THE BRAILLE MONITOR
Vol. 48, No. 6 June 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 21230-4998
telephone: (410) 659-9314
email address: [email protected]
Web site address: http://www.nfb.org
NFB-NEWSLINE® number: 1-888-882-1629
Letters to the president, address changes,
subscription requests, and orders for NFB literature
should be sent to the National Office.
Articles for the Monitor and letters to the editor may also
be sent to the National Office or may be emailed to [email protected]
Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about twenty-five dollars per year. Members are invited, and nonmembers are requested, to cover the subscription cost. Donations should be made payable to National Federation of the Blind and sent to:
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 48, No. 6 June 2005
A Dark Day for Rehabilitation.
by Fredric K. Schroeder
Expedience Plus Ignorance Equals Betrayal.
by Christopher Fields
BPS' Diane Ditmars Is Honored for Her Work.
by Bill Hafer
Stop, Look, and Listen:
Quiet Vehicles and Pedestrian Safety.
by Deborah Kent Stein
Beyond Vision: Integrating Touch into Museums
The Tactile Museum of the Lighthouse
for the Blind in Athens, Greece.
by Amalia S. Levi
Ask Miss Whozit.
Consumer Electronics: Crisis at the Big Box Store, Part 3.
by Brad Hodges
Net Surfing for Those Unable to See
Often Web Sites' Designs Hinder Navigation by the Blind.
by Abigail Tucker
Am I Blind?.
by John G. Paré Jr.
Announcing .The Blindness Revolution
What I Saw at the Revolution.
by Brian Miller
Copyright© 2005 National Federation of the Blind
[LEAD PHOTO/CAPTION: The
2005 Possibilities Fair for seniors losing vision took place May 12 in Members
Hall at the Jernigan Institute. Here attendees settle back to listen to luncheon
program speakers. Exhibitor display boards are visible in the background.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Fredric K. Schroeder, Ph.D.]
A Dark Day for Rehabilitation
by Fredric K. Schroeder
From the Editor: Dr. Fred Schroeder is a past commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration. His grasp of and perspective on the disturbing actions in the past several months of Department of Education officials are useful to have as we engage in the life-and-death struggle to preserve some form of effective rehabilitation services for blind and disabled Americans. In the following article, Dr. Schroeder describes and analyzes what has happened in recent months. This is what he says:
For many years the rehabilitation program has been the major source of employment-related training and job placement services for blind people and others with disabilities. With the help of state rehabilitation agencies blind people can receive comprehensive adjustment training and help in obtaining specific vocational or professional preparation. In addition the rehabilitation program is an important source of the specialized technology essential in more and more jobs today. But the fact that the program has been around for eighty-five years does not mean that it will be here forever. The threats today to the vocational rehabilitation program are significant and immediate.
For nearly two decades we have heard talk of consolidating employment-related training programs under a single system of job training services. The first serious attempt to consolidate employment training came in 1995 with a proposal to block grant vocational rehabilitation into a large employment training system to be administered primarily at the local level by boards dominated by employers. This proposal, HR 1617, known as the CAREERS (Consolidated and Reformed Education, Employment, and Rehabilitation Systems) Bill, would have eliminated the rehabilitation program as we know it and would have made it virtually impossible for blind people to obtain the comprehensive services needed to become employed and live normal, productive lives. Through the advocacy of state rehabilitation agency professionals and people with disabilities, but mostly through the advocacy of blind people organized through the National Federation of the Blind, the attempt to block grant vocational rehabilitation was defeated.
The major fallacy in HR 1617 was its assumption that the rehabilitation program is nothing more than a job-training program. Of course the rehabilitation program prepares blind people and others for employment, but the way it goes about doing so is substantially different from the way traditional job training programs in America work. Traditional job training programs such as JTPA (the Job Training Partnership Act) and its predecessor, CETA (the Comprehensive Employment Training Act), were founded on an assumption that the purpose of employment training-programs is to get people off welfare and other benefits as quickly and cheaply as possible. This means little investment in training and a great emphasis on fast, low-cost placements.
Following the theory that you get what you pay for, the outcomes were predictably poor. Quick, low-cost placements meant placement in low-wage, low-skilled jobs with few or no benefits and no prospect for upward mobility. Not surprisingly the history of traditional job training in America has been pretty dismal, helping neither the person in need of a job nor the taxpayer. Unlike other job-training programs, the rehabilitation program invests heavily in preparing people for a lifetime of employment. Nevertheless, the model of quick, cheap placements continues to drive employment policy in America.
Although the block grant proposal had been disposed of, its proponents were not. They continued to press for a consolidated system of employment-training programs. In 1998, when the Rehabilitation Act was last reauthorized, a compromise was struck. Rather than a block grant combining various employment programs under a single umbrella structure, a system of partner programs providing employment training and placement services was established. Under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) vocational rehabilitation was linked with other job-training programs without compromising its distinct nature. However the press for consolidation is still with us.
When the Rehabilitation Act is reauthorized, it is typically for a five-year period, which means that the act was due for reauthorization again in 2003. As is often the case, the Congress was not able to reach agreement on needed changes to the act by the 2003 deadline. This did not present a problem since there is a mechanism for an automatic one-year extension if the act is not reauthorized in time. Everyone anticipated that the Congress would complete its work by the end of last year, but as with many other issues, with the presidential election looming, the process bogged down, and the Congress left the reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act unfinished at the end of its session. With a new session beginning this year, the reauthorization process had to begin anew. Early in January 2005 the House of Representatives introduced HR 27, its plan to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, which includes the Rehabilitation Act. There were no great surprises in HR 27; it looked very much like the bill passed by the Congress in the previous session. Later in January the Senate introduced its reauthorization plan, S9 which looked very similar to the bill the Senate had been working on last year. While the House and Senate bills contained a mixture of good and bad provisions, they raised no new issues and posed no new challenges--that was until the Bush administration weighed in.
On Monday, February 7, 2005, the Bush administration unveiled its Job Training Reform proposal, its strategy for improving employment training in America. The plan seeks the ability to give governors waiver authority to consolidate as many as nine programs under a single state plan. The proposal, known as WIA Plus, combines four labor programs and gives the authority to consolidate an additional two Department of Labor programs and three Department of Education programs, including vocational rehabilitation, under a single state plan.
The proposal has been crafted in a politically attractive way. To sidestep criticism for cuts in funding in the major job-training programs over the last several years, the administration has developed a plan to offer governors increased flexibility in administering employment-training services in the states. At the same time, under WIA Plus states are not required to include Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) in the consolidated system; the authority is permissive. This lets the administration off the hook in that it does not mandate any consolidation; rather it provides the authority for greater state flexibility. To stave off complaints that flexibility may mean leaving some groups behind, the administration has included in its WIA Plus plan linking greater flexibility to greater state accountability. But what is this new increased accountability? The proposal identifies two accountability measures: a 100% placement goal within ten years and prohibition of drops in participant levels for targeted populations, including people with disabilities.
Unfortunately the proposed accountability measures are not accountability measures at all. There is no explanation of what constitutes compliance, nor is there any description of how compliance would be measured. In addition, the so-called accountability measures provide no explanation of what is meant by a "100% placement goal." Even if it were defined, the states have ten years to meet it with no indication of what would constitute progress toward meeting the goal or what would happen at the end of the ten-year period if the goal were not met. We do know that the VR program would cease to exist in any recognizable form long before the ten-year period had ended.
On the same day the administration unveiled its WIA Plus Job Training Reform proposal, it released its 2006 budget proposal for the Department of Education, including the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA). Contained in the budget is a plan to close the RSA regional offices and carry out all agency functions within the central office in Washington, DC. This means the elimination of as many as sixty-six positions from RSA, representing approximately half of the total 126 RSA workforce. But the department does not intend to wait for the budget to be passed. It has announced that the regional office closures will occur by October 1, 2005, the beginning of the new fiscal year.
Shortly before the formal release of the department's budget, a memorandum was released by the Department of Education announcing its plan to close regional offices. However, the communiqué was unclear about the effect of the closure on the performance of the functions presently carried out by the regional offices. The memorandum stated, in part: "We will be moving forward to implement a plan to consolidate the work of the RSA regional offices in headquarters in Washington, D.C. This is a great opportunity to strengthen and streamline monitoring, technical assistance, fiscal management, and program implementation for the vocational rehabilitation program."
While the memorandum states that monitoring and other functions will be consolidated into the central office, implying that the regional office functions and staff would be transferred to Washington, D.C., the plan is not a consolidation at all; it is a plan to decimate the RSA workforce, leaving it entirely incapable of carrying out any semblance of monitoring or technical assistance. This leads to the question of who or what is behind the plan to dismantle RSA and render it ineffective.
On Monday, April 18, at the spring conference of the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR), Acting Commissioner Troy Justesen stated that the idea of eliminating the RSA regional offices was his alone and was not initiated by the White House or the Office of Management and Budget. Later the same day Assistant Secretary Hager announced that the plan to close the regional offices came from the White House and not from within the Department of Education. On Wednesday of the same week Acting Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Sheehy tried to resolve these diametrically opposed statements by saying that Dr. Justesen "gets nervous" speaking before large groups and misspoke. She stated that Dr. Justesen meant to say that he is fully supportive of the plan.
Although the plan ultimately received the blessing of the administration, it is clear that the idea did not flow from the White House down. Dr. Troy Justesen, who now serves as the acting commissioner of RSA, served as the acting assistant secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) for the year prior to the appointment of Mr. John Hager last December. It is no secret that Dr. Justesen has been very critical of the RSA and in particular the regional offices for some time. A year ago he reported to have said that he asked five state VR directors who their regional commissioners were and, in every case, was told that the state VR director did not know. Such a statement by Dr. Justesen lacks serious credibility, except to the extent that it reflects his disdain toward RSA and in particular its regional offices.
Once the decision to close the regional offices had been made, the idea went forward without consultation, analysis, or planning. It was developed in secret with no input from the disability community, no input from the VR agency community, no input from the community of private rehabilitation providers, and no input from the department's own experts in disability employment policy. Finally, Commissioner Joanne Wilson was not consulted or even advised of the plan to close the RSA regional offices. Such an action shows unprecedented disrespect to the individual and the office (a presidential appointment with Senate confirmation). In other words, the one person in the department who had VR background and experience in rehabilitation was not consulted in the decision. Now Assistant Secretary Hager, who has no VR experience, Acting RSA Commissioner Justesen, also without VR experience, and the Acting Deputy Commissioner, Jennifer Sheehy, again, without VR background, are left to figure out how to make the system better and more effective with half the staff. The result has been an incoherent and contradictory series of statements from department officials that raise more questions than they answer.
At the April CSAVR spring conference Acting Commissioner Troy Justesen explained that the reason for closing the regional offices (reducing the RSA workforce by half) is to make the agency function better--more efficiently, providing more effective monitoring and technical assistance. At the same time Dr. Justesen announced plans for a summit to be held in August to develop a blueprint to guide the development of the agency's new monitoring design to replace the regional-office structure. It needs little comment to point out the impossibility of resolving these two statements--a decision was made to decimate the RSA staff to make its operations more efficient, and only later is the process established to decide what the new structure will be. According to this logic the administration believes that the way to strengthen a program is to cut it in half and figure out later how to perform the work. With this in mind, one wonders why the staff was not cut in half in the No Child Left Behind program, a top administration priority. Surely the department is as deeply committed to the No Child Left Behind initiative as it is to the employment program for people with disabilities in America. Why then not cut the No Child Left Behind program staff in half or, for that matter, all Department of Education program staff in half or, better yet, the staff of all programs throughout government?
Of course, the reason one program is cut and another not is the perceived relative value of each program. No Child Left Behind is a priority, and it appears that the employment of people with disabilities is not. In other words, no number of public proclamations, no blithe statements of optimism, no promises of better services can change the perception, which could better be regarded as fact, that the administration would not cut a program in half if it regarded it as important. This action, initiated by a poorly informed individual with his own grudge against the rehabilitation program and with the complicity of the Department of Education and ultimately the White House, shows little regard for the employment needs of blind people and others with disabilities.
The department's budget request does not decimate others of its programs. It does not even include the elimination of the department's regional offices, only the elimination of the RSA presence in the regional offices. Student Financial Aid, the Office for Civil Rights, and the Inspector General will all continue to operate through the department's ten regional offices. Only the RSA staff has been eliminated. Yet department officials want us to believe that RSA and disability employment services were not singled out for cuts.
On April 20, at the spring meeting of the National council of State Agencies for the Blind, Acting Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Sheehy stated that the closure of the RSA regional offices was simply part of a larger administration management initiative to streamline government. But of course there is no consistent plan to close regional offices throughout the federal government, as was pointed out by Brian Friel of the National Journal in an April 27 article entitled, "It's a Big Country." More to the point, the Department of Labor is not closing its regional offices, making it clear that the closure of the RSA regional offices is not simply part of an administration management agenda to centralize functions for the sake of greater efficiency.
But the contradictions do not stop there. In her remarks at the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind spring meeting, Acting Deputy Commissioner Sheehy stated that the eventual number of RSA staff is not known. She indicated that the department is conducting a workforce analysis of RSA, and the analysis will determine the number of staff needed to carry out the agency's essential functions. It seems incredible that we are asked to believe that a workforce analysis will drive the number of RSA staff and not an a priori decision. The president's FY 06 budget request clearly contains a reduction of sixty-six positions within OSERS; the department has announced the closure of the RSA regional offices; RSA staff have been told that they will be offered buyouts; and a summit has been scheduled to sort out how the agency will handle its monitoring responsibility with half its workforce; yet we are told that no decision about the number of RSA staff has been made.
We are left with these facts:
The plan to eliminate the RSA regional offices comes at a particularly bad time. There is a strong relationship between the Department of Education's plan to eliminate the RSA regional offices and the threat posed by WIA Plus. The Department of Education has made it clear that it has no idea how it can maintain its monitoring and technical assistance functions with the RSA workforce cut nearly in half but insists that the reorganization will lead to greater efficiency and more consistent policy interpretation. Of course the idea that serious monitoring can continue with a decimated workforce is implausible.
With virtually no protections for VR in the new WIA Plus waiver authority together with the loss of RSA's regional presence, one has little hope that any serious monitoring will occur. The inevitable losers will be blind people and others with disabilities. The WIA partner programs have a poor track record in achieving physical accessibility, let alone program accessibility. Given their lack of knowledge and experience (setting aside their far too frequently demonstrated lack of interest), it is nothing short of fanciful to believe that people with significant disabilities will continue to have access to comprehensive employment training and assistance under the WIA Plus plan.
The administration's plan to seek WIA Plus super waiver authority is being pursued aggressively. However, in Washington the future of any piece of legislation is less certain than anyone would have you believe. WIA Plus is not, by any means, a done deal, but it is a clear and immediate threat. Make no mistake, WIA Plus is a block grant plan. No claim that it will lead to greater efficiency, more integration, or the elimination of wasteful duplication can change the fact that its goal is consolidation of employment programs under a block grant structure. It has no serious policy objective. Its goal is budget reduction--reduced federal commitment in exchange for greater state flexibility. No evidence exists that the employment needs of people with disabilities were considered, much less taken seriously. WIA Plus offers nothing to blind people and others with disabilities other than the replacement of comprehensive services with quick, cheap, one-size-fits-all employment services. It is not a plus at all but a retreat from the administration's commitment to comprehensive rehabilitation services.
From the administration's perspective the plan to close the RSA regional offices is simply icing on the cake. It insures that nothing will impede the consolidation of rehabilitation into the larger workforce system. No one will be on hand to stop the misuse of funds, no one to insure compliance with the most basic program requirements, and no one to prevent blind people and others from being left behind or shut out completely from a take-it-or-leave-it system of job training.
At this point we do not know with certainty whether the regional offices will be closed; we do not know whether WIA Plus will become law; but we do know that, if either occurs, the future of the rehabilitation program will be bleak. Perhaps the saddest part of this very sad story was the resignation of Dr. Joanne Wilson as commissioner of RSA. Dr. Wilson was the one bright light in an otherwise dismal situation. Under her leadership the rehabilitation program was moving toward greater consumer empowerment, greater consumer choice, and greater emphasis on comprehensive services leading to high quality employment--not just a job but a lifetime of challenging, rewarding, integrated employment. Under her leadership the program had a clear mission of partnership with consumers--a partnership in which the program supported and encouraged blind people and others to achieve all that they could, according to their individual abilities and hard work.
The current administration has shown lack of interest in the employment needs of blind people and others with disabilities; it has shown a lack of interest in maintaining the oversight structure that helps sustain it; and it has shown a lack of respect for one of our nation's most effective advocates. Dr. Wilson was a leader, not a bureaucrat. She had lived the consumer experience and had devoted her entire personal and professional life to building programs that embodied the very best in rehabilitation--encouragement and high expectations. Her appointment as RSA commissioner was the administration's highpoint in disability employment policy, signaling a strong, serious commitment to employment services for blind people and others. Her resignation--a resignation arising out of frustration and disappointment in the system--represents the loss of any true leadership, any true direction for the rehabilitation program in America.
It is incumbent upon us to make the administration take us seriously. The plans to close the RSA regional offices and to combine the rehabilitation program with the general workforce system are not surprising. They reflect a lack of belief in the ability of blind people to work and contribute. We must continue to press the administration to halt its misguided WIA Plus plan for super waiver authority; we must press the administration to reverse its plan to close the RSA regional offices; and we must press the administration to seek out another true advocate--true leader--to replace Dr. Wilson as the head of RSA. Blind people in America and others with disabilities need and deserve the opportunity to live normal, productive lives. A strong, functioning rehabilitation system is a vital tool in making it happen.
It is not too late, but getting the serious attention of the administration will take our collective energy and determination. The administration is not our enemy, but as with society generally its attitudes about the ability of blind people reflect low expectations. We must change those low expectations through advocacy and through our example--blind people living active lives, paying taxes, raising children, and participating fully in community life.
[PICTURE/CAPTION: Kelsey Fields]
Expedience Plus Ignorance Equals Betrayal
by Christopher Fields
From the Editor: The following story does not have a happy ending. It is, however, a tale of courage and determination on the part of parents and a blind teacher to do their best for a blind child who would otherwise have been left at the mercy of a school district and an educational bureaucracy with no observable commitment to effective education for a child with special needs. Christopher (Matt) and Laina Fields are members of the NFB of Mississippi. So is Mary Evans, the blind teacher who has taught their daughter Kelsey for several years. Here is their story as Matt explained it to Mary Ellen Gabias:
Kelsey started at North Pontotoc School in 1999 at the age of seven. Before that she had received help from an outreach worker at the Mississippi School for the Blind. The last time the worker visited our home, he looked at my wife Laina and me, shook his head, and said, "The two of you will have to be Kelsey's voice." At the time I thought he was being a little melodramatic, but I've learned to my pain and sorrow that he was absolutely right. At first the special education process worked well for us. Because of Kelsey's level of development when she started school, everyone agreed that she was not ready for Braille in the beginning. School was a big adjustment for her. We wanted to make sure that, when she did start Braille, she would have a real opportunity to succeed.
After she had been in school for two years, everyone agreed she was ready to begin. Fortunately for us, a very capable Braille instructor was in our area. Although she never got her teaching degree, Mary Evans had successfully taught Braille for sixteen years. In Mississippi Braille can be taught by paraprofessionals without certification under the supervision of a certified teacher. The only time a teacher needs to have credentials for teaching the visually impaired is if the majority of the students in the class are visually impaired. I suspect the law was written this way because Mississippi is a rural state. There aren't enough certified teachers of the visually impaired to cover all the counties, especially since there are so few blind students. So school districts sometimes need to be creative. Mary Evans's teaching career began because of such creativity. Mary is a blind Braille user. Fifteen years ago the principal of a school in a nearby county hired her to teach Braille to a local blind student. She was so good at it that word spread. She has now taught Braille in six or seven counties to a dozen or so students over the past fifteen years.
Mary Evans loves her work, and she loves her students. She firmly believes that every student can learn and has a right to do so. She's patient and determined. Kelsey loved her and made tremendous progress! Laina and I were delighted. I thought the warning we had been given about being Kelsey's voice was unnecessarily gloomy. Yes, as her parents we were her voice, but she had advocates at her school too. We were working together as a team.
Then, in 2003, the school got a new principal and a new special education director. That was when the trouble started.
The cooperative relationship between the school and Mary Evans began to change. The principal, Lisa Locus, called Mary into her office on several occasions, but Mary was not permitted to bring her reader/driver into the meetings with her. Under normal circumstances this would not have been a serious problem, but the behavior of the principal and the director of special education during one of these meetings was so calculatingly disrespectful of Mary that it seems clear to me they didn't want a witness. Lisa Lucius complained that Mary had supposedly upset an aide in the classroom.
About five minutes into what Mary Evans believed was a private conversation between her and the principal, she heard a quiet sound. When she asked whether someone else was in the room, Terry Larabee, the new special education director, made his presence known. Mary told them how rude and wrong their behavior was, and the meeting continued. Five minutes later, a subtle sound alerted her to the presence of yet another person, the principal's assistant.
Finally Mary demanded to talk with the aide she had supposedly upset. She wanted to solve the problem directly with the person who had been offended. But there was no problem to solve. The aide had no idea that anything was wrong. I believe the purpose of the whole meeting was to humiliate and intimidate Mary Evans.
When I think of that incident now, I'm outraged for Mary. I'm also angry for Kelsey's sake. If professionals can treat a blind colleague with such contempt, how can I possibly trust that my blind child will be respected and valued in that school?
On December 23, 2003, two days before Christmas, my wife and I received a letter from Terry Larabee stating that Mary's services had been terminated because the district had a new Braille instructor, Joy Beth Turner. Needless to say we were very upset. Turner has been a teacher's aide at North Pontotoc for seven or eight years. I understand that she has a degree in special education, but she is not certified. Her only Braille training consists of a three-month correspondence course taught by Carolyn Davis, the special education director in an adjoining county.
I have nothing against learning Braille through correspondence--my wife and I are currently taking the course offered by the Hadley School for the Blind--I simply don't think three months is enough time to be adequately trained to teach a child Braille. Turner began the course in October of 2003 and finished it in December. The district expected her to start teaching in January of 2004. That's like expecting a person who had only just completed a basic print literacy course to teach reading to sighted children. It would never happen. Yet the school district chose to replace a competent blind Braille teacher with a woman who has barely a nodding acquaintance with the Braille code.
When school resumed in January, we told the school in writing that we did not want our daughter taught by Turner until this situation was resolved. The school asked us to attend a meeting so that they could explain the changes. By then our trust had been so violated that we declined to talk to the staff unless our attorney was present. Instead we turned for help to our elected school board. At the board's January meeting I explained the Braille system and why it takes time to learn it well. I also outlined the problems we had been having with the staff and told them how disgracefully Mary Evans had been treated. I asked for their help in resolving the problems. They told me that they would have to go over all the information and let us know later. It seemed reasonable to allow them time for evaluation, so I waited a few weeks before calling the superintendent of education, who told me the board had decided that Turner would be the Braille instructor.
In February Laina took her turn trying to reason with the board. She told them that a child's educational life was on the line. They denied having made any decision about the Braille instructor. Faced with this discrepancy, the superintendent of education said he had "misunderstood the board."
The board remained silent. The school administration remained arrogant. Our daughter's school life was deteriorating. We were not being heard, so we reluctantly filed for a due process hearing.
While waiting for the due process hearing, we believed that everything would remain the same. So we were shocked when Kelsey came home one day with a note explaining a schedule for Braille instruction. Didn't the school understand what the hearing was all about? How could they dismiss our wishes so casually? We kept Kelsey home for the next several days while we tried once again to resolve the problem with the school administration. But the district dug in its heels. They sent an official letter refusing our request to modify her IEP to postpone Braille instruction until after the hearing. They also refused to provide us with Joy Beth Turner's qualifications as a Braille instructor. Reluctantly, in order to give Turner a fair chance and to keep Kelsey in school, we permitted Turner to teach Kelsey. We were prepared to be flexible, provided our child's education did not suffer.
The first week Kelsey reviewed work she already knew. Turner's lack of knowledge of the Braille code became glaringly evident the second week when she sent Kelsey home with error-filled work. The word "that's" is correctly Brailled "t" followed by "apostrophe s." Instead Turner insisted that Kelsey write "th-sign a t apostrophe s." Many other errors showed that Turner hadn't learned how and when to use the th sign, the sign for "the," or the correct use of signs for "can," "that," "can't," "don't," or "today." Kelsey was confused and upset. Mary Evans had already taught her correct Braille. All of a sudden the new teacher was changing everything.
We called the school immediately to bring the problems to their attention. I rushed back from a business trip to support my wife in meetings with the principal. The school district responded by insisting that Kelsey's IEP be followed. Turner would continue teaching Kelsey Braille. After all, they insisted, everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Turner had passed the correspondence course. That was good enough.
For the next few days we kept Kelsey at home. I sent the superintendent a letter requesting to go before the board again in March and was refused. I was told that since I had filed for a due process hearing, the board would not intervene. So on the night of the board meeting in March my wife and I took Kelsey with us to the meeting and sat in the center of the front row. They would not look at our child. After two-and-a-half hours it became clear to them that we weren't going anywhere. By that time Kelsey was understandably becoming restless, so we sent her home with her grandparents. Only after Kelsey left did the board president finally relent and call on us.
Once again we asked the board to fulfill their responsibility as the elected officials of the district. Our request was modest. All we wanted was for the incorrect Braille instruction to cease until the due process hearing could be held. The board did nothing, so we felt we had no choice but to remove Kelsey officially from school to protect her from harmful misinstruction.
Our hearing was held on March 30 and April 8, 2004, with Stephen E. Oshrin, Ph.D., presiding. Dr. Oshrin is employed at the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Sam Gleese, president of the NFB of Mississippi, and Tom Anderson, Braille instructor at the Colorado Center for the Blind, testified about the necessity of good Braille skills. They agreed that the mistakes made in Turner's instruction were fundamental errors, not minor goofs. Mary Evans also testified about her experience as a Braille teacher and spoke eloquently of her belief in Kelsey's capacity to learn.
One of the witnesses for the district was Carolyn Davis, the director of special education for the Lafayette County School District. She is the district's consultant on blindness and visual impairment and the person who gave Turner the correspondence course in Braille. Although her resumé does not mention Braille training in her educational background, Davis testified that she too had learned Braille through correspondence in the 1970's. She did not talk about how frequently she had used it since.
Some of Davis's testimony differed from information she'd given me in earlier phone conversations. For one thing, she had told me Turner would be able to assess Kelsey's Braille knowledge in a few days. At the hearing Davis testified that Turner had not finished assessing the Braille knowledge of the District's other blind student after two months. Terry Larabee also testified about the District's procedures and policies and recounted his version of events. But Turner was never called to testify. We had not put her on our witness list, and the District did not call her, so we were prohibited from examining her by the hearing rules.
Stephen Oshrin ruled against us a few weeks later. Several quotes from his decision stand out in my mind. "…The district's educational program is entitled to a presumption of appropriateness, and the parent bears the burden of providing (I believe the correct word here is "proving," but the document says "providing") that it is not appropriate…." IDEA entitles a student to an `appropriate' education, rather than a perfect one…. …The district must provide personalized instruction with sufficient support service to permit the student to receive an `educational benefit,' i.e., a program that is meaningful and is reasonably calculated to produce progress rather than regression or trivial educational advancement…. It is the policy of the Mississippi State Department of Education that classroom teachers who instruct visually impaired students must be certified in the area of visual impairment only if the majority of students in that class are visually impaired. Further, there is no requirement that paraprofessionals providing Braille instruction hold any certification...Although it is likely that other, more experienced Braille instructors may indeed provide superior Braille instruction, IDEA maintains that the instruction provide reasonable `educational benefit' rather than optimum learning. … In this case the parents allowed an insufficient period of time to pass in which to determine whether the new Braille instructor could meet the provisions of the child's IEP. While a single instance of incorrect Braille material might have been confusing or upsetting to the child, it is unlikely that such an occurrence would result in permanent, irreparable harm. Indeed it is likely that many children are exposed to erroneous information provided by their teachers on occasion without suffering serious detrimental effects…."
It's clear to me that Oshrin chose to believe the district's consultant, Carolyn Davis, instead of our experienced Braille-reading witnesses. He equated errors in basic Braille literacy with getting the date of the French Revolution wrong. He seemed to feel that, if we just gave Turner more time to confuse Kelsey, all would be right with the world.
We had pinned our hopes on the law and due process. But the process failed us and our daughter. The hearing officer recommended an independent evaluation of Kelsey, but not an independent evaluation of Turner's competence as a teacher. With our trust shattered, we've decided Kelsey cannot return to the North Pontotoc School District while current attitudes continue. Therefore we're homeschooling her.
Mary Evans has generously volunteered to teach Kelsey Braille, though doing so puts a strain on her already crowded schedule. The family of the other blind child in the district moved across the county line, and Mary Evans has been contracted by that district to teach her Braille. Laina and I have been considering the possibility of doing the same, though we really have no desire to leave the place that has been our home for fourteen years.
We are grateful to many people in the NFB who have done what they could to help us. It's good to know that we are not alone, though it can still feel pretty lonely when the people who are supposed to care about educating our daughter seem to care more about bureaucracy than quality instruction. Laina and I firmly believe that Kelsey deserves the same quality education as so-called normal children. One way or another we intend to see that she gets the respect due to every child.
BPS' Diane Ditmars is Honored for Her Work
by Bill Hafer
From the Editor: In a national education system in which so many blind students are shortchanged day in and day out, it is sometimes hard to remember that in some lucky districts truly excellent teachers willing to challenge their students and fight for their right to learn are working every day with quiet dedication to enable blind students to reach their full potential. All too often they are quite literally the unsung heroes of our neck of the special education woods.
It is certainly our duty to call attention to situations in which blind children face poor teaching, discrimination, and injustice. But we have an equal responsibility to cheer on excellent, dedicated teachers and make sure that they realize how deeply we appreciate their commitment and skill.
At the 2004 NFB of Nebraska convention the Nebraska Association of Blind Students honored two outstanding teachers of blind students. Diane Ditmars and Meg Bradford both received Nebraska Educator of the Blind Excellence Awards. On December 8, 2004, the Beatrice, Nebraska, Daily Sun carried a story about Diane Ditmars. We are reprinting it here because in her comments Ms. Ditmars demonstrates with great clarity the attitudes and commitment to her students that make her an exemplary teacher of blind students. Here is the story:
Imagine being in math class, and the teacher goes to the board to lead the class through a problem. The teacher is blocking the illustration on the board so all the class gets is this description: "Draw a box. Now draw lines here, and there. Place letters at this point and that point, and there it is."
For most students the teacher using the pronouns "this," "that," "here," and "there," among others, wouldn't be a problem because they could simply look at the illustration when the teacher moved out of the way, but that wouldn't be the case for a blind student.
"In the classroom, pronouns and anything at a distance blind students miss," said Diane Ditmars, Beatrice Public Schools vision resource teacher. That is where she comes in. "It's daily problem-solving," she said of her job.
In recognition of the job she does, Ditmars was awarded the Nebraska Educator of the Blind Excellence Award. The award was presented in October at the tenth annual luncheon meeting of the Nebraska Association of Blind Students, part of the state convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Nebraska.
Ditmars said she has worked with BPS since 1980, as a consultant for many years and now as a half‑time employee of the district. "Many people do not realize the work that goes on behind the scenes," she said. In addition to Ditmars, BPS also has Braillist Karen Meints on staff to provide support for blind and low-vision students.
Ditmars said one of the key challenges of her job is helping other people understand blindness. "People understand it to be an incredible disability. It's an emotional thing for them to think of being without their eyes," she said.
The reality is that there are blind people in every field imaginable, Ditmars said, and as an educator she looks for how it is possible for students to reach that level of independence. "A blind student needs all the same information," Ditmars said. "If you have all the information you need, you don't have a disability. For some kids the only reason they miss information is because they can't see the board."
For younger students she said she works more intensively, one on one, to help them learn and develop the skills to adapt on their own. As the students get older, the job becomes about providing support for both the students and their teachers, Ditmars said. Support means finding ways to make sure blind students get the same information that other students do, whether that is through printouts of what a teacher might put on an overhead projector, getting Braille versions of worksheets and tests made, or whatever else the situation requires.
She said each situation has to take into account that student's need because most of the students have some vision. "Most can see some light," Ditmars said, which can lead to confusion because in some lighting situations a student may be able to read visually like other students, but in others they can't. She said 20/200 vision is legally blind, but that's not the same as totally blind.
Ditmars works with eight students in Beatrice and students in Hebron and Marysville, as well as testing other students to see if they are having vision problems. She said she considers herself a vision resource teacher because she is a resource to blind students and their parents and teachers.
"I love the students I have. I wish I had more time for each one of them," Ditmars said. She said she's been asked if it makes sense to have two educators working specifically with such a small number of students. "It's a drop in the bucket compared to what it would cost if that student went onto welfare for the rest of their life because they don't have any skills," Ditmars said.
That's because, in the end, her job is about providing the support blind and low‑vision students need to learn to adapt in the classroom so that they will be able to adapt independently when they move on into the world.
You can create a gift annuity by transferring money or property to the National Federation of the Blind. In turn, the NFB contracts to pay income for life to you or your spouse or loved ones after your death. How much you and your heirs receive as income depends on the amount of the gift and your age when payments begin. You will receive a tax deduction for the full amount of your contribution, less the value of the income the NFB pays to you or your heirs.
You would be wise to consult an attorney or accountant when making such arrangements so that he or she can assist you to calculate current IRS regulations and the earning potential of your funds. The following example illustrates how a charitable gift annuity can work to your advantage.
Mary Jones, age sixty-five, decides to set up a charitable gift annuity by transferring $10,000 to the NFB. In return, the NFB agrees to pay Mary a lifetime annuity of $750 per year, of which $299 is tax-free. Mary is also allowed to claim a tax deduction of $4,044 in the year the NFB receives the $10,000 contribution.
For more information about charitable gift annuities, contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Debbie Stein]
Stop, Look, and Listen:
Quiet Vehicles and Pedestrian Safety
by Deborah Kent Stein
From the Editor: Debbie Stein is a leader of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois. She also chairs a relatively new NFB committee. The following article discusses the issue with which this committee is grappling and what you can do to help. This is what she says:
Twenty-five years ago I read a futuristic article about technologies that might some day free the world from dependence on fossil fuels. Among the developments we could expect by the twenty-first century, the article proclaimed, was the electric-powered automobile. Electric vehicles would be powered by a rechargeable battery rather than the traditional gas-burning combustion engine. They would be safe and efficient. Furthermore, such vehicles would alleviate noise pollution along our roads and highways. Electric cars would be virtually silent.
I read the prediction about electric cars with deeply mixed feelings. I applauded the idea of cleaner air and a reduction in greenhouse gases, a benefit to the entire planet. Yet, because I am blind and travel using a long white cane, the thought of silent vehicles filled me with apprehension. Like countless other blind people I walk safely and confidently, judging traffic patterns by sound. Whether I'm crossing a suburban parking lot or a busy avenue in the Chicago Loop, sound gives me the information I need about the vehicles in my environment. How could blind people travel independently in a world filled with silent electric cars?
Troubled, I raised my concerns to a number of blind friends and colleagues. Nearly everyone agreed that silent cars would pose a devastating threat to independent travel for blind people. But again and again I heard the comforting refrain, "They won't let that happen.... They'll figure something out.... If they develop that technology, they'll be sure to make it safe for us." Such thoughts were very heartening. Besides, I had faith in my capacity to find useful cues in my surroundings, no matter how subtle those cues might seem to others. I was convinced that I would be able to hear even the quietest electric car if I paid close attention.
More than two decades have passed since I first read about electric cars, and the future is upon us. Fully electric-powered vehicles have not become popular yet, but a number of cars and pick-up trucks now operate using a combination of electricity and gasoline. These vehicles are known as hybrids because they blend combustion-engine and electric-motor technologies. Excess energy from the combustion-engine energy, which is wasted in conventional vehicles, charges the battery that runs the hybrid's electric motor. When it is in operation, the hybrid vehicle shifts automatically from one power mode to the other. How often and when the vehicle uses electric power varies widely according to model and design. In keeping with those long-ago predictions, the engine is silent when operating in electric-power mode.
I encountered my first hybrid car when Jim, a family friend, dropped by one morning driving a brand-new Toyota Prius. He explained that the Prius uses electric power when running at speeds up to about twenty mph and periodically switches to electric power at faster speeds as well. He added that the car is extremely quiet in its electric mode--so silent, in fact, that car dealers have affectionately dubbed it a stealth vehicle. "It'd be a great burglar's car," Jim said. "You could glide down the street in the dead of night, and nobody would hear a thing."
Eager to prove to myself that I would be able to hear the Prius, no matter what the dealers boasted, I asked Jim to conduct an experiment. He agreed to take the Prius for a short test drive while I listened from the sidewalk in front of my house on a quiet side street. I heard him climb into the car and slam the door on the driver's side. Then I waited, listening for him to start the engine. Nothing happened. I heard only the sparrows chirping in the trees and the distant roar of a lawn mower. At last the car door opened again and Jim asked, "Could you hear it?"
"Hear what?" I demanded. "Why didn't you start up?"
"I did start up," he said. "I drove to the end of the block. Then I backed up and went about three houses past yours. Then I drove back and parked here in front of you again."
I went to the curb and rested my hand lightly on the passenger door. Again Jim started the engine. I felt the car move forward. Uncannily, eerily, it did not make a sound. With horror I realized that I could easily step straight into the path of an oncoming Prius with no hint of peril.
Since that unsettling experiment I have become very aware of the sounds that help me locate the cars in my environment. When a gasoline-powered vehicle is idling, accelerating, or moving at a speed of less than twenty to twenty-five mph, the sound of the engine predominates. On some surfaces, such as a gravel driveway or a rain-spattered street, sound from the tires is also audible at low speeds. When a car moves faster, most sound comes from the tires on the pavement and the rush of wind. At high speeds, therefore, a hybrid such as the Prius can be heard as easily as any other vehicle. The problem arises when a hybrid car, powered by its electric motor, is traveling at slow to moderate speeds--as when it moves along a side street, emerges from a driveway or parking lot, or starts up after a red light or stop sign. Under these circumstances the engine is silent, and there is little or no sound from tire friction or wind resistance. In addition nearly all hybrids come to a full stop at red lights or stop signs, shutting off the engine completely. The engine does not idle, emitting a low, telltale purr. It makes no sound at all. A blind traveler has no indication that a car is present and preparing to move forward at any moment.
Hybrids are not the only vehicles that pose a challenge to blind pedestrians on today's streets. Throughout the automotive industry manufacturers are seeking to make cars quieter. Many gasoline-fueled engines are now almost as quiet as those that use electric power. Manufacturers are even developing tires that produce less friction with the road surface. Such tires will increase fuel efficiency and at the same time cut down on noise.
The increasing prevalence of quiet vehicles may seriously affect the ability of blind people to travel safely. Low-noise vehicles are also likely to affect the safety of sighted pedestrians and cyclists. Sighted people rely on sound to alert them to the presence of vehicles outside their line of vision. Hearing the approach of a car, they can glance in its direction to gauge its speed and location. It is no accident that generations of schoolchildren have been taught to "stop, look, and listen" at every intersection.
In 2003 the National Federation of the Blind passed two resolutions (2003-05 and 2003-102) dealing with quiet cars. Resolution 2003-05 resolved that the NFB express its deep concern "that the safe and free travel of blind pedestrians and all pedestrians may be significantly and increasingly impaired by quiet vehicles." It also resolved that the NFB work with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration within the Department of Transportation to initiate research on the effect of quiet cars on pedestrians, both blind and sighted, in order to propose safety-based solutions to the problem. Resolution 2003-102, approved by the NFB board of directors at its November meeting, calls for the NFB to express its concern about low-noise vehicles to manufacturers in the United States and overseas. The resolution further states that "it is imperative that we adopt a device integrated into the design of each car which will generate a noise sufficiently loud to allow for the detection of these automobiles using nonvisual techniques."
In the spring of 2004 NFB President Marc Maurer appointed a small committee to explore the quiet-car issue and asked me to serve as its chairman. For the past year the Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety (CAPS) has approached the problem on several fronts. We have expressed our concern to automobile manufacturers and to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). We have reached out to pedestrian and cyclist activist organizations and to other consumer groups concerned with traffic safety. Among ourselves we have been engaged in an ongoing discussion about possible solutions to the quiet car problem. A number of ideas have emerged from the committee's brainstorming.
Perhaps hybrid vehicles could be engineered so that the radiator fan switches on whenever the car is operating in electric mode. The fan would emit a hum audible to pedestrians. Perhaps a device built into the axle could make a sound as the wheels rotate.
It has also been suggested that blind travelers carry a device that would indicate when a hybrid or other quiet car is in the vicinity. The signal could be auditory or tactile. A tactile signal would have the advantage of not blocking other important sounds in the environment. In addition, it could be of great help to blind people who also have impaired hearing. However, most of us on the committee question whether any device, however sophisticated, could give us all of the information we are able to gather from listening to traffic sounds. By listening we can tell where a car is, how fast it is moving, whether it is accelerating or slowing down, and whether it is turning or traveling straight through an intersection. Furthermore, we can collect all of this information about several vehicles simultaneously.
We fervently hope that one or more relatively low-tech, inexpensive solutions to the quiet-car problem lie in the future. However, it will require a highly focused and concerted effort to make such solutions a reality. At this stage we are just beginning to raise public awareness that quiet cars pose a safety hazard. Whenever we discuss our concerns with someone for the first time, the response is invariably the same: "It never occurred to me that quiet vehicles might be a problem. The quieter the better, right? But what you're saying makes sense. We need to think about this " Such exchanges are usually followed by a set of crucial questions: "What sort of figures do you have? Have pedestrian injuries increased since cars have gotten quieter? How many people have been killed or injured by quiet cars so far?"
Right now we have no answers to these questions. Extremely quiet cars such as the Toyota Prius still comprise only a tiny fraction of the vehicles on the road. It is currently difficult to isolate lack of sound as a critical factor in pedestrian casualties. We suspect that a link between pedestrian injuries and quiet cars will be more discernible as low-noise vehicles become more common. But in the real world mere suspicion is a fragile basis for policy decisions. We must support logic and intuition with facts and figures.
Before government agencies and the automotive industry will give weight to our concerns, we need data to prove that quiet cars pose a serious problem. CAPS is trying to gather statistics on pedestrian casualties from traffic-safety organizations and from the insurance industry. We also need to collect accounts of pedestrians and cyclists who have been killed or injured in accidents involving hybrids or other quiet vehicles. We must document as many instances as possible in which a vehicle's low sound level has contributed to an accident. If quiet cars are shown to be involved in more accidents than so-called noisy vehicles, we can build a case for nonvisual safety measures. Tragically, casualties must occur before any steps will be taken to insure safety.
Years ago my friends and I told each other that "they" would protect the safety of blind travelers if electric-powered cars were ever developed. So far "they", whoever they may be, have done nothing of the kind. As Federationists we cannot stand by while our ability to travel safely and independently is whittled away. We must gather the facts, make our voices heard, and take an active role in the quest for viable solutions. We have met countless challenges in the past, and with resourcefulness and perseverance we will meet this one as well.
NOTE: If you have had experiences involving quiet cars or if you have ideas about solutions to the problem, please contact Debbie Stein at <[email protected]> or (773) 631-1093.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: A visitor to the Tactile Museum for the Blind in Athens examines a copy of Venus de Milo (original on view at the Louvre), circa 130 B.C.E.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: A museum visitor explores a copy of a Cycladic figurine, circa 2300 B.C.E.]
Beyond Vision: Integrating Touch into Museums
The Tactile Museum of the Lighthouse
for the Blind in Athens, Greece
by Amalia S. Levi
From the Editor: Judging from the comments whenever we publish articles about museums or access for blind people to sightseeing venues, a number of our readers are interested in the subject. I recently received the following article from Amalia Levi, who is originally from Athens, Greece. She wondered if we would be interested in a piece about accessible museum collections. She is an archaeologist and art historian and has worked in museums in Istanbul, Turkey, and Florida. She is currently the curator at the B'nai B'rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum in Washington, D.C. She is clearly well informed and knowledgeable about making museum collections accessible to blind visitors. Perhaps this article will be a valuable resource when chapters and individuals approach museum officials about improving access to their collections. In her original text Ms. Levi was scrupulous about always referring to both blind and visually impaired people. Since we recognize everyone with a significant visual impairment as legally or functionally blind, I have simplified these references. Those who are not used to grouping people with significant vision loss into a single category should understand that all people who experience difficulty in seeing museum displays are included in this discussion. This is what Ms. Levi says:
People tend to think of art as a matter of visual appreciation. For blind people, enjoying cultural heritage and artistic creation is not always simple because ours is a visual world, where nearly everything is made by and for sighted people. Although important steps have been taken to bring about more universal participation in the arts, cultural life generally, and technological advancements, museums remain notably behind the times.
Accessibility for blind people, as opposed to people with mobility impairments, depends not so much on the ability to cope with obstacles in the physical environment as on the ability to find one's way or orientation in an unknown space. It results when access requirements are considered during initial planning so that blind people can freely share, enjoy, and participate in social and cultural life.
Beyond physical accessibility, museums seriously lack exhibit development, concept layout, and educational programs intended especially for the blind. Human assistance is still the most efficient method for orientation in nearly every cultural institution. Exhibits are off-limits to those who must touch in order to appreciate artifacts because the objects on exhibit are too old to be examined tactilely and because museum educational programs generally do not take visually impaired people into consideration. Many blind people are therefore reluctant to go to museums because they do not feel welcome. This feeling may be accentuated not only by lack of relevant exhibits but also by untrained or insensitive staff. The situation is even worse for blind people living in small communities. Not only are there fewer museums than in densely populated cities, but those few are even less likely to have an effective program for serving blind visitors.
Museums, the most important cultural and educational institutions in today's world, can encourage individual participation by the blind through making their collections accessible. Here are some categories of institutions devoted to breaking the barriers:
a) Museums that tell the story of institutions related to the advancement of blind people, featuring artifacts that show their educational history or advancement. For example, the Marie and Eugene Callahan Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind includes tactile books, maps and globes, mechanical Braille writers, and displays showing APH's pioneering activities.
b) Museums that are testimonies to the past, such as the Otto Weidt Museum Workshop for the Blind, affiliated with the Jewish Museum of Berlin. Nearly unchanged since the end of World War II, it was, till the day of their deportation, a working place for Jewish and non-Jewish blind and deaf people who under the protection of manufacturer Otto Weidt produced brooms and brushes for army use.
c) Museums, specially designed for blind people, with exhibits that consist mainly of reproductions of original artifacts or small-scale copies of monuments. Examples are the Museum of Tactile Antique and Modern Painting, Anteros, in Bologna, Italy, and the Tactile Museum for the Blind in Athens, Greece.
d) Tactile departments in large, mainstream museums such as the Louvre in Paris or the Touch Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, available by appointment only.
e) Temporary exhibits that include material suited also for blind people such as "Earth from the Air," a photographic exhibit by Yann Arthus Bertrand, exhibited in London's Natural History Museum. Along with 160 photographs, Bertrand has added thirty tactile images produced with a special technique developed with the help of French eyewear designer Alain Mikli.
f) Special programs and tours for blind people such as the Touch Tour or Verbal Imaging Tour in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
One problem with tactile museums and collections is that because of space limitations the exhibits can deal with only a limited subject of reduced scope. Touch tours and programs with unrestricted tactile examination of selected artifacts, although an excellent way to enjoy art, can be frustrating because they are often cancelled for low participation. In addition, because they are usually scheduled at set times, they do not lend themselves to unplanned visits.
But despite the disadvantages tactile museums and exhibitions and their educational programs are important because they teach blind people art history and art. They can make a difference in a blind person's academic and professional success. Involvement with the arts fosters self-confidence, manual dexterity, and pride in one's achievement; and it enriches life. It helps blind people overcome the social integration, mobility, and employment barriers they face every day. Special courses in art history can be organized that help blind people develop tactile perception and interpretative refinement through discovering their imaginative and cognitive potential.
Theoretical and practical arts programming can also foster social integration for both blind and sighted people. Bringing people together to explore, discover, and make art can bridge the gap that sometimes exists between visually impaired and sighted people, mostly because of ignorance.
Learning through touch about the formal values of art history such as perspective, composition, and three-dimensional space can also be a revelation to sighted visitors, who discover that touch (a sense often neglected) can give them a deeper understanding of art. For sighted museum-goers used to enjoying and appreciating art only visually, touching an object--examining its surface, understanding its form, recognizing the artistic work through these qualities--is an extraordinary new dimension in the traditional ways we perceive the world around us.
Though copies can be important when an object is too fragile to be touched or when an object no longer exists, nothing can compare to the feeling of "old" that an original artifact offers the visitor. I believe that museums should take objects that are not unique out of their storage rooms and present them to their visitors, especially the blind. It is time to break the taboo of touching in museums. Touch gloves, used in some museums, can be thin enough not to obstruct sensation while protecting sculpture or other artifacts from direct contact with the natural oils and dirt of hands. But these gloves, although solving the protection problem, are an unsatisfactory solution for the visitor because they do not allow people to feel the texture of the object and the patina of ancient things.
Copies of objects (such as those made of organic material) that cannot be touched can be displayed with original artifacts and clearly labeled. Labels for the objects should be in both Braille and large print. Audio recording devices can also be used, but aural descriptions by trained staff must be an integral part of a visit to the tactile department of a museum because it complements the sense of touch and enhances the experience of a blind. Museum staff and docents, educated in accessibility as well as in attitude and sensitivity towards people with disabilities, should be available before, during, or after the visit to give details, answer questions, and discuss the experience. Depending on space availability, a part of the room could be converted into a small library with Braille or audio material from which visitors can learn more about the objects.
Other issues are security and conservation. Displayed objects should be regularly cleaned and their conservation assured. Although larger objects and statues are secure, smaller objects should be fixed on mounts or partly embedded in polyester. A museum staff member or docent can supervise a station set up in the room to display small objects that must be examined individually to be fully appreciated. An alarm embedded on the backside of the tag with the bar code (listing the accession number and other information about each object) will sound if anything is carried beyond the magnetic door of the room.
Beyond three-dimensional artifacts that can easily be touched, tactile drawings, pictures, maps, and every other two-dimensional artifact that can be exactly rendered in bas-relief are an excellent way to add variety to collections aimed at the blind. The problem with these is that those who have lost vision later in life cannot easily interpret them. These visitors can decipher simpler bas-reliefs more easily, yet the simplicity also means sacrificing detail. It is crucial that blind people be trained in pictorial literacy, i.e., how to understand and read such drawings. An example of such training was a seminar held by the "Cité des Sciences et de la Technologie" in Paris in 2001. Any museum can offer such educational programs to its special-needs visitors as well as the general audience.
Greek Museums and Accessibility
Nineteenth-century Athens, the small, inconspicuous capital of the newborn Greek state, was one of the most picturesque European capitals of the Belle Époque and an exotic amalgam of ancient ruins (testimony to a great past), the provincialism of a nation recently liberated from a 400-year oppression under the Ottoman Empire, and the neoclassicism of the new German king's Bavarian architects. In the third quarter of the twentieth century, especially during the 1950's, the city was built over, virtually erased, by thousands fleeing a desolate countryside ravaged first by the Germans during the Second World War and then by a four-year civil war.
As a result Athens, splendid in the abundance and importance of magnificent monuments, a veritable open-air museum, was not built according to a plan; nor were handicapped citizens taken into consideration when the web of avenues, roads, parks, sidewalks--in fact, all the structures of a modern city--were being developed. Even museums or other venues of interest that may themselves be handicap accessible are located where disabled people must walk around parked cars blocking their way or cracked pavements--traps for people with mobility impairments.
With the Olympic and Paralympic games in August and September of 2004, Athens underwent an immense change in infrastructure and the accessibility of public buildings, including museums, that with luck will improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. But the most important gain of the twelve-day Paralympic games was a change in the popular perception of handicapped people. Until recent decades being handicapped in Greece was considered a matter of shame for the family. As a result disabled citizens lived with restrictions imposed by both prejudice and the hostile urban environment. The coming of thousands of disabled athletes instilled an increased general awareness of disability issues and accessibility, both physical and intellectual.
In mainstream Greek museums accessibility features address primarily the needs of visitors with mobility impairments. The museums contacted during this research were the National Archaeological Museum, the Piraeus Archaeological Museum, the Cycladic Art Museum, the Benaki Museum, the Numismatic Museum, the Christian Byzantine Museum, the Museum of Folk Art, and the Gaia Center, all located in Athens. For blind people the situation is even worse. No museum has a tactile department or program, and blind visitors can touch objects only at the museum shop, except in the Museum of Folk Art, where the staff was eager to offer artifacts for examination, and the Numismatic Museum, which has good copies of coins that can be touched.
Housing a cultural heritage of 5,000 years, the majority of museums in Greece, operated by the state, are still considered official depositories of the past, and as such they act like institutions where objects are protected for eternity and visitors should approach in awe. Although storage rooms are overflowing with objects from digs around the country and only a small number are ever displayed, these objects remain sequestered, of no use or benefit to the public. Museums are overzealous in protecting the nation's cultural heritage. Their responsibility to safeguard these objects for future generations while making them available to museum visitors sometimes results in absurd rigidity.
Many of the objects in a museum's storage area are multiple examples of the same artifact. Ideally every mainstream Greek museum could have a tactile department or a small collection of objects that have already been studied and published but are not unique samples of their kind. It would be possible to designate some of the thousands of artifacts in storage rooms for blind visitors or even for sighted visitors. They could feel and understand better the aging of the object, for example, by touching an old, weathered marble instead of a clean, new reproduction.
Such a tactile department could be a marvelous advertisement for the museum both inside the country and abroad. Now that cultural tourism is on the rise, such a museum could be an appealing destination for blind travelers.
The Tactile Museum of Greece
Part of the Lighthouse for the Blind, a nonprofit organization established in 1946 for the welfare of the blind, the Tactile Museum of Greece is the only cultural institution in Athens or the rest of Greece to address the need of blind people to enjoy art and culture freely and fully. The museum was established in 1984, and in 1987, in competition with seventy other museums, it received the European Museum of the Year Award. The building was badly damaged by the 1999 earthquake and was subsequently closed to the public. It was reopened in January 2004 after an extensive restoration. New amenities also made the building accessible to people with mobility impairments.
The museum is dedicated to ancient Greek art, which is presented chronologically. The artifacts exhibited are exact copies of original artworks found in other Greek museums. The majority of the exhibits are statues, bas-reliefs, and some vases. Mounts are used to raise small exhibits to touch level. Made of dark wood, they are functional and simple. The objects are easily accessible, except for two large-scale statues that require a small stage or ramp around them so that the visitor can examine them beginning at the top.
No special accommodations for orientation such as textured flooring are used. It would be advisable to have a tactile diagram of the museum layout near the entrance. In addition, each room should have orientation directions in Braille on rails at the wall. The museum lighting is strong to assist people with low vision. The walls of the exhibit halls are painted a vivid night blue, which provides an excellent background for the white artifacts.
No general large-scale murals or panels appear with information about each period, e.g., archaic, classical, Hellenistic. Rather such information appears on the labels of the objects on display. Rich information for each object is printed on a sheet of paper and presented on an inclined Plexiglas stand at touch level next to the object. Over the printed page is a transparent sheet of laminate with the same information in Braille. Informative Braille catalogues about the museum and its exhibits in Greek and foreign languages are among the plans of the museum.
Two exhibition halls are on the first level. The first consists of a small exhibit about the Olympic Games of 2004: various statues and bas-reliefs depict the athletic ideals of ancient Greece. A map of Greece in bas-relief shows the locations of the Olympic and Paralympic venues. The second hall houses religious artifacts intended to make accessible, especially to young visitors, the material side of Christian Orthodox rites: an exact replica in small scale of an Orthodox Byzantine church; painted and silver embossed icons; and a real-scale ikonostasis (a wall carved of wood, bearing icons and separating the sanctuary from the nave).
The upper hall is devoted to ancient Greek art. Its five rooms present chronologically its evolution through the ages. The first is dedicated to the art of the Cycladic and Minoan civilizations that flourished in the Aegean Sea during the third and second millennia B.C.E. It has Cycladic figurines and vessels and some of the best art of Minoan Crete. The second room presents the art of the Geometric Age, the Dark Ages of the Greek world, with samples from artifacts produced in mainland Greece during the centuries after the Trojan War. Here are samples of vases with the characteristic decoration of the times. The third room shows the transition from the archaic to the classical with famous statues and bas-reliefs. The fourth room is dedicated to the classical era. Along with copies of the masterpieces shown is a small-scale replica of the Acropolis complex as well as three free-standing columns (again small-scale) that show the three main orders of ancient Greek architecture: Doric, Ionian, and Corinthian. The fifth room has copies of statues and bas-reliefs of the fourth century.
The museum can be visited by appointment. Since the visitor can take the tour alone, an audio system is being developed that will permit each visitor to stroll through the museum at his or her own pace, listening to the recorded information about each object. In addition to blind or visually impaired adults and students, many schools visit the museum.
Before the museum closed because of the earthquake, it conducted a popular activity on Saturdays. Sighted and blind children together participated in a program called "Touching the Ancient Years." An archaeologist, a mobility specialist, and a master of casts were involved with this project. A box of sand with ancient objects buried in it was presented to the children to touch, search, and discover the objects. The mobility specialist would blindfold the sighted children and then teach them how to use touch to search. After having found an object, the child would go to the master of casts and learn how to make a copy of the object he or she had found.
The Tactile Museum of the Lighthouse for the Blind is the only cultural institution in Greece created solely to serve the blind and visually impaired. With no permanent staff the museum relies on volunteers. It deserves the financial support of the state because it is an important feature in the cultural scene of Athens.
With funding and a permanent staff, the museum could become even more active, enrich its collections with more exhibits, and refine its display concept. It would be wonderful for Greece to host an international congress about tactile museums and have international experts available to offer their expertise.
Several small additions could enhance the overall impact of the museum. Sound could enrich the visitor's experience of art and evoke thoughts, feelings, and sensory impressions for the blind visitor. Ancient Greek music in the museum halls would promote a better understanding of the exhibits.
The museum should also include more architectural models of the famous buildings of ancient Greece. Produced in small scale, these models should offer the visitor the opportunity to explore the interior of a building as well as the exterior. Eventually the museum could house replicas of buildings from all over the world. One interesting idea would be to have a tactile map of Greece with all the important ancient sites marked. A tactile horizontal model of the city of Athens with the buildings placed in their exact locations.
By creating traveling exhibits for display in museums for the blind as well as mainstream museums, it could play an important role in education through art and in fostering awareness of blind people in the museum community in Greece and abroad. Among its educational activities the museum could produce small cases with representative exhibits covering different periods of Greek art. Informative texts or explanatory diagrams could accompany the cases, which could be sent to other parts of Greece or to institutions abroad.
In its displays the museum could provide tactile versions of diagrams, maps, and two-dimensional material generally that are otherwise inaccessible to blind and visually impaired people. For example, raised contours can make a huge difference in understanding ancient vases because visitors can perceive their shapes, but their decoration, which tells much about the era in which they were produced, cannot be understood without help.
One feature that could help visitors understand space and dimensions better would be small human figurines placed next to architectural models such as the columns or the temple exhibited in the museum. The columns should not be uniform: each column should reflect the size of various buildings to show the difference between huge temples such as the temple of Zeus and the temple of Athena Nike, both in Athens.
Finally, the museum can succeed more in its mission and play an important role in culture in general in Greece if, with necessary arrangements and funding, it is open to the public regularly rather than by appointment only.
Consider the fun kids have in their museums. Children's museums are made to touch, pull, push, press, and climb on. Visitors can literally talk to the exhibits. Adults expect to see artifacts behind glass or other barriers, but children expect their museums to be tangible. A bicycle in a showcase doesn't mean anything to them. They need to get on it, ride it, and see how it works. Ultimately they need to be in dialogue with it in order to enjoy and learn from it. They are thrilled with all things secret. They love to seek and discover hidden things. Although creatures of imagination, they loathe having to imagine why something was made. Through trial and error they prefer to put its pieces together, literally as well as metaphorically.
Regrettably, in the name of being serious and professional, adults have lost the innocence of being able to freely enjoy art and interact with exhibits. Tactile museums are a priori interactive museums, even when they do not have interactive exhibits, because the visitor is in dialogue with the object. Because exhibits that address more than one sense are bound to be more appealing and educational, it is crucial to incorporate all senses when developing an exhibit so that visitors can have a more direct and vivid experience in the museum. This is the challenge that everyone active in culture and especially museum professionals have to address when creating cultural policies and developing new museums and exhibits.
[GRAPHIC/DESCRIPTION: The graphic is of a formal table setting, including a place card. The name on the card is Miss Whozit, and the Whozit logo can also be seen on the card.]
Ask Miss Whozit
From the Editor: Just in time for convention, here is a letter with questions and Miss Whozit's take on convention etiquette. If you have questions for Miss Whozit, send them care of Barbara Pierce to the National Center for the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230 or by email to [email protected] Here is the letter:
Dear Miss Whozit,
I will be attending my second convention this summer in Louisville. I am generally looking forward to it because my experience last year was like nothing I had ever imagined, and as a result I have grown and changed this year. But several things last year bothered me. And since these all fall into the area of etiquette and good manners, I thought I would list them for you in the hope that you will give us all some pointers.
The first thing has to do with tipping. I have not traveled much, so I am never sure whom to tip and who is just offering to help me because it is convenient but not part of his or her job. I know to tip a skycap who walks with me out to my gate, but what about cabin crew members who are going my way and offer to walk with me? Unless they mention who they are, I can't tell these folks from other passengers. I don't want to insult people, but I also don't want people who depend on tips to go away thinking I am cheap or an object of pity. I gather that I should tip the skycap who checks me in at curbside, but surely not the clerk behind the desk inside who does the same thing. And how much is enough?
At the hotel I know to tip the bell staff whenever they do anything for me, but what about housekeeping when they bring extra hangers or towels? How about the engineer who fixes the dripping toilet or the air conditioning? Some people tip the staff who clean the room at the end of a long hotel stay. Is this expected, and if so, how much is appropriate? You get the idea.
The other big thing that worries me at convention is the way some conventioneers act in large crowds. I am equally shocked by the way some people use their canes--more like spears or whips than as tools for checking whether the path ahead is clear--and the seeming obliviousness of some dog users. I was told about a dog that snatched a steak off a stranger's plate with the fork still in the meat, and the handler did not do anything about the situation. My own room was covered in dog hair after a Federationist visited me with a dog who had obviously not been groomed properly. I know that dogs are going to have accidents under the stress that a convention causes them, but don't users know when this happens? It seems to me that courtesy would demand that the person stand guard over the mess until someone can get there to clean it up.
Finally, Miss Whozit, please talk to us about elevator etiquette. Frankly I am going to see if I can get a room on a low floor this year so that I can walk up and down the steps rather than risking life and limb in the elevator lobby. I talked to a man who uses a wheelchair and who told me that someone once sat down in his lap in an elevator without asking permission. On the other hand I have been in elevator cars in which some people purposely stood close to the front and told people outside that the car was full when it was not, just because they did not want to stand close to other people and figured that the blind people outside the door wouldn't know that they were lying.
I don't enjoy being packed in like a sardine either, but at convention we just have to make each elevator trip as efficient as possible. Can you set down some rules of elevator etiquette?
Mystified at Rude Behavior
Miss Whozit is glad to hear that you are planning to attend your second national convention in Louisville. Perhaps this response will help ease the way for this year's convention for you and others in the movement.
Knowing what and whom to tip is an ongoing question for many people. Basic rules for tipping should be kept in mind when traveling and eating out. Tipping gives the customer an opportunity to reward those who provide service, and this income is essential to the people who provide those services--waitresses, bellhops, skycaps, and taxi drivers. Remember that your tipping habits not only reflect your professionalism but also contribute to your receiving more attentive service, a cleaner room, or a better table.
Tipping does not have hard and fast rules, but there are some general guidelines: When service is exceptional, tip more. When it is not good, tip less and explain why, either directly to the service provider or to that person's manager.
Here are some basic guidelines for tipping. The amount can vary by city, region, or country:
As important as tipping an appropriate amount is showing respect for those who help you function more efficiently and comfortably. Smart businesspeople know that respecting and tipping service personnel is a reflection not only of their appreciation of the help they receive but of their own professionalism as well.
Your dilemma concerning the cabin crew member who is going your way and offers to walk with you to the gate is interesting. Initially the person's role may not be clear. You may be uncertain whether a person is merely going your way or feels compelled to extend service beyond his responsibilities. You can determine his job by asking a few discreet questions as you are walking to your gate or destination. The conversation can begin with some basic introductory information. Initiate the conversation by volunteering your first name and destination and inquiring for the same information from him.
If, during the course of the walk you realize that he is going out of his way to walk with you, you have a couple of options. If you are grateful for the company and you believe your companion is happy to take the detour, accept the assistance graciously and part company at your gate with warm thanks. If on the other hand you are confident of your skills, thank him and assure him that you would hate to inconvenience him by having him go out of his way. Bid him good day and carry on in the correct direction. It is important for the person to know that you are confident. Your actions will underscore this message, which in turn will provide an illustration of your statement.
Often, but not always, this strategy works for Miss Whozit. No matter how confidently we travel or how self-assured we are, sometimes people feel a responsibility to provide more assistance than we either need or want. In such cases Miss Whozit suggests that the overly helpful person be offered a monetary tip, which clearly expresses the blind person's view of the assistance being offered. Whenever possible, during the walk to the destination, she tries to instill a bit of education about the abilities of blind people, and because Miss Whozit is never without several Kernel Books, she can present would-be rescuers with a book and hope they will read it and come to understand more fully the capabilities of blind people. The demands of civility always require that we make reasonable efforts not to offend a member of the public who is merely trying to be helpful, so the way we address the issues surrounding blindness is of the utmost importance. At the same time we must be confident in our skills and present ourselves positively. It may help to remember that the way members of a minority population present themselves inevitably has either a positive or negative impact on the way the general public views other members of that group. This truth should inspire us all to be both courteous and clear about what assistance we need.
As for maneuvering through crowds at convention, you are correct that often people do not use their canes appropriately. Proper cane technique is important in order to travel safely and efficiently. If used properly, the long cane will pick up drop-offs, textural differences, steps, openings, closed areas, and so on. The cane should be kept in close contact with the floor. Almost never should it be more than one to two inches off the floor, and it should never be slid along the wall to detect openings or to find a chair or bench. Keeping the cane just above the floor in the two-point touch or tap-and-slide techniques will provide all the information one needs to travel safely and efficiently throughout the convention.
When standing in line or waiting, the long cane should be held vertically in front of and close to the user until he or she is ready to stride out. And always remember, when traveling in a crowd, that using the pencil grip is the easiest, safest, and most courteous way to gather appropriate information for the size steps you are taking while not posing as a hazard to oncoming traffic. Basic cane etiquette ensures safe travel and allows cane users to be efficient and considerate. If you are not certain about some of these techniques, stop any good traveler at convention and ask for a quick demonstration. We have all polished our skills by observing others and asking their advice.
Ah, the ghost of conventions past rears its head again to whisper the rumor of the missing steak. For many years this has been an oft-told tale, but Miss Whozit suspects it of being an urban legend. She has not been able to verify or deny whether the maid stole the steak with the candelabra or whether the guide dog did it because he too likes good meat. Either way, the trusty guide dog often receives a raw deal. So in order to reinforce what we know to be true about good guide dog handling, remember to follow the basic etiquette. A good guide dog handler knows that he or she is responsible for the care and upkeep of the dog. The handler should bathe the dog frequently, groom it daily, and make every effort to see that a trail of dog hair is not left behind. If you receive a visit from someone using a guide dog that leaves more than a few hairs, in the best interests of your friend and other guide dog users you should tactfully bring the problem to the person's attention. But if the information is presented as useful data rather than criticism, it should be well received and Miss Whozit hopes will serve as a reminder to groom the dog regularly.
Remaining beside an accident is of the utmost importance. Convention goers who work their guide dogs daily will know their dogs' movements and habits and will be prepared to take responsibility for any accidents that occur. If the worst happens, the handler should remain at the scene until someone from the relief area comes to clean up. Convention goers should remember that this clean-up is not the responsibility of hotel staff; it is the primary responsibility of the handler with the assistance of the relief area staff. The handler must always be conscious of the relief schedule of his or her dog. Plan your schedule so that you allow plenty of time to accommodate the needs of the guide dog. The guide dog is doing her job, and guide dog handlers should do their jobs by being responsive and responsible to the needs of the dog.
Last but not least is elevator etiquette, which is plain and simple travel etiquette. Miss Whozit understands that, with this year's remodeling of the convention hotel, we will have escalators as well as elevators on the lower floors to ease the flow of traffic from one event to the next. Whether you decide to use escalators or elevators, common courtesy must be observed. First of all, if you are boarding an elevator, the first point of elevator etiquette is to allow the people on the elevator to exit without having to push through those waiting to board. When the elevator arrives, those waiting to board should step aside, allowing those exiting to leave without fear of losing life or limb or, even worse, not being able to exit the elevator at all. Often convention goers stand, nose to the door, waiting to board, refusing to budge. This only delays the flow of traffic.
When boarding the elevator, use your cane to sweep the area you are about to enter, using the pencil grip to determine whether or not there is room. If there is, swiftly step inside, turn to face the elevator door, press the button for the floor you wish to exit, and wait. If a crowd has filled the elevator, step in as far as you can without crushing the person next to you. Always make sure you turn to face the door. If you are using a guide dog, pull your dog in as close as possible to you. This is not the time to release the harness-- allowing your dog to sniff the dress tails of the woman next to you.
Miss Whozit wishes all convention attendees a wonderful and educational week in Louisville, and she assures everyone that, if we all practice civility and good manners whenever we are in crowds, the convention will be a more pleasant and gracious experience for us all.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Brad Hodges]
Consumer Electronics: Crisis at the Big Box Store, Part 3
by Brad Hodges
From the Editor: In the December 2004 and February 2005 issues of the Braille Monitor Brad Hodges, technology accessibility manager at the Jernigan Institute's International Braille and Technology Center, reported on the accessibility of some common household appliances. In the following report he evaluates the accessibility and operation procedures of some popular consumer electronic devices, including DVD players, digital video recorders, MP3 players, satellite systems, online television guides, microwave ovens, and thermostats. This is what he says:
Addressing accessibility and consumer electronics is rather like the proverbial task of eating an elephant. Exactly where to start, however, is only the first question. Not until we delve into this substantial task can we really find out whether we can eat that elephant. Being Federationists, though, we will consider it a matter of collective resolve that no matter how big the meal, or how long it takes to complete, we will not leave the table until the elephant is gone.
Walking into your neighborhood big box store or electronics emporium can evoke many feelings and reactions. Some are positive, such as the excitement of bringing a new piece of electronics into the home or the opportunity of enjoying a new kind of entertainment with friends or family. Other reactions may be less positive, such as the concern that the desired item may not be useable by nonvisual techniques or the chance that the salesperson will be inept and unable, perhaps even unwilling, to answer your questions. With this complex set of thoughts and possible experiences in mind, you step through the sliding door and enter the world of consumer electronics retailing as it is most often in the United States.
Like the supermarket the mass merchandise retail store is designed with consumers and their pocketbooks in mind. Nearly all aspects of the experience are carefully orchestrated. The organization of departments, the sounds of equipment demanding your attention, and even the lighting and colors used for displays and store fixtures are designed to influence your purchase.
Furthermore, specialized and knowledgeable sales staff, who in the distant past were the denizens of the retail world, have been replaced with salespeople who move about the store directing the average customer to self-service information. In short, plan on fending for yourself to navigate the often-bewildering claims and specifications of competing models of technology. While you may find helpful and competent sales associates, do not assume that one will be available every time you go to the store.
In the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, we receive many questions about electronics from members across the nation. These calls and questions fall into several predictable categories. Here are some of those general questions and our necessarily general answers as of mid-winter 2005.
Q: Is there a DVD player I can use?
A: The digital video disc (DVD) has surpassed the videocassette as the most popular form of movie distribution for individual use in the home. The DVD player, like the DVD itself, must meet certain technical standards. For this reason some behaviors of DVD players that pose problems to those who use them nonvisually are not the fault of the player or its manufacturer but are inherent in the DVD standard itself.
When a DVD is placed in a player and the start button is pressed, a predictable sequence of events follows. This sequence will be the same on a $39 generic machine from Wal-Mart and its $2500 cousin from the high-end specialist. The reason for this is that the information that appears on the TV screen is coded on the disc itself--not in the player.
After the disc begins to spin, a mandatory warning often referred to as the FBI warning appears. By federal law the player must show this screen for at least sixty seconds. The FBI warning notifies the viewer that copying and redistributing the material is illegal. To prevent the viewer from skipping over this warning, the player must lock out control functions while the notice, which is always silent, is visible. An alternative technique is to listen carefully for the high-pitch on-and-off sounds from the DVD player, which indicate that the disc is turning.
Once the notice has concluded, the disc moves to the next section of material. This is usually trailers for upcoming attractions, which the studio would like to sell to you. In some instances you may not be able to jump ahead through these trailers because the DVD producer has disabled the fast forward control.
Once the trailers have played, the menu appears. Unlike the FBI warning the menu is accompanied by music or sounds. Once the menu is visible, selections from the menu can be made. Most often the remote control is used to scroll through the choices, which are arranged vertically. Pressing the play button will move the player to the appropriate location on the disc and begin playing the content chosen from the menu.
While it is not a standard, the overwhelming practice is for the main feature to be the top item on the menu, which is chosen by pressing play. To determine whether or not you are on the menu screen, simply allow the sound to play for several seconds. Usually the song or sound sequence will repeat. This is a sure sign that the menu is available and that the system is ready for you to make a selection.
Here the similarity of players becomes less apparent. Navigating the disc and changing the settings of the player can pose a significant challenge. Let us divide the settings into two groups: those that are strictly visual and all other settings.
Controlling settings that affect the picture only, such as color temperature, aspect ratio, and 3-to-2 pull down, cannot be verified nonvisually in our experience. The performance of all other controls is influenced by the player's design. Many players have few if any front panel controls. This means that, for these units, only the remote control provides full access to the control interface. If you have this kind of machine or are considering the purchase of a player of this kind, it is critical that the remote be responsive and predictable. Many remotes, even those of relatively expensive players, can only be described as unusable. We have all suffered with a bewildering array of small, identical buttons poorly differentiated from one another according to function and shape. An alternative technique for coping with existing poorly designed remote controls is to purchase a replacement control. A talking remote, which will announce the buttons as they are pressed, is available from the Materials Center at the National Center for the Blind.
Some DVD players have all or most control functions represented by buttons and controls on the front or top of the player itself. These often provide a much better interface than the remote-only strategy. If you are shopping for a player, try it out in the store, learn the purpose of the controls, and navigate the disc. Change the audio settings as you might at home, adjusting for nighttime listening for example. Note whether the controls on the player have a solid feel and whether you are confident that you have pressed the control you intended. Remember that it may be necessary to enter menus and navigate with a cursor or joystick, which will not provide audible feedback.
By extension the same principles that apply to machine-mounted controls apply to the remote control. Most people perform most functions of the player with the remote from the viewing position. Take the time to orient yourself to the remote and perform the tasks you believe you will perform at home.
Common control functions on a DVD player include an up-down and forward-backward set of arrows or a joystick. This is the player's primary method for controlling menus and playback navigation. A keypad is used to move to specific locations on a disc or to make specific menu selections. Additional controls for audio settings may be included, while some machines rely on an on-screen menu for these choices. You will want a player with as many functions represented by actual controls as is possible.
Q: Is there an accessible home theater system?
A: Home theater systems have all but replaced the typical stereos used in the recent past. Because the DVD can store and play vast amounts of information, the experience of your high-tech neighborhood multiplex can be recreated in the home.
Often referred to as a 5.1 channel system, the home theater system is comprised of a receiver or processor, two front or main speakers, a center channel speaker, two rear speakers, and a subwoofer. Some systems, also known as a theater in a box, package all the necessary speakers, player, amplifiers, and wiring in a single box. A colorful poster guides the setup, which consists primarily of placing the speakers around the room in the correct order and connecting color-coded speaker wire to each. More elaborate home theater systems have separate components, which may include a receiver, a DVD player, and a satellite receiver or cable set-top box.
Regardless of the sophistication of the system, you can count on visually based controls and setup procedures. Here are some points to consider when purchasing home theater equipment.
Can you control the basic functions conveniently and consistently? Turning the system on and off, selecting the input or program source, and adjusting the volume and other primary control functions should be simple and should not require use of a menu.
Can you predict the complexity of the system? Sometimes you will want or need to manipulate more advanced features of the system. How is this accomplished? Can you go to a menu and make selections, then exit the menu and know exactly where you are? Before you purchase any equipment, all of these questions should be considered. Ideally the equipment should have a reset or clear button, which will reset all values to the default setting.
If the system includes an integrated radio and/or DVD player, are its controls as good as those on separate components? Although the prospect of evaluating two or three pieces of equipment makes all-in-one systems attractive, be sure that usability and access to functions are not compromised.
Q: Is there an accessible MP3 player?
A: MP3 is the buzzword in portable electronics today. Short for the Motion Picture Experimental Group level three, the MP3 format and its counterpart Windows Media Audio (WMA) allow the storage and playback of music and spoken-word recordings on extremely small devices.
It is helpful to separate MP3 players into two categories: memory-chip-based players and hard-drive-based players. A memory chip device is typically about the size of a pack of gum. MP3 files of music or spoken-word recordings are transferred from a PC to the player, where they are accessed by the user and heard with headphones or speakers. Players that use memory chips allow the user to store files on memory cards, which can be taken out of the player. For these players only the number of cards in your collection and their storage capacity restrict the amount of listening available to you.
The most basic chip-based players do not support removable cards. These players store only as much material as the built-in memory will allow. Players offering 128 or 256 Megs of storage are commonly available for less than $100. Depending on how you save the files, you can expect even the smallest unit to hold the contents of a half dozen cd's. Chip-based players are simple devices, and much of the time the controls reflect this fact. Controls typically consist of a "start/stop" button, "forward" and "back" buttons, and volume control. Some units also have a small menu with one or two related controls. Others have no menus and are intended for nonvisual operation by all.
Apple's iPod put the hard drive-based music player on the map. Industry experts have estimated that the iPod accounts for 60 percent of portable music player sales in the United States. In the opinion of the IBTC staff, the Apple iPod is inaccessible to blind people. The physical design of the player requires the use of a flat touch-sensitive dial and three touch-sensitive buttons. While it is possible to tap several sequences on the 12:00, 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00 positions on the round primary control, as a practical matter this is a less than satisfactory technique to operate a piece of equipment priced at over $200.
Unlike the vast majority of other MP3 players, which allow you to use many different programs to organize and transfer songs from your PC, the iPod requires the use of Apple's iTunes software. In our experience, and based on reports from many members, it is clear that this program is inaccessible to all but the most experienced and motivated computer user. For these reasons we do not recommend the iPod for consideration when nonvisual use is anticipated.
Fortunately the popularity of the iPod has energized the market for hard drive players. Several which we have evaluated appear to provide excellent nonvisual access. If you are looking for an advanced player, you may want to keep the following questions in mind: Are the primary controls consistently accessible? Each of these controls is important in basic player operation and needs to be accessed easily.
Is the use of the menu required for the functions you want to perform? Some players default to a particular view of the list of tracks on the disc. Others require you to choose the arrangement of tracks, requiring use of the menu.
Is there a clear button? A few units (see recommendations) offer a reset button, which will return you to the top layer of the menu.
What software will support the player? You will need to rip and manage the files of audio material on your PC and transfer them to the player. Not all software is accessible, and some players will accept only files transferred from a particular program. Check out both the requirements and accessibility of the software before making a purchase.
Q: Can a blind person use TiVo, or another DVR?
A: Ever since the introduction of the videocassette in the late 1970's, the prospect of watching your favorite TV program on your schedule, not when the network thinks you should watch it, has been a driving force behind much of the technical development of video recorders. Even though most VCRs have had elaborate on-screen setup menus for more than fifteen years, the old joke about the flashing blue 12:00 on the front of a piece of equipment resonates with many. Because first VCR timers were primitive on-and-off devices only, they often failed. As a solution VCR Plus was introduced, a technology that assigned a unique number to every television program. Just pick up the remote and enter the number, and the machine does the rest. More recently the availability of inexpensive, relatively large computer hard drives has provided designers a new way to save and play back prerecorded television programs. When combined with a grid of the names and categories of all available programs, this has created new flexibility and power to individualize the TV-watching experience.
This device, known generically as a digital video recorder (DVR) or personal video recorder (PVR), is gaining popularity. TiVo was the first and remains the most popular DVR PVR brand. TiVo makes the information about all TV programs available to the video recorder. With this information you can set the unit to record all episodes of your favorite programs, regardless of which channel they are on or what time of day they are aired. Detailed information provided by TiVo prevents recording duplicate programs since the system can identify specific episodes. In addition to recording specific episodes or the entire series, you can ask the system to record related programs that you might enjoy based on your viewing habits. For example, if you watch Nova, the PBS science program that airs every Tuesday night, the system can record similar programs from the Discovery or National Geographic Channels for you to watch.
Finally, because you are watching a recording of the program, you can pause the show, go back to see something again, and skip over commercials--a notion that is appealing to many consumers. In addition, when watching live programs, you can pause the show for any reason and then return to it.
TiVo systems require the use of complex menus to set up and control recording. Each movement up or down is associated with a tone heard through your loudspeakers. When you reach the top or bottom of the menu, a different, drum-like tone sounds, notifying you that you have reached the boundary. If you count your up-down movements, consistent and accurate navigation of the menus is possible.
The list of programs that have been recorded on the hard drive, however, changes as new programs are recorded and others are erased. TiVo allows you to view information about your recorded programs in several ways. These include a chronological view of the programs, a view of programs by name, a view of suggested programs, and the view of the guide from which you would select a new program or series to record. These viewing options are complex, and we still lack the experience to predict the difficulty of nonvisual access.
For the motivated viewer we suggest the following as a direction for exploration. First, set the system to record only the programs you specifically request; this avoids recording unpredictable titles. Then set the display to show a collapsed view of programs by title only. For example, I Love Lucy, The Addams Family, and Gilligan's Island would be arranged alphabetically from Gilligan to The Addams Family.
An alternative method may be possible using the Internet. You can address your box specifically from the TiVo Web site, <www.tivo.com>. A quick review of the site revealed many unlabeled links, although it was possible to get to the page for the remote access signup. We will keep you posted on further details and experiences. The bottom line on DVR PVR technology is that it is a mixed bag at best and that delving into the more advanced features of the technology is not for the technically timid.
Q: Is satellite TV or digital cable accessible?
A: Yes, but …. Digital cable services and the three satellite services--DIRECTV, the Dish Network, and Voom--all require the use of a set-top box. A set-top box resembles a small- to standard-sized audio component. The box connects to both your TV and home theater, if one is available, and to the cable or satellite line entering your home.
As with a VCR or DVD player, you use a remote control to manipulate the box. All systems of which we are aware provide direct access to specific channels with the keypad on the remote. This is similar to tuning a standard TV, with the exception of the use of three-digit numbers in many instances. If you have such a service, creating a channel list in a convenient format is an obvious and easy first step to enhancing your enjoyment of the system.
Beyond direct access to individual channels, these systems all provide an electronic program guide. This is typically a large grid with channel names and numbers down the left side and perhaps across the top. Pressing the guide button brings up the guide on the TV screen. The guide may appear as a transparent overlay on top of the program you are watching, or it may tune away from the program until you have completed using it.
Regardless of the way the information appears, moving up and down or back and forth on the grid allows you to look at program information and select a program directly. Pressing the select button on a specific channel or program will move you to that selection immediately. In some systems selecting an upcoming program will cause the tuner to jump to that show when it begins, regardless of what you are watching at the time.
In addition to the guide, a control also allows you to view information about the program you are viewing. Typical information that may be displayed includes the title, date of release, starring actors, and a brief synopsis. We are not aware of any accessible set-top boxes currently in general use that provide access to this program information for the blind. Computer hobbyists have experimented with systems that operate on a personal computer using the Linux operating system, but these are not generally available beyond this relatively small group.
Our experience suggests that the behavior of set-top boxes for direct channel entry is similar. Of the satellite services, DIRECTV systems are more variable in their responsiveness. The set-top box will not respond as quickly as a conventional TV tuner, so try out the box you are considering and make sure you are comfortable with the way it tunes to the channel you want.
Q: Are accessible TV listings available on the Internet?
A: An alternative technique for obtaining TV listings is to use an online service. Both <www.tvguide.com> and <www.zaptoit.com> provide free TV listings for your location and service. Rick Fox, an NFB leader in New Jersey and an advanced computer user, recently visited both sites to assess their usability.
As of March 30, 2005, he reports that tests of both sites were successful. The first time you visit these sites, you will need to specify your location by ZIP code and your TV service: satellite, cable, or off air. Mr. Fox tested with his own location information, in the New York metropolitan area using Comcast cable and for rural western Wisconsin requesting off air program information. He reports that both services are accessible with today's screen access programs. Schedules are presented in a table format, so knowledge of the table navigation procedure for your screen access program is required.
Dish Network <www.dishnetwork.com> and DIRECTV <www.directv.com> offer online program listings. A recent visit to these sites revealed generally poor usability with screen access programs. DIRECTV displays a grid for the next six hours of programming. The tables are poorly constructed, providing only a two-hour period of time to users of screen-access programs. Meanwhile, Dish Network allows you to select the time span you wish to view, the programming package you have, and several other conditions on which to focus your results. The table headings are not properly constructed, resulting in overly chatty behavior. However, moving from column to column discloses the time at which the program actually begins. A navigate, listen, and move-again technique makes the information useful.
Comcast is the nation's largest cable provider. Its sites, <www.comcast.net> and <www.comcast.com> are particularly inaccessible. Not only are links and objects unlabeled, but entire portions of the site cannot be read at all with a screen-access program. Although many other cable providers make schedules available online, we have not yet researched the accessibility of these sites.
Q: Is there an accessible microwave oven?
A: We have placed the microwave oven among electronic devices rather than in the appliance sections of our earlier articles. The primary components of the microwave are a power supply and a small, localized radio transmitter. Microwaves, which are broadcast in the 950 MHz range, fill the cavity (appliance talk for the inside of the oven) and cook the food. Once considered exotic in household technology, the microwave is now ubiquitous. The first models, including Amana's Radar Range, were tank-like in construction. Today lightweight metal construction and miniaturized electronics have slimmed down the components to a small package that sits easily behind the control panel.
Controls of most microwaves we have evaluated fall into the flat-panel category. Generally this is an unwelcome trend since the relatively accessible knobs and buttons of earlier ovens have all but disappeared. Flat-panel controls found on microwave ovens are similar in their behavior and design to those found on stoves and ovens. Usually the microwave control has a totally flat, hard, glass-like surface.
Despite the mirror-like texture of many microwave control panels, some manufacturers create a rough surface on the locations of the actual controls. These small, dime-sized, circles or ovals can be identified by touch. Mastering the operation of the oven is a straightforward matter of learning the location of the number pad and the oven's controls. In our experience Whirlpool ovens offer many models with such textured controls.
A variation on the textured theme is found on many models from GE, as well as other manufacturers. On their control panels, textured outlines indicate the location of the keypad and other controls. In many cases these controls can be easily navigated without modification.
Microwave ovens follow the consumer electronics trend of rapid change in features and construction. Unlike larger appliances, month-to-month changes are not uncommon. As this article was being researched, Sears introduced an outstandingly accessible oven with actual buttons. Consumer Reports tested and rated it as best oven. It was then discontinued. The moral of this story is, if you find an oven that you can use, buy it immediately because it may not be available later.
Combination appliances, which package a microwave and toaster, for example, are increasingly popular. The drive to have a unit stand out from the crowd inspires some manufacturers to create unique controls. Some of these may be useful.
Before we close the door on our microwave discussion, it is important to understand that advanced electronic controls provide a range of elaborate cooking controls. Reheating food by type and amount is a feature that requires reading the visual display found on virtually all microwaves. Although the controls of the oven may be accessible, unless voice output is available, using these very advanced features may be difficult or impossible.
Q: Is there an accessible thermostat for the home?
A: Yes, two fully accessible (talking) thermostats are now available. These include Kelvin, produced by Action Talking Products, and the Talking Thermostat sold by <www.talkingthermostats.com>. Each unit provides fully speech-guided use of the basic functions, temperature report, and temperature change, as well as day/night setback functions.
Q: What general guidance can you provide about devices you have not specifically outlined here?
A: A few guiding principles that have been applied to specific kinds of technology apply to many others:
· Is there a specific button or control for each function?
· Is the remote responsive and predictable?
· Check to see if the device has a clear button, or whether turning it off and on clears the memory and resets the control.
· If menus must be used, ensure that you will know when you have reached the top or bottom of the menu.
· Ensure your ability to return an item if it does not meet your needs.
· If a touch panel is used, you should observe clearly marked regions.
· Ensure that you can obtain documentation in a useful format.
· Learn whether other products or software required for using the device are themselves accessible.
· Learn whether updates to the product are required, and if so whether they change the behavior of the product.
· Finally, talk with other blind people in your community; your NFB chapter is the best place to begin.
Please note that these and other accessible appliances and consumer electronics will be on display at the Accessible Home Showcase at our 2005 convention in Louisville.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ellen Ringlein]
Net Surfing for Those Unable to See
Often Web Sites' Designs Hinder Navigation by the Blind
by Abigail Tucker
From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the March 16, 2005, edition of the Baltimore Sun. The research project described is being carried out in conjunction with the NFB Jernigan Institute. Here is the story:
Ellen Ringlein of Baltimore clicks efficiently with a cane through strange hallways. She tours alien cities without the help of a seeing‑eye dog or anyone else.
And yet in the comfort of her own office Amazon.com seems impossible to navigate. Earlier this month Ringlein spent a half‑hour on the Web site trying to locate the audio version of the book her church club was reading, but the speech‑synthesizing machine [more accurately, software] she and other blind people use to surf the Net just rattled minutes of gibberish. "Image maplink ref equals!" it barked. And "blankblankblank!"
The Web site offered no easy way to avoid this nonsensical spiel, which was mostly a narration of the links at the top of the page, Ringlein said. And even when she finally discovered where to type in the title she wanted, the results were hard to decipher.
"OK, now they're talking about delighting your valentine," she said, as the computer spat out an advertisement. "I just want to know how much the audio book is. I know it's here, but I can't find it." Actually the screen wasn't even displaying the correct page.
Frustrating experiences like this are why one Towson University professor recently partnered with the Baltimore‑based National Federation of the Blind to map the struggles of the blind online. Jonathan Lazar is studying how the Internet fails blind users and will share his findings in the summer with Web masters and software designers, who aren't legally compelled to make their products accessible, but could change lives by doing so.
The study follows a hundred or so users in Baltimore and elsewhere as they perform everyday functions online: buying additional cell phone minutes, checking email, browsing CNN.com, downloading music, researching medical problems, looking for Delta Air Lines tickets‑-basically stuff that everyone else does on the Net.
But navigational problems eat huge chunks of blind people's time, Lazar is finding, and technical nuisances like spam, pop‑up advertisements, and security checks hinder searches. "What is annoying to a visual user becomes impossible for a blind user," said Lazar, who is the head of Towson's Computer Information Systems Undergraduate Program.
Most of these obstacles can be overcome, he said. "It's not the disability that causes the hardship. It's the way the technology is designed." His study identifies precisely when Web sites fall apart for blind users and how much time and energy they waste figuring out problems.
Because the Internet allows for electronic commuting, communication, and commerce, it has opened doors for most disabled people, but threatens to close some for the blind. "The Internet is designed for visual people, fundamentally," said Betsy Zaborowski, who runs the NFB's research and technology training institute.
Only about a quarter of the 1.1 million blind Americans use computers, and of these, many experiment with the Internet only in limited ways, Zaborowski said. Partially this is because blind people are often older and not techno‑savvy, but it's also because the graphic‑centric Internet is not designed for them. And yet it's vital that everyone have access, she said. Already there is a 74 percent unemployment rate among blind adults. If the blind don't adapt to the Internet, they'll lack vital job skills.
But first the Internet must adapt to them. Unintentionally Web masters often shut blind users out of their sites. Of fifty Baltimore‑based Web sites forty-nine had accessibility problems, Lazar found in a 2003 study.
Yet accommodating blind users is neither expensive nor difficult, Lazar said, especially if provisions are made in the first stages of Web-site design.
How Blind Navigate
To navigate the Internet, blind people use screen readers-‑speech‑synthesizing machines that narrate text at auctioneer‑speed-‑or Braille keyboards, which transfer information into bumps that rise and fall beneath the user's fingertips.
Though useful, these devices have online limitations. They can't interpret graphics like pictures and logos, and they can't scan. Instead they read every word of text, rattling off links that a sighted user could dismiss with a glance. But site designers can layer captions beneath pictures and add shortcuts that bypass superfluous links. These sanity‑saving adjustments are usually encoded behind the scenes and don't change the Web site's look, Lazar said.
Web companies that service the federal government are now compelled to follow accessibility guidelines, and the sites of some states-‑Maryland included-‑must also comply with appropriate captioning, page organization, and other elements.
The reconfiguration wasn't hard, said Kristen Cox, secretary of the state's Department of Disabilities. "Nonvisual accessibility is not a problem if people are clear about the specifics to make sites compatible with screen readers," she said. "In most cases, if it's built in, there's really no new cost."
In the private sector, though, it's usually up to individual Web masters to embrace the accessibility guidelines, because federal courts haven't ruled definitively on whether or not the Internet is a public space that must be available to everyone, said Daniel Goldstein, a lawyer for NFB. Thus awareness‑raising must fuel reforms, and Lazar said that his research will alert designers to trouble areas.
Progress has been made already. Some companies, including Amazon.com, offer alternative versions that are streamlined for the visually impaired, although many blind users-‑Ellen Ringlein, for instance-‑don't know they exist. Other companies have applied accessibility guidelines to their main sites. But across‑the‑board accessibility is necessary, according to James Gashel, the NFB's executive director for strategic initiatives.
Something to Build on
"The electronic infrastructure is being built today," he said. "If we miss this, we won't have jobs, we won't have opportunities, we won't have normal lives."
It's disturbing that some of the least‑accessible sites are operated by Web companies, Lazar said. But he believes that the changes that make Web sites navigable for blind people will also benefit the sighted. For instance, he said, many of the accessibility modifications will also help display Internet information in alternative formats, like cell phone screens.
More important, though, the modifications are "the right thing to do, the respectful thing to do," he said. "This is something we can do to make people's lives better." To doubters, he offers this challenge: "Turn off the graphics in your browser and try browsing your favorite Web site."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: John Paré]
Am I Blind?
by John G. Paré Jr.
From the Editor: John Paré is director of Sponsored Technology Outreach for NFB-NEWSLINE®. He has been a Federationist for several years now, and as you will note when you read the following little essay, he has taken to heart what he has learned from his colleagues in the organization. He reflects here on the hardest struggles many people face when they lose significant vision. This is what he says:
I have brown eyes. I am sure of this. I know my height is five feet, eleven inches. I am also sure of this. But sometimes I wonder whether I am blind. You probably think this is a silly question. How could one not know if he or she is blind? If one can see, he or she is sighted; if one cannot see, he or she is blind. But what if one can see a little? Where should we draw the line between sighted and blind? Most people like to lump those in this middle area into a category called "visually impaired," "low vision," or even "hard-of-seeing." This group has the interesting characteristic of being neither sighted nor blind.
I was recently traveling in Asia and met a person who described me as "fake blind." He said that only a totally blind person is blind, so I was visually impaired or low vision. I was confused. While I have some sight, I tend to think of myself as blind. Who is correct? Am I in this middle category, that is, neither sighted nor blind, and, if so, is this good or bad?
My ophthalmologist would tell you that my best-corrected eyesight is 20/400 with no central vision. This means that I am legally blind, which is another carefully crafted term to indicate I am neither fully sighted nor completely blind. Maybe that person in Asia was correct, and I am not blind.
Well, let's analyze how my vision affects my daily life. I certainly do not see well enough to drive. In fact I cannot see a car more than fifteen or twenty feet away, which means I cannot use my vision to cross a street safely. I could and in fact do use a long white cane and am able to cross a street using white cane mobility techniques. I have used a computer all my life but can no longer see well enough to read a standard screen. I am able to use a computer only with the help of screen-reading software, which was invented to help blind computer users. I am no longer able to read the print newspaper, but I can listen to the newspaper using NFB-NEWSLINE®. I am not able to read print books, but I am able to get almost any book I want on tape from the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. And, last, I am getting to the point where I can no longer read my own large-print notes, but I am learning to read and write Braille.
So am I blind? I think so. The critical point is that, for me to live my life the way I want to, I must use a combination of blindness skills, alternative techniques, and access technology to accomplish the tasks I used to do using vision.
So why not refer to myself as visually impaired? The main problem with this term is that it typically keeps a person physically and mentally in a state of unproductive limbo. A visually impaired person typically does not have enough sight to perform the tasks I listed above using sight, but at the same time he or she does not use the blindness skills, alternative techniques, or access technology necessary to make doing these tasks possible.
It is not unusual for me to meet people who refer to themselves as visually impaired and who have vision better than mine, but who are not able to travel around town. I have no problem traveling around town because I use a long white cane and the appropriate mobility techniques. In fact I know many people whose eyesight is worse than mine who are able to travel around town as well or better than I can. These people use either a long white cane or a guide dog and have received appropriate training.
This leads me to one of the National Federation of the Blind's core theorems about blindness: A person's ability to perform the tasks necessary to lead a productive, successful, and happy life is not proportional to his or her level of eyesight, but to the level and quality of his or her blindness skills and attitudes about blindness. This concept is critical to understanding why a person needs to determine whether he or she is sighted or blind. If one is sighted, he or she does not need to use blindness techniques to accomplish the tasks of everyday life. If, on the other hand, one does need to use blindness techniques, then one should work to learn these skills. I suppose people could learn these skills and still refer to themselves as visually impaired, but this would be unusual. The key point is that most people, whether sighted or visually impaired, do not think blindness skills are either needed or appropriate for a visually impaired person. These people simply live their lives in a lesser or reduced fashion--not doing many of the things they could do if they had the appropriate blindness skills.
Those who are visually impaired do not have to learn or use all of the skills I listed above at once. For example, if a person is losing his eyesight slowly, he might begin by using NFB-NEWSLINE®, then learn to use screen-reading software, and finally add the use of a white cane. Using a white cane is typically the final step in accepting one's blindness and restoring one's ability to move freely and independently. Some people are so embarrassed by their blindness that they try to hide their inability to see. They know a white cane is hard to hide, so they are reluctant to use one. This is unfortunate because it only hurts the blind person.
The most important single action that helped me learn how to live with and adjust to my blindness was joining the National Federation of the Blind. The Federation provided information, role models, and mentors who helped me adjust to my situation in a practical and positive way. I was once sighted, then visually impaired, and now I am blind. Many people try to pull me back into the void of the visually impaired. Typically, these people have had very little exposure to blind people and certainly have never met a well-trained, successful, and happy person who is blind. They most likely think of blindness as a tragedy, and they think they are doing me a favor by trying to pull me out of the proverbial darkness.
The fact is that only the untrained blind or visually impaired person lives in a state of darkness, if I may call it that. If you consider yourself visually impaired, ask yourself if you can travel virtually anyplace you desire, listen to almost any newspaper on the telephone or book on tape, or use a computer to send email and surf the Internet. Any well-trained blind person can easily do all of these things and more. Many are working as lawyers, writers, or business owners, secretaries, receptionists, computer experts, and scores of other jobs. Many live alone or have families with children, live in their own homes, and do their own shopping, cooking, and cleaning.
So I would like to get back to my original question. Am I blind? Yes. For me blindness is not a tragedy. In fact, thanks to the National Federation of the Blind, since I have accepted the fact that I am blind and have taken the time to learn the necessary skills I need as a blind person, I do more now than I ever did before.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: James Omvig:]
Announcing The Blindness Revolution
From the Editor: Many Federationists pride themselves on having studied the writings of Kenneth Jernigan. His published speeches, articles, and letters are eminently worth the investment of any time spent reading and reflecting on them. But Dr. Jernigan spent many hours almost every day writing. Many of the resulting documents have been published very narrowly or not at all.
James Omvig, who is a noted writer and trainer in the blindness field and who worked closely with Dr. Jernigan for many years, has undertaken the labor of love of gathering many original source documents of the first ten Jernigan years at the Iowa Commission for the Blind and assembling them so as to tell the behind-the-scenes story of the creation and development of the first rehabilitation program truly to embody the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. This book, The Blindness Revolution: Jernigan in His Own Words, will be available for the first time in print and Braille and on two- and four-track cassette tape at the convention this summer. After the convention it can be ordered from the NFB Materials Center.
Following is a slightly paraphrased excerpt from chapter three of the book, which describes in more detail how the book was assembled.
Kenneth Jernigan's influence upon the lives of blind people is unparalleled. He literally became the voice of the blind of America, and his public writings and utterances became the blueprints for freedom and self-respect for the blind. His published writings on blindness, his philosophy, and his organizational skills were the hallmark of his life.
In The Blindness Revolution, however, we will examine, not his previously published and known writings, but never-before circulated and pondered documents that were significant in the blindness revolution that occurred and the rise of the Iowa Commission for the Blind from an obstacle for the blind to prominence in the world. There is much to be learned in these writings not only about Jernigan, the man, but also about those personal traits and characteristics that are important to any superior administrator of an agency for the blind.
As part of his regular duties, Kenneth Jernigan personally wrote the official minutes of Commission for the Blind board meetings. He also wrote reports to the board and to governors, letters and other documents supporting the arguments for change he was making, and documents that described the new philosophy of the Iowa Commission for the Blind.
Throughout The Blindness Revolution, selections from these Jernigan writings will be used to tell the story of the revolution. Where appropriate, James Omvig provides commentary and offers facts not obvious from the Jernigan writings themselves. It is said that, by reading the writings of a prominent figure in history, one may actually have a sense of carrying on a conversation with that writer. Much can be gained from the Jernigan writings in the conversations that follow.
There may be those who have always assumed that the transformation of the Iowa Commission for the Blind from a regressive state agency to one of excellence was an easy task–just find a disgraceful agency in need of a director, get yourself hired, infuse the Federation's constructive philosophy about blindness into all of its programs, and voila, an outstanding agency will be the result. Those who have made such assumptions were wrong. The task was difficult; it was epic. In addition to finding an agency in need of a director, Kenneth Jernigan found virtually no program money, no staff, no decent space in which to operate an effective program, a hostile attorney general who later became a hostile state governor, a devastating fire, and an encounter with a traditional blindness professional who fought progress every step of the way. The Blindness Revolution is a story of foresight, prescience, determination, political savvy, and high achievement.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Brian Miller]
What I Saw at the Revolution
by Brian Miller
From the Editor: Brian Miller is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at the University of Iowa and a longtime Federationist. He wrote the following review of James Omvig's most recent book for other purposes, but we are pleased to reprint it here.
The Blindness Revolution: Jernigan in His Own Words
by James H. Omvig
Information Age Press, 2005
For years the blind community has been inspired and driven by the legend of Kenneth Jernigan's transformation of a state agency serving the blind of Iowa from a moribund backwater to the backbone of a nationwide movement of blind people engaged in a civil rights struggle. James Omvig draws deep from the well of archival sources and puts flesh on the bones of Jernigan's first ten years as director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind, from 1958 to 1968. Omvig pulls back the curtain from the basic narrative to show the daily challenges that Jernigan faced when he set out to infuse his agency with a revolutionary spirit, and Omvig makes it clear that what Jernigan accomplished was nothing short of a revolution in services for the blind. This book will certainly be of interest to those who work in the field of blindness, particularly those who work in agencies serving blind people, but it is more than a study in public administration. Omvig's research fills in significant gaps in the history of the blind movement and offers the reader a front-row seat to a pivotal moment in the history of blind people.
The story of the Iowa Commission is of interest to anyone who wishes to observe the flowering of a civil rights movement in the hands of a capable administrator. Scholars typically place the inception of the disability rights movement in Berkeley in the 1960's, where Ed Roberts led the struggle for access that would become the independent living movement. But almost a decade earlier, out in the heart of the heartland, Jernigan fought for the rights of blind people, not just in the streets, but in the halls of a state agency. The significance of what happened in Iowa cannot be overstated, since all those who work in the blindness field as well as scholars in disability studies continue to grapple with the Iowa legacy today. The long white cane, Braille, and the use of sleepshades during training continue to be hotly debated among professionals and blind activists.
Jernigan knew he was challenging the established notions of what sighted professionals believed constituted appropriate training techniques. More important, he knew that he was forging a model of blindness that asserted the normality of living life as a blind person. In the formulation of agency policies, public announcements, annual reports, and monthly commission meeting minutes, Jernigan relentlessly insisted that blindness could be reduced to a characteristic and that with proper training a blind person could and should pursue the goals he or she desired.
For the first time blind activists controlled an agency of their own that would serve as a model, a living experiment in service provision in the tradition of John Dewey and his Chicago model schools. Blind activists spent the 1950's pounding the walls of state vocational rehabilitation agencies, trying to be heard by the mostly sighted professionals inside. Now the blind were inside the walls and in charge. The challenge for Jernigan, who was only thirty-two when he was appointed director by the commission board, was to put into practice the philosophy that he and others in the National Federation of the Blind had espoused for years. He would have to carry out this experiment with a minuscule budget, little office space, and a handful of staff.
When Jernigan took over the Iowa Commission in 1958, he had a budget of less than $30,000, but within three years he was asking the Iowa legislature for nearly ten times this amount. This massive appropriation, which was over and above the new and increased operating budget, was to secure the purchase of a decommissioned YMCA Building in downtown Des Moines. In this seven-story building Jernigan would provide the adjustment-to-blindness services that counselors once took to the homes of blind people. Rather than a handful of rehabilitation teachers fanning out across Iowa to teach the blind at home, Jernigan wanted to gather the blind in Des Moines to immerse commission clients in the culture of blindness. He understood that training at home resulted in a blind person remaining isolated and under the sway of well-intentioned but ignorant family members. His vision was not merely to administer an agency but to foment a movement. He had to balance the demands of leading a movement and functioning as a director of a state agency. At the time some argued that one could not do both, but Omvig clearly does not agree with this premise and sets out to show how Jernigan successfully wore two hats on one head.
Omvig posits that Jernigan's leadership of the Commission for the Blind in the 1960's serves as a model for directors and administrators today. Lessons appear as episodes in the early, formative years of Jernigan's tenure as director--the effort to purchase the old YMCA Building, tangles with political figures--most notably the Iowa attorney general (who becomes governor)--and public relations events to sell his vision of blindness skills training. Omvig allows Jernigan to do most of the talking in the form of correspondence (both public and private), commission meeting minutes, public statements, and articles from newspapers and journals from the period, all of which are reprinted at length. Omvig prefaces many of the passages with commentary, but otherwise he steps aside to allow Jernigan's voice to dominate. The documents that Omvig reprints here, often for the first time anywhere, serve as valuable primary source material for future scholars.
It should be noted that Omvig was a student of the commission in Des Moines in the early 1960's and later worked at the center under Jernigan and as such was a witness to many of the events he recounts. He does not allow his personal involvement to cast a shadow on his subject but continually defers to Jernigan's writing for support of his arguments. One fervently hopes that Omvig will someday provide a more personal account of his time in Iowa. While Jernigan was the glue that held together a movement, he relied on the talents and commitment of dozens of other individuals, including Omvig--all of whom have yet to have their story told. Omvig ends his book on a triumphal note in 1968 when Jernigan had taken the commission to the height of its fame and glory. A long, difficult decade would follow, leading to Jernigan's eventual resignation in 1978. Administrators today might well learn from this second decade as well as from the first. Perhaps a second volume by Mr. Omvig could help scholars make sense of the fate of the revolution in the later years of Jernigan's time in Iowa.
This month's recipes were submitted by the NFB of Colorado.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Diane McGeorge]
Whole Wheat Bread
by Diane McGeorge
Diane McGeorge is president of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado and a member of the NFB board of directors. The following recipe is designed for use in a bread machine, but it can just as easily be made using a conventional electric mixer with a bread hook or even using a bowl and wooden spoon.
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup molasses
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
4 cups whole wheat flour
2 1/4 teaspoon or one envelope active dry yeast
Method: Place ingredients in the baking pan for your bread machine in the order given in the recipe. Each bread oven is a little different. I set mine on the regular bake setting for whole wheat bread. We find this bread delicious. You can vary it to make a cinnamon raisin loaf by substituting honey for the molasses and adding one and a half teaspoons cinnamon and 3/4 cups raisins. It makes a delicious bread for breakfast or any time. I have had very good luck finding accessible bread machines.
Oat Bran Muffins
by Diane McGeorge
Here is something good and good for you. Give them a try. They freeze well and heat quickly in the microwave oven. They have a different texture and consistency, but they are very good.
2 1/4 cups oat bran
1/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1/4 cup raisins (optional)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup fat free milk
2 egg whites or 1/3 cup Egg Beaters
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Method: Combine dry ingredients. Add milk, egg whites, and oil. Stir just enough to mix all ingredients. Batter will be stiff. Place in greased or lined muffin tins and bake at 425 degrees for fifteen to seventeen minutes. When muffins are done, a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin will come out clean. These may be changed many ways by substituting other fruit such as diced apples, berries, etc. You may add cinnamon, which I frequently do. This is just the basic recipe. Recipe makes about twelve muffins, maybe fifteen if your muffin tins are small.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Julie Deden]
Pork Tenderloin à la Orange
by Julie Deden
Julie Deden is secretary of the NFB of Colorado and director of the Colorado Center for the Blind.
One pork tenderloin, any size
2 cups orange juice
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon ground ginger or 1/4 cup grated fresh ginger root
2 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
Black pepper and other seasonings to taste
Method: Prepare marinade by combining all marinade ingredients. Marinate pork for at least two hours or, for best results, overnight. You can either grill this tenderloin or roast it. To roast, set oven to 325 degrees. Roast in an uncovered pan for one to two hours. For roasts under four pounds one hour is sufficient. To grill, place meat on hot gas or charcoal grill. Grill until done, brushing with marinade and turning often. This meat is very flavorful and tender. Try both cooking methods. If you have a small roast, use half of the marinade.
by Julie Deden
6 apples, washed, cored, and cut into small pieces
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
Method: Place apples in a microwave-proof dish. Toss spices, salt, and sugar with the apples and dot with butter. Microwave for five to seven minutes or until apples are tender crisp. These are delicious with the pork.
Laura's Apple Cake
by Julee Mullen
Julee Mullen teaches daily living skills at the Colorado Center for the Blind. The following recipe was contributed by one of Julee's students, who has since graduated. It proved to be so popular that Julee continues to use it in her classes.
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 cup oil
2 cups unsifted flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts, chopped
2 cups apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (Jonathan or Macintosh apples are recommended.)
Method: Mix first three ingredients together using a spoon. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Place batter in a well-greased and floured bundt pan. Make sure to grease and flour thoroughly or cake will stick to pan. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for forty to fifty minutes. Once cake is cool, loosen it from pan by running a knife around the inner and outer edges and invert it onto a serving plate.
Creamy Baked Cheesecake
by Julee Mullen
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 1/4 cups graham crackers, crushed
1/4 cup sugar
Method: Combine butter, crushed crackers, and sugar. Press into the bottom of a nine-inch springform pan
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup lemon juice
Method: In a large mixing bowl beat cream cheese until fluffy, about three minutes. Add sweetened condensed milk and beat until smooth. Add eggs and lemon juice and mix well. Pour over crust. Bake for fifty to fifty-five minutes at 300 degrees. Cake is done when it feels springy or a toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool to room temperature and chill before serving.
Vunuellos or Sopapillas
by Julee Mullen
Here is another recipe contributed to the CCB collection by a student.
8 cups flour
3 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon baking soda (for fluffier consistency add an extra tablespoon to the batch.)
1/2 cup water (add more as needed to form dough into a ball.)
Method: Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly. Place in bowl and cover with a towel for about thirty minutes. Knead dough for about two minutes, stretch out and roll dough to about a 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into squares or triangles. Place in preheated oil, try to lay sopapilla flat on the surface of the oil. Turn after ten seconds and remove after ten more seconds. Place on paper towels to drain.
by Laura Mannon
4 whole medium chicken breasts (split, skinned, and boned)
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
1/2 to 3/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
Fresh raspberries to garnish optional
Method: Coat chicken with flour. Melt butter in large skillet. Add oil and brown chicken, turning once. Add vinegar and broth to skillet; stir over low heat until combined. Simmer uncovered until the chicken is done, about eighteen to twenty-five minutes. Remove chicken to serving platter and keep warm. Add cream to skillet and boil sauce until slightly thickened, about ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour sauce over chicken. Garnish with raspberries if desired. Pork chops may be substituted.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mary Larsen]
Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
by Mary Larsen
Mary Larsen is a longtime member of the NFB of Colorado and a past staff member at the Colorado Center. Today she works as controller for Outward Bound West.
1 1/4 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
1 cup shredded cheese (any kind, but cheddar is great)
1/4 pound Velveeta cheese cut into cubes (about 1 inch cut from the 2-pound block)
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups milk
Method: Melt butter in a 9-by-9-inch square pan or baking dish. Add the dry elbow macaroni and then sprinkle on the cheeses, salt, and pepper. Pour milk over the ingredients and be sure not to stir. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until noodles are tender. This dish is quick and easy to make and great to eat. The only problem is that, in addition to being quick to fix, it disappears quickly too. Happy eating!
News from the Federation Family
Convention Roundtable Discussions:
On Saturday, July 2, 2005, Jernigan Institute Director Dr. Betsy Zaborowski will facilitate three roundtable discussion sessions for Federationists to share their thoughts on the most important research topics for development. The Institute will be formalizing a research agenda during the upcoming year, and input from members is very important. Each session will last one hour, and seating will be limited so that a real discussion can take place. These sessions will be listed in the agenda as "National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute Research Agenda Roundtable" and will be scheduled as follows:
1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.
2:15 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.
3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
If you cannot attend but have ideas, pleas either write to Dr. Zaborowski at the National Center or email her at <[email protected]>.
Happy Birthday, NFB-NEWSLINE®:
John Paré directs NFB-NEWSLINE, our electronic news service. Here is his summary of what we have accomplished in the first ten years:
On July 1, 1995, the first NFB-NEWSLINE black box was installed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Seven years later, on March 1, 2002, NFB-NEWSLINE® went nationwide with fifty newspapers. Now on its tenth birthday NFB-NEWSLINE® has over 170 newspapers and three national magazines. Beginning in April of 2005, two of the 170 newspapers are in the Spanish language. When NFB-NEWSLINE® encounters Spanish-language content, it automatically switches to the Spanish language engine and reads the content in Spanish.
At the 2004 NFB national convention we announced our partnership with Bookshare.org. Each morning the NFB-NEWSLINE® service converts over fifty newspapers into the DAISY-standard format and then sends these files to Bookshare.org. These DAISY-formatted newspapers can then be downloaded to a DAISY-compatible audio player or a Braille notetaker. To celebrate our first year anniversary, NFB-NEWSLINE® will hold a free drawing for one BookCourier and one Book Port at the 2005 national convention in Louisville, Kentucky.
The BookCourier is being donated by Bookshare.org and the Book Port by the American Printing House for the Blind. Both of these portable audio players can be used to play DAISY-formatted books or newspapers. To enter the drawing for one of these two great prizes, just stop by the NFB-NEWSLINE® table in the exhibit hall.
If you would like to register to receive NFB-NEWSLINE®, please call your state's Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped or the NFB-NEWSLINE® team at (866) 504-7300.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Pictured here Maryann and James Gilliard enjoy drinks on the beach in the Caribbean with their guide dogs.]
Join Diane and Ray McGeorge and the whole Colorado gang for a fun-filled week away on Costa Cruises' Costa Mediterranea for one of the best vacations you will ever have. This is a fundraiser for the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado.
Here is the itinerary: January 8 Ft. Lauderdale, depart 7 p.m.; January 9 Key West, 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.; January 10 Cozumel, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.; January 11 at sea; January 12 Ocho Rios, Jamaica, 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; January 13 Grand Cayman, 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; January 14 at sea; and January 15 Ft. Lauderdale, 8:00 a.m.
Check out these phenomenal prices: Inside fares from $652.52 per person; Ocean View fares from $702.53 per person; Obstructed Balcony Fares from $752.52 per person; Unobstructed Balcony Fares from $852.52 per person; extra passengers in all cabins, $460 per person. These prices include all taxes and port charges. But keep in mind that the above fares include a $100 per person early booking savings, which will expire 120 days before the cruise. Fares will increase as departure approaches, so book now.
Call Sian at the Cruise Shop of Boulder, Colorado, at (888) 440-5777 to book your cabin for this wonderful trip. You will need to make a deposit of $250 per person when you book and be prepared to make the final payment on or before October 31. She can also help you purchase cruise insurance or airfare to Ft. Lauderdale.
A portion of all sales will go to the NFB of Colorado. Join us, and we'll make some great memories together. For more information email Maryann Gilliard at <[email protected]> or Diane McGeorge at <[email protected]>. You can also phone Maryann at (720) 284-2318 or Diane at (303) 321-4268. Learn more about the cruise line at <http://www.costacruise.com/costa/USA/>.
[Pictured here are Dr. Mark Stracks and Kristen Jocums with Lynn Swann and a group of other supporters. Mark is standing second from the left in the top row. Kristen is seated in the second row, also second from the left, and to Mr. Swann's right. The Hall of Fame ring is visible. Craig Shope, photographer, TSS Photography]
Kristen Jocums and Mark Stracks Score Touchdown for the Blind of Pennsylvania:
On April 28, 2005, NFB of Pennsylvania board members Kristen Jocums and Mark Stracks MD attended a political function featuring keynote speaker Lynn Swann. Mr. Swann, former wide receiver for the only football team to win four Superbowl Championships, the Pittsburgh Steelers, is considering a run for governor of Pennsylvania. Mark and Kristen wanted to make sure he knew who spoke for the blind of the Commonwealth. They attended a private reception for Mr. Swann, spoke with him personally, and gave him a business card so he knew whom to call in the future. Mr. Swann allowed Kristen to wear his Hall of Fame ring during a photo shoot.
[Caption here Anna and Mark Hughes]
We are pleased to announce that on April 2, 2005, Anna Cheadle, daughter of NFB staff members Barbara and John Cheadle, married her English fiancé Mark Hughes. Mark's parents, Andrew and Sylvia Hughes, stayed at the National Center along with approximately twenty British guests and twenty other out-of-towners. The rehearsal dinner was provided in the National Center's dining room by Marie Cobb and a group of NFB members. Anna, twenty-three, and Mark, twenty-five, now reside in England and are planning a move to the south coast. Congratulations to the Hugheses and proud parents Barbara and John Cheadle.
On Saturday, April 16 the NFB of Illinois Chicago Chapter held its annual elections. Elected were Brian Johnson, president; Joe Monit, first vice president; Anthony Thomas, second vice president; David Meyer, secretary; Kate Mayer, treasurer; and Bruce Paul, Debbie Stein, Carmen Dennis, and Debbie Pittman, board members.
2005 NFB Rehabilitation and O & M Conference:
The National Association of Blind Rehabilitation Professionals, the National Blindness Professional Certification Board, and the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness of Louisiana Tech University are proud to announce that a rehabilitation and orientation and mobility conference titled "The Rehabilitation Revolution: Our History, Current Challenges, and the Future" will be held at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind on Saturday, July 2, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It will include a rich agenda of key leaders and professionals working in the fields of rehabilitation and orientation and mobility. Consult the convention agenda for room location.
Registration for the conference is free and will begin at 8:00 a.m. The conference will be of particular interest to those currently working in the field of rehabilitation for the blind, students in professional preparation programs, those interested in travel training as a career, and those with a general interest in rehabilitation for the blind. For more information about the conference contact Carlos Servan at (877) 809-2419, email <[email protected]> or Christine Brown at (734) 763-1081, email <[email protected]>.
The NFB of Greater Louisville, Kentucky, held its annual elections in April. The following officers were elected: Denise Franklin, president; Tonia Boyd, vice president; Maria Jones, treasurer; Stephanie Brown, secretary; and Nickie Priddy and Mary Harrod, board members.
The NFB of New Jersey held its annual election for officers at the state convention in November. Elected were Joseph Ruffalo, president; Ever Lee Hairston, first vice president; Jerrilyn Higgins, second vice president; Jerry Moreno, secretary; and David Mostello and Mary Jo Partyka, board members.
The Capital chapter of the NFB of New Jersey has elected new officers. They are Mary Jo Partyka, president; Ben Constantini, first vice president; David Mostello, secretary; Jean Gaskill-Cannella, treasurer; Larry Morgan, historian; Liz Valois, legislative representative; and Casandra Jeanlor and Susan Tillett, board members.
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.
In the recorded edition of the May issue the email address for the Potomac Talking Book Service contained an error. For more information about Graphicaudio, go to [email protected] We regret the error.
Talking Toolbox 2.0 Available:
Jump into the world of computers for just $75. MarvelSoft Corp., makers of the highly-acclaimed Talking Typing Teacher program, has just released version 2.0 of its Talking Toolbox product. Now you don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on a screen-reading package before you can begin using a computer.
Designed exclusively for blind people, Talking Toolbox is a self-voicing program that runs on any Windows machine. The software reads everything shown on the screen aloud using human and synthetic speech, which you can listen to on your computer's speakers or headphones. The Toolbox lets you independently send and receive email, plan your week with its electronic calendar, and enjoy an easy-to-use word processor. An address book, calculator, alarm clock, and CD player are also built into the toolbox, making it a must-have for blind kids, adults, and seniors alike. Talking Toolbox (which comes with seven powerful utilities) costs just $74.95. For more information visit <www.marvelsoft.com> or call (800) 987-1231.
The Super Inca Trail:
Erik Weihenmayer, the first and so far only blind man to summit Mt. Everest, recently sent us the following description of an opportunity available to blind high school students. This is what he says about it:
Four years after our historic Mt. Everest climb, sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind, I returned to the Himalayas to guide six blind Tibetan students on a month-long climbing expedition. Sabriye Tenberken, the founder of Braille Without Borders, the Lhasa-based training center where the six students attend school, stunned me with this comment in her first letter: "In Tibet people believe that blindness is a punishment for something which the person has done bad or wrong in his or her previous life. People believe that the blind are possessed by demons."
After an arduous month of navigating rocky steep trails, pushing through wind and cold, and weaving through open crevasse fields, we all stood on the East Rombuc Glacier at 21,500 feet. Blind teens who were told they were blind because of evil spirits inside them, who had been tied to beds in dark rooms, and who had been sold into slavery ultimately stood together, higher than any other team of blind people in the world had ever stood.
I believe strength, courage, and resilience exist in all of us. They start as tiny sparks, and through facing challenges they grow and blaze into the force that directs our lives and ultimately creates change in the world. I hope an adventure like this sets a course for a future generation of young leaders. Afterwards one particular question kept gnawing at me: "Why don't you do this with blind youth in America?" So I've taken that to heart. Teaming up with Global Explorers, a nonprofit organization providing comprehensive educational travel experiences for middle and high school students, I will lead a trek through the magical land of the Incas in June 2006. I chose this destination partly out of nostalgia, since the Inca Trail was my first long trek, which I completed with the help of my family at age seventeen, learning then to love the rugged and awe-inspiring mountains.
This one-time-only, twelve-day adventure will team blind, disabled, and able-bodied high school students in an unparalleled leadership experience. A highlight will be a six-day trek through lush mountains and ancient Inca ruins to Machu Picchu. Along the way, students will explore the rich cultural and natural history of this spectacular region. They'll learn a great deal about themselves and each other as they push beyond their boundaries on this journey of a lifetime.
The Super Inca Trail offers twelve days in Peru. From the spiritual energy of the ancient Inca Trail to the crisp, cool air of the mountains, from the textures and palpable history of the ancient Inca ruins to the vibrant lifestyles of present-day Peruvian culture--this trek offers an amazing opportunity for personal growth, discovery, and adventure. Students will have a truly unique opportunity to develop lifelong leadership skills as blind and sighted students work together in a fully integrated team.
Our team begins at 11,000 feet in the charming town of Cusco, Peru. We acclimatize to the elevation as we learn about Peruvian culture by visiting the handicraft markets of the sacred valley, exploring the town of Pisac, and touring the ruins of Ollantaytambo. We'll talk about the trek ahead, practice hiking techniques, and learn from our expert guides.
Our trek begins on day five as we cross a footbridge in Parpishu (10,168 feet). Days five to seven involve climbing multiple passes from the Watuq'asa pass (12,792 feet) to our highest point at Huayanay (15,744 feet). Along the way we explore quiet hidden ruins and enjoy the open air of the mountains. On day eight we work together with students from the mountain community of Keska on a community service and intercultural exchange project. By day nine we leave snow-capped peaks behind for the lush tropical valley of the Urubamba River. Finally on day ten we arrive at the spectacular ruins of Machu Picchu. After exploring for a full day, we return to Cusco by train and then return home on day twelve.
Travel dates and cost are June 9 to 20, 2006, $3,870 per student. Interested students or parents should contact Julie Dubin, program director, Global Explorers, <[email protected]>, (888) 359-3801.
Recommended age and maturity level: this program is specifically designed for approximately twelve high school students. Blind and disabled students will team with able-bodied students in order to complete the trek successfully. We are seeking very capable, mature, confident students who believe this experience will help their personal growth and discovery.
Student preparation: in order to ensure that our trip is safe and successful, we require a good deal of preparation from our students prior to travel. This includes a mandatory weekend retreat in Colorado in the months prior to travel. It will also involve preparatory research and discussions using the Internet. I have teamed with Global Explorers to provide an educational experience that will prepare the group mentally, physically, emotionally, and intellectually for a life-changing journey.
Application process: students will be required to participate in a competitive application process that will include essays and references. You must obtain the application packet from Global Explorers.
Equipment: you will be responsible for bringing necessary hiking equipment such as warm clothing and sturdy hiking boots. You do not need to bring an internal-frame backpack, sleeping bag, or tent. You will receive a detailed packing list after being accepted into the program.
Accommodations: the accommodations on this adventure range from very comfortable hotels in Cusco to the rustic beauty of camping in the Andes. While we are on the trail, your tents will be carried and assembled by your porters. Meals will be served in a large, portable dining tent.
Physical fitness: this is the most strenuous workshop Global Explorers offers. It requires a serious commitment to physical and mental preparation prior to the workshop. You will be hiking long distances for five-to-eight hours a day at very high elevations. Students will be required to carry only a small daypack and their water. Porters will carry the remainder of the equipment.
Safety and support: I have safely led and advised many blind student groups on treks and climbs around the world. In addition to me three talented group leaders and one local guide will accompany the team. Though well-rehearsed emergency procedures will be in place for all points along the trek, our experience shows that the best emergency prevention technique is thorough preparation.
Guitar and Piano by Ear Courses Available:
Summer is almost here, and it is time to learn to play your favorite musical instrument without using Braille or music notation. Bill Brown has created music courses specifically for the blind for the guitar, piano, bass, drums, banjo, saxophone, and ukulele. These are high quality courses on tape or CD designed for beginners as young as ten years old. Most courses are $39. For those of you who already know how to play, there are over 500 individual songs taught in the same all-audio format for only $10 each. For more information on what is available and how to obtain a copy, call Bill at (229) 249-0628 or go to the Web site at <www.musicvi.com.> These courses are also available through the National Library Service, a division of the Library of Congress.
New Books from Seedlings Braille Books for Children:
New print-Braille-and-picture books with contracted Braille added on clear plastic. Included are Give Me Grace (board book); My Colors--Mis Colores (English and Spanish board book) by Rebecca Emberley; This Little Piggy by Teresa Imperato (tactile board book); What I Like About Passover by Varda Livney (board book); What Mommies Do Best by Laura Numeroff (board book).
New print and Braille books in uncontracted Braille. Easy-readers that have the uncontracted (Grade I) Braille and the print words matched line for line (no pictures). Included are Great Day for Up by Dr. Seuss. Explore the many meanings of "up" in classic Dr. Seuss style. Riddles and More Riddles! by Bennett Cerf. Riddle books are great for beginning readers, and this one has a special twist: the riddles are in print and Braille, but the answers are in Braille only. Stuart Little: Stuart Sets Sail by Susan Hill. When Stuart goes sailing, adventures come in all sizes.
New Braille fiction books: Included are Akiko on the Planet Smoo by Mark Crilley; Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry; A Finnegan Zwake Mystery: The Worm Tunnel by Michael Dahl; The Hardy Boys Casefiles #39: Flesh and Blood by Franklin W. Dixon; Junie B. Jones and the Mushy Gushy Valentime by Barbara Park; Magic Tree House #13: Polar Bears Past Bedtime by Mary Pope Osborne; Mysteries in Our National Parks #12: Buried Alive by Gloria Skurzynski and Alane Ferguson; and Nancy Drew #170: No Strings Attached by Carolyn Keene.
You can register your child or student to win a free Braille book through Seedlings' Anna's Book Angel Project (in memory of Anna K. Bonde). At least ten children's names will be drawn each week. To register, contact Seedlings at (800) 777-8552 or register online at <www.seedlings.org/bkangel.html>. Also, if your child or student needs to do research for a school report or project, Seedlings offers free Braille World Book Encyclopedia articles through our Rose Project.
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.
Large cassette magazine collection, including Newsweek, June 1994 to present; Fortune, July 1998 to August 1999 and January 2004 to December 2004; Smart Money, October 2003 to September 2004. All cassettes are in four-track, Library of Congress format and in good to excellent condition. Cassettes were produced by the American Printing House for the Blind and Recorded Periodicals, a division of Associated Services for the Blind of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prices for entire magazine collections are negotiable. Offers for individual issues of magazines will not be considered.
Asking $100 for everything. Cassettes will be shipped Free Matter unless purchaser provides the additional shipping cost. All inquiries can be sent in print to David Mostello, 168 Penn-Lyle Road, Princeton Junction, New Jersey 08550. His email address is <[email protected]>.
Nokia 9290 Communicator and cell phone with TALKS software. Included are instructions, tutorial, CD-ROM, charger, and connecting PC cables. This device is a cell phone, notetaker, and scheduler. It has a very small QWERTY keyboard. TALKS software reads the screen. Asking $500 plus shipping. Contact Harold Snider (301) 460-4142 or <[email protected]>.
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.