THE BRAILLE MONITOR
Vol. 48, No. 8
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
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 48, No. 8
2005 Convention Roundup
by Barbara Pierce
Presidential Report 2005
by Marc Maurer
Innovation, Inspiration, and Influence: the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute Implements the Will of the Organized Blind
by Betsy Zaborowski
by Kevan Worley
The 2005 Awards
2005 Scholarship Class of the
National Federation of the Blind
The Edge of Tomorrow
by Marc Maurer
The Altering Characteristics of Rehabilitation:
The Perspective of Half a Century
by Fredric K. Schroeder
Imagining a Brighter Future for Blind Americans:
A Report on the 2005 Convention Resolutions
by Sharon Maneki
2005 Resolutions of the National Federation of the Blind
Copyright2005 National Federation of the Blind
[LEAD PHOTO/CAPTION: At the close of Kevan Worley’s stirring address about the Imagination Fund Tuesday afternoon, Whozit entered the convention hall and made his way to the front. He was seven feet tall and sported all of his bright colors. Whozit may be said to be vocal without being verbal. His only word was a falsetto “Who-who, who-who.”]
2005 Convention Roundup
by Barbara Pierce
If you chose to skip the 2005 convention of the National Federation of the Blind because it was in Louisville for the third time in four years, you are likely to spend the rest of your life regretting that decision. Some of the attractions were predictable. The Kentucky affiliate have proven themselves to be warm and gracious hosts. The Louisville weather was warm but not oppressively hot. The Galt House staff were delighted to see us, and the renovations were spectacular. The crosswalk connecting the two towers at the third-floor level has been transformed from a passageway and storage area to a dramatic and comfortable lounge in which to enjoy a cup of coffee, a drink, or a light meal while overlooking the Ohio River.
One interesting indicator of the times and the renovation was the talking sign on the ninth floor. Mrs. Jernigan’s suite had been announced in the printed and early electronic versions of the agenda as located on that floor, but the hotel had to move it to the eleventh floor. On our first-time-ever online agenda the change was made to assist those downloading it at the last minute. The rest of us headed for room 943, at least until word circulated about the suite’s actual location. As my husband and I approached 943 on our first day, I heard what I took to be a radio transmission, coming, I assumed, from a unit belonging to a security person nearby. When we knocked on the door, no one came, so we turned to leave. This time when the broadcast voice began speaking at the same point in the hall as the previous one, I tuned into the message. I then learned that Mrs. Jernigan’s suite had been moved to 1143. We had just encountered a talking sign triggered by a body passing in front of it.
Remembering the exceedingly warm meeting rooms at the Galt House two years ago, the Washington affiliate brought paper fans and asked a number of Federation leaders to sign a handful each. They thought that the autographs might increase sales. Unfortunately for Washington, one of the elements of the hotel that received a radical makeover was the air conditioning. Many of us regretted having left sweaters at home. The Michigan and Illinois affiliates, who brought Whozit sweatshirts to sell, did a land office business.
The exhibit hall was divided into two parts this year. The result was a more orderly and manageable shopping experience. The NFB store, NFB literature, a handful of affiliate tables, and the fascinating accessible home showcase were together in the East Tower, across from the Grand Ballroom, where the general sessions took place. Vendor exhibits (forty-one of them) and most affiliate and division tables were in the West Tower, just off the crosswalk. Both halls were easy to reach and much easier to negotiate than in past years.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Sarah Sykes examines a Whirlpool front-loading washing machine from her wheelchair.]
The accessible home showcase was fascinating. The equipment displays had Braille and large-print labels and information. Visitors could examine washers, dryers, stoves, microwaves, DVD players, and other entertainment equipment.
The day before the opening of registration and the exhibit halls (this year Saturday, July 2) is actually one of the busiest of the convention. Throughout the day the International Braille and Technology Center staff and various technology producers conducted workshops on various subjects. Focus groups discussed possible research directions for the Jernigan Institute. Those interested in rehabilitation could attend a day-long conference. Entrepreneurs and job-seekers could both attend seminars in the afternoon. Writers could read their works to each other, and manufacturers were available to demonstrate their equipment when the accessible home showcase opened.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Alison Van Etten, Katie Kress, and Melissa Riccobono play a Braille version of Twister at the Braille carnival.]
As always the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) conducted a day full of memorable activities. The theme for this year’s program was “In the Driver’s Seat,” which was also the title of Heather Fields’s delightful keynote address. The kids were invited to stay for the morning seminar. It began with President Maurer getting down to business with them on the floor. The seminar agenda was packed with excellent presentations, concluding with a number of young adults describing how they travel and answering questions from the audience. In the afternoon younger blind and sighted kids enjoyed the Braille Carnival with their Braille buddies while the older ones chose from an array of workshops. Adults also had choices to make: Braille, the Internet, travel tips for parents of kids of various ages, and active learning for multiply disabled children.
In addition to various division and committee meetings, the evening included a scavenger hunt for families with blind children who were accompanied by blind mentors, a social for families, the Rookie Roundup for first-time convention attendees, karaoke, and a dance sponsored by the Kentucky affiliate.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Sunday morning families were able to work with O and M teachers trained in the discovery method. Here Wei Min Patrick and his family practice walking under sleepshades while Robert Scott instructs them in the use of the long white cane.]
By Sunday morning the exhibit halls were ready for business. Registration took very little time, and with the agenda’s having been available online, many registrants did not bother to pick up paper agendas. It will be interesting to see how this process will change next year when, we have been told, preregistration will be possible.
The Resolutions Committee gathered at 1:30 that afternoon to consider eighteen resolutions. A complete report of its deliberations and the texts of the seventeen resolutions approved by the Convention appears elsewhere in this issue.
The meeting ended a bit early this year, and for a few minutes it looked as if the National Association of Blind Lawyers’ annual mock trial might actually begin early. Then the week’s only unscheduled excitement began. Here is the way Bruce Peters described what happened:
[PHOTO/CAPTION: People poured out of both towers of the Galt House when the fire alarms sounded. Soon fire engines appeared. Part of the renovated and expanded bridge between the towers, where the smoke detector malfunctioned, can be seen here.]
“Just after 4:00 p.m. the Galt House fire alarms went off, and an automated voice over the loudspeakers throughout the hotel announced that we all had to evacuate. You could sense the panic among the hotel staff as they contemplated evacuating thousands of blind people from the sprawling complex. But instantly, instinctively, and without a second thought (though ignorant of the cause for the alarm), over 2,000 Federationists peacefully headed for the nearest exit in good order.
“Spontaneous acts of personal kindness were the order of the hour as volunteers, staff, and blind people ourselves assisted the elderly, the infirm, and those using wheelchairs down stairwells, out of halls and meeting rooms, and through corridors to the nearest exit. (As in any emergency evacuation, elevators were not to be used.) Federationists took it upon themselves to act as callers, announcing the location of exits for all to hear as the eighteen floors of the East Tower and the twenty-five floors of the West Tower were vacated, and we streamed out of exhibit halls and restaurants--thousands of people, hundreds of white canes, and scores of guide dogs flooding efficiently onto sidewalks and into alleys. Outside the East Tower exhibit hall Federationists quickly realized that they were dangerously close to a three-foot drop-off at the edge of a loading dock, so they simply organized themselves into a human barricade to prevent anyone from coming too close.
“It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon with temperatures close to ninety degrees, and we waited patiently on all sides of the hotel as the fire trucks roared up and firemen rushed into the building. Before we could be given permission to return, the Louisville Fire Department had to determine that there had been no fire and that reentry was perfectly safe. Then the fire marshal had to approve reoccupancy. Fire officials determined that a faulty smoke detector in the bridge between the East and West Towers had triggered the alarm, and we were finally given the all clear to return. We reentered in as orderly a fashion as we had retreated, and the hotel staff marveled at how smoothly, calmly, efficiently, and competently Federationists had heeded the alarm and responded in the emergency. They were surprised, but we were not.”
The mock trial and other activities carried on, having lost about a half hour. This year’s topic for humorous legal consideration was the Carol Coulter case, in which the state of Missouri refused to issue her an unrestricted license to run a childcare business. She was required to have a full-time, sighted assistant on the premises at all times. The case was argued as if the trial were taking place today and not in 1986, which allowed citations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The plaintiff, Carol Coulter, was played by Melody Lindsey in the absence of Carol Coulter, whose grandchild had made an early appearance back in Missouri. The plaintiff's supporting witnesses were Mr. Wonder Full, played by Gary Wunder. This character was a parent who had entrusted his children to the plaintiff and had wonderful things to say about her. Mr. Full spoke lovingly of his “little Dorcas,” whom he left with plaintiff Coulter. In his closing argument Scott LaBarre brought down the house by asking everyone to think about their little Dorcases, whether they would entrust their Dorcas to a blind person, etc.
Coulter also had testimony by Jay Cool, a teenager whom the plaintiff had cared for in the past. This character was played by Nijat Worley, and he referred to himself as "Dude." The lawyers for the plaintiff were Guy Noble, played by Ray Wayne, and C. Justice Done, played by Anthony Thomas.
The defendant was the State of Missouri, Department of Family Services. Nina (an accent mark over the second n made the name sound like the Spanish word for “child”) Shielding, played by Carla McQuillan, was the licensing supervisor who ultimately denied Coulter's unrestricted license. Lata Paperwork, played by Mildred Rivera, was the social worker who inspected the plaintiff's home and found everything in order except the absence of a sighted person. Mr. Med Lynn was a parent who reported the plaintiff to the state and who testified that he would never place his child in the care of a blind person. This character was played by Ricky Williams of Tennessee. Lawyers for the state were Kent Touchem, played by Bennett Prows, and I. B. Righteous, played by Scott LaBarre.
As always the judge was the Honorable Charles S. Brown of Virginia, and the bailiff was Peggy Elliott of Iowa. A crowd of about 300 empanelled as the jury rendered a verdict for the plaintiff. The mock trial remains a delightfully clever way of learning something about our legal history.
Sunday evening and Monday afternoon and evening were filled with committee and division meetings and seminars. The Louisiana Center for the Blind Players provided two performances of this year’s original play by Jerry Whittle, A Path We Did Not Know, in which a Federation leader is hired to run a conventional rehabilitation program and has problems introducing Federation philosophy.
One highlight of Monday’s activities occurred at the post-seminar reception hosted by the National Association of Blind Lawyers. Through the years Jim Gashel has made countless presentations to the lawyers division. People are always surprised to discover that he is not himself an attorney. So NABL made it official; they presented a rosewood plaque with gold lettering on a black faceplate to Mr. Gashel. The text read:
Conferred upon James Gashel Esq.
National Association of Blind Lawyers
July 4, 2005
About two hundred people visited the Braille book flea market jointly sponsored late Monday afternoon by NOPBC and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB). All the Twin VisionÒ (print and Braille) books disappeared in the first fifteen minutes. UPS packed up some eighty large boxes of books for delivery to homes across the country, and many families left the flea market carrying armloads of Braille.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Every month Home Depot sponsors a construction project with children. In July the company shipped enough Home Depot aprons and materials to Louisville for fifty children to build small tool boxes. Throughout convention week NFB Campers worked with blind and sighted adults to build their boxes. Here John Cucco helps Ciara Moser with the project.]
Monday morning was devoted to the first official general session of the convention, the meeting of the NFB board of directors. All members of the board of directors and a thousand or so other Federationists were on hand when President Maurer pounded the gavel at 9:00 a.m. sharp. Veterans Joe Ruffalo and Dwight Sayer led the crowd in reciting the pledge to the American flag on this Independence Day. President Maurer then led everyone in the NFB pledge.
The first item of business was a review of which positions on the board of directors were up for election this year. In hold-over positions were Marc Maurer (Maryland), president; Joyce Scanlan (Minnesota), first vice president; Peggy Elliott (Iowa), second vice president; Charles Brown (Virginia), treasurer; Gary Wunder (Missouri), secretary; and board members Pam Allen (Louisiana), Sam Gleese (Mississippi), Carl Jacobsen (New York), Chris McKenzie (Arkansas), and Carla McQuillan (Oregon). The members whose seats were open for election were Ron Brown (Indiana), Don Capps (South Carolina), Priscilla Ferris (Massachusetts), Cathy Jackson (Kentucky), Anil Lewis (Georgia), and Joe Ruffalo (New Jersey). Following this review, Priscilla Ferris sought the floor. When she was recognized, this is what she said: [sound bite 1]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Priscilla Ferris]
Dr. Maurer, all of my colleagues on this wonderful board, and all of my Federation family, I have been a member of the Federation since 1973, and I have served on this board for eighteen years. But the time has come, I think, for me not to stand for election this year. My mind and my heart are willing, but my body is a little bit rebellious. I can no longer do the things that I want to do. As I say, I am not going to stand for election this year, but I will always attend these wonderful conventions. The best thing I have earned from being on this board and being in this wonderful organization is all of you, my friends. I will never forget you, and I hope you never forget me. Thank you very much.
President Maurer warmly thanked Priscilla for her long and faithful service on the board and concluded by saying, “Can anybody forget Priscilla Ferris?"
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Xie Jing-Ren addresses the board meeting with his translator standing behind him.]
Following a few words from Cathy Jackson, president of the host affiliate, President Maurer introduced Xie Jing-Ren, the director of special education in the Ministry of Education in the People’s Republic of China. A delegation from China had been invited to visit the Overbrook School for the Blind, and school officials asked the NFB of Pennsylvania to meet with them and help provide information about blindness, blind people, and the NFB’s view of blindness. Pennsylvania Federationists happily did so and then made arrangements to bring the Chinese delegation to the convention. Mr. Xie greeted the delegates and publicly thanked the NFB of Pennsylvania for what they had done to make the delegation feel welcome, and he invited President Maurer to come to China to talk about effective efforts to enable blind people to take fully responsible roles in their communities.
Mrs. Jernigan then reviewed convention arrangements and concluded by announcing that almost certainly convention registration and purchase of banquet tickets will be possible using credit card or check by mail or on the Internet before the 2006 convention. We will have a two-tiered system, with registration and tickets costing more at the convention. The plans will be announced in detail in the spring.
President Maurer briefly reviewed the new publications available for the first time at this convention. The twenty-eighth Kernel Book, titled Celebrate, is now available, as are The Blindness Revolution: Jernigan in His Own Words, by James Omvig; and Blind Justice: Jacobus tenBroek and the Vision of Equality, by Dr. Floyd Matson. The Omvig and Matson books are available in print, Braille, and two- and four-track cassette editions from the NFB Materials Center. The board voted to conduct a Kernel Book contest again next year. Those who submit pieces for possible inclusion in a future Kernel Book will have their names entered for a drawing of $1,000. This year’s winner was James Baxter from Minnesota. The deadline for submitting stories for the new contest is May 31, 2006.
Steve Benson of Illinois, chairman of the committee to select the Blind Educator of the Year, came forward to present this year’s award to Jerry Whittle. A full report of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue. A bit later in the morning, Sharon Maneki, who chairs the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Selection Committee, presented that plaque and check to Merry-Noel Chamberlain. A full report of that ceremony also appears elsewhere in this issue.
John Kelly, president of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, told the board that he had been with RFB&D for twenty years and had been attending NFB conventions for as many. He announced that by the middle of 2007 RFB&D expects to be producing all of its books in digital format. This year the organization produced 5,000 books, and increasingly people are demanding the increased flexibility, efficiency, and control of digital books. Mr. Kelly requested that the NFB continue to work closely with RFB&D to make the transition to fully digital production smooth and efficient. Everyone agreed that this partnership is constructive, and President Maurer invited anyone interested in working more closely with RFB&D to be in touch with Mr. Kelly. The distinguished group of NFB leaders who have been working with RFB&D will also continue to do so.
Peggy Elliott, chairman of the NFB Scholarship Committee, next called the members of the 2005 scholarship class to the platform to introduce themselves to the audience. What they said is part of a full report of this year’s scholarship program that appears later in this issue. The board of directors then voted to conduct a scholarship program again in 2006.
President Maurer invited our friend and supporter, Herb Magin, to come forward to describe the new cause bracelet that he arranged to have made for the National Federation of the Blind. Like those to raise funds to combat breast cancer or lymphoma and to support other causes, these bracelets will advertise support for the NFB and support the organization. They are blue and have a raised line drawing of Whozit as well as the letters “NFB” in both raised print and legible Braille. Affiliates and chapters can buy 500 or more at $1 each. Bought individually, the cost will be $5 each. See the Miniature in this issue for details.
Joanne Wilson announced a new mentoring program called NFB LINK. This will eventually be an electronic service in which people can go to the NFB Web site and write in the sort of mentoring they need: seniors losing vision and needing to talk with other seniors who could help and encourage them, parents of a blind child hoping to connect with other parents, students contemplating difficult career choices, or many other areas in which someone with appropriate experience could help. During the convention delegates were invited to sign up as volunteer mentors.
The final item on the morning agenda was brought by Jim Omvig, chairman of the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB). He described the rigorous process required to receive certification as a blindness professional certified by the NBPCB. In addition to the applicant’s knowledge of the body of information, he or she must demonstrate personal mastery of the skills of blindness under sleepshades if the individual has any useable vision. Four people this year received NOMC (National Orientation and Mobility Certification) and now have the right to use this designation following their names to let the world know that they can both travel and teach travel with the long white cane. The four receiving their certificates were Marco Carranza, Joleen Kinzer, Vicki McDaniel, and Amy Phelps. On this high note the meeting adjourned.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Cathy Jackson, president of the NFB of Kentucky, the host affiliate of the 2005 convention, welcomes the convention.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mountain dulcimer players, Lorrinda Jones and Bruce Adair, play a medley of songs by Stephen Foster during opening ceremonies of the NFB 2005 convention.]
Tuesday morning at 9:45, President Maurer brought the 2005 convention to order. Cathy Jackson again greeted the full convention and introduced Lorinda Jones and Bruce Adair, who played two medleys of traditional Kentucky songs on mountain dulcimers. Then Laura Owens, commissioner of the Kentucky Workforce Investment Cabinet, and Steve Johnson, director of the Kentucky Office for the Blind, both welcomed conventioneers. The roll call of states occupied the remainder of the morning session.
When delegates reassembled for the afternoon session, anticipation, as always, ran high, for the first order of business was the presidential report by Marc Maurer. It was of great interest and inspiration, and it is reprinted in full elsewhere in this issue.
President Maurer then introduced Dr. Euclid Herie, past president of both the World Blind Union and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Dr. Herie announced that he has now completed writing the definitive history of blind people in Canada. The title is Journey to Independence: Blindness, the Canadian Story. It is available in print, large print, DAISY format, cassette recording, and Braille from <www.cnib.ca>.
Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute, then reported on “Innovation, Inspiration, and Influence: The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute Implements the Will of the Organized Blind.” Her remarks appear in full elsewhere in this issue.
“Reaching for New Horizons: A Report on the First Science Academy at the Jernigan Institute” was the topic addressed by a panel of speakers. Mark Riccobono, director of education at the Jernigan Institute, described the education activities for students interested in science and introduced the other panel participants. They were Hoby Wedler, a graduate of the 2004 Rocket On! Science Academy and a 2005 scholarship winner; Amelia King, graduate of the 2004 Circle of Life Science Academy; and Caroline Rounds, a facilitator at the 2004 Science Academy. Their insights and observations kindled the imaginations of the entire audience.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Whozit poses in front of the sponsor banners at the front of the convention hall.]
Thus far in the afternoon every speaker had discussed or described the activities of the National Federation of the Blind in the past year and plans for the future. It was fitting, therefore, that Kevan Worley, chairman of the Imagination Fund Committee, next invited everyone to “Imagine.” He described the Imagination Fund, and the complete text of his remarks appears elsewhere in this issue. At the close of Kevan’s presentation a disturbance was heard at the back of the hall. It turned out to be Whozit, seven feet tall, in full color, and carrying his signature long white cane. Surrounded by imaginators, Whozit made his way to the front of the room to the delight of the audience.
When the excitement and amusement had died down, President Maurer introduced Dr. Floyd Matson to present his biography of Jacobus tenBroek. Dr. Matson was Dr. tenBroek’s student and later his friend and research collaborator. He read from the introduction to Blind Justice: Jacobus tenBroek and the Vision of Equality.
At the conclusion of Dr. Matson’s remarks, President Maurer called to order a brief meeting of the board of directors, explaining that the NFB has two methods of bringing resolutions to the floor of the Convention for consideration. The first, and most frequently used, is by recommendation of the Resolutions Committee. The other method is by recommendation of the board of directors. Since all members of the board were present in the audience, he then read a resolution of commendation to Hazel tenBroek, widow of Jacobus tenBroek and onetime editor of the Braille Monitor, for her years of devoted service to the National Federation of the Blind.
The board voted to refer the resolution, 2005-101, to the Convention with a recommendation of do pass. President Maurer then opened the floor to debate, and the resolution was enthusiastically passed unanimously. He then instructed that the resolution and an inscribed copy of Blind Justice be sent to Mrs. tenBroek. The text of this resolution is reprinted elsewhere in this issue.
The final item of the afternoon was a report titled, “What Frustrates Screen Reader Users: A Report on 100 Screen Reader Users and their Frustrations on the Web, A Research Study in Collaboration with the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute,” by Dr. Jonathan Lazar, who worked with a hundred blind speech-access computer users to assess their Internet frustrations and compare them to those of sighted users. He found among other things that blind computer users waste less time and are more successful at solving their problems than sighted students and workers.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Brooke Fox plays guitar at the showcase of talent.]
When the Tuesday afternoon session recessed, delegates scattered to take advantage of an evening full of meetings, workshops, and entertainment. The music division’s showcase of talent drew twenty-five performers and an enthusiastic audience. Two interest groups met for the first time this year. They were those interested in antique cars, coordinated by Joe Naulty of Florida, and those interested in sports, coordinated by Lisamaria Martinez of California. The Committee on Under-Served Populations, chaired by national board member and NFB of Georgia President Anil Lewis, met for the first time Tuesday evening. From 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. the second annual evening for sponsor-level exhibitors took place in the exhibit hall. Convention attendees could visit the booths of sponsoring organizations, who had the exhibit hall to themselves. Shoppers could talk quietly with vendors and enjoy special offers and demonstrations. CARF…the Rehabilitation Accreditation Commission even sponsored a focus group in which they asked consumers to talk about effective accreditation in the blindness field. And around all this activity was the Bluegrass Ball hosted by the Kentucky affiliate. The popular local band, Spare Change, played old and new favorites.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Nancy and Don Burns dance at the Bluegrass Ball.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: United States military veterans stand together on stage. President Maurer is at the podium.]
But no matter how late people played Tuesday evening, the Wednesday morning session began on time. Twenty-one veterans in attendance came to the platform at the beginning of the session. Each was presented with an American flag. The veterans, representing every service, led delegates in the pledge of allegiance and then introduced themselves. This tribute closed with the playing of a recording of Ray Charles singing “America the Beautiful.”
Sharon Maneki then made the report from the Nominating Committee. In addition to the five members of the current board of directors whose seats were open this year and who were nominated to serve another term (Ron Brown, Don Capps, Cathy Jackson, Anil Lewis, and Joe Ruffalo), the committee nominated Fred Schroeder, president of the NFB of Virginia. All six nominees were elected unanimously. Each spoke briefly to the convention after election. This is what Dr. Schroeder said: [sound bite 2]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Fred Schroeder]
Thank you very much, Dr. Maurer and fellow Federationists. I joined this organization in 1974, and for all of those years the Federation has stood with me. Dr. Matson’s presentation yesterday reminded me that the Federation stood with me prior to 1974, long before I knew about the National Federation of the Blind. Indeed, long before I was born the Federation was there to help forge new opportunities for blind people, and my life has been enriched as a result.
I served on the board of directors from 1984 to 1994, and for all of that time I was the youngest member of the board of directors. I am glad to be back on the board, but I am no longer the youngest member of the board, which is a very good thing for the organization. I am deeply honored and will certainly do my best to give all I can to continue the work that we collectively have done. Thank you.
Much of the remainder of the morning was devoted to presentations about the education of blind children. Four speakers addressed this issue from their various perspectives. The first speaker was a parent, who gave what many delegates afterwards recalled as the finest agenda presentation of the convention. She is Cari Gilmer, president of the NFB of Minnesota’s parents division. Her topic was “The Role of Parents in the Education of Blind Children.” Following her were Dr. Kay Alicyn Ferrell, executive director of the National Center on Low-Incidence Disabilities and professor of special education at the University of Northern Colorado, whose title was “The Role of the Consumer in the Education of Blind Children from the Perspective of An Educational Program for Teachers of the Blind”; Dr. Kathleen M. Huebner, co-director of the National Center for Leadership in Vision Impairment and professor and associate dean of graduate studies in vision impairment at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry, who addressed the challenge of “Finding and Training the Teachers of the Future: A Partnership”; and Allen Harris, director of the Iowa Department for the Blind, whose remarks were titled “The Organized Blind and Education for Blind Children.” This important set of presentations will appear in an upcoming issue of the Braille Monitor.
Our longtime friend Frank Kurt Cylke, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), was the next speaker. He spoke only briefly before introducing Michael Katzmann, head of the NLS Engineering Section. Their report was titled “Everything Digital.” Mr. Katzmann updated the audience on the digital Talking Book player, which is still scheduled to make its appearance in 2008. He also discussed plans to investigate consumer downloading of digitized books using the Internet.
The final item on the morning agenda was a brief presentation by Jason Barkeloo, president of Somatic Digital, LLC. His title was “Interactive Education for Everybody Including the Blind.” His company is developing software that will allow those using information on paper--print or Braille text, graphics, maps, whatever--that has already been coded by the publisher or other preparer to interact with the information at the touch of a finger. His vision of learning in the future was exciting, and everyone wished him good luck.
No general session was scheduled for the afternoon, but the agenda was anything but a blank. Many families took advantage of “Dr. Doolittle Comes to Louisville” by traveling to the Kentucky School for the Blind, where volunteers introduced blind children to a number of animals: many breeds of dogs, horses, goats, sheep, and cows and a large turkey. They staffed stations at which the youngsters could learn about the animals and examine them all over. Everyone came away from the adventure with a new appreciation of the animal kingdom.
Back at the hotel job seekers could connect with mentors or polish their résumés, SSDI and SSI recipients could ask questions about Social Security, and those interested in improving their lives could take part in one of several seminars. In addition committees, divisions, and the Colorado Center for the Blind all conducted meetings and programs. The parents division sponsored a night at the movies, and the student division again sponsored Monte Carlo Night. And we haven’t even mentioned the tours.
Bright and early Thursday morning the Grand Ballroom was filled with eager Federationists ready for a full day of convention presentations. The first speaker was to have been Dr. William Rowland, newly elected president of the World Blind Union, who was recently injured in an automobile accident. He is now recovering but was unable to travel to the convention. In his place David Blyth, a past president of the WBU, addressed the convention. In addition to paying tribute to Kenneth Jernigan and his legacy and the accomplishments of the NFB, he called attention to the surcharge of up to 20 percent that technology producers add to the price of their products sold in other countries.
The other speaker in this international segment of the agenda was Dr. Susan Spungin, treasurer of the World Blind Union and vice president of international programs and special projects at the American Foundation for the Blind. She reported on the progress made by the current administration of the WBU in establishing a strategic plan and moving forward to improve the lives of the 180 million blind people in the 158 WBU member countries around the world.
James Omvig, a longtime leader in the National Federation of the Blind, then spoke about the book he has just written, The Blindness Revolution: Jernigan in His Own Words. He briefly described the plight of rehabilitation at mid-twentieth-century, when Dr. Jernigan transformed the Iowa Commission for the Blind from the worst state program for the blind in the nation to the best one in the world. His book records that transformation, largely in Dr. Jernigan’s own words through the documents and letters he wrote.
The title of the agenda item that followed was “Rehabilitation and the Organized Blind: New Approaches, Profound Results.” The presentors on the panel were Tom Bickford, graduate, California Orientation Center; Joanne Wilson, graduate, Iowa Commission for the Blind; Angela Wolf, graduate, Louisiana Center for the Blind; Shawn Mayo, graduate and executive director, Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions, Incorporated; and Katrilla Martin, graduate, Colorado Center for the Blind. These presentations provided a lively illustration of the way NFB philosophy and the work of Kenneth Jernigan continue to change lives.
“The Altering Characteristics of Rehabilitation: The Perspective of Half a Century” was the title of an address by Dr. Fredric Schroeder, research professor, San Diego State University, president of the NFB of Virginia, and newly elected member of the NFB board of directors. The entire text of this address appears elsewhere in this issue.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Congressman Danny Davis addresses the convention.]
The morning concluded with a visit from Congressman Danny Davis of Illinois, winner of our 2004 Newel Perry Award. He is clearly a friend and supporter of the organized blind and our efforts to achieve equality for blind people.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Children explore an ambulance.]
During the noon recess blind children had an opportunity to visit an ambulance and talk with emergency medical technicians outside the hotel. It was a popular attraction and a fitting follow-up of the Tuesday evening workshops for kids on dealing with emergencies, conducted by NOPBC board member Maria Garcia of New York.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Heather Frit instructs Michael Taboada from Louisiana in the fine points of taking blood pressure.]
The afternoon session began with a lively presentation from Patricia Schroeder, president and chief executive officer of the Association of American Publishers. Her title was “Getting Books for Blind Students in Grade School and High School with College to Come.” She reviewed briefly the success we had in providing accessible text materials for blind students at the same time as their sighted peers in elementary and secondary schools. She explained how much more challenging speedy access to college-level text material will be. Many more publishers, including off-shore houses, supply college texts. Moreover, technology is changing so quickly that it would be unwise to stipulate what kind of electronic text should be provided. She invited the NFB to sit down with the publishers ahead of efforts to write legislation to try to work out the problems through negotiation.
The next presentation was made by the title sponsor of the convention, HumanWare, the combined company created during the past year by the merger of Pulse Data International of New Zealand and VisuAid of Canada. Making the presentation were Dr. Russell Smith, chief executive officer of the HumanWare Group, and Gilles Pepin, President of HumanWare Canada. Their title was “A Merger for the Future: Putting Power into the Hands of the Blind.” They both articulated their commitment to listening to consumers in order to provide technology solutions to real problems. At the close of their presentation, Dr. Smith demonstrated some of the things that the new BrailleNote mPower can do. Dr. Smith’s final statement was that he looked forward to returning to the 2006 convention as a sponsor. Those warm and supportive words came sadly to mind exactly a month later when Dr. Smith and his wife were killed in a plane crash in New Zealand. We have lost a good friend and a man dedicated to serving the blindness community around the world. Our deepest sympathy goes to everyone in the HumanWare family.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: In front of a ballroom full of breathless watchers, Jim Gashel uses the Kurzweil National Federation of the Blind Reader to photograph, scann, and read aloud a page of text.]
The next item for consideration was “The Kurzweil National Federation of the Blind Reader: The Pocket Reading Machine.” James Gashel, NFB executive director of strategic initiatives, began by demonstrating the reader. He explained that today it is encased in a leather case measuring six by three by two inches. He took pictures of, scanned, and read three different documents. In each case his first attempt to line up the digital camera was successful, and the reader worked exactly as it is designed to. [sound bite 4] Then Ray Kurzweil, president of Kurzweil Technologies, Inc., came to the podium. He reported that this reading machine is ten thousand times smaller and two thousand times more powerful than his very first reading machine, which was about the size of an apartment washing machine. He explained the additional problems of lighting, positioning, and distance that this reader must solve to work in the world. In coming years it will become even smaller, be housed in one unit, and be able to assess entire scenes, looking for written material like signs and recognizing familiar people. Already thirteen patents have been filed in the course of the reader’s development.
Dr. Robert Massof, professor of ophthalmology and neuroscience and director of the Lions Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center, the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, demonstrated that some medical professionals really are able to understand the importance of mastering the alternative techniques of blindness and that low-vision training is almost always a transition to living as a blind person. The title of his remarks said it all: “Embracing the Techniques of Blindness: An Approach That Works.” It was refreshing to welcome to the convention a medical professional of his stature who demonstrates common sense about blindness.
Jerry Long, a blind cattle roper from New Mexico, next spoke humorously about his life. Then Gloria Mills-Hicks, president of IReScue Tax Planning and Consulting, and one of the leaders of the NFB of Florida, described her working career and the way she has evolved into a blind tax accountant with her own business. She inspired her audience as she described how courage and determination to serve people effectively enabled her to overcome discrimination and narrow-minded supervisors.
“Accessibility to Consumer Products: An Emerging Partnership Between Whirlpool and the Organized Blind” was the title of remarks by John Alexander, vice president and general manager for Whirlpool and Value Brands, North American Region. Many of the products on display in the accessible home showcase were manufactured by Whirlpool. This is clearly a company that grasps the principles of tactile access and is committed to keeping its products accessible to all.
The final presentation of the afternoon was “Civil Rights for the Blind in the Era of Homeland Security.” The speaker was a friend to the NFB from his days as an attorney in the Department of Justice--Daniel Sutherland, now officer in the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the United States Department of Homeland Security. Despite the pressures on civil rights necessitated by the heightened threat of terrorism since September 11, 2001, the Department of Homeland Security is determined to hire good candidates for jobs, including those with disabilities. Mr. Sutherland has consulted with disability experts like Jim McCarthy to learn what they can about fair employment. The department now insists that everyone with responsibility for hiring undergo training to learn about accommodations. It has also embarked on a serious internship program, which includes disabled candidates. He urged anyone interested in a job with Homeland Security to apply.
As the afternoon session drew to a close, we were reminded that we had three minutes to clear the room, and we did it. But we were back in under two hours for the banquet. Attendees generally agreed that the meal served was among the finest we have ever eaten, and the choir that led the singing of Federation songs was excellent. Fred Schroeder served again as master of ceremonies, and the early part of the evening was filled with laughter, door prizes, and division drawings.
When President Maurer rose to address us, the audience settled down and gave him their rapt attention. His title was “The Edge of Tomorrow.” The full text appears elsewhere in this issue.
Peggy Elliott, chairman of the Scholarship Committee, presented this year’s thirty scholarships, and Ronit Ovadia, winner of the Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship of $12,000, spoke briefly. See the full scholarship report later in this issue.
Allen Harris presented the Newel Perry Award to Frank Kurt Cylke, and Ramona Walhof presented the Jacobus tenBroek Award to Barbara Loos. These were obviously popular selections, and the full text of the presentations appears elsewhere in this issue.
The banquet came to a close with the drawing of the grand door prize of $1,792 from Kentucky in honor of the year that Kentucky became a state. With that people dispersed to other parties and conversations, and the sensible went to bed for a few hours of badly needed sleep.
Friday morning, however, the faithful were back in their seats for the final day of agenda items. President Maurer gave the financial report, and we conducted the honor roll call of states and divisions in which contributions and pledges to the various NFB funds were made publicly. Scott LaBarre presented the PAC Mule award to the National Association of Blind Merchants for the second year for having had the most new and raised PAC (Pre-Authorized Check) Plan pledges. Maryland received the PAC Rat for the second year because it led the states in PAC pledges. Scott also announced that the state that makes the largest PAC increase at its state convention this year will receive the PAChyderm award at next summer’s convention. At the end of the morning session Jim McCarthy gave the Washington report and reminded delegates of the importance of getting down to work whenever the word goes out that calls to members of Congress are needed.
The afternoon session was devoted to debate of seventeen resolutions and passage of sixteen of them. The resolution brought to the Convention by the board of directors on Tuesday was passed at that time. A complete report of the 2005 resolutions and the texts of the ones passed appear elsewhere in this issue.
Thus concluded the sixty-fifth convention of the National Federation of the Blind. In a little less than a year we will meet again in Dallas, Texas. The months between will be filled with the “hard work and high hopes” that comprise the lives of Federationists. We will inevitably lose some of those who gladden our hearts, like Russell Smith. But we will also find those who hunger for what we can offer them in the way of friendship, wisdom, and opportunity. We will go forward “with hope in our hearts and a song on our lips” as Dr. tenBroek and Dr. Jernigan taught us, and we will imagine a future filled with opportunity and brought into being by our dedication.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Marc Maurer delivers the 2005 presidential report.]
National Federation of the Blind
July 5, 2005
The past year has been one of extraordinary challenge and tremendous growth for the National Federation of the Blind, and, as is always true with tremendous growth and extraordinary challenge, there have been some minor disturbances along the way. However, through it all the Federation has developed partnerships, increased its influence, and gained strength. The power of our movement comes from the determination of our members, and the spirit of the Federation is as firm, as upbeat, as enthusiastic, and as jubilant as it has ever been.
The work of the National Federation of the Blind is being ever more widely recognized. A book entitled Leadership Secrets of the World's Most Successful CEOs, circulated to thousands of corporation presidents, features the National Federation of the Blind and its president along with such other organizations as Estée Lauder, Northrup Grumman Corporation, and Xerox.
During the broadcasts of the football games of the University of Notre Dame, there are advertisements about the outstanding graduates of the university. One of these advertisements during the past year displayed the name of the National Federation of the Blind and a picture of its president. I am shown as a Champion of Notre Dame, and the name of the Federation is broadcast in the homes of millions.
In May 2005 Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, executive director of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, was named one of the twenty-five most admired leaders by Baltimore SmartCEO Magazine. This publication cited her for vision and leadership in establishing programs of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. Also featured in the article is Cal Ripken.
In April 2005 the chief executive of the Johns Hopkins University Wilmer Eye Institute and the two previous chief executives came to the National Federation of the Blind along with a niece of Helen Keller to make a presentation to us in recognition of our work in the Jernigan Institute. Included with the plaque of recognition was a bas-relief of Helen Keller.
Allen Harris, a very longtime leader of the National Federation of the Blind and formerly its treasurer, assumed the directorship of the Iowa Department for the Blind in the fall of 2001. The philosophy of independence developed by the National Federation of the Blind has been employed in the program since he became its director, and the results are evident. Iowa Governor Thomas J. Vilsack nominated Allen Harris for an award to be given by the National Governors Association. The chairman of that association, Governor Mark R. Warner of Virginia, said in a letter to Allen Harris, "It is my pleasure to congratulate you on this achievement." Allen Harris will be honored at a meeting of the governors of all the states on July 16, 2005. He will receive the Distinguished Service to State Government Award.
One of the premier programs of our Jernigan Institute conducted in July and August of last year was the Science Academy, consisting of two sessions, the Circle of Life class for middle school students and the Rocket On! class for high school students. The Circle of Life class taught earth science, weather, marine ecology, and biology. The students dissected sharks to learn about how these creatures are made. The Rocket On! portion of the academy studied astronomy, physics, electronics, and rocketry. The students in this class built a payload, installed it in a ten-foot rocket, and launched it from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Wallops Flight Facility on the eastern shore of Virginia.
The academy has helped to stimulate interest in the general promotion of science and math for blind youth throughout the country. One method for spreading the word about our Science Academy is by means of a short video prepared from footage taken of the actual hands-on operations of these classes. The blind are reaching for understanding in science as well as in other walks of life. The video will be displayed later during this convention, and we will be preparing another one at our Science Academy later this summer.
The National Federation of the Blind has received a grant from NASA to support summer internships for six blind high school graduates. Interns will work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California or the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. They are at this convention.
On April 14 and 15, 2005, the Jernigan Institute sponsored the GAMA Summit, a symposium to study the presentation of math concepts nonvisually. GAMA, an acronym for Goals for Achieving Math Accessibility, brought together more than fifty of the nation’s experts on technology and mathematics notation for the blind. With the intellectual contributions of those who participated in GAMA, we expect that mathematics codes and translation systems will soon be available that will simplify communication between blind students and their sighted professors or sighted students and their blind professors.
In May 2005 we held the first early childhood seminar at the Jernigan Institute. More than sixty-five early childhood professionals, parents, and leaders in the National Federation of the Blind attended.
Our program entitled the National Center for Mentoring Excellence will mentor young blind people by pairing them with more experienced blind role models. Implemented in an organized way and supported by the Rehabilitation Services Administration, this mentoring program can change expectations and prospects for an entire blind community. The first states to institute this program are Nebraska and Louisiana.
In partnership with the United Parcel Service (UPS) and with a grant from them to pay many of the costs, our affiliates in Colorado and New Jersey will be inviting UPS employees to help with events and activities. UPS volunteers are with us again at this convention. Their help in organizing and conducting these meetings has lasted more than a decade. This is the eleventh year that UPS has been an element in our success.
We are collaborating with the Engineering Research Center for Computer-Integrated Surgical Systems and Technology to ensure that Ph.D. engineering students at Johns Hopkins University learn how to help public school science teachers include blind students in science and engineering activities in the classroom.
Researchers from Harvard University are at this convention recruiting our members to help with a study that has the potential for medical breakthroughs involving prevention or treatment of breast cancer and chronic sleep disorders.
We challenged a group of undergraduate engineering students at Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering to develop, as a part of their senior projects class, a low-cost portable Braille-writing device. They were successful in building a prototype, although it is not yet ready for production or distribution. Some further development is still needed, but a portable Brailler may come from the work these students have done, and they will have a much different image of blindness from the one that such students often seem to exhibit. Among other things, they will understand that nonvisual access is an important part of developing new products.
On December 3 and 4, 2004, we held a planning workshop in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University to begin the process of defining the many steps toward our goal of encouraging the development of a vehicle blind people can drive. Funded by NASA, this planning session attracted representatives from the University of Southern California, Michigan State, the University of Maryland, Carnegie Mellon, NASA, and General Motors. Next we need to raise the funds to launch a series of engineering contests to stimulate thinking and to promote development in this area.
The National Federation of the Blind is an advisor to a program established by the Pennsylvania College of Optometry, along with a number of other universities, known as the National Center for Leadership in Vision Impairment. For many years students at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry have come to the National Center for the Blind to learn about our work. We are now doing training for these students, and we are working with Dr. Kathleen Huebner, who will be making a presentation later during this convention, to encourage more people to enter the field of work with the blind.
We have joined in a partnership with the Library of Congress National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) to support increased Braille literacy. For more than a decade the library has been seeking to establish the National Literary Braille Competency Test. It has now asked that we undertake further development and administration of the test, and we have conducted initial meetings for this purpose.
In response to a proposal from NLS we have joined with VisuAide (a Canadian company that has now merged with HumanWare, a New Zealand company) to develop the design for the digital Talking Book machine that will be used for the next generation of Talking Books. One primary element in the development of this new machine is its usefulness to blind consumers. Consumer testing will be performed by members of the National Federation of the Blind.
In January 2003 we began work with Ray Kurzweil on a handheld reading machine. The objective is a device small enough to fit into a briefcase, a purse, or perhaps even a pocket that will read documents, signs on doorways, packages, or other material. As computing devices become smaller and as computer power increases, the handheld reading machine could develop other capacities as well. At this convention we have a prototype of such a machine. A testing program to aid in development will occur in the fourth quarter of 2005, and, after modifications suggested through the testing program, the Kurzweil National Federation of the Blind Reader will be available for sale by the time of our 2006 convention. A full report of the progress in building the machine will be presented later during the convention.
Representative Robert Ney, Republican of Ohio, and Representative Benjamin Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, have joined in sponsoring legislation to establish a Louis Braille coin to be issued in 2009 in commemoration of the two-hundredth anniversary of Braille's birth. This bill will support a Braille literacy campaign. With our broad-based national, state, and local membership representing the blind throughout the United States, who better than the National Federation of the Blind to embark on such an important effort to promote Braille literacy!
The rules in Congress require each commemorative coin bill to be cosponsored by two-thirds of the House and the Senate, and only two such bills can be passed for any particular year. One bill to honor Abraham Lincoln with a commemorative coin in 2009 is already in the works. Therefore we need to move quickly to be sure of having the necessary support. This is our challenge, and, knowing the National Federation of the Blind as I do, I know we will do whatever we must to ensure the passage of the Louis Braille Bill.
Increasingly we disseminate information about the proper understanding of blindness and the programs of the National Federation of the Blind through our Web site, <www.nfb.org>. Since last August our Web site has been visited more than seventeen million times. The traffic has come from forty-six nations, including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela, and Vietnam.
We are currently in the process of redesigning the Web site to permit access to greater quantities of information and to increase the ease of use. The redesign should be completed by the end of 2005 or fairly early in 2006.
The International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC) continues to be the most well-equipped laboratory for exploration and evaluation of technology for the blind in the world. This facility contains at least one of every piece of hardware and software produced anywhere in the world of which we are aware that provides ready access to information to the blind through speech, through Braille, or through refreshable Braille. During the last year we have purchased for the IBTC the following products or upgrades: one K Sonar device to provide audio feedback to blind cane travel users through headphones; one Wordstrain electronic word puzzle game for the blind; a tutorial program for teaching Word and Excel with Jaws; one BrailleNote Global Positioning System and Global Positioning Systems for BrailleNote PK; Duxbury Braille translation system upgrades; Romeo Attaché Pro Braille printer; Kurzweil 1000 software upgrades; one PacMate; one Destinator CompactFlash Global Positioning System for the PacMate; one Socket Laser Scanner barcode reader for the PacMate; one Focus 40 Braille display; one SARA (stand-alone reading machine) from Freedom Scientific; one GH digital talking book player; Window-Eyes Pro screen access software upgrade; five BrailleSense Korean Braille notetakers; one Magic Match sound memory game for the blind; six BrailleNote PK Braille notetakers; one Brailliant 40 Bluetooth Braille display from HumanWare; one myReader newly designed low-vision reading system; one Maestro personal digital assistant with access software for the blind; one Victor Reader Classic digital Talking Book system; one Maestro Trekker Global Positioning System Bluetooth option; one EasyLink Pocket PC personal digital assistant with software for the blind; one Tactile Graphic Design Workshop software system for creating tactile graphics for the blind; one Surf Basic Freedom Box stand-alone computer system for the blind; one Index 4 Wave Professional Braille embosser; one Braillex EL80S refreshable Braille display; one Portico, a computer coupled with specialized access software for the blind; one Talking Tactile Tablet geography teaching tool for the blind including the National Geographic Talking Tactile Atlas of the World; one Math Window Basic calculating board with print/Braille tiles; one Algebra Math Window calculating board with print/Braille tiles; and one Portset Reader, a stand-alone reading system from the United Kingdom (including the British accent).
In the spring of 2004 the Atlanta Journal Constitution became the hundredth daily newspaper on NFB-NEWSLINE®. At this convention (one year later), I am pleased to report that this service has doubled in size with 200 newspapers, which can be read by blind people every single day. This makes NFB-NEWSLINE by far the service providing the largest amount of timely information to blind people anywhere in the world. This year we have added our first newspapers in Spanish. They are El Nuevo Herald and La Opinion.
With funds provided through the Library of Congress, readers in all states can obtain NFB-NEWSLINE magazines, including The New Yorker, The Economist, and AARP the Magazine. Readers in thirty-seven states plus the District of Columbia have access to daily newspapers as well. This year Montana, the District of Columbia, Maine, and Connecticut have joined NFB-NEWSLINE. More than 51,000 people are currently registered with NFB-NEWSLINE, and we use more than 1.8 million minutes of news time each month.
This year we have asked the Congress to continue the NFB-NEWSLINE telecommunications. Last Thursday night, when the Senate was rushing to pass the Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill by unanimous consent, Christopher Dodd said "Not so fast!" His objection was that the bill did not include funds needed for NFB-NEWSLINE. That was immediately changed. When the bill passed the Senate later on Thursday night, $800,000 was provided for NFB-NEWSLINE.
Not all of our relationships within the past twelve months have been characterized by joint effort and partnership. Some of them have been fraught with conflict. Officials of the Department of Education appear to have teamed up with officials of the Department of Labor to dismantle rehabilitation programs and to transfer the money budgeted for them. The proposal includes consolidation of vocational rehabilitation with job training and employment programs for youth, dislocated workers, and other unemployed adults under legislation known as WIA Plus Consolidation; closing of all of the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) regional offices which currently work with states; reduction of the RSA professional and support staff by approximately 50 percent, with a disproportionate impact on employees with disabilities; outright elimination of the RSA Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which supports nationwide implementation of the Randolph-Sheppard Act, oversees the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults, and coordinates independent living services for seniors losing sight; and transfer of the rehabilitation budget to a block grant to be distributed to the states for discretionary use in many employment programs.
Plans to pursue these initiatives were made without involvement of interested organizations, including the National Federation of the Blind. Even the person who was then serving as RSA commissioner, Dr. Joanne Wilson, (she now works for us) was not informed until these initiatives were already well underway.
Consequently the National Federation of the Blind and forty-eight other organizations held a rally and informational protest before the Department of Education on May 26, 2005, with more than a thousand people present.
The blind need more funding for college education, for specialized training programs, and for access technology--not less; more expertise in the specialized tools and techniques used by the blind--not less; more capacity to teach Braille, cane travel, and the other special methods for adjustment to blindness--not less; more emphasis on independence for blind and disabled individuals--not less; more belief in the capacity of America's blind and disabled population--not less; more commitment to services for those who are in the greatest need--not less.
Our voice is being heard. Congress does not appear to be interested in following this misguided proposal. Furthermore, we the blind will not stand by idly while uninformed, power-hungry officials in the Department of Education unilaterally decide to dismantle the programs vitally needed by the blind. We call upon federal leaders to protect specialized rehabilitation services, and we insist that the voice of the nation's blind be heard. This is one more element of the meaning of the National Federation of the Blind.
Blind students have forever had problems in getting their books. On June 27, 2001, the National Federation of the Blind reached an agreement with the Association of American Publishers to support federal legislation requiring the provision of textbooks to blind students at the same time that these books become available to the sighted. A depository of textbooks was to be created, and a standard for accessibility was to be adopted for all publishers of elementary and secondary textbooks. The plan would ensure that blind children would get their books at the same time that they are received by the sighted.
Members of Congress indicated that this proposed legislation (the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act) was obviously noncontroversial and that it would pass the Congress without delay. However, officials of the Department of Education opposed the bill, saying that it violated principles of federalism. We responded to this opposition by asking, "You mean to tell us that some arcane, abstruse philosophical principle says that blind children shouldn't have books? You mean to tell us that the Department of Education does not want students to read? Does this restriction on reading apply to all students, or do they want just the blind to be in ignorance?"
Last December President Bush signed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, which includes all of the key provisions in our original Instructional Materials Accessibility Act. Specialized requirements for access to books take effect in two years. The Instructional Materials Accessibility Act provisions are now the law of the land. The students get their books.
The significant relationship we have cemented with the Association of American Publishers will also be a lasting benefit of this legislation. We know that college students also have difficulty getting their materials on time. Publishers are aware of this, and they have committed to addressing this challenge. With this cooperation the barriers of access to information in the electronic age are beginning to fall.
The battle over food service contracts at military bases has continued. Failing to beat us in the courts, NISH (which used to be National Industries for the Severely Handicapped) went to Congress. Their goal has been to make the Randolph-Sheppard Act inapplicable to military dining services because these services are very lucrative, and the sighted, nondisabled managers of the NISH program want the money.
Last year the Senate Armed Services Committee sided with NISH with a proposal to make the Randolph-Sheppard Act inapplicable to troop dining, but we succeeded in overturning this position. This year, as the debate over the annual defense authorization bill has proceeded, we have succeeded once again in blocking NISH and preserving opportunities for blind vendors. Furthermore, Congress has reaffirmed the applicability of the Randolph-Sheppard Act to troop dining, and a specific long-range solution will be negotiated over the next few months.
Due in large part to the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind, requirements for nonvisual access were written into the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) adopted in 2002. Every polling place in America must have at least one system for nonvisual use by January 2006, a date that is only a few months away. Some are pushing the Election Assistance Commission to suggest delaying full accessibility. However, this proposal is contrary to the will of Congress, and we intend to see that the commitment of the law is kept.
Last Wednesday, at the conclusion of a six-hour meeting, the Valusha County Board of Supervisors in Daytona Beach, Florida, voted not to have accessible voting technology installed. It isn't that they don't have the money. They have it. On Thursday, June 30th, I directed our attorneys to sue Valusha County. That suit has been filed today. Not only will we advocate for our rights in Congress, but we will also ensure that our rights are enforced in the courts when we must. Every political jurisdiction with responsibility for elections in America should take note.
We have also undertaken a number of legal cases. Dennis Franklin is an active member of the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky who operates a vending business at the American Printing House for the Blind. Recognizing that he was eligible for disability insurance benefits, he filed an application several years ago. However, his application was denied. He appealed more than once, but his appeals were denied. Dennis Franklin needed help, and he came to the National Federation of the Blind.
The maneuverings, stratagems, arguments, and counter-arguments would be tedious to recount, but Dennis Franklin has won at last. Shortly after last year's convention in Atlanta he learned that he would finally be receiving disability benefits. He was also awarded back payments amounting to $82,272.78. Dennis Franklin can tell you that it pays to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind.
Tom and Christine Hutchinson are blind people living in Grand Junction, Colorado. They both graduated from college with degrees in early childhood education, and they have both worked successfully in day care facilities. They wanted to open their own day care center, the Hutchinson House of Hope.
When they applied for a license through the Colorado Department of Human Services, the State of Colorado turned them down on the basis of blindness. Representatives from the state said that there are just some things blind people can’t do. Taking care of children is one of them, they said. The judge said that the state violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and ordered that a license be granted to Tom and Christine Hutchinson. The State of Colorado plans to appeal, but we know that the people who made the decision to deny this license are wrong. One final thing should be said. Tom and Christine Hutchinson are not members of the National Federation of the Blind. When the discrimination occurred, Christine Hutchinson was the president of the American Council of the Blind of Colorado. Scott LaBarre handled the case for them, and I am pleased that the knowledge and experience of the National Federation of the Blind helped to bring the right result.
Lynda Waring is a member of the National Federation of the Blind, who lives in Spokane, Washington. She worked at the Deaconness Medical Center’s day care program for ten years, steadily being promoted throughout that time. In August of 2003 a parent appears to have complained to Deaconness and to the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, saying that it was dangerous for a blind woman to take care of children. Deaconness fired Lynda Waring despite the written record demonstrating that she had done her job satisfactorily as a blind person for ten long years. We have filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington against both the State of Washington and the Deaconness Medical Center, and we intend to prevail.
Mary Evans is a blind teacher of Braille living in Mississippi. She holds contracts all over the state to teach blind children. The Ponotoc School District hired her, but when she started protesting the minuscule amount of Braille instruction being provided to blind students, she started receiving detrimental treatment from her supervisors. No room was available on a permanent basis in which she could teach blind students to read; rooms assigned to her for teaching were sometimes the size of a closet; in meetings with school officials, she was told that only one other individual was in the room when three or more were actually present. Finally Ponotoc terminated her contract. They hired in her place a woman who was not blind and who had only a rudimentary knowledge of Braille. We have filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, and we intend to show the school district something about fairness and the law.
Several years ago we and the Massachusetts Attorney General brought a lawsuit against E*TRADE, an operator of a very substantial fleet of ATMs. In the midst of the lawsuit, E*TRADE sold its business to Cardtronics, which is now the largest deployer of ATMs in the United States. Cardtronics is fighting hard to avoid the requirement of the law that says bank machines should be accessible to the blind. However, we insist that the blind have a right to participate fully in the commerce of our nation, and electronic commerce is part of it. They think if they drag the matter out long enough, we will lose heart or lose direction or lose our will, but they do not know us. We will continue to fight them until we win!
In Arkansas the state purchased a computer system that the blind cannot use despite being urged to do otherwise. When we helped blind employees of the State of Arkansas with a lawsuit, the judge said the state could make its computer system accessible or shut it off by the first of July 2004. Government officials in Arkansas didn't believe it, but the judge meant what he said. Except for certain critical systems such as keeping track of revenues and making payroll, the computer was shut off. Consequently the software manufacturer is hustling. It hopes to have a fully accessible system in place by January 2006. Sometimes it is hard to get the point across that accessibility to information for the blind is as important as it is for everybody else. In Arkansas the message is clear.
More than a year ago Anil Lewis, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia and a member of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind, applied to run Georgia’s Randolph-Sheppard program. He was the only applicant (out of fifty-eight) to receive a perfect score from the interview panel. None, not one, of the administrative employees of that agency is blind. Anil Lewis is clearly the most qualified candidate, but he did not get the job. Rehabilitation officials in Georgia told Anil Lewis that he was not qualified because he was a leader in the National Federation of the Blind. When we helped with a lawsuit, these officials changed their minds. They agreed to adopt as the policy of Georgia proposals drafted by Anil Lewis for recruiting, hiring, and retaining blind employees. They also paid Anil Lewis $125,000.
Nicholas Gacos was clearly the most qualified applicant to operate the vending facilities at Fort Dix, New Jersey, but the state selected a less-qualified vendor who was close personal friends with two of the four members of the selection panel. After an administrative law judge found that the selection process violated state conflict-of-interest rules, we settled the case. Nicholas Gacos has received a nice round sum--$200,000.
Melissa Resnick, a longtime member of the National Federation of the Blind, sought admission to the nursing program at Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York, but her application was rejected because she was blind. We assisted Melissa Resnick to challenge this decision, pointing out that a determination of disqualification on the grounds of blindness, without evidence that vision is a required characteristic to fulfill the course of study, violates the law. Nassau Community College raised the inevitable argument--the blind cannot see the symptoms of disease; consequently the patients are at risk, they said. Without sight, the college argued, medical practice cannot be performed adequately or safely. But we know that blind professionals are already practicing medicine effectively now. Nassau Community College made a false assumption and denied a qualified applicant the opportunity to demonstrate her ability.
With a bachelor's degree in biology, with a master's degree in biopsychology, and with certification as a technician in pharmacology, Melissa Resnick is one of the most qualified applicants for nurse's training that could be found. When the arguments had come to a close, Melissa Resnick was a part of the nursing class at Nassau Community College. Although she has had to interrupt her course of study for medical reasons, she will be taking courses at the college this summer in anatomy and physiology, and she will be reentering nursing school soon thereafter. This is one more reason for the National Federation of the Blind.
A major part of the Jernigan Institute is the Jacobus tenBroek Library. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the founder and first president of the National Federation of the Blind, wrote extensively on the capacity of the blind and the need for integration of the blind into society on the basis of equality. These writings along with many others dealing with the law of the poor, the rights of disadvantaged peoples, and the urgent need for the integration and equality of all are a beginning for the collection of papers and books that will become the content of the best research library on blindness in the world.
We are organizing the Braille books and documents collected for the past sixty-five years, the rare works on blindness or by blind authors, the photographs of blind people, and the artifacts collected representing elements in the history of the blind. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan's writings are another substantial portion of our collection, and we are seeking materials on blindness that exist everywhere else in the world. The design of the stack area for the library and its furnishings has been completed. Literature packages on various subjects have been assembled and are now being distributed. A display area has been established for such exhibits as the multimedia art display created by artist Ann Cunningham entitled "The Summit," which celebrates the 2001 National Federation of the Blind Everest Expedition. A people without literature is a people without history, and a people without history is a people without a future. We are collecting the literature about blindness--both that which we create and that written by others. We want our history to be complete.
We continue to conduct the ongoing work of the Federation. We have answered questions in almost two thousand telephone calls on our International Braille and Technology Center help line this year. We have welcomed more than thirty-two hundred members, friends, and visitors to the National Center for the Blind from every state in the Union and from a number of foreign countries. We have conducted our fourth Possibilities Fair for more than three-hundred blind seniors, professionals, and family members with a program that included the inspiring presentations of keynote speakers Ray and Diane McGeorge. Through our Materials Center we have continued to distribute specialized products for the blind and informational literature about blind people--almost two million items since our last convention. We have continued to publish the Braille Monitor with a circulation of over thirty-five thousand each month; Future Reflections, the magazine for parents and educators of blind children, with a circulation of more than ten thousand each quarter; Voice of the Diabetic with a distribution of more than three-hundred-twenty-five thousand; and our newly established online magazine Voice of the Nation's Blind.
At this convention we release Celebrate, the twenty-eighth in our series of Kernel Books. With six and a quarter million of them in circulation, these small volumes of first-person accounts of blindness are the most widely read and influential documents that exist to change the image of the blind. The twenty-ninth book will be released later this fall.
Jim Omvig, who joined the Federation in the 1960’s, has written a new book entitled The Blindness Revolution: Jernigan In His Own Words. Using Kenneth Jernigan’s own writings, this book recounts the transformation of the Iowa Commission for the Blind from an ineffective agency to a powerhouse of new ideas and new opportunity.
Floyd Matson has written a biography of our founder, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. This book, Blind Justice: Jacobus tenBroek and the Vision of Equality, being released at this convention, describes an extraordinary human being in quest of an extraordinary goal who inspired an extraordinary movement and created extraordinary opportunity. Dr. Matson will be making a presentation later during the convention. An inscribed copy of this biography will remain on permanent display in the Jacobus tenBroek Library, and a duplicate inscribed copy is being forwarded today to the first of the first ladies of the Federation, Hazel tenBroek.
The National Federation of the Blind continues to participate in the World Blind Union. Mrs. Mary Ellen Jernigan and I are the delegates, and we traveled to South Africa for the General Assembly last December along with a number of other Federation members. Last fall I was elected to serve as vice president of the North America/Caribbean region of the union, and we joined with others in the region to support Susan Spungin in her bid to become treasurer of the union, an effort that proved successful. The policies of the union appear to be giving greater emphasis to the participation of blind people in affairs of the union than sometimes had been the case. Consequently I have hope that the World Blind Union will be able to stimulate progress to enhance opportunity for the blind in many parts of the world.
A little more than a year ago we took possession of our newly constructed building at the National Center for the Blind. Since then we have installed state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment in the auditorium and in Members Hall. The National Federation of the Blind of Utah was one of our first affiliates to make a major gift to the Capital Campaign. The amount of the gift, $550,000, carries with it a naming opportunity. The Jernigan Institute auditorium will be named in honor of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah.
Much of the work remaining to be completed at the time we took possession of the building has been finished, but a very few minor details remain to complete. Furthermore, in bringing the building into operation, some alterations have been required. We have installed partitions to create additional office space, added telephone capacity, installed electronic door locks for certain exterior doors, and redesigned the sign on the top of the building so that our name and the name of our institute are proudly displayed along with the energetic figure of our logo, Whozit.
My wife Patricia has served as a fulltime volunteer for the National Federation of the Blind since 1988. During the past year she applied for long-term care insurance, but her application was denied because she receives disability insurance benefits. When the decision was challenged, the Maryland Department of Insurance ruled that the receipt of disability insurance is an improper ground for refusing to sell insurance to blind applicants.
My brother Matt Maurer is a professor of education at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. Working with the Indiana School for the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind, he has become fascinated with the education of blind children. He brought several blind students from the Indiana school to our convention last year. He has applied to Butler University for a sabbatical during the 2005-2006 academic year, and it has been granted. Part of the sabbatical includes payment of 50 percent of his teaching salary. He has applied to the Federation for a stipend to pay the other 50 percent of his salary and to spend 100 percent of the next academic year developing educational programs for the blind on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind. The Board of Directors considered the matter at my request and determined to accept the proposal. Professor Maurer is with us at this convention, and he has with him seven students from the Indiana School for the Blind.
The work of the Federation can be observed in many, many ways. A letter I received recently about one of our members, Bob Munz, reveals how we change lives. Although Bob had been working for Costco for about ten years, his job duties were restricted to sweeping floors when a new supervisor was hired. This supervisor also insisted that Bob get a doctor's approval for his job duties and a list of restrictions. After consultation with chapter members, the doctor sent a note back with Bob saying "no restrictions," which upset the supervisor. Bob brought his boss a copy of the Kernel Book Summit. This is the book in which Bob's story "My Life" appears. Bob's duties were expanded to many more tasks than he had had originally.
The spirit of the Federation in the heart of this chapter member along with a Kernel Book carried the message and made the difference. Bob continues to work, and he is earning a good wage.
With growth, with new initiatives, with expanding influence also comes criticism. During the last year we have had some of that, and undoubtedly we have not seen the end of it. In some quarters our purposes have been misunderstood, our intentions have been mischaracterized, and our methods have been misconstrued. Some have called us by very ugly names. But, no matter what they say and no matter what they do, they cannot keep us from being what we are, and they cannot stop us from becoming what we want to be. For well over half a century we have thought for ourselves, spoken our own minds, and acted as our intellects have told us was necessary to achieve our goals; and we will not change our determination to go forward.
For my own part I carry a responsibility that you have given me. I pledge to you all of the energy, the imagination, the resources, and the enthusiasm at my command. I will not flinch or equivocate or compromise in the battles ahead. I will meet such challenges as we have with firmness and decision, and I will never turn aside. I can say these things because I have looked into the hearts of my fellow Federationists, and I know for certain the spirit that lives within us. The challenges that come will not always be easy; they will demand from us all that we have in will and effort and faith, but we are prepared to give whatever is necessary. With this as our foundation, the spirit we have will burn with fierce purpose, and it will never dim, never dwindle, never be extinguished. This is what I know of the National Federation of the Blind, and this is my report for 2005.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Betsy Zaborowski addresses the convention.]
Innovation, Inspiration, and Influence: the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute Implements the Will of the Organized Blind
by Betsy Zaborowski
From the Editor: Immediately following the 2005 presidential report on Tuesday afternoon, July 5, Betsy Zaborowski, Psy.D., executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute, addressed the convention. Following is a report of what was said, beginning with President Maurer’s introduction:
The title of this next item is descriptive; it tells what we are doing. It also describes the approach we are taking. Betsy Zaborowski is the executive director responsible for all this activity. Sometimes she comes and tells me that I started out with not enough faith in her. And if I didn't have enough in the beginning, I have certainly changed my mind now. She has done extraordinary work. She has also had an extraordinary opportunity, which is to say that it is unusual when you get a chance to create what didn't exist, with the responsibility for defining what it should look like. It is also an extraordinary challenge because, when you get it all built, the other people involved may say, "Well that's not what I had in mind." So you face that task as well as the one to make something new. For a year and a half now she has done outstanding work with--as you have observed from all we've said today--the prospect of building even more outstanding work in the years to come. Here is Dr. Betsy Zaborowski.
“We know who we are, and we'll never go back”; “It is respectable to be blind”; “changing what it means to be blind”; “the voice of the nation's blind”; and “imagining a future full of opportunity”: powerful words--words that we have used for many, many years and words that have both personal and organizational meaning. Many of us remember the first time we were really able to internalize and own the statement, "It is respectable to be blind," right? And many of us have worked tirelessly to “change what it means to be blind” and move us into the next chapter of our development.
I am very pleased that I was given the gift of being a part of all this. By this I mean the gift that you all gave to me to work hard and to create some new and interesting things on behalf of us all. As we look at this past year and a half of the Jernigan Institute, I think it's well for us to take a few moments to reflect on those words, those phrases that I believe are the backbone of our philosophy. They are the foundation of everything that we do, including the Jernigan Institute.
So what is the purpose of this new institute? What is it all about? You know it's not the building. The building was the focal point of a capital campaign that launched us into a whole new chapter in our development. But the Institute is far more than the building. The building provides the framework. It gives us the opportunity to do things, but it is not the whole Institute. Neither is the Institute just the programs that you heard about in Dr. Maurer's wonderful presidential report and what I hope some of you read in the annual report of the Institute in the April Monitor. It is much more than that. The Institute is the expression of our collective leadership. It is the expression of where we have come from and how far we still have to go. We have taken over the leadership in the field of blindness. We do it in lots of ways--through advocacy, through education, through outreach, and through changing lives as we work with people one by one or in groups. We now take the leadership in lots of new ways through the Institute.
So what is the purpose of this facility if it's not just a building and not just a program? The Jernigan Institute is the center for innovation in the field of blindness. It's the first ever research and training facility developed and operated by an organization of blind people--that's us! [applause] The Institute is the center of innovation in areas such as education--our science academy. Who would have expected a group of blind high school students to launch a rocket? We expected it, didn't we, and it happened. Who would have expected that a group of blind people in partnership with some of this nation's most outstanding technologists would develop the first handheld reading machine for the blind? But we did, and we are.
We will continue to develop technology and expand the IBTC [International Braille and Technology Center] and increase the nonvisual certification for Web sites and train people in a state-of-the-art technology training lab. You know our training lab will be the only fully accessible one in the world--forty fully accessible work stations for the training of professionals and blind people. That will happen very soon.
We are also in the business of inspiring. Innovation is one thing; we are always innovating. We are always looking for a better solution to problems, but we also know that it’s motivation and inspiration that really change lives. We have been blessed with talented leaders and with literature that teaches us who we really are, not who society believes we are. So the Institute provides another chapter in that development. In the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute building in Baltimore, we have mounted over a hundred pictures of blind people throughout the Institute. Visitors who come to this facility admire these pictures, and they really help folks understand that we are a people of activity and adventure and fun. We go to baseball games, and we hold our grandchildren, and we ride elephants, and we do lots of things. But we are a diverse people. We are not just one stereotype or another. We are people determined to create our own destiny. That's inspiration, but that's only a small part. [applause]
This year we held the fourth annual seniors fair. I wish all of you could have been there. We had all kinds of resources, and seniors learned about the possibilities of living full and independent lives while learning how to do things nonvisually. But what is interesting is that, when we called these seniors afterward to get their feedback about what was the most important thing that happened that day, they commented that they were in an environment with lots of blind people. They were greeted by blind people when they came in, showing them where their seats were, teaching them things, serving lunch, giving speeches, and doing the whole program. Seniors understand more about who we are when we do that. Several of our members were there to learn how to do senior fairs in their own communities, and it's happening. Federationists are starting to do them in other places around the country. That's what we're about--inspiring ourselves, but also inspiring others.
Dr. Maurer mentioned some of our partnerships with Johns Hopkins University Engineering School and the Lions Vision Rehabilitation Research Center. So you can see we've been inspiring engineers. The young engineers at Hopkins who developed a prototype for a portable Brailler are going to be different now because they met us. They learned about some of our needs, and they learned about our technology, and, who knows, one of those young men might be the next Ray Kurzweil--at least we hope so.
Let me talk about the third term--innovation and inspiration are very important to us in what we're doing in the Institute and throughout our whole organization. But the third word that I'd like to put forward today is “influence.” We must influence those who have anything to do with blind people because we know what is right, what is the best route for us to go. One of the ways we have been influencing others, of course, is through our innovations and through our programs, but also through our partnerships. Through our relationships with the Lions Vision Rehabilitation Research Center at Johns Hopkins University and Dr. Bob Massof, who will be addressing us later in the convention, we have been partnering with multi-district twenty-two of the Lions Clubs to put together a community education program that will influence the minds and hearts of members of the Lions Clubs for years to come. This is just the beginning of what we hope to do with our educational efforts and our partnerships.
At this convention we are also partnering with a wonderful group of researchers headed by Dr. Steven Lockley from Harvard. Harvard-affiliated researchers are here to ask for our help with a study that one day may unlock a bit more of the mystery about prevention of breast cancer. Initial studies indicate that blind women have a lower incidence of breast cancer. We don't know exactly why, but here again we have a gift to give to the rest of the world, and Harvard University is helping us do that.
Another partnership that we are very excited about is with the Pennsylvania School of Optometry and our friends in the education arena. We are giving advice in helping with an enrichment program for fourteen Ph.D. students. As these students are exposed to our philosophy, beliefs, programs, and innovations, they will be different, better prepared to work with their university students. We hope to have a number of them in the first class of the National Center for Leadership in Visual Impairment with us next year at our convention.
Now we have taken a look at innovation, inspiration, and influence. We've reviewed some of the progress that we've made in the last year. We have lots more to do. We have recently written several large proposals for funding. If they are funded, they will propel us into lots of new endeavors that I hope to report on next year. But let's now reflect for a moment on how this institute really affects blind people back home in your communities as you are building chapters and doing outreach. In the innovation area, if we develop best practices and methods for teaching blind kids, a young blind person in your community will have a better chance of getting a teacher who is well educated in nonvisual methods of teaching science. We are gathering those resources, and we'll be disseminating them throughout the country. New methods of mentorship: a research study clearly indicates that our methods of reaching out and partnering successful blind adults with young blind people really works. This should eventually be adopted in other places. You will be able to use this information in your communities.
Technology--both very high-end technology like our portable reader--but also training. Our online courses offer training for people who can't physically come to Baltimore. Our publications have articles about technology and training, and they help everybody back home. Our seniors fairs--we've learned how to replicate them and make them more accessible around the country. So you can tell that lots of innovations will have an impact on the home front.
Inspiration--that blind people know where we want to go, that we have the know-how to run a research and training institute, that we can disseminate information about the initiatives and programs coming out of our Institute, and that we know what's best for us. We have developed a research agenda driven by our philosophy and know-how. This agenda will be disseminated to universities throughout the country. We can guide those fourteen Ph.D. students looking for dissertation topics toward meaningful research, research that really helps blind people and helps the general population understand our capabilities, not our deficits, which have so often been the focus of research in the past.
Influence--the benefits of influencing the Ph.D. students, the science teachers who will learn about our programs, the corporate leaders and the governmental officials who come to the Institute to learn about what we are doing: this benefits all of us throughout the country. But most of all the Institute is about the future. It's about changing things for tomorrow’s young people. This is why we often use the phrase, "Imagine a future full of opportunity." In closing, let me come back to those important phrases with which I began. Yes, “we do know who we are,” and “we do know where we are going.” “We are changing what it means to be blind,” and of course “it is respectable to be blind.” Now we are creating a future full of opportunity with imagination. Thank you. [applause]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Kevan Worley, chair of the Imagination Fund, addresses the convention.]
by Kevan Worley
From the Editor: On Tuesday afternoon, July 5, following the reports by President Maurer and Dr. Zaborowski found elsewhere in this issue and an exciting report by Mark Riccobono and three of last summer’s Science Academy participants, Kevan Worley, chairman of the Imagination Fund, came to the microphone to summarize the accomplishments of the first year of the Imagination Fund and to kick off the coming year’s activities. This is what he said:
We have dreamed; we have planned; we have built. Now we devote ourselves to a future full of imagination. President Maurer, members of the board of directors, Mrs. Jernigan, Jernigan Institute Director Zaborowski, honored guests, and fellow Federationists, good afternoon. Imagine! I wonder if our founders and those of the following generations had any inkling, any idea at all of the kind of future they began building for the blind of today. I know they were dreamers, workers, builders; but seriously, how proud they would be of all of us here today, building on the legacy of the founders, the builders, the dreamers, the doers, the original imaginators of our National Federation of the Blind. How proud the pioneers would be of the work we are doing, the money we are raising to fund the work, the consciousness we are raising, the lives we are changing, the opportunities we are creating through the work of the National Federation of the Blind.
Through the NFB Jernigan Institute and our Imagination Fund we are doing the work, proudly and boldly building on the legacy and imagining and creating better lives for the blind of America and the world, the blind of today and tomorrow. I am here this afternoon first and foremost to say congratulations and thank you to you all. We did miraculous work in the first year of the Imagination Fund, important, creative, meaningful work--thank you. What a wonderful presidential report we heard earlier. President Maurer, what a fabulous and full recitation of our accomplishments and aspirations--thank you. You are definitely our lead imaginator. You imagine that future full of opportunity for all of us and those who will follow us. You imagine it, you inspire it, and often you insist upon it.
We have developed the Imagination Fund to finance the creative and critical work of our new NFB Jernigan Institute and fund the imaginative, grassroots efforts of our mighty Federation all across America. I am proud to have been selected by our national president to serve as the first chairman of our Imagination Fund, but more than that, I am very proud of our Imagination Fund committee, our state coordinators, the dedicated staff at our National Center, our state presidents, and all of you who did the hard work to make the first year of our Imagination Fund such a resounding success. I think that we should stop right here to recognize two special, hard-working, imaginative people. I believe Dr. Maurer has in his hand two awards: a medal for the imaginator who raised the most money. Come up here, John Paré. Congratulations. John raised the most money, $2,700.
President Maurer also has a medal in hand for the imaginator who garnered the most contributions--Bill Isaacs. Come up here, Bill. I also want to mention two of our own who gave the largest donations, $5,000: Carl Smith (thank you, Carl) and our longtime contributor, supporter, and great friend, Herb Magin. Thank you, Herb. Let’s celebrate these giving, hard-working, imaginative Federationists. [applause] By the way, let me just say, Mr. Paré, that I was only about a hundred and a half behind you. Just imagine over this next year that I am at your heels, my friend. As we recognize some of our lead imaginators this first year, I would just like to compliment Frank Lee and a number of our colleagues who were very active associate recruiters. I am struck by and impressed by how many of our stellar associate recruiters have worked very hard in support of our new Imagination Fund. Thank you.
Fellow Federationists, with ingenuity and enthusiasm we raised $375,000 in our first year of the Imagination Fund--$375,000! Thank you. And each dollar has been or will be spent wisely in pursuit of our dreams. Absolutely every single dollar raised by us has been or will be spent sensibly and single-mindedly on the evolution of opportunity for the blind, ensuring economic security for the blind and insisting on equality for the blind. As I speak, a number of our colleagues are distributing checks in the amount of $1,802.46--$1,802.46 to each of our fifty-two affiliate presidents. That’s equal to one quarter of the money raised in our first Imagination Fund campaign. Now you will recall that 50 percent of the funds raised go directly to finance the work of the NFB Jernigan Institute, some of the amazing work we have heard about today, and we know that’s just the beginning. What a great job by Dr. Zaborowski and her team.
Twenty-five percent of the dollars we raised over this past year is now being distributed back to the affiliates to help fund our grassroots efforts. It’s a nice beginning. The other 25 percent will be spent on special projects imagined by our affiliates. With each check each affiliate is now receiving, the state president is also being handed a packet of information that you can use to apply for a portion of that remaining 25 percent targeted to affiliate special projects.
Be imaginative. Do something new, do something maybe that you’ve never done before on the affiliate level. Dream up something unique, something that unites us, something that even maybe a few short years ago was unimaginable--unattainable because maybe we didn’t have the money or didn’t possess the technology, the understanding, or the infrastructure and support of our NFB Jernigan Institute. Imagine projects your affiliate might do in concert with the Jernigan Institute--low-vision fairs, early-childhood-intervention projects, technology seminars at state conventions, and the like. (How about developing a new training curriculum for your state’s blind vendors? Just a thought.) Dr. Maurer will appoint a panel of distinguished imaginators to consider all of the applications and requests for special projects. We want to be sure that a number of worthwhile, highly imaginative endeavors are funded, so work with your state presidents to develop proposals in the two-to-five-thousand-dollar range.
We should all take great pride and satisfaction in the effort we have put into this first year of our Imagination Fund, particularly in view of the fact that this was our first go at it. Moreover, it came on the heels of a multi-year, concerted capital or building campaign. During that capital campaign, wildly successful beyond many of our wildest dreams, we all sacrificed much. We asked many of our family members, friends, and business associates to give what they could to support the building of our great institute. We learned from that effort that they would give in significant measure if they were asked. But it’s often easier for folks to get behind a building campaign. Many organizations have found this true. Now the building of the building, our fabulous, state-of-the-art building is behind us. We did it, we built it.
It’s been a year and a half since the grand opening of our new NFB Jernigan Institute. As you have heard this afternoon, we are now building the programs. Our staff has moved in. Many of the experts, technologists, trainers, thinkers, and administrators have been assembled--at least the first wave of them. As you have heard this afternoon, in issues of the Braille Monitor, and on presidential releases over the past year, we have begun the work we imagined we would do. Now each and every one of us should and must rededicate ourselves to raise the money to fund our imaginative work in remarkable ways. We must be as determined as ever to reach out to our family and friends and business contacts and others in order to garner the resources to change lives, change the system, change society.
We can do this; we did it for the capital campaign. We began with a mighty effort during the first year of our Imagination Fund when we raised $375,000, no easy feat on the heels of a wildly successful capital campaign. Again, thank you to all of you who have given and thank you to all of you who contributed your names and contact information lists so that we could experiment with some imaginative mailings to reach out to new people and gain their support. Thank you to each of you who asked your families and friends and acquaintances to contribute. The capital campaign is well behind us. We learned much from that effort, and we have learned much from the first year of our Imagination Fund campaign. It is now time to roll up our sleeves, ramp up our effort, and open up our wallets with all our pride and love of our cause.
Ladies and gentlemen, fellow Federationists, announcing the National Federation of the Blind Imagination Fund annual campaign for 2005. Beginning at this convention, we are asking all of you to think about how much you can give or pledge. Beginning at this convention, we ask you to consider joining our core of imaginators. Beginning at this inspiring NFB convention, we ask all of you to think about the ways you can help our annual campaign be even more successful. By any measure $375,000 this past year was a commendable start, but it is only the beginning. Our work demands that we consider it only the beginning. Fellow Federationists, during the months of September, October, and November we will conduct an annual Imagination Fund drive. During those three months, with our Meet the Blind Month squarely in the middle, we will ask everyone to reach out to potential contributors. It will be an amazing, concerted, energetic, three-month drive. We must develop chapter and affiliate events to raise awareness and money during our three-month annual Imagination Fund campaign. Help us think big, imagine big, dream big, and raise big dollars during this annual campaign because the work we must do is big. It is cutting-edge, important work on behalf of the blind of today and tomorrow. If it’s going to happen, we must find ways to fund it.
At this convention we must begin the planning of our annual Imagination Fund campaign, which begins in fifty-five days. We must recruit a mighty core group of imaginators to help in this effort. Imaginators are those who are willing to make a real commitment to this annual campaign. Imaginators agree to get at least ten contributions or at least seriously ask ten people to contribute to our annual campaign. Some imaginators will instead agree to provide lists of names and contact information for at least ten potential donors who are likely to give during our upcoming annual campaign. These imaginators, the ones who provide lists of potential donors for our database, will also agree to make that all-important follow-up call once a mailing has gone out during this first annual fall campaign.
We learned much about what to do and what not to do during last year’s successful Imagination Fund effort. For one thing, we learned from all of you that you wanted a shorter, more intense campaign: thus the annual campaign during September, October, and November. But this means that all of us must really give what we can and really work hard on imaginative events to encourage others to give. Get involved with the Imagination Fund at this convention and during the crucial three months of September, October, and November. We in the National Federation of the Blind have always been both realists and dreamers. We have always imagined, and we’ve always been willing and able to do the hard work. During our first Imagination Fund effort we raised $375,000. During our 2005 annual campaign your Imagination Fund steering committee has set a goal of a half a million dollars--half a million dollars!
We can do this. We can raise $500,000 to develop new, amazing, cutting-edge technologies; to educate medical doctors about the National Federation of the Blind; to do publicity and outreach for NFB-NEWSLINE; to develop Braille Is Beautiful programs in our local schools; to establish and carry on formal mentoring programs for our new members; to ensure the continued development, manufacture, and marketing of the first handheld Kurzweil NFB reading machine; to make it possible for more seniors to attend possibility fairs; to train and inspire professionals working with the blind; to make science and math a real possibility for more blind children.
My friends and my colleagues, imagine, imagine what we can do together. We are beginning the work at this convention. We are making our plan so that in fifty-five days we will start a robust, three-month Imagination Fund campaign. Help us plan it, be a part of it. An Imagination Fund table is in the back of this hall. We are ready to take your contributions and your pledges. We are ready to sign you up as an imaginator. You will receive your imagine pin and your very own packet of Imagination Fund brochures, which will help you as you contact family, friends, business colleagues, and corporations. We must start here and now this week at this convention. We will continue it throughout the fall, and we need each one of you. Every imaginator will be critical to the success of this annual campaign. As Dr. Maurer has said, “We invite you to help us by sharing your ideas, talents, and treasure.”
The 2005 Awards
Presented by the National Federation of the Blind
From the Editor: This year the National Federation of the Blind presented two awards at the July 4 board of directors meeting and two at the July 7 banquet. Here are the presentations as they occurred:
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Steve Benson and Jerry Whittle shake hands. Jerry Whittle is holding his Blind Educator of the Year plaque.]
Blind Educator of the Year Award
Presented by Steve Benson
Thank you, President Maurer, and thank you, members of the selection committee--Sheila Koenig, Judy Sanders, Adelmo Vigil, and Ramona Walhof--for participating in this year’s deliberation.
The recipient of the 2005 Blind Educator of the Year Award has been described as creative, resourceful, patient, flexible, enthusiastic, motivating, and at times demanding. This year’s honoree expects students to master and use the subject taught. This year’s winner raises student expectations, builds self-confidence, and stretches students beyond what they generally expect of themselves, in the tradition of Doctors tenBroek and Jernigan.
The award committee has selected this year one who has earned considerable recognition for work in the area of curriculum development and implementing teaching techniques that meet the needs of a varied student population. Our winner this year has delivered presentations on effective teaching methods all over the United States. The Blind Educator for 2005 has been an active leader in two Federation state affiliates. He has chaired state and national committees. He has changed the lives of blind and sighted people, adults and children alike.
This outstanding teacher is active in church and community affairs. By every measure this candidate has conveyed our Federation message: with proper instruction and opportunity blind people can succeed in life, just like everybody else. This year’s honoree will receive a check for $1,000 and a plaque that reads:
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
BLIND EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR
In Recognition of Outstanding Accomplishments
In the Teaching Profession
You Enhance the Present
You Inspire Your Colleagues
You Build the Future.
July 4, 2005
Fellow Federationists, it is my privilege and my enormous pleasure to present the 2005 Blind Educator of the Year Award to Jerry Whittle.
Now, while Jerry is making his way to the platform, let me tell you that he earned a bachelor’s degree in English at Clemson University and a master’s degree in English at the University of Tennessee, and, while pursuing a Ph.D., he taught English at the University of South Carolina.
In 1985 Jerry became one of the founding staff members of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, at which time he served as a teacher of Braille and home economics. In her letter of nomination Pam Allen said: “Mr. Whittle has provided guidance for hundreds of students who are struggling to accept blindness and embrace our philosophy. Through his wonderful stories and keen sense of humor, he has challenged his students to confront their fears and pursue their dreams.”
I’m told that Jerry Whittle is affectionately called Dr. Dots. So, Dr. Dots, here is a check for $1,000; and here is this very special plaque. Congratulations! Here is Jerry Whittle. [tumultuous applause]
Jerry Whittle: I am deeply honored by this award, and I accept it on behalf of all the NFB center employees who work and sacrifice and give of their time to make the world a better place. I would like to thank some people, if I might: Dr. Capps for finding me when I was hopelessly lost and giving me my life back; and Dr. Jernigan, President Maurer, Joanne Wilson, Pam Allen, Diane McGeorge, Joyce Scanlan, Shawn Mayo, and Julie Deden, who have taught me how to work and how to believe and how to sacrifice and give back; and most of all my wife Marilyn [cheers and applause], who gave up her career as an art teacher so that I could come to Louisiana and have a career myself. (God bless her for it.) Finally I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior for establishing me and strengthening me and using me in ways mysterious to me even to this day. It has been a wonderful experience.
I would also like to say to teachers and parents: insist that your child have Braille instruction and beat upon the wall until they hear you. And, if they don’t hear you, we’ll beat on the wall for you. And to young men and young women and old men and old women, learn Braille if you haven’t done so. Don’t wait until you’re thirty-five to learn Braille like I did. Do it now. It’s not the be all and end all of literacy, but whatever is second best is a poor substitute. I would like finally to say dot five v [the word “love” in Grade III Braille] to all of you. Thank you.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Merry-Noel Chamberlain displays her Distinguished Educator plaque.]
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
Presented by Sharon Maneki
Indeed this year the committee does have a distinguished educator who deserves the award because of her merit, her spirit, and her dedication. The committee of Alan Harris, Joyce Scanlan, Dr. Ed Vaughan, and me is pleased to present a lady from the great state of Iowa, Merry-Noel Chamberlain. [prolonged applause] Merry-Noel has a bachelor of science in elementary education from the University of Nebraska. She has a master’s degree in educational psychology from Louisiana Tech University. She has a master’s in teaching children with visual impairments from Western Michigan University, and she has her NOMC certification. Merry-Noel is also studying for her Ph.D. in interdisciplinary health studies from the University of Michigan, and I am sure that she will achieve that goal in 2007 as she has planned.
But she is being recognized this morning, not just for her credentials, impressive as they are, but because of her dedication. Merry is a teacher, not just Monday through Friday, but every day. She particularly gives of her time in the Des Moines chapter with Saturday school. Saturday school, she tells me, is more popular than Monday-through-Friday school.
So, Merry-Noel, first of all I have for you a check for $1,000. We also have a plaque for Merry-Noel. And I am going to read the plaque:
The National Federation of the Blind
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children
For your skill in teaching Braille and other alternative techniques of blindness,
For generously donating extra time to meet the needs of your students,
And for inspiring your students to perform beyond their expectations.
You champion our movement,
You strengthen our hopes,
You share our dreams.
Merry-Noel Chamberlain: I would like to thank President Maurer. I would also like to thank the nominating committee and my NFB family, who entered my life at the NFB convention in Texas back in 1998.
But I would not be here today without the experiences I had through the Nebraska Commission for the Blind, Louisiana Tech, the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and of course the Iowa Department for the Blind. I also want to thank my husband for all of his support, not complaining at all when I want to buy that extra little toy or something for one of my students. It is such a wonderful honor to receive this award here today. To be able to touch the lives of my students, to enhance their abilities in the skills of blindness, to enrich their lives through instruction and shared experiences makes this the best career in the world for me. Thank you very, very much.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Allen Harris and Frank Kurt Cylke stand together with Mr. Cylke holding his plaque.]
The Newel Perry Award
Presented by Allen Harris
Like all of you I have had the benefit of the National Federation of the Blind. I have also had the gift of President Maurer’s friendship as you have. Each of us has been fortunate in many ways. Tonight will cause us to reflect on the opportunities, successes, and advances we have made because of the National Federation of the Blind and the perspective we have gained through it.
Yet we understand that we would not have made the progress we have nor would we embrace the future Dr. Maurer outlined without the help of others with whom we have worked and will work. One of the most fulfilling parts of being a member of the National Federation of the Blind is the opportunity to make friends, to partner with people who work with us and share our vision of equality, security, and opportunity.
One of the ways we recognize and commend those who have supported us, who have stood and planned with us, is the presentation of the Newel Perry Award. In bestowing this award, we recognize one who has exerted leadership, one who believes in blind people, who shares with us the foundational convictions of this organization. The award symbolizes our understanding that others have shared our struggle toward equality. Newel Perry was the embodiment of these truths.
It is my privilege tonight to present the Newel Perry award to someone who has been such a friend to us, a person who has worked with us, who has stood side by side with us over the long haul, who without question has contributed much to each of us. I would like to ask Mr. Cylke to step forward please. [enthusiastic applause] It is a real privilege to present this award to Mr. Cylke, who is holding up the plaque, which says:
NEWEL PERRY AWARD
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
In recognition of courageous leadership
And outstanding service,
the National Federation of the Blind
Bestows the Newel Perry Award
Frank Kurt Cylke
Our brother on the barricades;
You champion our progress;
You strengthen our hopes;
You share our dreams.
Curt Cylke: Thank you, Allen. I would like to recognize three things. One is the wonderful education I have received over the past thirty years from Dr. Jernigan and Mrs. Jernigan, from Dr. Maurer and Mrs. Maurer, and for the years sitting with Mrs. tenBroek here on the platform. I have learned a great deal and have benefited every second.
I also want to thank the staff at the National Library Service. You see many of them here every year. I hesitate to mention their names because I will leave someone out. You have Tom Bickford and Lloyd Rasmussen and Debbie Brown and all the others, blind and sighted, at the Library of Congress who have really made the program work. That has been a wonderful experience. The only thing left for me to say to you is “Mine eyes have seen the glory” of the blind, please continue on. “Glory, glory, Federation.” [applause]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ramona Walhof and Barbara Loos are pictured here. Barbara holds her plaque.]
The Jacobus tenBroek Award
Presented by Ramona Walhof
This year the National Federation of the Blind has chosen to present our prestigious Jacobus tenBroek award to an outstanding leader in our movement. This award was created in 1974 to be given as often as merit dictates to someone who has made outstanding contributions toward improving the lives of the blind. It has been presented to leaders such as Diane and Ray McGeorge, Donald Capps, Joyce and Tom Scanlan, Jim Omvig, Jim Gashel and Betsy Zaborowski, Joanne Wilson, Tim Cranmer, Mary Ellen Jernigan, and others of our very best. This year's committee consisted of Joyce Scanlan, Jim Omvig, and me. We have selected an individual who will do credit to this award, just as it honors her.
The woman we honor this year has been an active member of the NFB for about thirty years. Before she joined the NFB, she experienced put-downs and ridicule because of blindness from her employer, a rehabilitation agency for the blind. She has worked with the rest of us to establish laws and practices to prevent this kind of cruel and unfair treatment.
The woman we honor tonight is a quiet person, and, as far as I know, she currently holds no office in the Federation, but she is one of our very best leaders. When she is called upon to speak, her words are eloquent and memorable.
I want to tell you about the first time I met tonight's tenBroek award honoree. I was working at the Iowa Commission for the Blind, and she was employed at a nearby state agency. She was in Des Moines to study the programs for the blind there under the direction of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. On the second day of her visit it was my pleasure to have her and her colleague to my home for dinner. As we talked, it became clear that within this young woman was a tempest waiting to be released. She asked probing questions about the Federation and our philosophy. She revealed that she had always heard only attacks and negative statements about the organization. However, it was also clear that she was becoming more and more excited about what she was finding that week.
For some reason her visit was being cut short, and she was expected to leave the next day. We talked for several hours, and I did my best to convey the love and depth of knowledge I had found in the Federation. I had young children, but that night they were content to play without much attention, far beyond their normal bedtime. After my guests left, I put the children to bed, and (still excited myself) I called Dr. Jernigan to ask him to meet with these young women the next morning before they left Des Moines. After I hung up the phone, I looked at my watch. It was after 11:00 p.m. Dr. Jernigan went to bed early, and I would never have called him at that hour if I had stopped to think about the time. But the next morning when I arrived at work, I found these two women waiting outside his office to see him. That morning Dr. Jernigan knew that he had discovered a true Federation treasure by the name of Barbara Beach Walker Loos. [prolonged applause]
Barbara Loos, will you make your way to the front please?
Within a few short months of the meeting with Dr. Jernigan, Barbara was elected president of the Lincoln, Nebraska, chapter of the NFB. A year later she was elected president of the NFB of Nebraska, and she was a strong president at a time when that affiliate was growing and changing. But Barbara has never enjoyed that kind of leadership. She prefers to support other principal leaders. So she found a successor. After she married Jim Walker, she worked by his side while he served as president of the NFB of Nebraska for several terms.
Jim Walker died suddenly of a heart attack in 1989, only a few days before the NFB convention. This was a tragedy for all of us, but most especially for Barbara. Nevertheless, hundreds of us remember that Barbara came to the 1989 convention with her two small children, and she took the microphone to thank others for their support in her loss. It was one of the truly dramatic and memorable moments for the entire Federation.
Barbara served another term as president of the NFB of Nebraska, from 1990 to 1992, but as a single mother she felt she must give more time to her growing children. Still she has provided moral support and advice to Federationists in that state and far beyond.
Many people here have heard Barbara Walker Loos speak as president of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. She has served on that board for almost twenty years, and always providing quiet and wise leadership. When the state of Nebraska created its new Commission for the Blind, who better could be found to chair the board? Barbara Walker Loos has been the only chairman from the beginning.
When the NFB of Nebraska received a grant to provide computer instruction to the blind, it turned to Barbara Loos to do the lion's share of the work. When President Maurer needed someone to screen announcements on the platform of our national conventions, he asked Barbara Loos to handle the job. We have all read thoughtful articles in our Kernel Books written by Barbara Walker Loos. But we will never know all the details of her contributions, because she does not speak of them much. She just does what is needed with strength and poise.
But tonight is our opportunity to tell Barbara Loos that we recognize and appreciate her constancy and wisdom. Barbara, we give you this plaque with love and admiration. We know what you are, and we wish to recognize you tonight for what you do and all you are. I am going to read the text of the plaque while she makes her way up here. It is a complex trip.
JACOBUS TENBROEK AWARD
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
For your dedication, sacrifice, and commitment on behalf of the blind of this nation. Your contribution is measured not in steps but in miles, not by individual experiences but by your impact on the lives of the blind of the nation. Whenever we have asked, you have answered. We call you our colleague with respect. We call you our friend with love.
Barbara Loos [obviously weeping]: Fellow Federationists, I can’t think of anybody less deserving. I just cannot believe that the small things I have done would amount to something like this. [applause] I know all the people being talked about as having received this award, and I don’t feel that I have earned a place beside them. But I love them all, and I love all of you. And I will keep doing whatever I can. I thank you all for the Federation; it has meant so much to me all of my life. If I can give just one little bit of what others have given to me, I guess I will just keep on going. Thank you.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: The 2005 scholarship class: back row (left to right): Christella Garcia, Craig Eckhardt, Paul Ruffner, Craig Roisum, Meleah Jensen, Andrea Travis, Alan Bickell, Kendrick Kennedy, Steve Decker, and Girmai Kahsai; middle row Barry Hyde, Greg Beaulieu, Mary Chappell, Rick Brown, Adnan Gutic, Bo Mullins, Melanie Peskoe, Amanda Martins, Danielle Mathaes, and William Nutt; and front row Hoby Wedler, Amy Herstein, Angela Howard, Lori Brown, Cora Robinson, Lydia Markley, Jessica Kostiw, Ronit Ovadia, Angie Moran, and Quintina Singleton]
2005 Scholarship Class
of the National Federation of the Blind
From the Editor: With every passing year we recognize the increasing value of the National Federation of the Blind’s Scholarship Program to our national organization. Members of previous scholarship classes--more than ninety past winners this year--stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done. Everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing now and planning to do with their lives.
On banquet evening, while we are still sky-high after listening to President Maurer's address, Peggy Elliott comes to the podium, presents the year's winners, giving an academic and personal sketch of each, and announces which scholarship the person has been awarded. This year each winner crossed the platform and shook hands with President Maurer and Ray Kurzweil, whose foundation presented each with an additional $1,000 scholarship and the latest version of the Kurzweil-1000 reading software, which is now DAISY-enabled. In addition each winner received a certificate from Bookshare.org for one year’s access to its 23,000-book online collection and NFB-NEWSLINE publications, a $50 value. IBM presented each of the thirty students with its Homepage Reader version 3.04 talking and magnifying Web browser, worth $200. Finally, three NFB scholarship recipients also received summer internships and partial scholarships from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Contractors Association.
The final scholarship awarded in this year's scholarship extravaganza, which took place at the banquet on July 7, was the Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship of $12,000, which was presented to Ronit Ovadia, who then spoke briefly to the audience. Her remarks appear later in this article.
But earlier in the week, at the meeting of the NFB board of directors, each 2005 scholarship winner came to the microphone and spoke directly to the Federation. Following is what they said about themselves. Each speaker was introduced by Peggy Elliott, who announced first the student's name and then both the home and school states. This is what was said:
Gregg Beaulieu, New Hampshire, Texas: Thank you, and I thank everyone here today for giving me the marvelous opportunity to become a part of the NFB. I wanted to tell everyone, not how I found the NFB, but actually how the NFB found me one evening in Austin, Texas. I currently live in Austin, and I was walking to a café to meet some friends, and I had my National Library Service playback machine with me. A sighted person who was with this group of five marvelous blind people saw a person walking by with a recorder and said, “Hey, there’s a blind guy over there.”
Two of them came over and introduced themselves to me and said, “Hey, are you the blind guy?”
And I said, “Yah.” [laughter] I went and sat with them, and as we began to converse, we discovered that we had many of the same feelings.
They said, “You should really think about getting into the NFB.” I thought that sounded sensible, and here I am today. I am very glad to be here, and I thank everyone for this marvelous opportunity. Thank you very much.
Alan Bickell, Iowa, Iowa: Thank you, Peggy Elliott, Dr. Maurer, board of directors, fellow Federationists--good day to you all. I am a senior at Drake University, working on my bachelor’s in business administration. I will next be going for my MBA, and I plan to be the CEO of a large organization one day.
I joined the NFB in 2002. My first convention was in this same hotel in 2003, and I am extremely happy to be back. The support and love that the NFB has shown me can only be paid back by action. And I will fulfill that obligation. I first learned the philosophy of the NFB when I attended the orientation center in Des Moines. I was happy and glad and lucky to learn the philosophy that Dr. Jernigan brought to Iowa years ago, and I was lucky to have Allen Harris to point me towards the NFB. Thank you very much.
Lori Brown, Illinois, Illinois: Good morning, Federationists. Thank you, Scholarship Committee, for giving me this opportunity to be here in Louisville. I am a wife and mother of two. I am a sophomore at Spoon River College in Canton, Illinois, where I am studying history and American government. I hope to transfer to Bradley University, where I will receive my bachelor's degree in secondary education. I hope to teach history and government in the public schools. I have been a member of the Federation for ten months, and the experience I have had has totally exceeded my expectations. It's like coming home, and I hope that I can give back to the Federation as much as it has given to me.
Peggy Elliott: This year's class has five tenBroek Fellows. These are people who previously won a scholarship and are now back competing successfully in this year's scholarship pool and also being friends and colleagues. The first of these five tenBroek Fellows for a scholarship in the year 2005 is:
Rick Brown, Florida, Florida: Good morning, everyone. It's an honor to stand up here as a tenBroek Fellow. I graduated this past December with my bachelor's degree in social work. I am currently working on my master's degree in social work. I plan to become a traumatologist. I want to work with war veterans, because I know there's a big need in this area. I want to tell everyone, if you set your goals, achieve them. It is not hard to do; I have come a long way in achieving mine. I stand up here before you, and I thank you for having me.
Mary Chappell, Virginia, Washington, D.C.: Good morning, Federationists. It's wonderful to be here with you today. To whom much is given, much is expected. The Federation has given me so much. Four years ago I sustained traumatic neurological brain damage, and when I woke from the coma, I was unable to walk or talk, and I was cortically blind. I thought my life was over, but then I found the Federation, and you gave me my life back. You let me know that it was possible to accomplish, excel, and succeed as a blind woman, and for that I am so thankful. I am now a first-year graduate student in a doctoral program in clinical psychology. I plan to work in trauma with survivors of catastrophe, to show them the purposeful life they can have, how they can succeed based on Federation philosophy. So I thank all of you for giving me the initiative to make something happen. Thank you.
Steve Decker, Iowa, Iowa: Good morning, fellow Federationists. This fall I will be starting my junior year at the University of Northern Iowa. I am pursuing a bachelor's in communications and am still considering a second major or minor, possibly in the field of technology, looking at integrating the two. I am considering a career in advertising.
Growing up--I’ve been blind all my life, and I thought that I knew just about everything there was to know about blindness. Boy, was I wrong! Since I became acquainted with the Federation (in 2002) and attended my first convention here in 2003, I’ve learned so much from all of you. Yet I still have so much to learn. But I’m looking forward to it. Thank you.
Craig Eckhardt, Colorado, Florida: Good morning, everybody. My name is Craig Eckhardt, and I am from Denver. Currently I am working for the Colorado Center, and in August I will be moving to Florida, where I will study at the University of Miami, pursuing a graduate degree in music. Specifically the degree is jazz pedagogy, which is essentially music education and jazz studies, so that's fun. Eventually I would like to teach at the college level. Thanks to the committee for selecting me and for listening.
Christella Garcia, California, California: Good morning. I would like to thank the Federation for giving me this incredible honor and opportunity to be a scholarship winner. I have been part of the Federation since I was three years old, when I received my first not-so-long white cane from Dr. Schroeder. Being part of this proactive organization has taught me that a dream can become a goal when action is taken towards its achievement. When I receive my master's degree from Louisiana Tech, I hope to teach my students through example that one gains strength, courage, and confidence when one challenges oneself to conquer one’s fears. I believe today’s experience is the first stepping stone on the path that I will walk in order to make my dreams a reality. Thank you.
Adnan Gutic, originally from Bosnia, now from Missouri, Missouri: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am glad to be here for my first ever national convention. I was also at the Missouri state convention in March, so I am interested in the NFB, and I want to do some more things in the NFB, especially the international thing that the guy from China was talking about. I want to help people over there in Croatia and Bosnia--see if they can come to the national convention and see the great things you guys do here. I am going to start as a freshman at Lindenwood University. I am going to be studying athletic training. I am going to get a bachelor's in that, and I may be going into physical therapy or massage therapy. My main goal is to become employed by a major sports team in hockey. And I will get that!
Amy Herstein, Maryland, Maryland: Good morning to everyone. I am glad to be here also. I want to thank the Scholarship Committee and everyone, the whole NFB, because basically that's why any of us got to be here. I will be attending UMBC (the University of Maryland, Baltimore County) in the fall, where I will pursue a degree in English literature. This organization is the best organization for the blind, not only because of the philosophy, but because you are some of the most friendly people and the encouragement you give to everyone is what really does everything. It gives people a chance to try to be all they can be. I'm the secretary of a local Maryland chapter as well as my student division, and it wouldn't have happened without any of you guys. Thank you.
Angela Howard, Louisiana, Texas: When I was ten years old, I put my ear to the door and listened as my father and grandmother described what my life was going to be like as a blind person. “She will never be able to support herself. Her brother is going to have to take care of her. She's never even going to be able to cross streets.” When I was thirteen years old, the National Federation of the Blind found me, and you told me that you have great dreams for my life. I decided that your dreams were much more compelling. In May I earned my master's degree in public policy from the University of Texas at Austin. This fall I will be entering the Ph.D. program in sociology at the University of Texas. This summer I am working on a research project, looking at the successes and challenges in organizing to end domestic violence, through a grant from the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation. My life is the result of your work; it's the result of the candy bars that you've sold, the ideas that you've dreamed, and the work you have put in. Thank you for dreaming, and let's keep it up.
Barry Hyde, North Carolina, Florida: Good morning to all. I hope everyone is doing well this morning. I'd like to thank all the Federation committee for allowing me to become part of this program. This is the first time that I've been here, and wow! It's overwhelming, and I want to thank everyone again. My guide dog and I will begin this semester at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at Daytona Beach, Florida, this fall. We will be the first blind graduate student to attend that university ever. That's going to be a large success if we can pull it off, and I believe we can. We've made it this far. I've only been blind for seven years, a month, and three days, and here we are. I just want to thank God and the committee again. I look forward to meeting everyone and sharing this experience. Thank you so much.
Peggy Elliott: Next we have another tenBroek Fellow. Mileah Jensen, Louisiana, Louisiana: Good morning, fellow Federationists. Thoreau once said, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to find only the essential facts and see if I could not learn what they had to teach." It is only through my involvement in the Federation that I have truly learned what it means to live deliberately. In May I earned my bachelor's degree from Louisiana State University in elementary education. This fall I will be a first-year graduate student at Louisiana Tech, where I will be working towards a master's in family and consumer sciences with a concentration in human and family development. Once I have completed my master's, I hope to go on to become a certified child life specialist. I currently serve as president of the Louisiana Association of Blind Students, and as a member of the board of directors of the NFB of Louisiana, and I was recently elected to serve on the National Association of Blind Students board. I hope to continue with my service for many years to help other people to know what it's like to live deliberately and suck out the marrow of life. Thank you.
Originally from Eritrea, Girmai Kahsai, Texas, Texas: Good morning fellow Federationists. This fall I am going to Texas Southern University, Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston. I am a victim of persecution, and I have seen the bad side of humanity. But now I am seeing the loving side of humanity through the Federation. I am very touched and deeply inspired by being elected to be a scholarship winner. I will work and not let down my friends. I am deeply inspired and deeply touched. Thank you.
Kendrick Kennedy, Mississippi, Mississippi: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I attend Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. I'm the Mississippi Gulf Coast chapter president. I am also on the state board of Mississippi. I want to thank the Scholarship Committee for allowing me to be here today. I also want to thank the NFB state president, Sam Gleese, for believing in me throughout my college career. I am going to be obtaining my degree in business administration, information management systems from the University of Southern Mississippi, and I am planning to go to law school. Throughout that journey I will extinguish the views that sighted people have about blind people not being able to do anything. Through the NFB that's what I have learned, and I will keep that fight up, no matter what. People say, "Kendrick, you don't act like a blind person."
I always tell them, "Well how is a blind person supposed to act?" Thank you.
Jessica Kostiw,Virginia, Louisiana: Good morning, everyone. I am truly honored not only to be standing here today, but to be here. I would like to thank each and every one of you for giving me something that I never thought I would have after I lost my vision--confidence and self-respect. This is my second NFB convention, and I am already standing here. I would like to say to all of you that you can be here too. I believe that leadership is not only the person on the stage, but behind the scenes. I will do everything I can because I truly feel as though I am indebted to this organization. I am the vice president of the Louisiana Association of Blind Students and a very active member of my chapter. Thank you.
Lydia Markley, Florida, Florida: Good morning, fellow Federationists. It's an honor to be here today. If it wasn't for my local chapter members and my state affiliate, I wouldn't be here today. You believed in me before I believed in myself. In May of 2002 I was declared legally blind. By the fall I was enrolled in Tallahassee Community College and met up with a bunch of people who wanted to start up a chapter for NFB in Tallahassee. We got the chapter going the end of 2001 or summer of 2002. I was a state scholarship winner in 2003, and actually I am less scared today than I was then. The NFB has taken me a long way. I am presently a junior at Florida A and M University. My major is public relations. My minor is political science. I work part time with the Division of Blind Services in Florida doing public relations, and I hope, when I graduate, I can start my own PR and lobbying firm to change what it means to be blind.
Amanda Martins, New York, Massachusetts: Good morning. I would like to thank Peggy Elliott and the Scholarship Committee and Dr. Maurer and all of you. This is my first convention. I just want to thank all of you for being so welcoming and friendly. In the fall I will be a freshman at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. I will be majoring in visual and media arts, kind of ironic, I know. My concentration will be in audio radio. After college I want to pursue a career in the field of radio. Thank you all very much.
Danielle Matthaes, Montana, Montana: Good morning, and thank you very much. Throughout the past two years I have been significantly blessed by the NFB. Less than two years ago my vision began decreasing due to brain cancer. Many people stopped believing in me, and many turned against me, but you as members of the NFB and members of my family believed in me and supported me. That is what anyone blind or sighted needs in order to pursue their dreams. That is why in the fall I will be pursuing my bachelor’s degree in nursing at Montana State University. I will not give up. I cannot wait till the day I get that badge that says, "Danielle Matthaes, R.N." Thank you very much.
Angie Moran, Maryland, Colorado: Good morning. First off, I would like to thank the Scholarship Committee for selecting me as an honored scholarship winner. I just graduated from one of our great, great NFB centers in May, and I am on the board of the Colorado Association of Blind Students. I will be attending the Metropolitan State College of Denver in the fall. Afterwards I will be getting my master's at Louisiana Tech, and I will be teaching the blind how to be independent, like a lot of us in this room. Thank you.
Bo Mullins, Kentucky, Kentucky: Thank y' all for having me here. Happy Fourth of July. I attend Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Kentucky. I plan on getting my bachelor's in middle school and high school special education and social studies. I plan on getting my master's then my doctorate in teaching the blind and visually impaired. I was talking to a girl last night whom I've come to know as "Puddin'," and she was telling me all the stuff that she has done in the NFB, and I realize that the stuff I've done is just a drop in the bucket, so I've got a lot of work to do to make up. I would just like to thank Momma Kathy and Kenny Jones and all the other people in my organization for getting me here. Thank you very much.
William Nutt, Texas, Texas: Howdy, ladies and gentlemen. I am studying anthropology, history, and classics at Texas A and M University. I would like eventually to make museums, or a good deal of museums, as well as artifacts more accessible to the blind. I was trying to figure out what I was going to say, walking up the stairs and listening to everyone, and I realized we’ve all done amazing things--everyone in this room, not just the scholarship winners--and that all the scholarship winners have amazing plans. I was thinking, "Dear Lord, what will the world be like when we all succeed?" Thank you very much.
Peggy Elliott: Next is another tenBroek scholarship winner. Her first scholarship was awarded in 2001. Here is Ronit Ovadia, California, Illinois: Good morning, President Maurer, board of directors, and fellow Federationists. I am deeply honored to be here as a tenBroek fellow this year. Four years ago I had a dream to complete college and enter my master's program in genetic counseling and become the first totally blind genetic counselor. I wasn't sure if I could accomplish these goals. Now, after being involved with our Federation for the last four years, I am definitely on my way to accomplishing my goals and dream. I know this would not have been possible without the confidence and skills the Federation has given to me. For this I am immensely grateful. I just graduated with my bachelor's degree in human biology from Scripps College, and in the fall I will be a first-year graduate student at Northwestern University in Chicago. I currently serve as president of the California Association of Blind Students. I just recently got elected as secretary of the National Association of Blind Students, and I am an active member of my chapter. When I move to Chicago, I hope to help others and students realize that they can accomplish anything they put their minds to. Thank you so much.
Melanie Peskoe, Kentucky, Kentucky: Good morning, fellow Federationists. As the president of the Kentucky Association of Blind Students, I would also like to welcome you to my hometown again this year. I am currently pursuing a degree in English from the University of Louisville, after which I plan to go on to get my MBA and then pursue a career in consulting in the field of process improvement. It wasn't so long ago that I couldn't envision that kind of success for myself, but when the National Federation of the Blind came into my life, and the philosophy that we have took root inside of me, I feel as though I am growing toward normal independence each day. I have met and learned from a lot of really fine leaders, and the experiences that I have gained not only allowed me to open a new world for myself, but they've equipped me with tools that I can pass on to my daughter, who also happens to be blind. I have learned perhaps the most valuable lesson in my life is that independence really has nothing to do with whether or not you accept help from someone or live completely unassisted. Independence for me, and I believe for everyone here, is more about having the power and grasping it to choose when or if to use that help. I think that the students of today are going to be the leaders of tomorrow, and we are standing on the shoulders of all the leadership of today and the past leadership. For the paved ways you are giving us, I thank you deeply.
Cora Robinson, Indiana, Indiana: Good morning. I would like to thank the committee. Thank you, Peggy Elliott, the president of my affiliate, Mr. Ron Brown, Dr. Maurer, and everyone. I really appreciate the opportunity of coming here. I was sitting there thinking how I can always give back. I feel like it's my responsibility to give back. Growing up, I was a foster child for a time in my life, and I always wanted to be in a position to give back, so I asked God that when I got married. I wanted to marry someone with children, and I did. He had four beautiful children, and once we got married, we had seven, so we have a total of eleven children. I believe in giving back to the community. Right now we have a lot of problems in our community with troubled children, so I am working now to help provide services to children in our community who are troubled children as well as I am working in my local chapter. I am vice president of my local chapter and also vice president of our student division. Thank you very much.
Craig Roisum, Minnesota, Minnesota: Thank you, Federationists. It's great to be here. My name is Craig Roisum. There is a saying I've told my son, "You build your boat, and you float it." What this means is that you take responsibility for your life. Life is like a boat; it takes good, sound framework to float. If it doesn't have that, it will sink. I had a great boat once; it was sunk by blindness, but I had a great life preserver. That was the National Federation of the Blind. I finished adjustment-to-blindness training, and I am back in college at the University of Minnesota, seeking a degree in civil engineering. My boat is getting stronger with each passing day. I will be successful. Since joining the Federation, I've met some great kids who are Federationists too. They are building their boats and will be successful. However, the adults need to pave the way. Let's continue our fight so the kids' boats don't sink. They are our future leaders. When my boat is finished, it will survive the stormiest seas.
Paul Ruckner, Arizona, District of Columbia: Good morning. Thank you very much. I plan next year to attend American University in Washington, D.C., possibly majoring in political science or international relations, possibly even Latin American studies, to try and pursue a career either in constitutional law or international human rights procedures. I am genuinely inspired to be here today because this organization has shown itself ready and willing and able to give people their lives back. That's my goal. There are 6.1 billion people on this planet. There are 1.7 billion people who don't have daily access to fresh water. According to the most recent count, 1,730 of us are registered for convention. All of us need something in life. It's different for all of us, and the thirty members of this scholarship class, including me, stand ready to help fulfill that need. Thank you.
Quintina Singleton, New Jersey, New Jersey: Good morning. First I must start by thanking the committee for choosing me. It really is an honor to stand here. I've been a member of the National Federation of the Blind since 1999. I belong to two chapters--the central and northern Jersey chapter, where I am legislative coordinator for the northern Jersey chapter. In May I will be graduating with a bachelor's degree in both psychology and English. I plan to go to law school to be a criminal defense attorney. I am looking forward to making the transition from the National Association of Blind Students to the blind lawyers division. Thank you.
Peggy Elliott: Another tenBroek Fellow. Her scholarship was in 2002, Andrea Travis, Idaho, Idaho: Thank you, Madam Chairman. One of my favorite quotes has always been, "Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical, and respect more than others think is possible." Only through my membership in the National Federation of the Blind have I realized the true importance of this quote. By continuing to risk, care, dream, and respect, we can accomplish our goals and continue moving forward. Since winning my first scholarship in 2002, I have gained so much confidence and independence. I've matured, and I am continually learning. I currently serve as the treasurer of the Idaho Association of Blind Students and chapter president and board member of the Idaho affiliate. I am also entering my senior year at the University of Idaho, majoring in public relations with an emphasis in Web design.
Henry (Hoby) Wedler, California, California: Thank you, Madam Chairman, Scholarship Committee, and fellow Federationists. It is a genuine honor to be standing here today. In the fall I will be attending the University of California at Davis and pursuing a major in chemistry. I plan to become a high school or junior high chemistry instructor. That has been a lifelong dream of mine. Before 2004 in the Rocket On! science camp, I knew virtually nothing about the National Federation of the Blind. And you all are what brought me here today. What I have learned and what has driven me all this way is the fact that anyone can be a leader if they want. Never give up. Never deny an opportunity. Always take every challenge you can, and be the best blind person you can possibly be.
Peggy Elliott: And, President Maurer and my fellow Federationists, that is the class of 2005.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ronit Ovadia, obviously deeply moved, stands with President Maurer on stage at the banquet.]
Toward the close of the scholarship presentation portion of the banquet, Peggy Elliott introduced Ronit Ovadia as the 2005 winner of the Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship. When she came to the microphone, this is what Ronit said:
Good evening, fellow Federationists. Thank you so very much for all of your support and all of your help. I want especially to thank the California affiliate for bringing me into their midst and helping me to realize that I can do anything I want to do. I have made so many friends in the last several years that I have been part of this Federation. I am deeply grateful that I have found the Federation and all of you. You all mean so very much to me. I will do everything I possibly can to give back as much or even more than I have received and to help the Federation move forward. Thank you very much.
Here is the complete list of 2005 scholarship winners and the awards they received:
$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Gregory Beaulieu, Richard Brown, Steve Decker, Craig Eckhardt, Christella Garcia, Adnan Gutic, Amy Herstein, Angela Howard, Barry Hyde, Girmai Kahsai, Lydia Markley, Angela Moran, Brian Mullins, William Nutt, Cora Robinson, and Quintina Singleton
$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Educator of Tomorrow Award: Lori Brown
$3,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship: Jessica Kostiw
$3,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship: Amanda Martins
$3,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Contractors Association Internship: Henry (Hoby) Wedler
$3,000 E. U. Parker Scholarship: Kendrick Kennedy
$3,000 Uthman A. Shibaro and Arlene Gilman Shibaro Memorial Scholarship: Danielle Matthaes
$5,000 Michael and Marie Marucci Scholarship: Paul Ruffner
$5,000 Jennica Ferguson Memorial Scholarship: Melanie Peskoe
$5,000 Sally S. Jacobsen Scholarship: Mary Chappell
$5,000 Hank LeBonne Scholarship: Alan Bickell
$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Craig Roisum and Andrea Travis (Craig Roisum was also awarded a NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Contractors Association Internship)
$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Meleah Jensen
$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Contractors Association Internship: Ronit Ovadia
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Marc Maurer delivers the 2005 banquet address.]
The Edge of Tomorrow
An Address Delivered by
at the Banquet of the Annual Convention
of the National Federation of the Blind
July 7, 2005
In art perspective is the depiction of objects with proper alignment, clarity of detail, and depth. In thought perspective is the contemplation of ideas from a vantage point that allows maximum understanding, clarity of detail, and depth. Although perspective was once the science of sight (sometimes known as optics), it has come to mean in part the capacity to understand--to penetrate the complex and to illuminate the obscure.
For an illustration of perspective consider the earth and the billiard ball. The earth, we are told, is round. However, it is covered with oceans, mountains, cliffs, and valleys; our observation tells us that it is only more or less round.
A billiard ball is round; when we hold it, we know this is true. The observation is borne out by the Billiard Congress of America, which tells us that the billiard ball is completely round. However, the standards for manufacture of billiard balls permit a deviation in the diameter of the ball. The diameter is two and one-quarter inches, and the permitted deviation is plus or minus five-thousandths of an inch. Therefore the deviation is one out of 225.
The highest point on the earth is just short of six miles above sea level. If, in considering the roundness of the earth the land mass is examined and the oceans are ignored (a thing very difficult to do because more than two-thirds of the globe is covered with water), the lowest point of land is just short of seven miles below sea level. The diameter is approximately eight thousand miles. Therefore the deviation in the diameter of the land mass of the earth is thirteen eight-thousandths or approximately one out of 615. The arithmetic shows that the percentage deviation from roundness of the earth is less than the percentage deviation in the roundness of a billiard ball. If a billiard ball with the maximum deviation were to be expanded to the size of the earth, it would have a mountain on it more than twice as tall as Mount Everest. The earth is rounder than a billiard ball. It's all a matter of perspective.
The concept of perspective seems simple; a new position from which to observe or a new pattern of thought makes altered comprehension possible. Enhanced comprehension provides additional knowledge. Additional knowledge permits more informed decision-making than had previously been achievable, with more productive planning as a result. Surely added perspective will always be sought, always embraced, always welcomed, always valued. However, our experience demonstrates that this supposition is not always the case. Enhanced perspective is sometimes greeted with suspicion or even more violent reactions.
Altered thought patterns always challenge the accepted formulations of previous observation, and they challenge the authority of those who espouse such formulations. Human beings find it hard to admit error and harder still to reconcile themselves with the proposition that somebody else possesses greater insight than they do. Furthermore, newly gained knowledge requires altered patterns of behavior, and old habits are hard to break. Consequently perspective demands courage, the self-confidence to correct the misapprehensions of a former time, the flexibility to alter a point of view when circumstances make this necessary, and the determination to act in accordance with the newly revealed truth. If progress is to occur, these elements are essential, but they are not easy to achieve or simple to apply. They exact commitment and sacrifice and work. However, without this combination there can be no progress, and we must and will have progress. We possess the determination, the self-confidence, the flexibility, and the courage. We dare to have perspective--the perspective of the National Federation of the Blind.
More than six decades have come and gone since the gathering that brought our Federation together in 1940 at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, under the prodigious leadership of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, our founder and first president. Conditions for the blind are dramatically different today from those he described at the founding of the Federation, but the task before us established by our founders, which was of enormous proportions at the beginning of our movement, remains monumental still. It is the reshaping of the patterns of thought of our society to recognize the ability within us, to value the talent we possess, and to welcome the contributions we have to make.
At the beginning of the Federation there was a measure of hope, but almost nothing else--no money, virtually no employment, almost no program to support the blind at the state or federal level, few books, little prospect of a college education, almost no chance to engage in business either within the newly established vending stand program or without its support, almost no acceptance within society of our capacity as human beings, and no organized method of changing these conditions. A few, a very few, blind people were employed--but most of these had jobs at pitifully low wages in the sheltered workshops.
By the mid-1950’s Dr. tenBroek could declare that the National Federation of the Blind had grown to more than forty affiliates, that blind people were employed in a wide array of professions and callings from shoemaker to physicist, that education was becoming more generally available to the blind than it had ever been, and that the employment rate of the blind had risen dramatically. By the 1960’s Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, the second great leader of the National Federation of the Blind, had fashioned within the Iowa programs the most astonishing training facility for blind Americans that had ever been created to that day. Granted a presidential citation in 1968, Dr. Jernigan was regarded widely as the most influential director of programs for the blind in the world. The reason for this success was the vigorous implementation of the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.
In the 1970’s we had grown to have affiliates in every state and the District of Columbia, and we established the National Center for the Blind. In the 1980’s we continued to expand programs at the National Center for the Blind and inaugurated orientation centers in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Colorado. In the 1990’s we added Puerto Rico to our family of affiliates, and we created the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, the NFB-NEWSLINE® program, the Kernel Book series, and other innovative initiatives. In the first decade of the twenty-first century we have constructed and begun to operate the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, the only research and training facility for the blind established by the blind, operated under the direction of blind people, and incorporating the individual experiences of the blind of the nation.
With all of this growth, with all of these expansions in the work we are doing, with all of the new challenges we have addressed, our perspective has changed. We have not altered our fundamental beliefs or modified our dreams, but we have come to realize that our role is not only to observe, to challenge, and to offer critical comment but also to lead, to demonstrate, and to expand the horizons not only for ourselves but also for others within the field of work with the blind and in broader context within our entire society.
If we find (and we sometimes do) that training programs are inadequate, we must show how to make them better. If we find that research regarding blindness is often flawed, frequently without foundation, and sometimes marred by the false assumptions about us that have bedeviled the lives of the blind for centuries, we must design programs of our own that lead in a direction to inspire others to have faith in us and to explore horizons that have never before been reached. If the perspective of the blind is not a part of program development, research, and training, these matters will inevitably be incomplete. Consequently we have established our own programs incorporating our perspective, and we are seeking partners to join with us. Because we dare to have perspective, the opportunities that will belong to us are presently beyond the horizon.
How does our perspective compare to that of others? What vistas for us have the administrators in programs of rehabilitation, the journalists, the representatives of the business community, the scientists, and the members of the public imagined?
In a newspaper article from October of 2004 that appeared in Portland, Maine, Steven Obremski, the chief executive officer of the Iris Network (formerly the Maine Center for the Blind) announced plans to remodel a 100-year-old building to create a place containing thirty-one apartments specifically designed for the blind. The name of the organization, The Iris Network, is noteworthy. The iris is, of course, a part of the eye. Apparently it is intended to convey the notion that this agency will, in some figurative sense, help the blind to see. Or perhaps this is a warning that the Iris Network is watching us to make sure that we don't get out of line. What kind of vision does Iris have in mind for the blind? What environment are the Iris people trying to create? What are the prospects for the future of the blind from the Iris point of view? The article does not leave us in doubt.
As we examine the published report of the plans of Iris, it is worth remembering that Mr. Obremski has served as president of the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving People who are Blind or Visually Impaired (NAC), one of the most controversial and oppressive organizations ever to exist in the field of work with the blind. Here, in part, is what the article says:
For those who are totally blind, the complex will offer amenities such as signs in Braille and textural changes to help residents navigate on their own. For example, a switch from carpet to floor tile will help them to tell that they're moving from the living room to the kitchen or from the hallway to a stair.
[I interrupt to ask if the officials at Iris really believe that blind people don't know when they've left the living room and entered the kitchen. They must think that the blind are as stupid as a creosote post. But, there is more.]
Behind the residence [the article says] will be a sensory garden with raised flower beds filled with flowers with varying scents and textures. Residents could use the area to learn to garden and to practice their mobility skills with a cane.
They [the residents] have lived in the dormitory, which functions like a boarding house, for years--some for decades. They welcome the thought of having a bathroom in their own apartment instead of sharing one down the hall and having more space, but they're worried about how they would handle tasks such as cooking on their own.
John Lee, thirty-five, who has lived in the dormitory for nearly sixteen years, said what scares residents is "the prospect of transition."
But Obremski, himself visually impaired, assured them that current services, such as meals cooked in a communal kitchen, will continue as long as needed.
This is what the article says, and the picture of service to the blind in Maine is dismal indeed. Some of the residents have lived in the dormitory for decades. At least one began his tenure before he was twenty and has remained for sixteen years. Residents apparently do not know how to cook for themselves, and their travel skills are so severely limited that they need to practice in the flower garden in the backyard.
Can these residents expect employment, participation in the community, the procurement of a home, the establishment of a family, matriculation at educational institutions, or other activities of citizenship? The answer is no, but at least they get a private bathroom and a flower garden. Of course, according to Obremski, they might not be able to use these amenities unless the contrast in the floor covering is sufficiently great to warn them that they've entered a new location. The blind can't tell that they've left the kitchen unless a contrast in the texture of the floor warns them that this has happened. How many kinds of floor covering are needed for this ideal home for the blind? Kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, living room, hallway, stairway, and flower garden--all these must feel different to the feet, or the blind will be lost at Iris--wandering aimlessly in this specially designed home for the blind.
Half a century ago Dr. tenBroek proclaimed that blind people were employed as shoemakers and physicists, as lawyers and professors. Steven Obremski must have missed this information. He has been living in the stifled atmosphere of Iris--an atmosphere of custodialism and curtailed potential. He has apparently missed the news that the blind have rejected ward status and have claimed their rights as full and equal citizens.
Several years ago, in his capacity as president of the National Accreditation Council, Mr. Obremski came to our convention to ask us to acquiesce in his proposal that he serve as the leader in setting standards for all blind people. Is there any wonder that we rejected this overture? He wants to set the standards that will circumscribe our lives and blight our futures, but he will not do it, for we will not let him. Despite his blindness his perspective is limited, and his imagination withered. We do not seek custody but emancipation, and we dare to have the perspective that gives our future the broadest range of opportunity.
To Steven Obremski and his like-minded ilk we say, "Not on your life!" Learn if you can about the restless, vibrant spirit that lives in the hearts of the blind. Become part of that spirit if you have the courage, and join with us in altering the future if you have the will. Otherwise stand aside; get out of the way; the force of our aspirations cannot be resisted. We will not permit anything to stop our progress. We dare to have perspective--the perspective of the organized blind.
An article found on the Internet with the copyright of RP International bears the title "The Eyes of Christmas." It says that Christmas is a warm, joyous celebration for many, but not for the blind. The blind think of Christmas as dark, lonely, and sad (according to this article) because they "live without the light." To alleviate somewhat the lot of those with this miserable condition, Helen Harris reached out on Christmas Eve with a program entitled "The Eyes of Christmas," designed especially for those who "cannot see Christmas for themselves." "A host of celebrity describers [the article says] told what Christmas looks like: the colors of the season, messages on greeting cards, the latest children's toys, and messages of hope in medical research."
The pith of this article is that those who can see have joy; those who cannot do not--those who can see the light gain happiness; those who are in the dark are lonely and sad. Is this the meaning of Christmas for you? Whence came all this dismal dreariness? Is it not one more expression of the fear of the dark?
We who are blind appreciate competent description effectively done as much as anybody else. However, to leap from the notion that we might like to hear a good description of a scene to the thought that without a verbal rendering of the visual images of the season we are left in a dark depression is to create trouble where none exists. Christmas is the season of hope--of renewal. But in the minds of those who have created "The Eyes of Christmas," there is only one reference to hope, the hope of medical research. Joy, warmth, family togetherness, the hope of renewal inherent in the season may exist only if the scientists performing medical research find a cure to the devastating condition for those "who live without the light."
The description is false, the assumptions about us that underlie the description are false, and the implications that flow from the underlying assumptions are false. We who are blind are not without hope. Although each of us has felt loneliness at times, our blindness has not served as the means for creating it. Rather, it has been the misunderstanding of others that has contributed significantly to our separation from society--the misunderstanding exemplified by the article "The Eyes of Christmas." If the writers of such articles think of us as lonely, they will help to create the isolation that makes it so. If they imagine we are sad, they will be less responsive to our joy, and they will make us work harder to have joy. Nevertheless they cannot change what we are. The most fundamental element of Christmas is love, and we have that. We receive it, and, of equal importance, we give it to others. Not only does our perspective tell us that those who believe we are living without the light have formed an erroneous conclusion, but, beyond that, the joy and love of Christmas belong to us. The light that exemplifies these virtues is ours, we are living within it--we are part of it. This too is the perspective of the National Federation of the Blind.
An agency for the blind in Birmingham, England, named Focus on Blindness runs a sight-loss course. An article which appeared in the Birmingham Post on June 26, 2004, contains reflections of the reporter about her experiences being blindfolded in this course. Her overwhelming reaction to the course was a feeling of dependency. Here, in part, is what the article says:
If you are able to read this, you should thank your lucky stars that you can also negotiate that bag left on the stairs or fill up the kettle [for your morning tea].
For the blind and partially sighted it is not so easy.
Every day poses new challenges to carry out the simplest of tasks that a sighted person would take for granted.A staggering 95 percent of what we perceive in the world around us is gathered through what we see. But it wasn't until I took part in a sight loss awareness course that my eyes were really opened to blindness.
How on earth would I thread a needle or peel a potato [without sight]?
And even more frightening was the prospect of being blindfolded and having to rely totally on and trust my partner to guide me through doors, down ramps, and around chairs.
But whatever the condition [that causes blindness], they all make sewing a button on a shirt, writing a letter, reading a newspaper, or using a calculator ten times more difficult, if not hopeless.
However, one of the key things I learned while blindly being led around by my guide was trust.
Feeling helpless, vulnerable, and lost in a world where everything seems to revolve around image, I was completely dependent on all she said to me.
Whatever else may be said about this article, it is not subtle. When the reporter decides that a put-down for the blind is in order, she lays it on with a trowel. The blind are completely dependent, unable to sew a button on a shirt, write a letter, use a calculator, get through a doorway without help, get down a ramp without guidance, or get around chairs without being led. We can't thread needles or peel potatoes, and we miss 95 percent of what may be perceived in the world around us. Despite these disadvantages, the article tells us, our condition does help us learn trust.
The Focus on Blindness agency may have sought to foster this reaction for the purpose of showing how important its services are. Those who run the program may want to be regarded as benevolent experts contributing their time and skill to the unfortunate blind. If this is their intent, they seem to have succeeded, but at what cost to the blind? How can the image of such helplessness and dependency stimulate blind people to meaningful participation in society? How can this image foster an atmosphere in which the capabilities of the blind will be recognized?
We in the National Federation of the Blind sometimes conduct the same kinds of classes, but the results are vastly different. We show sighted people that being blind need not be fearful and that the routines of life can be performed effectively without vision when the proper techniques are used. As with so much else involving blindness, the result to be achieved depends on the perspective of the planners who create the program. If we expect dependency, that is what we get. If we expect independence, that too is what we get.
It is essential that we be clearly understood. We are not trying to say that blindness is an irrelevance or that it has no impact. It can be a hellish experience if it is not properly understood. However, becoming blind does not necessarily denote the loss of independence, the inability to learn, a diminished capacity for contribution, or the absence of a full and active life. Part of the altered perspective in the programs we operate is that we ask blind people to do the teaching. The perspective of blindness must be a part of education about blindness, or the program is inadequate. When the perspective of blindness is incorporated in the teaching, a dramatic increase in effectiveness occurs. For this reason we dare to have perspective, and we ask others to share it. We are no longer prepared to be regarded as helpless or dependent, and we demand that our opportunities reach to the far horizons. This is the perspective of the National Federation of the Blind.
An advertisement for a vitamin drink which has appeared here and there lately invokes the images of sight and blindness. The drink, called Focus, is accompanied by a caption, "See more. Drink Focus." The vitamin A in the drink is supposed to assist with vision. In the advertisement a woman is apparently performing a striptease dance, and a man with a white cane and dark glasses is holding money not toward the dancer but into empty space. One of the implications of the advertisement is that the blind man can't find his target, and that, if he would only drink Focus, he might better be able to focus on his objective. (I leave to one side the suggestive implications of the advertisement arising from the juxtaposition of a striptease dancer with the slogan, "See more. Drink Focus.") Unlike the comments regarding the course on sight loss from the agency Focus on Blindness in England, this advertisement does not describe the blind man as completely helpless. Although he is holding his money in the wrong direction, he has sufficient observational skills to know that, in the circumstances, he might want to spend it. Furthermore, before he met the dancer, he found some method of getting the funds for later use.
However, to portray us as socially inept as a means of selling their product is not only reprehensible but misleading. My observation of blind people is that those who seek unusual and delicate social situations perform as well as anybody else. My advice to the people who make Focus is that they leave us out of their advertisements, or we may decide to focus our attention on them.
A blind psychic from a small town in Germany asserts that he can tell people's futures by feeling their buttocks. Articles from newspapers in Baltimore and Australia give details. Here are excerpts:
Forget palm-reading--a blind German psychic claims he can read people's futures by feeling their naked buttocks.
Clairvoyant Ulf Buck, thirty-nine, claims that people's backsides have lines like those on the palm of the hand, which can be read to reveal much about their character and destiny.
"The bottom is much more intense--it has a much stronger power of expression than the hand in my experience," Mr. Buck told the Reuters news agency.
"It goes on developing throughout your life."
[To which one is tempted to interject, I bet it does.]
By running his fingers along a number of lines on the surface of a client's posterior, he says he can tell them about their future monetary success, family life, health, and happiness.
Such are quotes about the blind psychic from Germany. Although the psychic does not say that blindness causes him to be able to recognize the future in such an unusual way, he does tell us that being blind has its advantages. His clients do not have to worry that he will later recognize their faces. Blind people recognize others through a handshake, the pattern of a walk, the tone of voice, the characteristic knock upon a door, or some other indicator. This blind man has introduced a new type of recognition factor. He might not know a face, but there are other ways to come to know people.
What a bunch of nonsense. If the man were sighted, his weird behavior would not be tolerated. We insist on new perspective, but we are circumspect in the way we do it. Taking liberties is intolerable, and we who are blind know that, if we expect to participate fully in our society, we must meet the standards of behavior that have been established for all. We must not take advantage of blindness. This too is our perspective.
A CNN report from London, England, dated July 15, 2004, reiterates the oft-repeated opinion that the brains of the blind are not the same as the brains of the sighted. Bearing the headline "Infant Blindness Boosts Music Acumen," the article says in part:
Infants who go blind at a very young age develop musical abilities that are measurably better than those who lose their sight later in life or retain full vision, according to a new study.
It has long been known that blind people are far better than their sighted counterparts at orientating themselves by sound. But now scientists at Canada's University of Montreal have found that blind people are also up to ten times better at discerning pitch changes than the sighted--but only when they went blind before the age of two.
"It is well known that you have great musicians that are blind, and a lot of piano tuners are blind. But until this study there was no quantifiable evidence to demonstrate that blind people were indeed better," [Pascal Belin, lead researcher for the study] added.
The research, published in the science journal Nature, attributed the clear differences in performance to brain plasticity--the formative period when the infant brain is akin to a sponge and soaking up all sorts of stimuli.
Belin said his research suggested that, deprived of input, the section of the brain that would have processed images was reassigned to enhance other sectors.
"When these people became blind, the part of their brain that would have been used to process visual information reorganizes to take over other functions."
With those mighty thoughts rolling about in your reorganized brains, consider the inevitable question. This article says that our perception of sound is different from the perception that sighted people have. But what else has changed? Why is the plasticity limited only to hearing? Some say our sense of touch is enhanced, some argue that our sense of smell is improved, and some assert that our taste is superior to that of others. Could all of it be true? Does the taste of our dinners explode in our consciousness with an impact that is ever so much greater than that experienced by the sighted? Do those who have been blind from birth have an inchoate superior olfactory ability? Are we merely in need of training to become blind bloodhounds? And what of touch? Do we feel better than others?
Are the findings of the study born out in personal experience? Some blind people are very talented musically, but this artistic ability seems to have missed a good many of the rest of us. If I had my choice, I would want my brain plasticity to reassign my mental functioning to intellect. The part of my brain that had been assigned to seeing should be reorganized into thinking. If this were so, the blind would be smarter than the sighted. The intellectual class would be made up of blind people. We ask the professors at the universities to work out this interesting experiment in plasticity. In the past blindness has almost always been a disadvantage; let us make all blind people geniuses.
Fanciful supposition may be all right for an Internet chat, a comedy club, or a federal grant, but perspective demands that we be more realistic. We expect to create greater opportunity than has previously belonged to us, and we dare to have the perspective that makes it possible. However, our perspective depends not on fancy but on fact. Next time they want to speculate, let them learn of our experience and the perspective of the National Federation of the Blind.
At the National Center for the Blind we conduct many meetings, seminars, and classes. During one of these I talked with blind professors, blind technology experts, blind students, and blind lawyers about the meaning of blindness and what collectively we can do to improve conditions for the blind. After the meeting had ended, one of the participants came to talk with me in my office. The conversation was comparatively brief, but it was packed with significance.
The man said that he had been blind all of his life, that he had attended elementary and high school, that he had gained a college degree, and that he was successfully employed with a major American corporation, doing important work, and earning a satisfactory living. However, although many of the indicia of success were present in his life, he had always felt that something was missing. In school, at play, in extracurricular activities outside the classroom, in sporting events, in social interaction, and in seeking employment he has been repeatedly admonished that he is different because of blindness--not includable as a regular human being in the routine commerce of everyday life. The admonitions were not meant to be brutal but gentle and kind. Nevertheless, they separated him from others and created isolation. They were always there, and it hurt. Growing up, he read the children's story Pinocchio, and like the fairytale figure, he has forever longed to be a real boy.
But of course, he already is. The reasons for his feelings of isolation arise from the repetition of the idea that he should feel separate--that his life is not as good as that enjoyed by others, and that he is somehow distinctly different from the rest of society. However, we know that what he has been told is incorrect. His life has value, and his worth is great. One element of the perspective that we have is the urgent need to support one another in the recognition of our innate normality and inherent value. We are blind, but we are not repulsive. In fact we insist on being a part of this society--of making our contributions and having them recognized for what they are. We who are blind are as real as anybody else, and we intend to demonstrate it. This also is a part of the perspective of the National Federation of the Blind.
In 1968, when the Federation was twenty-eight and Dr. Jernigan was giving his first banquet address as president, he said: "The very symbol and substance of the new ideas, and the challenge to the old attitudes, can be found in the organized blind movement."
In 1996, twenty-eight years later, Dr. Jernigan addressed the convention again, this time on the revolution of the Kernel Books. He said: "…I am absolutely certain of the general direction our organization will take. Our mutual faith and trust in each other will be unchanged, and all else will follow. I never come into the convention hall without a lift of spirit and a surge of joy, for I know to the depths of my being that our shared bond of love and trust will never change and that because of it we will be unswervable in our determination and unstoppable in our progress."
One of the elements of perspective is time. I look ahead to that point in our history when the next twenty-eight years will have been accomplished from the moment of the speech Dr. Jernigan delivered in 1996, and I speculate about what we will have done. The leadership of the Federation will be in other hands, and other minds will be imagining the programs we pursue. Our Jernigan Institute will have become fully operational, and it will have generated programs to expand opportunity for blind people in other institutions. Our state affiliates and local chapters will have gained strength, and training centers for the blind conducted in accordance with our thinking and under our direction will be more numerous. Research into the nature of blindness that incorporates the experiences of the rank and file of the blind of the nation will no longer be regarded as novel. The hostility that some agency administrators and public officials have tried to revive in the field of blindness will have receded, and both respect for the opinions of the blind and the advantages of having blind people be a part of program development and administration will have become accepted practice. Public attitudes about the blind will have shifted to a substantial degree, and the employment opportunities for blind people will have expanded. From the vantage point of 2024 (I will then be seventy-three), we will look back and marvel at what some have thought about the blind in 2005.
Today the administrators of programs for the blind tell us that we need special floor coverings to get out of the kitchen and that our lives are virtually hopeless. The television personalities say that our Christmases are dark, lonely, and sad. The vitamin drink advertisers tell us that we can't find the dancer. The scientists say that even our brains have been reorganized to be different from those of the sighted. However, the people who make these statements have no perception at all. The summation of blindness contained in this catalog of misguided assessments is completely false. It cannot stand the test of time, and it will not survive the challenge of the organized blind.
Our perspective is not just for one day. It stretches back over the decades to the time of our beginning, and it reaches forward to the moment of the fulfillment of our dreams.
We stand at the edge of another day, and we probe the possibilities that may exist. We have come together to forge a mighty movement of the blind, united and with one voice--a movement with ideals, a determined purpose, a bedrock philosophical foundation, and a membership committed to mutual support. What makes our movement unstoppable is the dedication of our members, the people of the movement. When I come to the Federation hall and I observe the great multitude of our membership, I am uplifted. For I know with all that is in me that we will never lose the faith that we have in one another--never lose our bond of shared love and trust. When I think of the past, what comes to mind is the great family of the Federation--the people of the movement. When I think of the future, the image before me is the people of the movement--always the people of the movement.
We stand on the edge of another day, and we know that tomorrow is bright with promise. Nobody else can create the future that must and will be ours; we must do that for ourselves. And do it we will. We have the imagination, the courage, the spirit, and the will. We have the unity that makes us one, and nothing on earth can change our course or turn us back. We dare to have perspective, and we reach for tomorrow with joy. Come, and we will make it come true!
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dr. Fredric Schroeder addresses the convention.]
The Altering Characteristics of Rehabilitation:
The Perspective of Half a Century
by Fredric K. Schroeder
From the Editor: On Thursday morning, July 7, former Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration and now Research Professor at San Diego State University Dr. Fred Schroeder delivered the following address:
"I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical." Thomas Jefferson's words, penned in a letter more than two centuries ago, give voice to a hard and bitter truth; they speak to the tyranny inherent in the relationship of the powerful to the weak, the superior to the inferior, master to ward, captor to prisoner, and parent to child and the inevitable tension, the inevitable conflict arising out of disparate power and the inevitable rebellion of the oppressed.
When England first colonized America, it was with the intent of expanding its sphere of control, opening new sources of wealth and opportunity for its people. There was no conscious, deliberate plan to tyrannize and exploit. The control exercised over its colonies was viewed as necessary and in the best interests of both the colonies and the Crown. The people of the colonies were regarded as backward and recalcitrant and incapable of exercising self-government. England believed that peace would come when the people of America came to terms with their subordinate status and accepted the fact that they needed British protection and control. Yet the people of America chafed under England's domination and, when good will, negotiation, and entreaty did not work, could see no other path to equality than rebellion.
Perhaps suffering the tyranny of the Crown sparked in Jefferson an uneasiness about America's own oppression of others. In 1787, when he wrote to James Madison expressing the need for "a little rebellion now and then," slavery was deeply imbedded in American life. Yet Jefferson and many other leaders of the day sensed the fundamental wrong embodied in a system in which one person exercised ownership of another. At the same time slavery was so much a part of the American economy that Jefferson could see no practical way of extricating the nation from the institution. Still he and others, including George Washington, who freed his slaves upon his death, hoped the system would end and believed it would as people came to terms with the evil slavery represented. Yet slavery did not end gradually as a result of growing enlightenment. By the mid 1800's, less than a century later, slave owners had not moved toward a systematic dismantling of the system, helping lift the oppressed out of oppression into equal status. Instead they had come to rationalize the practice as necessary and even good, denying its evil and convincing themselves that slavery was in the best interests of the nation and the slaves themselves. The abolition of slavery was as bitter and hard-won a struggle as America's own fight for independence from England. It took war to free America, and it took war to free the slaves.
As far back as recorded time extends, blind people have suffered social and economic deprivation. Still progress has been made and continues to be made. In 1920 the Smith-Fess Act created the vocational rehabilitation program in the United States; yet, in the program's early days from 1920 to 1943, federal policy categorized blind people as having "no rehabilitation potential"; therefore for nearly a quarter century state rehabilitation agencies were not obliged to assist blind people at all.
In the years leading up to World War II, Congress passed two pieces of legislation to assist blind people in securing at least some work. In 1936 the Randolph-Sheppard Act was adopted. It allowed blind people to operate vending stands on federal property. This gave blind people the opportunity to sell items such as cigarettes, packaged foods, and newspapers and periodicals in government buildings. In 1938 the Wagner-O'Day Act made it mandatory for the federal government to purchase blind-made products manufactured in sheltered workshops for the blind. Limited as they were, these two programs constituted most of what was available in the way of employment opportunities for blind people at that time.
The 1940's began four decades of rapid growth in the vocational rehabilitation program. In 1943 the rehabilitation program was opened to blind people, and the scope of available rehabilitation services was expanded. In 1954 the program's professional character was solidified with the funding of university programs to train rehabilitation counselors and with the authorization of research and demonstration projects. In 1965 the program was further expanded to assist individuals considered disabled by their lack of educational and social skills.
Yet the most dramatic change came about in 1973 with the passage of the Rehabilitation Act as we know it today. The 1973 Rehabilitation Act established a priority for serving people with severe disabilities and added civil rights protections for the first time, setting the stage for further growth and expansion, and progress was not long in coming.
In 1986 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act established the supported employment program, setting a progressive policy in support of integrated employment. In 1992, under pressure from the National Federation of the Blind, the act was amended to include the concept of informed choice, legitimizing the right of blind people and others to direct their own rehabilitation programs and establishing the concept of a partnership between clients and rehabilitation counselors. The 1992 amendments also changed the program's eligibility standards, making it much harder for state rehabilitation agencies to exclude blind people and others on the grounds that they were too severely disabled to benefit from rehabilitation services. Later the 1998 amendments brought about automatic or "presumptive eligibility" for Social Security disability recipients and strengthened the informed-choice provisions of the act. The move toward client empowerment and the emphasis on integration culminated in early 2001 in the promulgation of regulations ending the long-standing practice of placing blind people and others in segregated sheltered workshops, typically at subminimum wages.
These are the objective facts. They appear to reveal a steady evolution in the rehabilitation profession; the gradual expansion of services and opportunities; and an incremental move toward greater empowerment, greater self-determination, and respect for individual choice; but they do not speak to the stimulus, the who, the what, or the why behind the change. And, more to the point, they ignore entirely the essential role of conflict in growth--the fact that "a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical." So what prompted the change, the progress, the evolution? It was blind people--blind people taking charge of their own lives, blind people organized through the National Federation of the Blind.
In 1953, after teaching English for four years at the Tennessee School for the Blind, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan moved to California to work with the newly established Adult Orientation and Adjustment Center. His move to California marked the introduction of Federation philosophy into the work of a rehabilitation program--Federation philosophy, a philosophy that challenged society's assumptions and the assumptions of the blindness profession about the limitations of the blind--an important breakthrough. Yet Dr. Jernigan knew that the orientation center touched the lives of only a relatively small number of blind people each year. To make a real difference, to prove that the California experience had not been merely an aberration, Federation philosophy needed to be injected into the work of an entire state rehabilitation agency. In 1958, at the age of thirty-one, Dr. Jernigan left California to assume the position of director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind.
This was a bold move. At that time the strife between the blind and the rehabilitation agencies was at its peak. Dr. Jernigan faced the anger and the animosity of the blindness system for daring to challenge its dominance over the lives of the blind. Yet he stood his ground and changed forever the face of vocational rehabilitation in America. He developed a program of rehabilitation rooted in Federation philosophy that endures today as the model for effective adjustment training.
Yet to characterize Dr. Jernigan's work as nothing more than a professional innovation, one more contribution to the steady growth, the gradual evolution of rehabilitation practice, misses the point. It is to misunderstand the human drive for freedom; it is to misunderstand the need, our need as blind people, to guide our own destinies, our need to take control of our own lives, freeing ourselves from the limitations imposed on us by others and our need to assert our own equality; and it is to misunderstand the fundamental nature of change--that "a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical."
Dr. Jernigan's move to Iowa heralded the beginning of a revolution--the rebellion of the blind against the established rehabilitation system, the seizing of power from the hands of others, and the beginning of self-determination; but the struggle did not end in 1958. Indeed it continues today. Dr. Jernigan's example reminds us of the need to remain true to our principles, to remain true to our cause, and to remain true to Dr. Jernigan's legacy and the legacy of others who came before us: those who stood strong in the face of adversity to help prepare the way for those who would follow--for us.
As much as we may wish the past were different, our history has not been one of a hand-in-hand move toward equal opportunity for the blind--professional and client working together to forge new opportunities. To the contrary, the past reveals a reluctance, increasingly harsh, on the part of those in authority to vest in their charges the power to govern their own lives. The greater our progress, the greater the strife. America's independence did not come about as a result of England helping lift the colonies out of subordinate status into equality; it came from conflict, gradually building in intensity until rebellion became inevitable. So it has been with the blind.
Yet we must resist the temptation to villainize and vilify others. Our history has not been the struggle of good against evil, right against wrong. The blindness profession did not seek to keep us down, isolate us, and constrict our opportunities any more than England set out to be an oppressor. Our history has been the history of a people seeking to free themselves from bondage--bondage well intended and kindly meant, yet bondage nevertheless. Our history has been a history of a people seeking first-class status, a history characterized by a gradual, deepening awareness that no one can give us equality; we must take it for ourselves. Our history, our common experience, has taught us that freedom is not the result of ponderous, benign evolution but must be forced; and forced it we have.
Our history has been one of rebellion and revolution. In 1940 we shook off the protective cloak of custodialism and claimed the right to organize. Later we took control of our own rehabilitation, eventually setting up our own training centers; and last year we took the boldest step ever in our history when we created the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute--revolutions all--and many others along the way, all needed and all contributing to our collective progress. It took war to free America from British domination, it took war to free the slaves, and it took war to begin the process of freeing the blind from dependency and custodialism. And it will take another war, perhaps soon or perhaps some time off, but a war nevertheless, to take us to the next step, the next frontier in our move toward true equality. We need not be afraid, but we must not be timid either. We must acknowledge revolution as the antecedent to progress and change. Or said another way, we must never forget that "a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Sharon Maneki presides at the 2005 meeting of the Resolutions Committee.]
Imagining a Brighter Future for Blind Americans:
A Report on the 2005 Convention Resolutions
by Sharon Maneki
From the Editor: Sharon Maneki, president of the NFB of Maryland, chairs the NFB resolutions committee, one of the largest and most important committees in the organization. Here is her summary of the resolutions considered and acted upon at this year’s convention:
Each year the Convention considers resolutions to determine the policies and future goals of the organization. Resolutions may come to the Convention by two routes, the national board of directors and the resolutions committee appointed by the president. This year the Convention received resolutions by both methods.
The national board of directors presented Resolution 2005-101 to the convention during the Tuesday afternoon session, after a moving presentation by Dr. Floyd Matson. In this resolution, we commend and thank Hazel tenBroek, wife of our founder Dr. Jacobus tenBroek for her years of service to the organization. The Convention sent Mrs. tenBroek this resolution and a copy of the new biography entitled Blind Justice: Jacobus tenBroek and the Vision of Equality, autographed by the author, Dr. Matson.
I had the privilege of chairing the resolutions committee once again this year. During its Sunday afternoon meeting the thirty Federationists from throughout the country that comprised the resolutions committee debated eighteen resolutions, sending seventeen on for further consideration by the Convention. Resolution 2005-16 failed in committee. The committee supported the goal of this resolution, which was to insure that customers can use any refreshable Braille display with either Jaws or Window Eyes. The committee concluded that there were structural problems with the resolution and that the compatibility of assistive technology products should be handled by market forces rather then by a resolution.
The Convention debated seventeen resolutions during the Friday afternoon session. The most spirited debate was on Resolution 2005-08. The resolution failed because it did not receive a majority vote from Convention delegates. The vote was twenty-six states in favor and twenty-six states opposed. The Convention agreed with the objective of the resolution, to urge airlines to make their Web sites accessible so that blind travelers may purchase tickets from the Web. Controversy arose over some of the wording of the resolution. Blind people are not the only consumers who have trouble using the Web to purchase tickets.
The Convention passed sixteen resolutions, which demonstrate the proactive nature of the Federation. These resolutions reflect our capacity to imagine and create a brighter future for blind Americans. They call for congressional action in a variety of areas; propose improvements in education, rehabilitation, and the Social Security programs; promote a variety of types of access; and urge producers of television programs to portray the capabilities of blind people.
The Convention passed three resolutions concerning the Congress. In Resolution 2005-01 we call upon Congress to amend Section III of the Rehabilitation Act by directing the administration to preserve the division for the blind, the rehabilitation services staff positions, and the regional structure of the Rehabilitation Service Administration. We also encourage Congress to preserve existing law regarding appointment of the commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration. Tai Tomasi, president of the Utah Association of Blind Students, sponsored this resolution.
Mark Harris, a board member and leader in the National Association of Blind Merchants, proposed Resolution 2005-06. For many years NISH agencies in the Javits-Wagner-O’Day program have tried to take control of military dining facilities that should be operated by the Randolph-Sheppard program. The National Federation of the Blind has been protesting the activities of NISH on many levels. In Resolution 2005-06 we call on Congress to adopt the House of Representatives language in the Defense Reauthorization Bill. The House language will require the Department of Defense and the Department of Education to develop a joint statement of policy to assure that the Randolph-Sheppard and the Javits-Wagner-O’Day programs function together to “meet their statutory purposes.”
During its current session Congress is considering HR 951, the Video Description Restoration Act, and S900, the Television Information Enhancement for the Visually Impaired Act. These bills mandate the reinstatement of the Federal Communication Commission rule that required four hours of video described television in certain television markets. James McCarthy, director of governmental affairs for the National Federation of the Blind, sponsored Resolution 2005-18. In this resolution we express our opposition to these bills unless they are also amended to require a process that will lead to the voicing of text printed to the screen.
The Convention passed four resolutions concerning education. These resolutions cover every level of education from early childhood through college. Carla McQuillan, a national board member and president of the NFB of Oregon, proposed Resolution 2005-04. We encourage early childhood educators to incorporate multi-sensory learning materials as the foundation of their curriculum in this resolution. This multi-sensory learning approach not only will benefit blind children and others with nonvisual learning styles but will also assist children who typically learn visually.
Angela Howard, a national scholarship winner and tenBroek Fellow who currently lives in Texas, introduced Resolution 2005-02. In this resolution we commend Senators Christopher Dodd (Connecticut) and Thad Cochran (Mississippi) and Representatives Thomas Petri (Wisconsin) and George Miller (California) for cosponsoring the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act. We also commend Congress for incorporating provisions of the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act into the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Students in elementary and secondary schools will finally receive their textbooks on time because of the passage of this legislation.
In Resolution 2005-10 we condemn and deplore the feeble attempt by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services within the Department of Education to establish instructional materials accessibility regulations. The proposed regulations are much too weak and ambiguous. For example, providing textbooks in a timely manner should be clearly defined. James McCarthy sponsored this resolution.
Resolution 2005-07 deals with access to electronic information and instructional technology in higher education. This resolution was sponsored by Meleah Jensen, president of the Louisiana Association of Blind Students. Meleah is also a 2005 scholarship winner and tenBroek Fellow. In this resolution we call upon Congress to amend the Higher Education Act to promote nonvisual access to electronic information and instructional technology. Postsecondary institutions would be obligated to incorporate nonvisual access requirements into their procurement contracts if they wish to continue to receive federal funds.
The Convention passed two resolutions concerning rehabilitation. The Federation has been a leader in promoting choice in rehabilitation for many years. Resolution 2005-17 extends the idea of choice in rehabilitation that civilians have enjoyed to the rehabilitation system for veterans. Doug Elliott, a leader in the NFB of Iowa and a veteran who served in the U.S. Army, proposed this resolution. In this resolution we urge Congress to enact legislation instructing the Department of Veterans Affairs to adopt a choice approach for veterans who receive rehabilitation services.
Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, proposed Resolution 2005-11. The United States Postal Service is violating the Randolph-Sheppard Act because it will issue Randolph-Sheppard permits to operate vending machines only if the state licensing agency agrees that the vendor shall pay a commission to the Postal Service. In this resolution we urge state licensing agencies to insist that agreements to operate vending machines should not include payment of any commissions.
The Convention passed two resolutions dealing with Social Security. James McCarthy sponsored Resolution 2005-03. In this resolution we call upon the Social Security Administration to establish presumptive disability for Social Security Disability Income applicants who meet the statutory definition of blindness. Presumptive disability means that an applicant would receive benefits before disability determination was completed.
In Resolution 2005-14 we call upon Congress to eliminate the marriage penalty that exists under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Under the current program couples on SSI receive less money than they would receive as two single individuals. Yolanda Garcia, a student leader from Texas and a national scholarship winner in 2004, proposed this resolution.
The Convention passed three resolutions regarding different aspects of access. Curtis Chong, president of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science, sponsored Resolution 2005-05. In this resolution we express our strong opposition to the use of graphically displayed text as the sole means of verifying humanity on Web sites, because the primary method used is a barrier to accessibility for the blind. Too many companies use graphical verification to protect themselves against malicious computer programs.
Don Burns, legislative coordinator and first gentleman of the California affiliate, introduced Resolution 2005-12. In this resolution we urge states to enact legislation to promote accessibility for the blind to touch-screen devices installed in public places. Examples of touch-screen devices include point-of-sale machines, lottery terminals, and kiosks to purchase tickets.
Resolution 2005-15 concerns access to airlines by blind travelers who use a guide dog. Priscilla Ferris, president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, and Michael Hingson, a leader in this organization, introduced this resolution. In November 2004 the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed new regulations concerning the Air Carrier Access Act. These regulations suggest that airlines may charge the passenger using a guide dog for a second seat if the dog cannot fit in the floor space allocated to the passenger; have the passenger ship the dog in cargo; or have the team take a later flight. In this resolution we demand that the U.S. Department of Transportation immediately revise these regulations, affirming the rights of blind passengers to travel without restrictions other than those imposed on the general air-traveling population.
Barbara Cheadle, president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, introduced Resolution 2005-09. In this resolution we urge producers of public and commercial television programming for young children to include audible as well as visual cues in the original scripts of their shows. This resolution does not propose audio description. We merely urge television producers to use audible and visual cues when conveying information. For instance, if there is a picture of a child boarding an elevator, sound cues such as a ringing elevator bell and the sound of the door opening should be included.
The portrayal of blind people on television was the subject of Resolution 2005-13. Dan Hicks, a longtime leader and second vice president of the NFB of Florida, sponsored this resolution. The producers of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, broadcast on ABC television, built a new home for a blind person and his family. The home was full of unnecessary gimmicks, portraying blind people in a negative and damaging light. We condemn and deplore the actions of the television producers for their inaccurate depiction of the capabilities of blind people in this resolution. We also urge television officials to contact the National Federation of the Blind for advice and guidance before producing programs that deal with blindness.
This brief summary is merely an introductory description of the resolutions considered and passed by the Convention. Readers should study the complete text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects. The complete texts of all resolutions approved by the Convention follow.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Sharon Maneki, Resolutions Committee chair, and Sharon Omvig, committee secretary, are pictured seated on stage Friday afternoon.]
2005 Resolutions of the National Federation of the Blind
WHEREAS, Hazel tenBroek, the first of the first ladies of the National Federation of the Blind, has given since the time of our beginning to the blind of the nation her talent, her loving spirit, and her skillful assistance; and
WHEREAS, Hazel tenBroek supported her husband, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, in all that he was and all that he did; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind could not have been built with the speed and determination that are a part of our history without this magnificent lady: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2005, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that we honor the first of our first ladies by transmitting to her an inscribed copy of the biography of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, entitled Blind Justice: Jacobus tenBroek and the Vision of Equality; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that with this volume we transmit to her our thoughts, our joy, and our love.
Regarding the devaluation of the RSA proposed by the Department of Education
WHEREAS, the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) oversees the largest funding stream and program to prepare people with disabilities, including blindness, for independence and employment, with approximately two-thirds of those actually served achieving a successful employment outcome; and
WHEREAS, the Department of Education proposes to eliminate the division for the blind, a fundamental resource in the success of blind individuals because it provides guidance to federally legislated programs that serve blind vendors, blind seniors, and deaf-blind people and because it provides essential guidance to the twenty-four separate state agencies serving the blind as well as the general rehabilitation agencies lacking expertise regarding the unique services blind people need to become independent and self-confident; and
WHEREAS, the department also proposes to close all RSA regional offices and abolish nearly half of all RSA jobs, making effective federal monitoring of state rehabilitation programs difficult if not impossible; and
WHEREAS, in addition, as though these actions to reduce the role of the RSA were not enough, the department proposes to demote the RSA commissioner to a director, who is not appointed by the president or confirmed by the Senate, further diminishing the power of the RSA; and
WHEREAS, the department has been mute or even supportive of Department of Labor intentions to consolidate rehabilitation funds under a scheme referred to as WIA Plus, and all of these actions constitute systematic destruction of the RSA program, the only program that has demonstrated success in the rehabilitation of blind people, offering the skills and confidence that prepare us for employment: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2005, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization condemn and deplore the Department of Education for its systematic effort to devalue the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration, an action that is detrimental to the futures of thousands of blind people and others with disabilities; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the Congress to enact language in legislation to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, which amends Section III of the Rehabilitation Act by directing the administration to preserve the division for the blind, RSA staff positions, and the RSA regional structure; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly encourage Congress to maintain language preserving existing law regarding the RSA commissioner.
Regarding commendation of original IMAA cosponsors and Congress generally
WHEREAS, blind students have been systemically denied access to an equal education in the classroom because textbooks have not been provided in accessible formats in a timely manner; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind, in partnership with the Association of American Publishers and other blindness organizations, sought congressional support of legislation to address the systemic problems that prevent blind children from receiving instructional materials in a timely fashion; and
WHEREAS, these organizations agreed on legislation titled the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act, which would require the development of a standardized electronic file format, a national repository to collect files provided by publishers using the standardized file format, a requirement that publishers provide files to the center using the standardized format, and the capacity to distribute those files to schools for processing in formats used by blind students; and
WHEREAS, Senators Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, and Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, and Representatives Thomas Petri, Republican of Wisconsin, and George Miller, Democrat of California, demonstrated their commitment to insuring that blind children receive equal access to educational opportunities by cosponsoring the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act in the U.S. Senate and the U. S. House of Representatives; and
WHEREAS, on November 17, 2004, Congress included instructional materials access provisions in legislation to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Public Law 108-446, signed into law by President Bush shortly thereafter, on December 3, 2004: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2005, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization commend Senators Dodd and Cochran and Representatives Petri and Miller for their congressional leadership in the effort to ensure that blind children have equal access to educational materials in the classroom as original cosponsors of the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization generally commend the United States Congress for inclusion of critical provisions of the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act as part of the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Public Law 108-446, known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004.
Regarding presumptive disability in Social Security Title II blindness cases
WHEREAS, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is presently undertaking a redesign of its disability determination process in an effort to simplify the process as well as to provide more prompt and accurate determinations of disability to those applying for benefits under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs; and
WHEREAS, blindness is specifically defined by law in Section 216(i)(1)(B) of the Social Security Act and in implementing regulations and is readily determinable; and
WHEREAS, applications for Social Security disability based on blindness are often initially denied and far too often not properly resolved until the hearing stage before an administrative law judge, a process which is both frustrating to the applicant and costly to the Social Security system; and
WHEREAS, Section 1631(a)(4) of the Social Security Act allows the application taker in SSI cases to make a determination of presumptive disability when blindness is readily determinable and does not require the recipient to repay benefits even if the disability determination is later found to be incorrect (an event unlikely to occur); and
WHEREAS, the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999, Public Law 106-170, establishes the concept of “expedited reinstatement,” which permits a beneficiary reinstatement to SSDI or SSI benefits within five years of the last month that individual was eligible to receive benefits if the disability for which benefits are sought is the same or similar to that of the prior application, and does not require repayment in the event the actual determination finds no disability: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2005, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization call upon the Social Security Administration to establish presumptive disability for SSDI applicants who meet the statutory definition of blindness, permitting award of payments prior to completion of a disability determination by the disability determination service.
Regarding encouragement for a multi-sensory approach to learning
WHEREAS, very young children are driven by instinct to learn about the world around them; and
WHEREAS, exploration through sensory input is the only means through which children can acquire an understanding of their environment; and
WHEREAS, vision is the last of the senses to develop fully in humans (if it develops at all); and
WHEREAS, early childhood education programs typically place great emphasis on visual learning materials rather than incorporating a balance of tactile, auditory, oral, olfactory, and stereo gnostic materials into the standard curriculum; and
WHEREAS, publishers and creators of materials intended for use in America’s classrooms could easily plan to produce materials incorporating senses other than vision if they chose to do so and would thus speed and enhance the learning experience of all children; and
WHEREAS, blind children are very often excluded from classroom activities because most classroom materials require vision for their use; and
WHEREAS, blind children are often isolated from their classmates when they are given ancillary materials that have supposedly been adapted just for them; and
WHEREAS, the incorporation of multi-sensory stimuli in the learning process is proven to enhance both comprehension and retention of concepts and information for all young children; and
WHEREAS, this multi-sensory approach to the production of classroom materials would benefit all children and would have the beneficial side effect of including blind children in classroom activities with such materials because they would allow easy inclusion of the blind child: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2005, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization call upon the creators, manufacturers, and distributors of early childhood education materials to make available a wide range of multi-sensory learning apparatus to ensure better learning by all and better inclusion of blind children; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization encourage early childhood educators to incorporate multi-sensory learning materials as the foundation of their curriculum so as to provide a more successful learning environment for blind children as well as children with learning styles other than visual.
Regarding opposition to graphical verification
WHEREAS, to protect themselves against malicious computer programs that in a matter of seconds can acquire thousands of screen names, email addresses, or account numbers, organizations have developed systems to ensure that whoever makes a request is in fact a human being; and
WHEREAS, the most basic implementation of this system, often referred to as a CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart) displays a picture of distorted text that the user is asked to copy before an account can be established or a service provided; and
WHEREAS, this implementation is based on the theory that no computer program can read the distorted text as accurately as a live person; and
WHEREAS, the graphical display of the distorted text cannot be interpreted by screen access technology for the blind, rendering the CAPTCHA inaccessible to the nonvisual user; and
WHEREAS, this graphical verification technique has been used by a growing number of well-known organizations, among them Ticketmaster, Yahoo, Earthlink, Google, Microsoft, America Online, and PayPal (to name only a few), and the services provided by these organizations are just as necessary and attractive to the blind as they are to the sighted; and
WHEREAS, the growing popularity of the graphical verification technique as a means of protection can hardly be justified in light of the fact that software already exists that can defeat many of the systems in use today; and
WHEREAS, a regrettably small number of organizations have enhanced their visually based CAPTCHAs by providing audible alternatives to the display of distorted text, and even this effort, helpful as it may be to some, fails to address the needs of computer users whose only means for using the computer is a refreshable Braille display; and
WHEREAS, others have attempted to provide nonvisual alternatives to their visually based graphical verification protection systems by directing users to an email address or toll free number, neither of which affords the same timeliness and responsiveness available to everybody else; and
WHEREAS, it is very probable that the graphical verification system employed by many Web sites to protect themselves against automated information acquisition software will be so widely used as to prevent blind computer users from signing on to specific Web sites or systems (such as those used on the job) without sighted assistance: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2005, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization express its strong opposition to the use of graphically displayed text as the sole means of verifying one's humanity (the visual CAPTCHA) and declare this approach to be a significant barrier to accessibility for the blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization commend companies such as America Online, Spam Arrest, and Microsoft for their efforts to provide audio files that can be used by nonvisual users as an alternative to copying graphically displayed text; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon any individual or organization contemplating the use of graphical verification as a means of proving one's humanity to work with the National Federation of the Blind to design, develop, and implement alternative approaches that are fully accessible to the blind (including users of refreshable Braille displays) by incorporating concepts of universal design and multi-sensory information presentation.
Regarding application of Randolph-Sheppard to military dining opportunities
WHEREAS, the Randolph-Sheppard Act provides the blind opportunities to operate vending facilities on federal property, demonstrating the capacities of blind entrepreneurs; and
WHEREAS, military dining facilities often provide lucrative earnings potential, which makes them highly prized by many, including blind vendors under the Randolph-Sheppard Act, and agencies associated with NISH that employ disabled people in low-wage, low-skill jobs while their nondisabled executives receive high-earning management jobs to oversee the disabled workforce under the Javits-Wagner-O'Day (JWOD) Act; and
WHEREAS, federal district courts and courts of appeal, when called upon to determine which priority prevails between Randolph-Sheppard and JWOD, consistently rule that Randolph-Sheppard prevails because the Randolph-Sheppard priority specifically refers to food service, while that of JWOD refers broadly to commodities and services; and
WHEREAS, therefore in each of the past three years JWOD agencies associated with NISH have pushed legislation designed to make Randolph-Sheppard inapplicable to military dining contracts, causing the organized blind to stand against this assault to create a stalemate, protecting the status quo for facilities held under the Randolph-Sheppard Act and those under the JWOD Act;
WHEREAS, legislation passed to reauthorize defense programs by both the Senate and House of Representatives (S 1042 and HR 1815) would continue this stalemate for another year, but House language would further require that the Department of Defense and the Department of Education issue a joint statement of policy to assure that the Randolph-Sheppard and JWOD programs can function together to meet their statutory purposes, and this language would require these agencies to consult with interested stakeholders of both statutes: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2005, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization call upon conferees appointed to reconcile differences between legislation to reauthorize defense programs adopted by the Senate and House of Representatives to accept without change the House provision requiring the Department of Defense and the Department of Education to develop a joint statement of policy; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization publicly reaffirm our resolve to advocate for blind vendors with both agencies to ensure that the priority of the Randolph-Sheppard Act continues to enhance the creation of legitimate opportunities for blind people to operate dining facilities on this nation's military bases.
Regarding Access to electronic information and technology in higher education
WHEREAS, ensuring access to electronic technology and information for blind higher education students is a growing problem in the digital age because of rapidly evolving technology, combined with lack of planning for nonvisual use when developing electronic technology and information resulting in lack of access for blind students; and
WHEREAS, the modern higher education environment is increasingly dependant on electronic technology and information for placing course materials, reference and library materials, and a variety of other documents online; rapidly developing distance education that is dramatically changing higher education for many, registering for courses, payment of tuition, books, and fees, and tracking loan and grant funds, all of which are most conveniently accomplished online; and
WHEREAS, access to printed instructional materials continues to pose significant challenges for blind students in higher education, a problem Congress finally addressed for blind elementary and high school students with inclusion of instructional materials access provisions in legislation enacted to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which include a national electronic file format standard and a national center for regulated collection and distribution of files; and
WHEREAS, the time has come to ensure that blind students in higher education have timely access to instructional materials, and the electronic file format standard and a national center can both play a valuable role in providing this critical access to textbooks for these blind students; and
WHEREAS, without clearly defined standards and systems to anticipate accessibility needs, nonvisual access is difficult to achieve, and the reasonable accommodations framework established under federal disability statutes applicable to institutions of higher education is poorly suited to address access to electronic information and technology: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2005, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization call upon Congress to enact amendments to the Higher Education Act that promote nonvisual access in the procurement by postsecondary institutions of electronic technology and information by compelling postsecondary institutions that receive federal funds to ensure that procurement, modification, development, and use of electronic information technology for purposes of instruction or otherwise comply with federal accessibility standards to be established pursuant to the Higher Education Act; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon Congress to support the designation of a national access center to receive electronic copies of books chosen for use in postsecondary education and require publishers to furnish electronic text additions to the center in accordance with the Department of Education’s National Instructional Materials Access Standard.
Resolution 2005-08 was defeated on the floor.
Regarding production of children’s television for all children
WHEREAS, television programming targeted to young children by public and commercial television producers routinely relies on visual images, cues, or effects to convey information to young viewers, overlooking the fact that almost all such information has or could have a parallel sound that would give a listener the same information the visible cues provide; and
WHEREAS, all young children learn by listening, touching, tasting, looking, observing, memorizing, comparing, and paying attention to all information in the environment and not to just one type, such as visible information; and
WHEREAS, research about how very young children learn strongly supports this multi-sensory approach as the foundation for the development of intellect; and
WHEREAS, more and more, the use of technology which blends both audible and visible information is used to supplement and support learning at home and in the classroom, even as early as the toddler and preschool years; and
WHEREAS, the development of each child is as diverse and varied as that of the whole human race, and it is important to plan programming for all children that allows each child to employ and explore different strategies to assist in obtaining information; and
WHEREAS, when blind children watch television, their only information comes audibly, leading some advocates for the blind to seek retrofitting of visible-only plots and information by means of a voice-over added track available only to the blind; and
WHEREAS, with forethought and commitment, it is obviously possible and helps all children and especially blind children when producers of television programs targeted to young children consciously use this multi-sensory approach by routinely integrating accessible audio narrative, sound effects, and dialogue in their television shows: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2005, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization urge all producers of public and commercial television programming for young children to include audible as well as visible cues in the original scripts of all such programs to ensure that all children, including those with visual impairments, benefit from the plots and messages of such shows.
Regarding proposed regulations to implement IDEA
WHEREAS, provisions for access to instructional materials were included in recently enacted legislation to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which was signed by President Bush on December 3, 2004, but as often occurs, ambiguity exists in the meaning of these provisions; and
WHEREAS, the Office for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services within the U.S. Department of Education conducted public meetings to gauge the concerns of special education stakeholders regarding regulations for the newly enacted provisions of IDEA, in which the National Federation of the Blind, teachers of blind students, publishers, and other interested groups all articulated a consistent message about the nature of proposed regulations, the importance of defining “timely manner,” and the critical need for well-articulated requirements for the states that choose to opt out of coordination with the National Instructional Materials Access Center; and
WHEREAS, to ensure timely access to instructional materials for blind students, states that wish to opt out should be required to demonstrate their ability to provide materials to blind students in a timely manner without assistance from the center; and
WHEREAS, the notice of a proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on June 21, 2005, with a deadline for comments of September 6, and regulations proposed to give effect to the instructional materials access provisions are simply a restatement of the statutory language with all of its ambiguities left unresolved; and
WHEREAS, this gives the appearance if not the reality that blind children are being punished for the advocacy of blind adults who are striving to defend and maintain a critical rehabilitation system that has provided many of us the skills, confidence, and services we need to succeed: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2005, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization condemn and deplore this attempt by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services within the Department of Education to establish watered-down regulations for access to instructional materials; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization take all possible action to achieve a final regulation on instructional materials access developed actually to provide blind students in elementary and secondary schools the timely access to instructional materials to which they are rightfully entitled.
Regarding U.S. Postal Service vending routes
WHEREAS, the Randolph-Sheppard Act allows blind vendors the opportunity to operate vending machines on multiple federal properties combined to create a vending route; and
WHEREAS, the United States Postal Service has commendably begun to agree to vending routes consisting of vending machines in post offices; and
WHEREAS, the Randolph-Sheppard Act explicitly provides that “no limitations shall be imposed on income from vending machines, combined to create a vending facility, which are maintained, serviced, or operated by a blind licensee”; and
WHEREAS, the United States Postal Service is violating the Randolph-Sheppard Act because it will issue Randolph-Sheppard permits to operate vending machines only if the state licensing agency agrees that the vendor shall pay commissions to the postal service; and
WHEREAS, this practice not only is illegal but also limits the income of the blind vendors who operate the vending routes: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2005, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization strongly urge state licensing agencies to insist that agreements to operate vending machines should not include payment of any commissions; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon state licensing agencies to take all necessary steps, including invoking their right to convene an arbitration proceeding, to obtain permits to operate vending machines in post offices without paying commissions.
Regarding access by the blind to touch-screen devices
WHEREAS, touch-screen devices, including point-of-sale terminals, self-service check-in and check-out visual display units, lottery machines, ticketing machines, and other kiosk-type devices present opportunities for speedy transactions, promise abbreviated wait times, and facilitate the growing cashless society; and
WHEREAS, touch-screen technology is currently not accessible to the blind because it does not support any method permitting use of nonvisual techniques for entering and acquiring the necessary information needed for the completion of a transaction; and
WHEREAS, blind people cannot access these services and must use employee assistance to complete actions that require touch-screen technology, which becomes increasingly difficult because facilities use these devices to perform jobs that once required human intervention, diminishing the need for staff; and
WHEREAS, blind people could easily access these individualized services independently if at the time of development manufacturers designed touch screens to permit nonvisual access; and
WHEREAS, if, as predicted, this trend of individualized electronic check-in/check-out continues in airports, convenience and retail stores, hotels, and other public facilities, blind people will find it more difficult or even impossible to change industry practices, resulting in many services becoming inaccessible without personal assistance; and
WHEREAS, it is critically important for manufacturers and purchasers of touch-screen point-of-sale devices to work with the NFB to establish access for the blind, but these groups have mostly been unwilling to enter into dialogue, compelling us to pursue legal means to motivate manufacturers and purchasers to embrace a workable solution because the blind have the same right to public facilities as our sighted peers: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2005, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization urge states to enact legislation to promote accessibility for the blind to touch-screen devices installed in public places; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization insist that the manufacturers and purchasers of non-accessible touch-screen devices move forward with development of technology both to manufacture new and to modify existing devices that are accessible to both the blind and sighted public, and that we offer our vast knowledge of what blind people need in order to achieve complete access to touch-screen technology and the devices that use it.
Regarding portrayal of blind people on television
WHEREAS, Jamie Dolan was blinded in a shooting in November of 2004; and
WHEREAS, the American Broadcasting Company broadcast two special editions of its program, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, about Jamie Dolan on May 1 and 2, 2005; and
WHEREAS, during these specials a new home was constructed for Mr. Dolan and his family, featuring special adaptations intended to help him cope with his blindness; and
WHEREAS, these adaptations included rounded corners on kitchen surfaces to prevent injury, textured walls to let him know which room he was standing in, carpet runners from room to room to allow him to find his way around the house, and voice-controlled light switches; and
WHEREAS, the programs also emphasized the Dolan family’s fear of what life would be like for Mr. Dolan now that he is blind; and
WHEREAS, program producers could have created a new home for a family in need that was efficient, attractive, and free of unnecessary gimmicks, thereby helping the Dolan family to embrace an accurate and positive attitude about blindness; and
WHEREAS, instead, the millions of viewers who watched these two programs were presented with a negative, damaging view of the capabilities of blind people; and
WHEREAS, one example of the potential damage of these broadcasts is the detrimental impact on the attitude of employers, who could easily conclude that they would have to provide rounded surfaces, textured walls, carpet runners, and voice-controlled light switches for future blind employees; and
WHEREAS, members of the National Federation of the Blind demonstrate every day that blind people live in normal homes without special accommodations and lead productive lives: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2005, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization condemn and deplore the actions of the American Broadcasting Company and the producers of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition for their inaccurate depiction of the capabilities of blind people; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization communicate to ABC officials and the producers of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition the damage they have unwittingly done to the Dolan family and all blind people with their well-meant but wrong-headed home modifications, and urge them to contact the National Federation of the Blind in the future for advice and guidance before producing any program that deals with blindness.
Regarding elimination of the marriage penalty under Supplemental
WHEREAS, a major Bush administration objective is elimination of the marriage penalty that many sections of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code impose on many Americans; and
WHEREAS, those who face this marriage penalty belong to the middle and upper classes although there is a more insidious marriage penalty in the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program affecting people of more modest means, including approximately 80,000 blind people, which should be immediately abolished; and
WHEREAS, two blind or disabled individuals living together in marriage who are both eligible for benefits are commonly referred to under the SSI program as an “eligible couple,” receiving a benefit amount which is one-and-one-third times the amount of the single person’s federal benefit rate (FBR), and eligible couples are permitted only an additional $1,000 in resources and assets, totaling $3,000, but if two unmarried individuals were cohabiting, they would each receive their full FBR (minus applicable income deductions) as well as a $2,000 resource limit, for total resources between them of $4,000; and
WHEREAS, those eligible for SSI generally receive Medicaid and can maintain complete Medicaid coverage when work earnings eliminate their SSI monetary benefits; however, for eligible couples, the income of a newly working spouse (when both have not been working) can terminate the Medicaid coverage of the nonworking spouse, yet frequently the nonworking spouse is prevented from working because of severe health complications, making Medicaid essential; and
WHEREAS, the marriage penalty forces SSI recipients to make choices they find morally repugnant, including cohabitation without marriage, or to conceal their marital status because marriage results in significant disadvantage in income, possession of assets, and health coverage; and those who were uninformed of the penalty at the time of their marriage are often compelled to separate or to declare false information about their marital status to maintain health benefits: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2005, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization call upon Congress to eliminate the marriage penalty that exists under the Supplemental Security Income program.
Regarding traveling with a guide dog on an airline
WHEREAS, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) of 1986 was passed by Congress to ensure accessible air travel for people with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, some blind people have chosen to work with guide dogs as their mobility aids; and
WHEREAS, the right to travel with a guide dog in the cabin is guaranteed by the ACAA; and
WHEREAS, the Department of Transportation in its Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) concerning the ACAA published in the Federal Register on November 4, 2004, contains provisions detrimental to this guaranteed right; and
WHEREAS, the recommendations contained in the NPRM suggest that if a service animal, including a guide dog, cannot fit within the floor space allocated to the disabled passenger, the airline may charge for a second seat, have the passenger ship the dog in cargo, or have the team take a later flight; and
WHEREAS, these three recommendations, if implemented by airlines, will make air travel virtually impossible for many blind travelers and their guide dogs; and
WHEREAS, these recommendations run counter to the intent of Congress and to all concepts of accessible air travel: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2005, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization express its strong opposition and concern over the decrease in rights and equal access to air travel by blind people and their guide dogs as proposed in the Department of Transportation’s November 4, 2004, NPRM; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that the Department of Transportation immediately revise its regulations, affirming the right of blind travelers to be accompanied in the cabin by their guide dogs, including the right to travel without additional charge for the guide dog, and the right to travel without restrictions other than those imposed on the general air-traveling population.
Resolution 2005-16 was defeated in committee.
Regarding choice in rehabilitation for veterans
WHEREAS, the conflict in Iraq reminds all Americans of the sacrifices that members of the American armed services make in defense of the freedoms we often take for granted; and
WHEREAS, among these sacrifices is a heightened risk of loss of life or serious injury that may include blindness; and
WHEREAS, veterans who become disabled either from an injury directly related to their service or from other disabling conditions are rightly awarded an array of benefits, those with service-connected disabilities receiving more due to their being injured in the service of their country; and
WHEREAS, among the benefits to which blind veterans are entitled are rehabilitation, training in the skills of blindness, and the opportunity to learn to do the things once accomplished with sight by alternative methods so that the blind veteran can live safely and can work if desired; and
WHEREAS, rehabilitation is provided to blind veterans by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) at one of several blind rehabilitation centers scattered throughout the country so that a blind veteran attends the center nearest to his or her home, and all VA centers use an identical model for rehabilitation training of the blind; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has evolved an approach to training blind people that results in confident, independent blind people and has established residential training centers that use this approach in their training, and many state programs have adopted these methods, but this model of rehabilitation is unavailable to blind veterans because no VA center uses this model; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has been instrumental in the development and implementation of the principle of informed choice in the civilian rehabilitation system for blind people and in advocating that this principle guide choice of services, service providers, vocational goals, and the entire relationship between consumer and agency in the civilian rehabilitation program; and
WHEREAS, veterans are rightly excluded from receiving funding from the civilian rehabilitation program because of the existence of the Department of Veterans Affairs program, but this produces the unfortunate result that America’s civilian blind population has choice among approaches, providers, and outcomes, including the ability to travel to a state other than the client’s state of residence to effectuate this choice, while America’s veterans who encounter blindness are consigned to a single approach, provider, and outcome, provided in the center nearest to their homes; and
WHEREAS, the VA will pay to send a blind veteran to the civilian rehabilitation program in his or her state of residence, but this does not afford the blind veteran the choice of public or private centers, the choice of models, and the choice of attending a center in any state that civilian blind rehabilitation consumers have; and
WHEREAS, our country should offer its blind veterans, especially those blinded in the service of their country, the widest array of options and the most choices possible, but the current situation results in civilians having far wider options than service men and women injured while serving their country in dangerous places: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2005, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization call upon Congress to enact legislation that expressly instructs the Department of Veterans Affairs to afford the widest choice among approaches, providers, and outcomes to America’s blind veterans by contracting with rehabilitation providers outside of its own system, including contracts with public and private providers of rehabilitation services in any state.
Regarding opposition to existing legislation to reinstate the FCC
video description rule
WHEREAS, on February 17, 2005, Congressman Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, introduced the Video Description Restoration Act of 2005 H.R. 951, and on April 26 Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, introduced the Television Information-Enhancement for the Visually Impaired (TIVI) Act, companion pieces of legislation to mandate reinstatement of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule that required four hours of video-described television in the top twenty-five markets based on population as well as stations in other markets with the capacity to do so; and
WHEREAS, these bills call on the FCC to convene a proceeding to consider making written information on the screen accessible, but nothing in the legislation actually requires the FCC to conduct a rule-making to establish a protocol for voicing this information; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has consistently and unambiguously stated our position on video description, which is that the text information written to the screen must be made accessible because of its value in emergencies and its news worthiness, but that we would prefer for the television industry to offer described television voluntarily; and
WHEREAS, the Federation has negotiated with Senator McCain’s office to strengthen the provision that requires the FCC to convene a proceeding relating to the voicing of text information written to the screen with only minimal results; and
WHEREAS, staff in Senator McCain’s office express concerns about getting support of Congress to mandate the voicing of information displayed on the screen while at the same time showing no apparent concern for mandating the overturning of a federal court opinion; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind would support this legislation if it put in place a procedure to assure that information written to the screen would be made accessible through speech, which is a significant compromise when we have always opposed mandating that television broadcasters be forced to offer described television: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2005, in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, that this organization actively oppose H.R. 951, and S. 900 unless these bills are amended to require a process that will lead to the voicing of text printed to the screen; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization negotiate to improve this legislation in order that we need not oppose it.
A number of divisions conducted elections at the 2005 convention. Here are the election results we have received:
National Organization of Blind Educators
The National Organization of Blind Educators elected the following officers: president, Sheila Koenig (Minnesota); first vice president, Priscilla McKinley (California); second vice president, J. Webster Smith (Ohio); secretary, Mary Jo Thorpe (Maryland); treasurer, Cheralyn Creer (Utah); and board members, David Ticchi (Massachusetts) and Carolyn Brock (Oregon).
The Diabetes Action Network
At the 2005 Diabetes Action Network annual meeting Paul Price was reelected as DAN president. Tragically, Paul unexpectedly died a few days later. (See the In Memoriam Miniature in this issue.) First vice president Lois Williams of course succeeds to the post of division president. So for the next year the Diabetes Action Network board will be president, Lois Williams (Alabama); vice president, Sandie Addy (Arizona); treasurer, Joy Stigile (California); secretary, Joyce Kane(Connecticut); and board members Ed Bryant (Missouri), Josie Armantrout (Minnesota), and Mike Freeman (Washington).
National Association Of The Blind In Communities Of Faith
The board of directors was elected to serve from 2005 to 2007. Elected were president, Tom Anderson (Colorado); vice president, Pam Provost (Illinois); secretary, Linda Mentink (Nebraska); and treasurer, Sam Gleese (Mississippi).
Human Services Division
Elected were Melissa Riccobono (Maryland), president; David Stayer (New York), first vice president; Rick Brown (Florida), second vice president; Laurel Henry (Florida), secretary; J.D. Townsend (Florida), treasurer; and Yolanda Garcia (Texas), Meleah Jensen (Louisiana), and Cheryl Orgas (Wisconsin), board members.
Jeff Treptow (Arizona) was elected to an additional board position.
National Organization of the Senior Blind
The National Organization of the Senior Blind (NOSB) elected new officers at the national convention. Elected were Judy Sanders (Minnesota), president; Ray McGeorge (Colorado), first vice president; Roy Hobley (Nebraska), second vice president; Jim Willows (California), secretary; Paul Dressell (Ohio), treasurer; and Don Gilmore (Illinois) and Christine Hall (New Mexico), board members.
National Association of Blind Merchants:
At the regular meeting of the National Association of Blind Merchants, the following board members were re-elected: Mark Harris (Texas), Lynn Reynolds (New Jersey), Charlie Allen (Kentucky), and Kim Williams (Tennessee).
National Association of Blind Lawyers
The National Association of Blind Lawyers elected the following officers to fill two-year terms: president, Scott LaBarre (Colorado); first vice president, Charles Brown (Virginia); second vice president, Bennett Prows (Washington); secretary, Raymond Wayne (New York); treasurer, Lawrence Povinelli (Virginia); and board members, Noel Nightingale (Washington), Mildred Rivera (Maryland), Ruth Swenson (Arizona), and Anthony Thomas (Illinois).
The Science and Engineering Division
The Science and Engineering Division filled the open treasurer’s position by electing Ronit Ovadia (Illinois).
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
Returning to the NOPBC board are Maria Garcia (New York), Maria Jones (Kentucky), Debby Brackett (Florida), and Barbara Mathews (California). New board members elected are Kevin Harris (Maryland), and Carrie Gilmer (Minnesota).
National Association to Promote the Use of Braille
NAPUB returned the same officers for another term of service. They are president, Nadine Jacobson (Minnesota); first vice president, Robert S. Jaquiss (Louisiana); second vice president, Linda Mentink (Nebraska); secretary, Jennifer Dunnam (Minnesota); and treasurer, Warren Figueiredo (Louisiana).
Nancy Burns, president of the National Federation of the Blind of California provided the following recollection of Federation leader Paul Price, who died immediately following the convention:
Californians and other Federationists throughout the nation were shocked and saddened by the news of the death of Paul Price. After returning from the 2005 convention, he succumbed to a massive heart attack on Monday morning, July 11. He is survived by his wife Bobbi, a daughter, and two sons.
Paul served in several capacities within the NFB. He was president of the NFB’s Diabetes Action Network (DAN). Paul was immediate past president of the NFBC North San Diego County chapter and was a member of the NFBC board of directors. Paul and his wife had recently relocated to the Boise area.
During the 2005 convention Paul chaired the DAN division meeting and marshaled throughout the convention. He was a true friend, a mentor, and a support for many of us. He will be deeply missed.
Do you know anyone who admires you and the way you deal with blindness? Do you have a friend or family member who is grateful to the NFB for what you have made of your life? Do you know ten such people? If so, you can be an imaginator. Our 2005 campaign is now well started, but you still have time to join it and do what you can to change what it means to be blind. Invite your friends and family to imagine a future filled with opportunity. Contact the National Center for the Blind today for Imagination Fund brochures (<[email protected]> or (410) 659-9314, ext. 2408). Then speak to your contacts or write them a letter. In your own words explain how the Federation is changing lives and offering hope to blind people. Enclose a brochure, or hand one to those you can talk to face-to-face. Ask them to give you their contributions to support our work so that you can pass them along to the correct person. In this way you will let them know that you are interested in their decisions to help.
We need your help in both raising funds and identifying others within and outside the organization who are willing to ask their friends to contribute to our innovative effort to help blind Americans to fulfill their potential. This year’s campaign ends December 1, so join us today.
Volunteer for NFB LINK:
This new grassroots program seeks to connect people to a wealth of resources in the blindness community through online mentoring and community outreach. Information on a variety of vocational, educational, and recreational interests is available through this innovative program based on the collective experience of hundreds of successful blind people. NFB LINK is founded on a positive philosophy about blindness, emphasizing high expectations, independence, and personal achievement.
We are currently identifying those who would like to serve as volunteer mentors for the NFB LINK program. Mentors determine their degree of involvement and decide on their areas of mentorship. We are seeking mentors in over one hundred fields of interest. If you would like to become a mentor, contact Rosy Carranza at (410) 659-9314, extension 2283 or email <[email protected]>.
NFB Bracelets for Sale:
While the supply lasts, you can buy one of the new NFB cause bracelets from the Materials Center. The cost is $5 each. If you would like twenty-five or more, the cost is $2 each. Batches of 500 or more cost only $1 each, but the supply is limited. Order your bracelet today. Make checks payable to the National Federation of the Blind and write “NFB bracelet” in the memo line. Contact the Materials Center, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, or order by email using a credit card at <[email protected]>.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dr. Russell Smith addressing the convention]
We report with deep sadness the deaths on Sunday, August 7, 2005, of Dr. Russell Smith, founder of Pulse Data International, and his wife Marian D'Eve, when their Cessna 182 crashed into the sea off North Canterbury, New Zealand, as they were returning to their home in Christchurch. Within the last year Pulse Data International and VisuAide of Canada merged to form the HumanWare Group, which markets Braille and speech technology, screen-reading software, and video-magnification solutions.
Dr. Smith had just attended the NFB convention and endeared himself to Federationists by his steady presence and attention during convention sessions. His death has been a severe shock to his many friends and colleagues around the world. He will be deeply missed.
T-Shirts and Sweatshirts for Sale:
At the convention the NFB of Illinois was selling T-shirts and sweatshirts. They have the Braille letters “NFB” and in print “BLIND IS NOT A 4-LETTER WORD THANKS TO THE NFB” on the front. T-shirts are available in red, royal blue, and jade green. Sweatshirts are available in red, royal blue, and black. All shirts come in small, medium, large, and extra-large. The lettering on all shirts is in white puffed paint. Cost of the T-shirts is $10 plus $2.50 for shipping and handling. Sweatshirts are $20 plus $5 shipping and handling. Please send orders and checks or money orders payable to NFBI to Kelly Doty, Treasurer NFBI, 1433 Ashland Street, #403, Des Plaines, Illinois 60016. If you have questions, call (847) 390-1738 or email <[email protected]>.
National Federation of the Blind
ARTICLE I. NAME
The name of this organization is the National Federation of the Blind.
ARTICLE II. PURPOSE
The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is to serve as a vehicle for collective action by the blind of the nation; to function as a mechanism through which the blind and interested sighted persons can come together in local, state, and national meetings to plan and carry out programs to improve the quality of life for the blind; to provide a means of collective action for parents of blind children; to promote the vocational, cultural, and social advancement of the blind; to achieve the integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality with the sighted; and to take any other action which will improve the overall condition and standard of living of the blind.
ARTICLE III. MEMBERSHIP
Section A. The membership of the National Federation of the Blind shall consist of the members of the state affiliates, the members of divisions, and members at large. Members of divisions and members at large shall have the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities in the National Federation of the Blind as members of state affiliates.
The board of directors shall establish procedures for admission of divisions and shall determine the structure of divisions. The divisions shall, with the approval of the board, adopt constitutions and determine their membership policies. Membership in divisions shall not be conditioned upon membership in state affiliates.
The board of directors shall establish procedures for admission of members at large, determine how many classes of such members shall be established, and determine the annual dues to be paid by members of each class.
Section B. Each state or territorial possession of the United States, including the District of Columbia, having an affiliate shall have one vote at the National Convention. These organizations shall be referred to as state affiliates.
Section C. State affiliates shall be organizations of the blind controlled by the blind. No organization shall be recognized as an "organization of the blind controlled by the blind" unless at least a majority of its voting members and a majority of the voting members of each of its local chapters are blind.
Section D. The board of directors shall establish procedures for the admission of state affiliates. There shall be only one state affiliate in each state.
Section E. Any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division of this organization may be suspended, expelled, or otherwise disciplined for misconduct or for activity unbecoming to a member or affiliate of this organization by a two‑thirds vote of the board of directors or by a simple majority of the states present and voting at a National Convention. If the action is to be taken by the board, there must be good cause, and a good faith effort must have been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If the action is to be taken by the Convention, notice must be given on the preceding day at an open board meeting or a session of the Convention. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause," or whether the board made a "good faith effort," the National Convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the board's action is reversed by the National Convention, the ruling of the board shall continue in effect.
ARTICLE IV. OFFICERS, BOARD OF DIRECTORS,
AND NATIONAL ADVISORY BOARD
Section A. The officers of the National Federation of the Blind shall be: (1) president, (2) first vice president, (3) second vice president, (4) secretary, and (5) treasurer. They shall be elected biennially.
Section B. The officers shall be elected by majority vote of the state affiliates present and voting at a National Convention.
Section C. The National Federation of the Blind shall have a board of directors, which shall be composed of the five officers and twelve additional members, six of whom shall be elected at the Annual Convention during even-numbered years and six of whom shall be elected at the Annual Convention during odd-numbered years. The members of the board of directors shall serve for two‑ year terms.
Section D. The board of directors may, in its discretion, create a national advisory board and determine the duties and qualifications of the members of the national advisory board.
ARTICLE V. POWERS AND DUTIES OF THE CONVENTION,
THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS, AND THE PRESIDENT
Section A. Powers and Duties of the Convention. The Convention is the supreme authority of the Federation. It is the legislature of the Federation. As such, it has final authority with respect to all issues of policy. Its decisions shall be made after opportunity has been afforded for full and fair discussion. Delegates and members in attendance may participate in all Convention discussions as a matter of right. Any member of the Federation may make or second motions, propose nominations, serve on committees, and is eligible for election to office, except that only blind members may be elected to the national board. Voting and making motions by proxy are prohibited. Consistent with the democratic character of the Federation, Convention meetings shall be so conducted as to prevent parliamentary maneuvers which would have the effect of interfering with the expression of the will of the majority on any question, or with the rights of the minority to full and fair presentation of their views. The Convention is not merely a gathering of representatives of separate state organizations. It is a meeting of the Federation at the national level in its character as a national organization. Committees of the Federation are committees of the national organization. The nominating committee shall consist of one member from each state affiliate represented at the Convention, and each state affiliate shall appoint its member to the committee. From among the members of the committee, the president shall appoint a chairperson.
Section B. Powers and Duties of the Board of Directors. The function of the board of directors as the governing body of the Federation between Conventions is to make policies when necessary and not in conflict with the policies adopted by the Convention. Policy decisions which can reasonably be postponed until the next meeting of the National Convention shall not be made by the board of directors. The board of directors shall serve as a credentials committee. It shall have the power to deal with organizational problems presented to it by any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division; shall decide appeals regarding the validity of elections in local chapters, state affiliates, or divisions; and shall certify the credentials of delegates when questions regarding the validity of such credentials arise. By a two‑thirds vote the board may suspend one of its members for violation of a policy of the organization or for other action unbecoming to a member of the Federation. By a two‑thirds vote the board may reorganize any local chapter, state affiliate, or division. The board may not suspend one of its own members or reorganize a local chapter, state affiliate, or division except for good cause and after a good-faith effort has been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause" or whether the board made a "good-faith effort," the National Convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the board's action is reversed by the National Convention, the ruling of the board shall continue in effect. There shall be a standing subcommittee of the board of directors which shall consist of three members. The committee shall be known as the subcommittee on budget and finance. It shall, whenever it deems necessary, recommend to the board of directors principles of budgeting, accounting procedures, and methods of financing the Federation program; and shall consult with the president on major expenditures.
The board of directors shall meet at the time of each National Convention. It shall hold other meetings on the call of the president or on the written request of any five members.
Section C. Powers and Duties of the President. The president is the principal administrative officer of the Federation. In this capacity his or her duties consist of carrying out the policies adopted by the Convention; conducting the day‑to‑day management of the affairs of the Federation; authorizing expenditures from the Federation treasury in accordance with and in implementation of the policies established by the Convention; appointing all committees of the Federation except the nominating committee; coordinating all activities of the Federation, including the work of other officers and of committees; hiring, supervising, and dismissing staff members and other employees of the Federation, and determining their numbers and compensation; taking all administrative actions necessary and proper to put into effect the programs and accomplish the purposes of the Federation. The implementation and administration of the interim policies adopted by the board of directors are the responsibility of the president as principal administrative officer of the Federation.
ARTICLE VI. STATE AFFILIATES
Any organized group desiring to become a state affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind shall apply for affiliation by submitting to the president of the National Federation of the Blind a copy of its constitution and a list of the names and addresses of its elected officers. Under procedures to be established by the board of directors, action shall be taken on the application. If the action is affirmative, the National Federation of the Blind shall issue to the organization a charter of affiliation. Upon request of the national president the state affiliate shall provide to the national president the names and addresses of its members. Copies of all amendments to the constitution and/or bylaws of an affiliate shall be sent without delay to the national president. No organization shall be accepted as an affiliate and no organization shall remain an affiliate unless at least a majority of its voting members are blind. The president, vice president (or vice presidents), and at least a majority of the executive committee or board of directors of the state affiliate and of all of its local chapters must be blind. Affiliates must not merely be social organizations but must formulate programs and actively work to promote the economic and social betterment of the blind. Affiliates and their local chapters must comply with the provisions of the constitution of the Federation.
Policy decisions of the Federation are binding upon all affiliates and local chapters, and the affiliate and its local chapters must participate affirmatively in carrying out such policy decisions. The name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof is the property of the National Federation of the Blind; and any affiliate or local chapter of an affiliate which ceases to be part of the National Federation of the Blind (for whatever reason) shall forthwith forfeit the right to use the name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof.
A general convention of the membership of an affiliate or of the elected delegates of the membership must be held and its principal executive officers must be elected at least once every two years. There can be no closed membership. Proxy voting is prohibited in state affiliates and local chapters. Each affiliate must have a written constitution or bylaws setting forth its structure, the authority of its officers, and the basic procedures which it will follow. No publicly contributed funds may be divided among the membership of an affiliate or local chapter on the basis of membership, and (upon request from the national office) an affiliate or local chapter must present an accounting of all of its receipts and expenditures. An affiliate or local chapter must not indulge in attacks upon the officers, board members, leaders, or members of the Federation or upon the organization itself outside of the organization, and must not allow its officers or members to indulge in such attacks. This requirement shall not be interpreted to interfere with the right of an affiliate or local chapter, or its officers or members, to carry on a political campaign inside the Federation for election to office or to achieve policy changes. However, the organization will not sanction or permit deliberate, sustained campaigns of internal organizational destruction by state affiliates, local chapters, or members. No affiliate or local chapter may join or support, or allow its officers or members to join or support, any temporary or permanent organization inside the Federation which has not received the sanction and approval of the Federation.
ARTICLE VII. DISSOLUTION
In the event of dissolution, all assets of the organization shall be given to an organization with similar purposes which has received a 501(c)(3) certification by the Internal Revenue Service.
ARTICLE VIII. AMENDMENTS
This constitution may be amended at any regular Annual Convention of the Federation by an affirmative vote of two‑thirds of the state affiliates registered, present, and voting; provided that the proposed amendment shall have been signed by five state affiliates in good standing and that it shall have been presented to the president the day before final action by the Convention.
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.