of Philadelphia-based Sovereign Bank, complying with accessibility guidelines carried just a 5 percent to 10 percent addition to the budget when it launched its new site late last year.
It's hard to say exactly how many Web sites are becoming more friendly to blind people. Watchfire Corp., a Waltham, Massachusetts, tech outfit that makes tools to measure how well Web sites work and comply with various regulations, says its software is selling fast. Sales of its accessibility product, Bobby, are projected to increase 79 percent this year. Agency.com and Avenue A Razorfish, a division of aQuantive (AQNT), say more than half of big corporate customers ask about Web accessibility for the blind. Just a few years ago it was no more than 10 percent. However, Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group doubts it's that high across all businesses. His firm does usability studies for Web sites and says every year companies with accessible sites increase by about 4 percent.
Ungentle Persuasion? Advocacy groups aren't insisting sites be perfect. Most just want a signal that companies are trying. But make no mistake--it's serious business. The NFB wasn't around when the printing press was invented, but "we're around today, and we do believe the Internet should be accessible," Hodges says.
The friendly letters are working. But if the carrots can't encourage more progress, expect the lawyers with their big sticks to get to work.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: James McCarthy]
Social Security Disability Insurance: Important Facts
for Blind Vendors and Other Self-Employed Blind Individuals
Revised by James McCarthy
From the Editor: The following article first appeared in 1991. It was written by James Gashel and was prepared to assist blind vendors and other self-employed blind people. James McCarthy, NFB director of governmental affairs, has now revised it to include today's Social Security figures. Here it is:
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is insurance, not welfare. An individual becomes entitled by working and paying in during enough calendar quarters. Once the eligibility conditions are met, benefits can then be paid. Being poor is not one of the conditions. Rich people also qualify for Social Security. The question of whether an individual agrees or disagrees is not really relevant. The law is the law.
The SSDI program pays monthly cash benefits to people under age sixty-five who have worked a sufficient amount of time in Social Security-covered employment or self-employment, provided they are blind or disabled under the law. Licensed vendors in the Randolph-Sheppard program are presumably blind under the Social Security Act since the definition of blindness used in both laws (Randolph-Sheppard and Social Security) is identical. Both laws define blindness as visual acuity of 20/200 in the better eye with correction or a visual field of less than 20 degrees in the better eye with correction. Note that not every blind vendor automatically qualifies for an SSDI check.
This article responds to the many questions which continue to arise from vendors or those assisting them in determining their potential eligibility for monthly SSDI checks. In many respects the circumstances under which vendors operate and receive their income are unique and have unique implications that must be understood to deal effectively with Social Security issues. Social Security personnel can apply the requirements of the law correctly only if we are able to give them the facts they need to evaluate income and earnings. This is particularly important for vendors and their advocates. While many of the facts and concepts presented here apply to all blind people in dealing with Social Security, this article highlights the particular considerations that apply to self-employed blind people who are primarily vendors.
Three principal eligibility factors are necessary to entitle a blind person to receive SSDI benefits: blindness, being "fully insured," and having stopped doing "substantial work." Note that, for those who are not blind, there is a fourth requirement, being "recently insured." (More about this later.)
Being Fully Insured
Any blind person who has enough quarters of coverage is deemed to be "fully insured." The Social Security Administration will tell you how many quarters of coverage you have. During 2005, for every $920 you earn, you are credited with one quarter of coverage. If you earn $3,680 or more in 2005, you will receive the maximum of four quarters of coverage for the year. The amount needed to earn quarters of coverage increases annually beginning in January of each new year.
An individual needs to have worked the required time under Social Security-covered employment or self-employment. The amount of past work required of any blind person is a matter of individual determination, depending on when the person became age twenty-one and the year in which blindness began, or (if blind before or while working) the year in which the person stopped doing substantial work.
For blind people who became twenty-one in 1950 or later, quarters of coverage accrue in the following manner. Count every year from the year of age twenty-two with a minimum of one quarter of coverage necessary for each year you include in your count. (You can ask Social Security or us for the amount of earnings required each year to equal one quarter and four quarters of coverage.) The year that ends the count is the year prior to the later of two possible events: the year that the person became blind or the year the person stopped doing substantial work. As an example, Jane was born blind and turned twenty-one in 1990. She stopped performing substantial work in 2002. In order to figure out how many quarters of coverage she will need to be considered fully insured, we count the number of years, between 1991 (the year after Jane became twenty-one) and 2001 (the year before Jane stopped performing substantial work). This totals eleven years (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001). Therefore Jane will need eleven quarters of coverage to qualify.
For blind people who became twenty-one before 1950, the years counted to have enough quarters of coverage begin with 1951. The count ends in either the year before blindness began or the year before loss of substantial work occurred. Again, focus on the later of these two events. For example, Joe became twenty-one in 1948. He became blind in 1960 and stopped performing substantial work at that time. In order to figure out the number of quarters of coverage that Joe needs to be considered fully insured, we count the number of elapsed years between 1951 and 1959 (the year before Joe became blind and stopped performing substantial work). This totals nine years (1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, and 1959). Joe will therefore need nine quarters of coverage to qualify.
It is not required that quarters of coverage be earned in any particular year. It is only that the number of quarters (regardless of when earned) must total at least the required number of years for each individual. Younger people who became blind or stopped doing substantial work in their twenties, for example, can qualify with as few as six quarters, but no fewer. Older people will need substantially more quarters. In this country, when you work and pay Social Security taxes as a result of your work, those taxes pay for Social Security coverage if you ever become disabled or retired.
Being Recently Insured
Being blind and being fully insured are the first two important eligibility conditions for SSDI checks. Disabled people who are not blind must also meet a third condition, which is called "recently insured." They must have worked enough to earn quarters of coverage in at least twenty out of the most recent forty quarters. This means that a substantial number of their quarters of coverage must have been earned during at least five out of the most recent ten years. Social Security personnel sometimes erroneously apply this recent-work requirement to blind people. But remember, the blind need only be fully insured, not recently insured.
Substantial Gainful Activity
The requirement that an individual not do substantial work applies to initial eligibility for SSDI and must be maintained to continue eligibility for monthly benefits. The remainder of this article explains substantial work and deductions available to self-employed blind vendors that can reduce the income considered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). It is critical that vendors carefully read the paragraphs that follow and make their SSA representatives aware of all applicable deductions to ensure that correct results are achieved.
What does it mean to say that a blind person has stopped doing substantial work? In addition to blindness and being fully insured, not doing substantial work is the third principal condition of eligibility for SSDI benefits if an individual is blind. Generally, any blind person whose "countable income" is less than $1,380 per month in 2005 is not doing substantial work. The amount of time spent at work and the amount of actual labor or management work done does not count. Only income is evaluated in the case of blind people applying for SSDI benefits. The monthly amount allowed for countable income is $1,380 during 2005. Beginning in January of each new year, the amount of countable income used to measure "substantial gainful activity" (SSA's term for substantial work) for blind people increases by law.
Trial Work Period
Following an individual's eligibility for SSDI benefits, nine months of trial work are allowed without any restriction on earnings whatsoever. A month counts as a trial work month if earnings exceed $590 in 2005 (with increases each January). Self-employment trial work months may be determined by use of the financial guidelines, but a calendar month may also be considered a trial work month if the time worked in the business exceeds eighty hours, even if the net profit for the calendar month was below the trial work month guidelines. Trial work months are not necessarily consecutive. The trial work period ends with the end of the ninth month that counts as trial work under the earnings or hours criteria specified.
Countable Income: Exclusions and Deductions
For SSDI purposes a self-employed person's net income after business expenses is not necessarily the income used to determine the performance of substantial work and thus an individual's eligibility for SSDI benefits. SSA will consider a self-employed person's countable income, but not all income is necessarily countable income. Deductions to reach countable income may bring an individual's income below the monthly substantial work amount allowed. This is important to blind vendors and other self-employed blind people because they have specific rights which may legally reduce the amount of countable income and thus permit them to be eligible to receive SSDI checks.
Unincurred business expenses are a form of subsidy that must be excluded from real income to reach countable income. In most instances space for the vending facility is provided without charge to the blind vendor, making the value of the space an unincurred business expense. Without the contribution of the space, the vendor would have to pay the cost; so the free space artificially inflates the vendor's income. Its value should then be subtracted from the vendor's real (before taxes) income. The building management should be able to provide an estimate of the charge per square foot if the space had to be rented. Free utilities are also an unincurred business expense. Their value can be determined. It is the amount of the utility costs (even though the vendor does not pay them) that should be subtracted from the vendor's income.
Another example of a subsidy commonly found in the vending program is the receipt of income from vending machines that are not operated by the blind vendor. When a blind vendor's facility is on federal property, the Randolph-Sheppard Act requires the owner of vending machines in direct competition with the blind vendor to pay a subsidy to the blind vendor. Depending on the state, this requirement may also apply to vending facilities located on state, county, or municipal property. In these circumstances the income received by the blind vendor should not be included as "countable income" because it does not result from the vendor's work effort.
Impairment-related work expenses should also be considered and subtracted from the vendor's income. Paid help for clerical assistance, reading, driving, and other services of a work and impairment-related nature can be deducted to determine countable income. Buying devices that are blindness-related and used in part (or entirely) for work is another form of impairment-related work expense. Monthly installment payments on accounts for equipment purchases can be subtracted to reach countable income. So can care of a dog guide or the purchase of some medications. Special transportation services, such as taxi fares when public transit is not available or cannot be used, are also deductible. Impairment-related work expenses can actually be any costs resulting from blindness and necessary for work (at least in part).
In sum, real (before taxes) income is not necessarily countable income, especially in the case of blind vendors. The Social Security Administration is interested in identifying countable income only and is supposed to exclude other income that is not an accurate measurement of work. The exclusions include any subsidies, the reasonable value of unpaid help, unincurred business expenses, and impairment-related work expenses. Once these standard deductions have been made, countable income that is below the amount allowed will not be called substantial gainful work. If countable income is above the monthly amount allowed after all of the deductions have been made, substantial gainful work exists, and eligibility for SSDI benefits will stop after a trial work period is over.
While the Social Security Act is not everything that it might be, the work incentives that the National Federation of the Blind has won give blind people the opportunity to get a foothold and begin to support themselves without abrupt termination of their Social Security benefits. Whatever an individual may think of the law, it is certainly better for the blind than it used to be. Blindness is a separate category with advantages, both in the amount that can be earned and in eligibility for benefits over other groups of the disabled. Most disabled people who are not blind can earn only $830 per month (in 2005) before their SSDI checks are terminated. If people have more than one disability (including blindness) that could establish eligibility for benefits, they would be best advised to claim blindness.
There is strength in numbers, but numbers alone are not enough. Knowledge and concerted action year after year are also required. The National Federation of the Blind is a force to be reckoned with. It grows stronger each day. The National Federation of the Blind has always advocated for blind SSDI beneficiaries and will continue to do so.
This month's recipes come from members of the National Federation of the Blind of Wyoming.
Hot Mulled Cider or Other Drinks
by Tamara Kearney
Tammy Kearney is president of the NFB of Wyoming.
2 quarts cider or apple juice (half can be cranberry juice)
2 two-inch cinnamon sticks, broken
8 whole cloves
1/2 cup sugar (optional)
Method: Combine all ingredients in a large pan and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for ten minutes. Strain immediately or leave spices in liquid to heighten the spicy taste. Reheat or keep warm until ready to serve. If desired, sprinkle each serving with grated nutmeg. Serves eight to twelve people.
Rocky Road Fudge
by Tamara Kearney
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 small bag mini marshmallows
1 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Method: Melt chocolate chips in a large sauce pan. Turn off heat. Add condensed milk. Stir in marshmallows and nuts. Pour hot fudge into a greased 9-by-13-inch pan. Refrigerate to set. Cut into squares. Remove from the pan and store covered in the refrigerator.
by Tamara Kearney
1 bunch kale, chard, or spinach
1 summer squash or zucchini, cut into pieces
A few mushrooms
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cup cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Method: Blend all these ingredients together. Pour into a greased baking dish and bake at 325 degrees for about forty minutes. Let stand a few minutes before cutting to allow quiche to set.
Hot Chocolate Mix
by Susan Henry
Susan Henry is secretary of the NFB of Wyoming.
2 pounds sifted powdered sugar
1 10-quart package Sanalac powdered milk
1 2-pound (33-ounces) jar Sam's Club extra rich creamer
1 pound, 12 ounce Nestle's Quick
Method: Mix all ingredients well in a very large container. To make a cup of cocoa, combine one cup of mixture and one cup of boiling water, stir, and enjoy. This also makes a great coffee creamer.
by Susan Henry
1 quart broccoli florets
1/2 cup raisins (fresh or plumped in hot water)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 small red onion, chopped
8 slices bacon, diced and fried crisp
1 cup mayonnaise (I use Miracle Whip)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons vinegar
Method: Mix salad ingredients, except bacon, together and toss with combined dressing ingredients. Chill at least several hours, or prepare the day before. (This salad keeps well.) Add crisp bacon at serving time.
Ruby's Croissant Sandwiches
by Susan Henry
12 large croissants
1 1/2 pounds shaved honey baked ham
1 pound Swiss cheese slices
1/2 pound margarine, softened
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 small onion, grated
Method: Combine spread ingredients and mix well. Split croissants and spread with margarine mixture. Add ham and cheese. Place sandwiches on baking sheet and heat in oven for ten to twelve minutes at 400 degrees. If desired, you can wrap these sandwiches in foil to freeze, but remove foil before heating through.
News from the Federation Family
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Maria Roberta Zulueta Sandejas Shroyer, September 20, 1979, to November 7, 2004]
We are deeply saddened to report the death in the early morning of Sunday, November 7, of Roberta Sandejas Shroyer, who volunteered for many months at the National Center before joining the national staff in May of 2004. Mrs. Shroyer duplicated our cassettes. She was born in Manila, Philippines, where in high school and college she was a talented soccer player. We understand that she was almost certainly headed for the Philippines women's soccer team at the 2004 Olympics. After being badly injured and blinded in a tragic incident in her home, she left Manila and moved to Baltimore, where she graduated from the rehabilitation program at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM). There she met her future husband, Justin Shroyer. Before recently requesting to be assigned the job his wife had done, Mr. Shroyer worked in the Materials Center.
We enjoyed Mrs. Shroyer's easy laugh and great sense of humor, her excellent cooking at various chapter functions, her enthusiastic participation in our many activities, and her positive outlook on life. She will be deeply missed and fondly remembered.
Paul Dressell writes to report the following:
The Ohio Organization of the Senior Blind, a division of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio and the National Organization of the Senior Blind, came into existence on Friday evening, November 5, 2004, when it ratified a constitution, set its dues structure, and discussed possible projects. Or did it happen the next afternoon when officers were elected, dues collected, and projects discussed at greater length? In any case we're here, twenty-four members strong.
The Board of Directors consists of president, Virginia Mann; vice president, Trish Wright; secretary, Paul Dressell; treasurer, Judy Cook; and board members, Linda Freund and Quintella Haggins. The division has gotten off to a great start and looks forward to being an integral part of the National Federation of the Blind.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Eddie, Samantha, and Maria Bell]
Eddie and Maria Bell, Federation leaders in Arkansas and everywhere they go, write to provide the following glad tidings:
Samantha Taylor Bell was born on November 12, 2004, at 3:42 a.m. She weighed in at six pounds, fourteen ounces and was nineteen and a half inches long. Everyone is doing well, and Victoria is taking her role as big sister very seriously.
The National Federation of the Blind of Arizona's East Valley Chapter held its election at its November 20, 2004, meeting. The following officers were elected: president, Mark Feliz; first vice president, Mary Hartle-Smith; second vice president, Connie Ryan; secretary, Barbara O'Brien; treasurer, Tom O'Brien; and board members, Mark Hamblin and Tony Sohl.
Judy Sanders, secretary of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, sent the following report: The NFB of Minnesota held its convention from October 22 to 24 in St. Cloud. We were pleased to have President Maurer with us.
We voted to expand our board of directors from seven to nine members. Our current officers are president, Joyce Scanlan; vice president, Jennifer Dunnam; secretary, Judy Sanders; and treasurer, Tom Scanlan. The board members are Jan Bailey, Pat Barrett, Charlene Childrey, Mary Beth Moline, and Eric Smith.
The National Federation of the Blind of Oregon Rose City Chapter conducted elections on November 20, 2004. The officers for the coming term are president, Celyn Brown; vice president, Michael Alvarez; secretary, Jerry Hathaway; and treasurer, Joyce Green.
At its October 9, 2004, meeting the Bix Beiderbeck Chapter of the NFB of Iowa held elections for officers for 2004-05. Elected were Deb Smith, president; Mark Lee, vice president; John TeBockhorst, secretary; Tom TeBockhorst, treasurer; and Quana Chambers, board member.
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.
Portable Scanner Available:
Robert Leblond writes to say that the Assistive Technology Center announces the new Docu-Edge portable scanning system for blind and vision-impaired users. The Docu-Edge system combines cutting edge hardware and software to offer the first truly accessible pocket scanning solution.
The heart of the system is the Docu Pen scanner, a nine-inch-long scanner that weighs 1.7 ounces. The device looks like a short windshield wiper blade. It is drawn down a sheet of paper to perform a scan. Scanned images are held in memory until they can be transferred to the user's computer. The scanner can hold up to a hundred pages in memory.
The Docu-Edge system includes PaperPort software to enable the user to transfer files from the scanner to a PC. Also included is a special version of OmniPage for advanced optical character recognition (OCR). OmniPage is rated over 98 percent accurate and is the most widely used OCR software in the world. After scanning and transferring files from the scanner, users can send the files to OmniPage to turn files into text and read them with any screen reader or print or file the documents for later use.
Scan business cards, contracts, legal information, real estate documents, handouts, or any other printed materials and read them when you wish. This is a great tool for students, professionals, and executives. Docu-Edge also includes audio manuals for use by blind and vision impaired people. The Docu-Edge system is produced through a collaborative effort between Planon Corp, ScanSoft, and the Assistive Technology Center.
Docu-Edge special introductory price is $229. You may order by phone at (916) 956-2054. Online ordering may be done at our Web site: <www.assistivetechcenter.com>.
The Selective Doctor, Inc., is a repair service for all IBM typewriters and Perkins Braillewriters. Located in Baltimore, the service has done work for the Maryland School for the Blind and a number of other organizations in Maryland. They accept Perkins Braillers sent to them from around the country.
The cost to repair a manual Perkins Brailler is $50 for labor (flat rate), plus parts. Due to technical complexity the cost to repair an electric Perkins Brailler is $60 for labor (flat rate), plus parts. The Brailler will be shipped back to you by U.S. mail, free matter for the blind and insured for $600. The cost of this insurance ($7.20) will be added to your invoice. This listed insurance charge may fluctuate due to rate changes by the postal service.
To mail Braillers using the U.S. Postal Service, send your Brailler(s) to the Selective Doctor, P.O. Box 28432, Baltimore, Maryland 21234-8432. If you care to use UPS or Federal Express, please send Braillers to the Selective Doctor, 3014 Linwood Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland 21234-5821. With your Brailler(s) please include your name and organization (if applicable), shipping and billing addresses, telephone number, and a brief description of your Brailler's needs. Should you require additional information, please call (410) 668-1143, or email <email@example.com>.
The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center On Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University is conducting research on the way the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) affects people between eighteen and sixty-four who are blind or have low vision. The contact person is Dr. John Frank, at (800) 675-7782 or email <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Your input will help us describe the effects of this law on people with severe visual impairment.
The survey has questions about accommodation requests made because of a visual impairment since January 2000. If you have a severe visual impairment but made no ADA requests, there is a section for explaining your reasons for not requesting accommodation.
Survey participants may describe no requests, or only one, or may describe up to twenty-five requests that they believe relate in some way to their employment search or job. This includes accommodation or barrier-removal requests related to transportation, school and training, and communication, or requests for private services from entities such as banks, utility companies, restaurants, and stores, or requests for government services including local, state, or federal agency services, as well as requests for accommodations needed for job interviews or on the job.
The survey may take as little as ten minutes, or it could take over an hour, depending on how many requests you describe. The information gathered is confidential. The names of people who fill out the survey and the names of any entities mentioned that are covered by ADA will not be published.
The consent form is found at <http://www.blind.msstate.edu/cgi/survey/consent.pl>. If you agree to participate, check yes and hit the consent link at the bottom of the page--this goes to the survey form. If you have difficulty using the online survey form, contact Dr. Frank at (800) 675-7782, or email <email@example.com> for a phone survey.
Please note that a request for a product or a service made by a client to a state rehabilitation agency is probably not an ADA request for accommodation. However, a request for a needed accommodation or barrier removal in order to use or access a product or service of a state rehabilitation agency may be an ADA request.
Report on Settlement in Perkins/Maxi‑Aids Litigation:
As Monitor readers may recall, the Perkins School for the Blind (Perkins) filed a lawsuit in federal district court in May of 2002 against Maxi-Aids, Inc., and its principals, Elliot Zaretsky, his two sons, and his daughter. (As we understand it, Mitchell and Pamela were later dropped from the suit.) The suit alleged, among other things, trademark infringement, unfair competition, and interference with economic benefit.
Perkins had entered into an agreement with the South African National Council for the Blind (SANCB) for assembly and distribution of Perkins Braillers to blind people and to schools and programs for the blind in South Africa and in developing countries. The Hilton Foundation subsidized this arrangement by providing a grant amounting to $100 per Brailler.
The suit alleged that Maxi-Aids, through covert intermediaries and shell entities, obtained the Braillers intended for South Africa and the developing countries from SANCB and diverted them back to the United States. Maxi-Aids then allegedly sold the Braillers in this country at a lower price than that at which Perkins sells them and of course at an exorbitant profit to itself. Maxi-Aids and the Zaretskys have been involved for years in prior litigation in which Independent Living Aids (ILA) and its principal, Marvin Sandler, obtained a sizeable verdict against them for trademark infringement and other unlawful business practices.
After some preliminary litigation Perkins and Maxi-Aids arrived at a settlement in April of 2004. Under the terms of that settlement, Maxi-Aids and the Zaretskys acknowledge that Perkins has exclusive right, title, and ownership in the Perkins Braillers. Maxi-Aids and the Zaretskys represent and warrant that they obtained no more than 1,670 Braillers from South Africa and that they have sold all of those Braillers and have none in their inventory. They further agree not to sell, offer to sell, advertise, or otherwise attempt to distribute Perkins Braillers, unless purchased directly from Perkins in the ordinary course of business.
In addition, Maxi-Aids and the Zaretskys agree to pay Perkins an undisclosed sum of money. All parties to the settlement agree that they will not discuss its terms with anyone else. Although this case did not go to trial, it appears Perkins has obtained an extremely favorable settlement.
Two Hundred Video Titles for Your Enjoyment:
The Texas Center for the Physically Impaired offers 200 videos for home entertainment to all visually impaired people. If you enjoy putting a descriptive video into your VCR to watch a good movie, you have 200 evenings of pleasure available. To subscribe send a one-time $25 gift made payable to Bob Langford, 11330 Quail Run, Dallas, Texas 75238. If you have questions, call (214) 340-6328, Central Time, during business hours. You will receive a print or recorded list of most of the two hundred titles if you live in the United States or Canada.
Each year National Braille Press offers print-Braille valentines for kids to pass out to their classmates or for friends to remember the special people in their lives. This year's valentine design is a bookmark that says: "Dots Where I Stopped Reading!" At the bottom a bright red heart appears between the words "Happy" and "Day." The year is marked "2005." This is a keepsake, perfect for family and friends, classmates and teachers.
Valentine bookmarks are available in either small or large packets. Small packets contain twenty print-Braille bookmarks and twenty envelopes for $10. Large packets contain thirty-two print-Braille bookmarks and twenty envelopes for $14. To order a packet of print-Braille Valentine bookmarks, order online at <www.braille.com> or send payment to NBP, 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02115-4302; or call and charge it at (800) 548-7323 or (617) 266-6160 ext. 20. Our previous valentine cards are also still available. Call us or visit <www.braille.com> for details.
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.
Webster Student Dictionary, 36 volumes, asking $200 or best offer. Braille medical speller, 12 volumes, $200 or best offer. Assortment of cookbooks including The Complete Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook in Braille, $100 or best offer. You may call Harold Bocock at (847) 249-3331.
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.