The Braille Monitor April 2005
(back) (next) (contents)
by Betsy A. Zaborowski
From the Editor: Dr. Betsy Zaborowski is executive director of our new Jernigan Institute. Here is her report on the first year of its operation:
The first year anniversary of the opening of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute was the focus of this year's celebration event held April 8, 2005, at the Institute. It was a year filled with dynamic challenges, wonderful opportunities, and exponential growth. The last page of the program for the grand opening captured in a few words where we have been and where we are going with this new Institute--"We have dreamed, we have planned, we have built, and now we will create a future full of opportunity." No longer do we speculate on what the Institute will do. We are now building the partnerships, programs, staff, and resources needed to realize our dream.
Rocket On! Students carrying the Sounding rocket
This Institute is a first in many ways, but most important it is, as we have so often said, "the first research and training institute developed and operated by an organization of blind people." Let's now take a look at the way that is translating into real programs, partnerships, research, and of course what we are all working for--improvement in the lives of blind people.
The Institute brochure distributed at the 2004 convention of the National Federation of the Blind outlines the overall goals of the Institute and several objectives that are the foundation of this new endeavor. We have clearly made good progress, but we have only begun. In preparation for this expansion and the full operation of the Institute, the first several months of this year focused upon completing construction; furnishing and equipping the new building; recruiting and training new staff; reorganizing the National Center both physically and organizationally to accommodate this new venture; moving programs from simply good ideas to detailed proposals ready for submission to funding sources; recruiting and organizing advisory groups, including the Institute policy advisory board; and implementing outreach to universities, agencies, and others to develop needed partnerships. This report summarizes the progress made in the five initiative areas of the Institute.
For many years we have collected both print and Braille books, blindness artifacts, correspondence, publications, and much more dealing with our movement and blindness in general. The papers of our founder, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, which have been given to us, will be one of the highlights of our new library. Inventorying, sorting, and organizing materials to create a well-designed, high-tech library is daunting, but it is a task our new librarian Mrs. Dawn Stitzel is well equipped to handle.
After a period of training on the history and philosophy of the NFB, which included several weeks as a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, Mrs. Stitzel visited nearly all of the substantial libraries dealing with blindness in this country and Canada to assess the present status of library resources on blindness and the way the tenBroek Library will best meet the needs of researchers, academics, professionals working with the blind, and blind people. Attention soon turned to creating an inventory of the books and artifacts collected over the years. Development of an up-to-date library management system was also undertaken. The library works on organizing everything from NFB publications and relevant literature on blindness and legal cases to the writings of
Braille volumes waiting to be catalogued in the tenBroek Library archive
Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer (items of historic significance) and the hundreds of volumes of Braille books in storage. The rich history of the struggle of the blind for first-class citizenship and autonomy will be the cornerstone of this new resource library. Organization now includes plans for electronic storage, digitizing information, and a well-managed archive for truly historical documents and artifacts.
To date much of the material has been inventoried. Artifacts for a museum on blindness are in a climate-controlled room. Hundreds of Braille books have been unboxed, sorted, and made ready for shelving. Vendors of comprehensive library material catalog data-management systems have been interviewed, and the most attractive options are being thoroughly evaluated for full accessibility. A plan for furnishing the large library room has been drafted, and soon vendors of everything from shelving to a specialized library information center desk will be asked to submit proposals. The NFB 2001 Everest Expedition multimedia art display, "The Summit," and the model of the car we might all drive one day displayed at the grand opening are set up in the library. Soon the rocket that was launched during our first Science Academy session this past summer will also be on display. The extensive photo database of the NFB has been updated and fully digitized. The first phase of full implementation of our internal online NFB organization-wide document management system has been completed.
Much of the philosophy, history, and methods of the organized blind are imbedded in NFB literature. In order to distribute this valuable resource more effectively, literature is now being sorted into packages appropriate for individuals with varying needs. Some of these packets have been used for several years, while others have been developed recently. The plan is to expand the types of literature packages and make all available through the library. We now have available literature sorted into the following areas:
Mini General Information
Braille for Kids
Braille Awareness for Kids and for Schools
Braille Awareness for Preschool through Kindergarten
Canes for Blind Kids
Kids with Low Vision
Parents of Blind Kids
Teacher with a Blind Student
The International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC), now under the Institute, continues to serve as an anchor in access technology. Consultations have taken place with all of the major access technology vendors assisting with product evaluation, market access, and ongoing feedback. This year, in addition to the specialized blindness product vendors, a number of major mainstream companies have been assisted in their efforts to improve accessibility of products. Most notable are ongoing consultations with Macromedia, Adobe, and Microsoft. The Nonvisual Access Certification Program has certified or renewed certifications of several Web applications this past year, including Macomb County, Michigan; Documentum, Inc.; General Electric
Trainers and participants alike enjoyed the opportunity for hands on assessment of access technology products demonstrated at the technology conference sponsored by the Jernigan Institute in April of 2004.
Company; the HP Co.;
Maryland Department of General Services; the U.S. Social Security Administration;
Wells Fargo Bank; and Independent Living Aids.
In April 2004 in partnership with the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University, the NFBJI sponsored the very successful Technology Training for Technology Trainers
Conference. Over 120 attendees enjoyed a fast-moving experiential series of workshops that familiarized them with the latest in access technology. This conference also provided an opportunity for all to discuss relevant issues, thus preparing them to serve blind people better in their home communities.
A formal relationship has been established with the Whiting School of Engineering of Johns Hopkins University by engaging a group of bright under-graduate engineering students to develop a prototype of a portable, low-cost Braille writing machine that we hope will be ready to demonstrate at convention this summer. Although it is yet unclear how effective the prototype they produce will be, one thing is certain--these young people will think of blindness differently, and--who knows?--one of them might be the next Ray Kurzweil.
One of the most exciting yet uncertain projects of the NFBJI is the development of the technology that will make it possible for a blind person to operate a vehicle one day. This past December 2 and 3 an amazing group of experts in a variety of fields related to this goal assembled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We chose this location because of its proximity to Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh and to accommodate a number of participants. Expertise in robotics came from Carnegie Mellon University, and technology associated with autonomous vehicles came from Michigan State University and the University of Southern California. Representatives from several of the autonomous vehicles that competed in the DARPA challenge attended, as well as a computer scientist from the University of Maryland and companies such as General Motors and engineering firms working in this area. NASA helped to fund this meeting, and several of its engineers participated. Jeff Witt of our technology staff organized this impressive group, conducted the workshop, and will be managing the project, assisted by Anne Taylor, director of access technology.
The goal of this meeting was to explore the state of the art of related technologies that will be needed as we formulate a series of engineering contests resulting in technology development that one day may lead to information retrieval and mobility that we only dream about today. The NFBJI technology working group, which includes many of those who attended this meeting and NFB technology leaders, is now in the process of formalizing this plan. Stimulating the development of a nonvisual user interface for driving will be the catalyst for other technology that one day might allow us to walk into a room and readily know everything around us, maneuver more efficiently with a wheelchair or scooter, quickly and easily get information through devices using advanced tactile representation, or travel faster and more smoothly using advanced sound-localization technology. As with all new horizons the results can only be known after arriving.
In preparation for launching the car contests and other outreach to researchers, the Technology History Project has been organized. Brad Hodges, manager of technology accessibility, with the help of our research and development committee and the technology working group, has begun to collect information about access technology that will assist university students and faculty involved in access technology projects but are new to the field. Keep watching our Web site for more on this project.
Because of the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requires that by 2006 all electronic voting machines installed around the country must be accessible to the blind. The first year of a HAVA grant to the NFB Jernigan Institute has been completed, and the second year has begun with the goal of assisting voting officials throughout the country to implement this provision. Each of the voice-driven voting machines on the market has been installed in the IBTC. They are now being demonstrated, providing information to protection and advocacy organizations around the country and familiarizing Federation members at convention with this technology. The second year of funding will continue and expand these efforts, including a conference for voting officials held March 3 and 4, 2005, at the Institute.
The use testing of the alpha versions of the Kurzweil National Federation of the Blind Reader is underway. This revolutionary handheld reader promised by Ray Kurzweil at the groundbreaking of the Institute will be realized by the end of this year if development continues as planned. The technology team continues to work with Kurzweil Technologies to refine and further develop this cutting-edge technology. In the not-too-distant future you will be able to take this device in hand and, with only a click, read print on the go.
Because of the excitement surrounding the opening of the Jernigan Institute, I was invited to give the keynote address at the access division of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) semi-annual conference held this past fall in Atlanta. This organization includes university and private-sector researchers in the access technology field from around the world. As a result of that resentation this association hopes to involve the Jernigan Institute with future conferences.
The Jernigan Institute has begun partnerships with several universities around technology development. We have met with technologists from both the engineering and computer science schools at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland through their technology transfer offices. Dr. Jonathan Lazar, professor in the Computer Science Department of Towson University, has reported that, thanks to a collaborative relationship with the Federation, he and his team of graduate students have completed the data-collection phase of his computer study on error and frustration tolerance among the blind. He reports that they were able to include nearly one hundred blind computer users in his study, which is one of the largest studies of this kind ever done. Details will be published once his data have been analyzed and conclusions reached. These and other technology research opportunities will continue to develop the reach and influence of this new Institute.
One of the goals of the Jernigan Institute is to make a difference by developing services and programs and conducting research that aids in lowering the alarming 74 percent unemployment rate among working-age blind people.
Mentoring is a significant factor in general employment success and, even more important, for blind youth. Therefore the Jernigan Institute's proposal to establish a National Center for Excellence in Mentoring was accepted by the U.S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration. This five-year project will develop and implement a mentoring program in two demonstration states and then disseminate the model to other states in the last two years of the project with careful research documenting the effects of mentoring of transition-age blind youth ages sixteen to twenty-six.
The partnership with the Lions Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center at Johns Hopkins University has resulted in the Jernigan Institute's involvement in an interesting research project to determine a valid method for assessing individuals with low vision and a conference for low vision professionals in collaboration with the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER), scheduled for November 3 and 4, 2005, at the Jernigan Institute.
Last summer the Jernigan Institute held the first science camp sessions for blind youth directed and facilitated by blind professionals and volunteers, in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Maryland Science Center, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History-Naturalist Center. The Circle of Life Session gave twelve middle school blind youth a week of exciting and challenging experiences, including exploration of the ecosystem of the Chesapeake Bay on board a working schooner; tactile observations of shells and other marine life, conducted by blind scientist Geerat Vermeij, Ph.D.; earth science exercises and tour of the Goddard Space Flight Center; and the dissection of a shark. The Rocket On! Session challenged twelve high school blind youth from around the country to master scientific concepts related to rocketry, electronic sensors, and physics concepts that resulted in the launch of a ten-foot-long rocket.
These young students made history and were changed forever with the first successful launch of a sounding rocket by a group of blind youth. The engineers and scientists working on this project will have a more accurate image of what it means to be blind. Many comments were noted at the mock press conference held at the end of the sessions, but most powerful were the students' statements: "We were expected to do everything," "Now I know I can be a scientist, so I will take those advanced science and math courses," and "The blind teachers were cool." Plans are now being made for our second year of these exciting science educational experiences, now known as the Jernigan Institute Science Academy, a project of the National Center for Blind Youth in Science.
Mark Riccobono, manager of education programs for the Institute, has led this effort and has begun to get the word out about the valuable information learned as a result of this academy. He and others have presented and exhibited at science education-related meetings and conferences held by the West Virginia Vision Teachers Association, the NASA Earth Science Education Community, the Geological Society of America, and the American Geophysical Union. He also led collaborations on a pilot NASA Workshop for Explorers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired (with NSTA), Northrop Grumman/Penn State science cart project, the Solar System Radio Explorer Kiosk (SSREK), and the Quantum Simulations accessible chemistry tutor.
The National Center for Blind Youth in Science (NCBYS) at the Institute has established the structure for ongoing mentoring and listserv interactions with high school participants, produced the first in-house promotional video illustrating the nonvisual techniques used in the Science Academy and the way those methods benefited participants, established an advisory work group with diverse partners to help direct the work of the Science Initiative, published a monthly "Rocket On! E-Newsletter" for participants of the 2004 Rocket On! Program, developed and distributed a survey designed to understand the educational needs of blind youth better, designed a new NCBYS Web portal, and completed early research on materials and resources available for the blind in science and math courses.
The Outreach Programs of the Center for Computer Integrated Surgical Systems and Technology at the Whiting School of Engineering, Johns Hopkins University, has included the Jernigan Institute as a co-investigator/consultant in several proposals now being considered by the National Science Foundation. These efforts focus on stimulating the study of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) by underserved populations. Thanks to this involvement, these projects, if funded, will help to ensure that professionals working on this issue will think to include blind young people as they encourage the pursuit of STEM-related careers.
In further response to the Institute's objective of improving STEM education for blind youth, the NFBJI will sponsor the GAMA Summit (Goals for Achieving Math Accessibility), an invited conference scheduled for April 14 and 15, 2005. This two-day meeting at the NFBJI, coordinated by Ameenah Ghoston, access technology specialist, with support from an impressive advisory work group, will bring together technologists, educators, math experts, and NFB leaders to discuss and plan ways to improve access to all aspects of math, from simple calculations to sophisticated document translation issues faced by blind scientists and engineers.
The Jernigan Institute Online Education Program offers four courses designed to familiarize regular education teachers, parents of blind children, Web developers, and others interested in blindness in Introduction to the Education of Blind Children in the Regular Classroom, Introduction to Braille, Introduction to Access Technology for the Blind, and Introduction to Nonvisual Web Accessibility. A CD that outlines these courses has been widely distributed, and additional courses are now being planned. The Jernigan Institute Early Childhood Initiative has established an advisory working group; drafted language to articulate Federation principles for an effective experiential learning model for blind children; sponsored a play area in the 2004 convention exhibit hall to promote the initiative; organized the first NFB early childhood regional conference, now scheduled for May 6 and 7, 2005; provided academic sponsorship of an Active Learning Conference (Oakland, California) in February 2005; and distributed a special issue of Future Reflections--The Early Years--to all university teachers of the blind training programs.
Educating the general public about the capabilities of the blind remains a high priority of the Jernigan Institute. Lions International is one of the largest community-based service clubs with a special focus on blindness and vision loss. We are proud to announce the involvement of the Jernigan Institute in a multi-district community education project funded by Lions International. This spring the Institute will work closely with Lions District 22 and the Lions Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center of the Wilmer Eye Institute of Johns Hopkins University to develop a high-tech educational curriculum on blindness and low vision to be used by Lions Clubs in a three-state area. This will provide us with an opportunity to familiarize Lions members with the empowering philosophy of the NFB and encourage them to conduct outreach into their communities that will spread our message of hope and optimism. We hope that the expected success of this pilot project will result in the use of this material throughout the Lions International Organization. Once again United Parcel Service (UPS) has awarded a grant to the NFB that will further strengthen our outreach efforts. Volunteer Infrastructure Program (VIP) is now being established in two states--Colorado and New Jersey--with the goal of expanding it throughout the country. Volunteers from companies such as UPS will be paired with NFB local chapters to assist with projects such as Meet-the-Blind-Month informational tables, fundraisers, seminars for blind youth, and many other activities. Chapters will receive assistance in effective ways to train volunteers and to design volunteer activities that use individual skills and interests.
In addition to these projects the Institute is providing assistance to the National Center for Leadership in Visual Impairment, a project funded by the U.S. Department of Education and coordinated by the Pennsylvania School of Optometry, to support Ph.D. candidates in the field of teaching blind students. This will provide an opportunity to expose Ph.D. students from around the country to the consumer perspective and thus encourage them to sustain close working relationships with the blind.
Research collaboration cuts across many of the Institute's initiatives. Through emerging partnerships we are or will be involved in research led by professors from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, Towson University, Tel Aviv University, Louisiana Tech University, and Harvard. The Institute is also written into grants proposed to the National Science Foundation by the Inventors Hall of Fame that will incorporate blind youth in an after-school educational project to promote inventive thinking.
On May 20, 2004, the third annual NFB-sponsored senior fair took place at the National Center for the Blind. Pictured here, the crowd is seated at tables to consume 420 box lunches and enjoy a lively program.
Older Americans make up the largest group of newly blind persons in this country and receive the fewest services. The Jernigan Institute is committed to the development of model interventions that will support the independence of our seniors who are losing vision. On May 12, 2005, the Institute will sponsor the fourth annual Possibilities Fair for Seniors who are blind. We anticipate that over four hundred seniors will attend. Along with informative demonstrations and exhibits, the seniors will be inspired by dynamic blind speakers and an atmosphere in which blind people do everything from teaching kitchen techniques and needle crafts to serving lunch and directing guests around the large Members Hall in the Institute. In years past the feedback received from seniors clearly indicates that one of the strongest messages that they hear at the fair is that life is not over when you become blind and that there are lots of possibilities.
The goal of the Possibilities Fairs is to find out what works and then support NFB affiliates and others to conduct similar events for seniors around the country. Several Federation members have attended previous Possibilities Fairs and have learned about how to solicit partnerships, secure financial sponsorship, organize the event, and train the needed volunteers. As a result similar events are beginning to take place around the country. Other groups are conducting activities for blind seniors, but those done by the Federation are different. They feature blind people in all kinds of roles, once again educating with action as well as words.
It has been an exciting first year--one we will never forget. Like many ventures and initiatives of the Federation, the Institute is evolving and is strengthened by our collective determination to achieve success. The work of the Institute reflects the will of the blind and is a resource to expand further the influence of the Federation, the "Voice of the Nation's Blind."
(back) (next) (contents)