The Braille Monitor August/September 2005
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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?"
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.
Cathy Jackson, president of the NFB of Kentucky, the host affiliate of the 2005 convention, welcomes the 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>.
Mountain dulcimer players, Lorrinda Jones and Bruce Adair, play a medley of songs by Stephen Foster during opening ceremonies of the NFB 2005 convention.
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.
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.
Brooke Fox plays guitar at the showcase
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.
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.
Nancy and Don Burns dance at the Bluegrass Ball.
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.”
United States military veterans stand together on stage. President Maurer is at the podium.
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:
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.
Congressman Danny Davis addresses the convention.
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.
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
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.
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.
Heather Frit instructs Michael Taboada from Louisiana in the fine points of taking blood pressure.
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.
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. 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.