Presidential Report 2005by Marc Maurer
Federation of the Blind
July 5, 2005
Marc Maurer delivers the
2005 presidential report.
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.
The Before-You-Give Quiz: Making a significant charitable gift can be one of the most enjoyable experiences in life. Here is a little quiz to help you gain maximum satisfaction. If you can answer “true” to all these questions, you are on your way to philanthropic fulfillment.
1. My gift will serve to advance the mission of the National Federation of the Blind. Believing in the cause you support is paramount to gift-giving satisfaction.
2. I am giving the most appropriate asset. Sometimes a gift of stock, life insurance policies, or real estate or a gift that provides life income can be more beneficial than writing a check. Before giving, review your estate assets.
3. This gift will not endanger my financial security. Practice good stewardship and make sure that you do not give more than you can afford.
4. I have selected the best way to make my gift. A straight gift has some advantages, but sometimes a deferred gift that provides life income can be more practical. Consider a gift annuity, trust, or bequest.
5. I have considered the tax consequences of my gift. Making a tax-wise gift can actually enable you to give more than you might otherwise be able to do. This is especially true of assets that contain long-term capital gains. The correct timing of a gift can also enhance tax benefits.
6. I have sought counsel from a competent advisor. As a rule of thumb the most important thing to do is to obtain wise counsel from a qualified professional, especially if the gift involves legal documents.
7. I have talked to the National Federation of the Blind planned giving officer about my gift. The planned giving office at the National Federation of the Blind is ready to assist you through the gift-giving process. For more information on making a truly satisfying gift to the National Federation of the Blind, contact Izzy Menchero at 410-659-9314, ext. 2408, or by email at <email@example.com>.