The Braille Monitor
Vol. 48, No. 10 November 2005
Barbara Pierce, editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
MARC MAURER, PRESIDENT
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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. 10 November 2005
of Parents in the Education of Blind Children
by Carrie Gilmer
and Training the Teachers of the Future: A Partnership
by Kathleen Mary Huebner
of the Consumer in the Education of Blind Children,
from the Perspective of an Educational Program for Teachers of the Blind
by Kay Alicyn Ferrell
Blind and Education for Blind Children
by Allen Harris
by Barbara Pierce
Me to Learn What?
by Ameenah Lippold
the Army Now
by Kevan Worley
Ask Miss Whozit
by Seville Allen
Can You Do?
by Jean King
Nonvisual Access Products for Blind Seniors
by the Staff of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind
of the First Ladies, Mrs. Hazel tenBroek, Dies
by Marc Maurer and Sharon Gold
Copyright 2005 National Federation of the Blind
On Tuesday, October 4, 2005, the Wells Street entrance of the NFB Jernigan Institute officially opened as the main entrance of the National Federation of the Blind complex. This south front of the Institute is newly landscaped. The Johnson Street entrance is now officially closed, though our mailing address will remain 1800 Johnson Street since so much printed material and so many public service announcements with the original address are in circulation.
The Role of Parents in the Education of Blind Children
by Carrie Gilmer
From the Editor: Wednesday morning, July 6, will be remembered by all those who attended the 2005 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Following the annual election, we turned our attention to the education of blind children and the continuing crisis in that field. All four presentations were stimulating and thoughtful and are printed in the following pages. But the first one was unforgettable. As Jim Omvig said the next day at the beginning of his speech, Carrie Gilmer’s was the best Mom speech he had ever heard in over forty years of attending NFB conventions. The audience response to that statement clearly indicated everyone’s agreement.
Carrie Gilmer is president of the parents
division in Minnesota. She works at BLIND, Incorporated, the NFB’s adult training
center in Minneapolis. In her cover note transmitting the text of her speech
to me, Carrie commented that, while she was profoundly touched and humbled by
the reception her remarks received, she continues to feel anger and frustration
that, despite the hard work of parents and consumers, her family’s story of
roadblocks and resistance from the educational establishment continues to be
echoed in almost every school district across the nation. This is what she said:
Good Morning. In Minnesota since last fall I have been affectionately known as President Carrie--the one who won the election. For a long time before that I was known lovingly and simply as “Jordan’s Mom.” I speak today for my son and those like him who cannot vote and do not yet have their own voice. This is what parents do--speak and, if need be, fight for their children while teaching them to speak and fight for themselves. I thank Dr. Maurer for inviting their voices to be heard today.
Sometimes the problems we face as parents of blind children and the obstacles placed in the paths of our children seem so large and unending that it feels like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon. It seems like an impossible dream that someday our blind children will be encouraged, educated, and measured in the same way as sighted children are.
In 1968 Dr. Kenneth Jernigan--an extraordinary leader and an extraordinary human being--was given a special citation by the president of the United States because he had so revolutionized services and training for the blind in the state of Iowa. His success was in turning the worst rehabilitation program in the nation into the best rehabilitation program in the world, and he did it in just ten years. When Harold Russell, chairman of the President’s Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped, presented the award to Kenneth Jernigan, he made (in part) the following statement: “If a person must be blind, it is better to be blind in Iowa than anywhere else in the nation or in the world. The story of the Iowa Commission for the Blind is the story of high aspiration magnificently accomplished--of an impossible dream become reality.”
That was nearly forty years ago in the state right next door to mine. It seems that such great advances two generations ago would by now mean great advances for us too--just a few hours to the north. And I believe, if geography had been the only barrier, what I have to say today would be quite different.
As president of the Minnesota Parents of Blind Children and as a new board member of the National Parents of Blind Children, I am deeply concerned with the way things are if you are born blind or become blind as a child. If you must be blind as a child, what does that mean? What does it really mean when we get right down to where the rubber meets the road for each individual child? That is how we know how far we have come and if the education is effective enough--the answer also lies in the results where the rubber meets the road.
No matter how great the philosophy sounds or what amount of funding and effort go into the policies and training--the philosophy and training have to meet the driving test. If a particular car model has crash after crash, for example, we know that basic things on the car obviously have to be completely redesigned. We don’t merely change the paint or upholstery. Certainly we cannot be less willing to throw out the educational designs and philosophies that can end in the crashed and run-over lives of our children. I’d like to share with you how the rubber has met the road at my house and in my son Jordan’s life in particular.
After many months of tests and waiting, Jordan’s eye doctor called to tell us that Jordan was well within the legal definition of blindness and there was nothing he could do. He acted as though his diagnosis meant fatality for a normal life and a future doomed to gloom. Initially as parents we feared the same thing. He wished us good luck and referred us to Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB).
We called SSB, and two months later we had a home visit from a blind SSB counselor. He told us not to sit Jordan down and have a big talk about being blind: we shouldn’t make an issue of it. He encouraged Braille whenever Jordan entered school (which was not for another seven months). He gave us a monocular that was at least thirty years old and worked at an angle like a periscope. He spent half of his time with us talking about his own negative experiences as a blind child and the fact that he still struggled with personal embarrassment over being blind. He had a folding cane, but he never mentioned whether Jordan should have one, and we didn’t ask. We didn’t ask a lot of questions. We didn’t have a clue where to begin. We had really been hoping--counting the days until he came--that he would tell us everything we should do. He was very kind but said there wasn’t much he could do and referred us to the local school district. My husband and I knew two things for sure when he left: 1) SSB was not going to help us, and 2) We did not want our son ever to be embarrassed about who he was.
During this time I had read a few of the NFB’s Kernel Books that my grandmother had given me. I don’t know why I didn’t contact the NFB at that time except that the people in the stories seemed as far off as the hopes they had kindled in me for Jordan’s future. I called the school district instead.
The vision department woman from the district was very nice, and she advocated Braille. But, since Jordan was “doing fine,” that is, he wasn’t bumping into things, everything could wait until school in the fall. She didn’t think she even needed to see him. Things weren’t as bad as we thought. She had been teaching Braille for forty years--a real expert!
So we went on as if nothing were different, except now we knew--we knew why he wasn’t running, why he walked with anxiety. We noticed more that he played in small areas, chose not to ride toys, and leaned so close to things. But we didn’t understand really what he could and could not see. The doctors couldn’t describe it or tell us how he saw things. Jordan couldn’t describe it, and he had no comparisons. We all wondered. What did “legally blind” really mean anyway? Jordan especially had a lot of trouble with the legal part. Over the years we have found most people don’t understand what “legally blind” means. They assume you can see okay--blurry perhaps--but you can get by and tell what things are. They assume legally blind people all see the same, too, as if it is one specific acuity. It was confusing. The doctors all made it sound serious and severe, but the school vision staff made it sound not so bad.
When kindergarten came, our forty-year expert said Braille was all that Jordan needed. And he didn’t really need it now--it was just easier to start now in case he lost vision later. She never mentioned anything else--no cane, no explanation to us or the classroom teacher of what a 95 percent vision loss would mean in the classroom. All he had to do was to get up close whenever he wanted. As the year went on, everyone told us how great he was doing. He seemed happy every day. He insisted on wearing a tie every day--to kindergarten! And so he did. He was serious about going to work. He took to reading easily, it seemed, with absolutely equal ease in large print and Braille. At the end of the year he was picking up Braille so easily the Braille teacher told us she thought he was tactually gifted. We were very proud. Still--he had less than 5 percent of normal vision. Could a person really get by on that?
That Braille teacher retired, so we got a new one for first and second grade. This Braille teacher thought Braille should be fun--not only that, but it needed to be fun. That is, there was something about Braille that was very much un-fun, so one had to do quite a bit of propping it up and turning it into a game to hide the fact that Braille was not something you would like to spend time learning. So they played a lot of Yahtzee and the like. Jordan began to view print as reading and Braille as a game. As the fun increased, his skills decreased. Moreover, the Braille teacher made no attempt to integrate Braille into the classroom.
By now, my husband and I were realizing that, even if Jordan didn’t lose any more vision, the print in chapter books and newspapers would be too small for him. The slow speed of print seemed more limiting than Braille would be. It also seemed fatiguing and unhealthy to be straining and bent over all day. We were starting to be extremely serious about Braille.
By the end of second grade all kinds of problems were popping up besides his slow progress in Braille. Jordan almost always played alone on the playground. He didn’t approach or try to enter groups in his classroom. He ate lunch alone. No one encouraged tactile exploration for him beyond the usual for all kids. No one identified themselves when speaking to Jordan in any part of his day. No one mentioned a cane, and he walked with great anxiety over the distance just in front of him. No one mentioned a slate and stylus or the Library for the Blind. He was frequently made to sit on the floor by the wall in gym class so he wouldn’t get hurt. Once or twice a month he had O and M instruction in how to use his vision to know the cardinal directions and the layout of his perfectly square, small school. The Braille teacher advised us to educate the class about Jordan’s vision by having them look at blurry photographs of deer and by having the class put wax paper over their eyes and look around the room.
We knew there were gaps. Something was not right. We didn’t comprehend yet exactly how much. But the vision, O and M, and phy. ed. teachers constantly told us how great he was doing and how he could do what all the normal kids could do--and in the normal way (meaning of course, visually). We didn’t realize yet that they meant he was doing great--for a blind kid. The regular classroom teacher was concerned, however, and realized that the vision department had helped us no more than it had helped her. She told me to seek out a part-time secretary at the school who had raised two blind children. The secretary didn’t seem to want to talk, but she did give me two copies of Future Reflections and advised me to look for expertise there.
I read the articles by Ruby Ryles and Barbara Cheadle and others I don’t remember. I was stunned and shocked and mad at myself and furious with the vision staff. I was confounded and dumbfounded. First I felt stupid and like the worst mother in the world. I mean, how could I have had a blind son and not know it? Never mind that neither the pediatricians nor other family members had realized it either--I was the mother. I should have known. And now, after I had been told he was legally blind, I had bought into the illusion that he could make it using less than 5 percent of normal vision. Now here was all this perfectly reasonable information--why didn’t the school tell me? Didn’t they know?
It seemed I had two choices--I could take a guilt trip around the world with nightly pity parties, or I could get busy and educate myself and make things right for Jordan. I called the local affiliate of the NFB because I figured (wrongly) nationally in the NOPBC and the NFB they were pretty busy and probably too high up and official to talk at length to a desperate and confused mother way out in Minnesota. Judy Sanders took our family under her wing out in Minnesota, and the affiliate helped send Jordan and me to the national convention in Atlanta.
Merry Noel gave him a cane; Joe Cutter told me why Jordan should use it and showed him how. To this day Jordan still uses Joe’s explanation to him that this was his “third eye on the ground” to explain to little kids what his cane is for. Roland from Louisiana told me to make Jordan take it every day and use it, and to make it as simple as “wear your shoes” or “get your coat.” Jordan at not quite nine years old had been walking bent over like a ninety-year-old man. As we walked around Atlanta, he walked erect for the first time, let go of my hand, and went exploring. I realized his spirit had been as bent over as his posture had been. I sat down on a curb and wept.
There I also learned about the slate and stylus.
I heard about normalcy and age/ability-appropriate expectations. Much of that
convention went over my head, but one thing stuck over all. I learned I had
a blind son who could quit worrying about being legal.
In third grade he showed up at school with a cane. You never saw anyone scramble so fast to write up IEP goals. Jordan also got a new Braille teacher; she resisted the slate and stylus. She reluctantly taught Braille. She avoided nonvisual discussions and insisted it wasn’t necessary. She refused to call him blind--he was visually impaired. She did not integrate Braille into his classroom day.
About this time my husband and I went to a local state convention. We were hoping to meet other parents. We were the only parents there. We were elected vice president and treasurer! I felt silly because I didn’t know anything, but I felt responsible to learn and learn quick. Bruce Gardner was the national representative at that convention. He spent a long time talking to my husband and me. He made a lot of sense and only seemed a bit over the edge on one thing--he said he read some NFB material every day. Yes, every day. I didn’t get it.
Then Jordan began going to Buddy Camp. The whole family started to get to know a number of successful blind adults. It was in Buddy Camp that Jordan first felt, deep inside, that it really was okay to be blind. It was the first time that the people teaching the skills also used and believed in them. It began to make a life-changing difference for all of us. From observing the positive changes in Jordan and seeing the nonvisual techniques used efficiently by blind adults, we became more determined to see that Jordan became skilled in alternative techniques. Also the more time we spent with successful blind adults, the more comfortable we became with blindness and viewing Jordan as an independent blind adult. We became more convinced that, if Jordan had proper training, what would limit him would be the same things that limit all human beings, that is, was he lazy or not, organized or not, educated or not, talented or not? Did he have money in his wallet or not? Did he have opportunity or not?
In fifth grade we insisted all of Jordan’s textbooks be in Braille. The Braille teacher rolled her eyes at us and shook her head. Like a curve on a graph, we can look back and see Jordan’s competency in Braille reading relate to the attitude of those instructing him. He ended up not getting Braille into his day much in fifth grade either.
Middle school was coming now, and we believed it was critically imperative that he become more fluent, fluid to grade level in Braille. It was only going to come from constant use and good instruction in proper techniques and encouragement and instruction on changing poor habits from someone who believed Braille was equal to print and from someone who believed Jordan should be a primary Braille reader. We hoped we would find such a person in sixth grade. We insisted on complete Braille immersion. No print, except at home for incidental or leisurely reading. The fifth-grade teacher predicted trauma and failure would result from our plan.
With such dire predictions, off to middle school he went. Every worksheet, every textbook, every notice came in Braille, and he began using Nemeth code in math. Jordan ended sixth grade having made the “A” honor roll three times with seven classes. Nothing was shortened or turned in late. He and I both worked very hard. I read a lot to him because his speed was so slow, and I tutored him in math for an hour, sometimes two, every evening. He spent two to three hours every evening on homework. He did not argue or complain any more than I did. He understood that, if he didn’t keep up in sixth grade, he wouldn’t be able to keep up in high school. He also became more social and started playing the trombone. He auditioned and participated in the school’s spring production of Music Man. So much for the dire predictions of the former Braille teacher.
Overall his growing successes were mostly due to another two summers of BLIND, Inc.’s Buddy Camp. The experiences there had reinforced and built on his belief in himself and the methods he needed as a blind person. As important, attending local NFB meetings throughout the year led to the deepening of friendships. This also gave him frequent and consistent exposure to the normalcy and competency of other blind people. Sharing common experiences of the misconceptions of others and hearing how blind adults were taking control of their own futures empowered Jordan in a way that nothing or no one else could. The instruction he received in just four weeks per summer gradually brought his skills closer to true age-appropriate performance. The solidifying of skills reinforced his confidence, and his confidence led to the desire to practice and improve his skills. By seventh grade he was coming to know himself, and he wasn’t going back. He was forgetting he had ever felt uncomfortable about blindness. He began to bloom.
We continued the tug-of-war over nonvisual techniques with the vision teachers for everything besides Braille. Jordan’s vision is useful and convenient for some things, but the visual for him requires some modification over 98 percent of the time. Of course he should use his vision to its utmost. We never understood the concept that you couldn’t enjoy both--or have both be useful. But the truth is that vision usually does not give him all or the most accurate or the easiest-to-obtain information. And sometimes relying on his vision is actually dangerous--such as in crossing the street.
We had some major events at the end of seventh grade that demonstrated to us once and for all just how deeply warped and ingrained the philosophy of the vision staff in our district is. I’d like to share some of these issues with you briefly.
The O and M person bought a Geordi for travel and gave Jordan the idea his vision was useful and safe to rely on to cross busy city streets. The regular vision teacher agreed to nonvisual techniques in sewing and then abandoned Jordan and the techniques. She left him convinced the only way he could sew was to press his forehead against the sewing machine, straining to follow a green marker line drawn on the fabric.
The vision staff gave the regular classroom teachers the impression that Jordan’s vision was quite useful--he wasn’t really blind. The teachers took him snow tubing--nobody told him when it was safe to go down. Jordan thought he could trust his own vision to tell. He came home with two black eyes--one swollen completely shut--from crashing into another student. When asked about all of these things, the vision teacher informed me, “You know, Carrie, Jordan likes to use his vision.”
Then, when industrial arts came along, their real beliefs came glaringly to the surface for all to see. The regular shop teacher had no idea what to do with a blind student. We asked him to come down to BLIND, Inc., and learn about nonvisual techniques, and he was eager to. The vision teacher didn’t think this was necessary at all; she thought Jordan could get by with his vision. The shop teacher, she said, only needed to know he had to get classroom materials to her to be Brailled.
The vision teacher believed Jordan (and all blind people) in every case in every place preferred to use vision--no matter how costly, uncomfortable, inconvenient, or inefficient and no matter how limiting. Any vision was better than no vision at all. It was obvious to us now that this belief colored every decision, every instruction method, and every plan laid out by the so-named vision staff.
At the end of his tour Dick Davis, the industrial arts teacher at BLIND, Inc., told Jordan’s regular shop teacher to paint Jordan’s shop glasses black. The shop teacher agreed. I waited for the phone call. It came.
The vision teacher was very upset. No sleepshades!
She said she was worried about the safety of the other students in his class.
“What?” I said, incredulous.
She had to consult supervisors and lawyers. A whole range of excuses poured out of the phone. It wouldn’t be possible; it was too dangerous. She concluded by saying she didn’t know how long it would take--maybe the class would be over before she could have an answer. We should just trust her to assess (guess) where his vision was useful, and the teacher could guide Jordan (do it for him) when it wasn’t.
My husband and I began to realize that during all those years, while we were being flexible, compromising, and choosing our battles, when they asked us to ignore the little things, to trust them and be patient, it was Jordan’s rights and his validity as a blind person, his normalcy and full potential, his independence and freedom that we were compromising and being flexible with. Well, we were done. No more. We knew who our son was, and we weren’t going back. We intended to have progress. They had declared war. We were going to man the barricades and prepare to do what we had to do.
By this time I was working at BLIND, Inc., as a secretary. I went and stood in the resource room. It was full of NFB literature. A gold mine I had not tapped lay before me. I thought of Bruce Gardner and that I had thought he was over the edge for reading some of it every day. I thought of calling him to apologize. I took a big leap over the edge myself.
Joyce Scanlan, president of the Minnesota affiliate, had been spending hours and hours over the last years teaching me, and so had many others--but I needed more--I was going to war! I began reading Walking Alone and Marching Together. I grabbed a dictionary. I grabbed every speech and article I could find. I found Doris Willoughby and Sharon Monthei’s book. I wept and called them both. Shawn Mayo called Peggy Elliot, and Joyce Scanlan called Dr. Maurer. They closed ranks around us and told us to stand our ground. I read Schroeder and Omvig articles and all your Kernel stories. I read 24/7--laundry, dishes, and dust piled up--no time!--I had to read everything. Soon I was reading so much I didn’t know who had said what anymore. All the speeches were running together, and they all had a unified message. They strengthened me and gave me the depth of words and ammunition for the exact target--prejudice.
We didn’t want strife or confrontation--we wanted Jordan to participate equally and safely in a required course alongside his peers. Then we had the big meeting. Two industrial arts teachers, one vice principal, one assistant director of special education, one special ed. teacher, one Braille teacher, and one diversity specialist were waiting for my husband, Joyce Scanlan, and me.
The Braille teacher and the assistant director of special education would not budge, and they had no intention of listening to us. It was clear that they were there to convince their colleagues that we didn’t know what we were talking about. But because their reasons were not based on accurate knowledge, they had to keep changing their reasoning and arguments. The Braille teacher wanted Jordan to use his vision as best he could. She wanted to make a different and separate plan as she guessed his vision on each separate tool. My husband and I knew that this would lead to her determining--as was her history--that no alternative techniques were needed. The classroom teacher could provide guidance. Jordan could get by.
I asked her, if Jordan could not when seated upright tell me by vision alone exactly what was on his dinner plate on any given evening, how he could possibly stand upright and know where a saw blade was using his vision. “I’m not sure,” was her reply. When the other people in the room realized Jordan could not tell what was on his dinner plate and could not recognize his own mother a few feet away by vision, they realized that, sleepshades or not, they had better get prepared to have a blind student in shop. What does it mean when the professionals who were to be the experts on blindness and special education were the only ones in the room who would not agree to keep an open mind?
The district agreed to send them all to BLIND, Inc., for a tour, then we would meet again and decide. It had come out in the meeting that in our district (the largest in the state), of 43,000 students and about 100 of them receiving VI/blind services, no one had let a blind student take shop before. Meanwhile we pulled Jordan from the class. They weren’t prepared to teach him safely.
Jordan was strengthened to do this because Dick Davis agreed to spend over thirty hours of his own time to teach Jordan the higher-level projects under shades down at BLIND, Inc. If it hadn’t been for that, I don’t know if we would have been able to hang tight. Jordan said he understood the power tools better under shades, and he wanted to stand up for his own rights--but the fear of not being able to complete the projects like everyone else brought tears to his eyes and made him question fighting for the techniques he knew he needed. The knee-jerk reaction to the shades by his vision teacher had shocked him, and he understood that deep down it was really a visceral reaction to total blindness. He was hurt.
On the last day of school they finally gave us their decision. We had won! Sleepshades are now in his IEP as a training tool, and it is our (his) choice when to use them. I have never met a blind person who needed training on how to use vision. I have never met a blind person who needed help learning to like to use vision. I have met many who needed help understanding when it was not usable. Jordan took advanced shop this year, completely under shades. He began by explaining his use of darkened safety glasses to his peers in the shop class. The shop teacher told us that the other kids really watched Jordan closely in the beginning. But Jordan was comfortable, casual, and performed with skill under the shades. He said that Jordan was highly respected by the other students.
Now nobody even notices anymore. And I am proud to tell you Jordan received an A both terms in this advanced industrial arts class. The A was not given; he earned it with superior work, performed as a totally blind person. I must emphasize that Jordan was comfortable and casual and held a belief in blindness techniques as completely viable because of his previous experiences under shades at Buddy Camp. His shop teachers at school loved the click rule and were highly impressed with the methods. Because of Jordan two other blind students had the chance to take shop in our district this past year as well. That is some progress where the rubber meets the road.
In fourth grade Jordan had told me that he was popular because he was blind. Think about that. This last year, in eighth grade, he realized he’s popular because he is the kid who does the weather, news, and funny skits on the school’s Friday morning news program. He is the kid who is second chair in the trombone section; who is friendly with everyone; who is on student council; who is comfortable with himself; who is on the A honor roll; who helps others with homework; who always has a joke to tell; who has been on the bowling team, on the swim team, and in ski club. He is the kid who is active, confident, positive, polite, and kind. There are about 1,500 students at Jordan’s middle school. Once in a while he meets someone who hasn’t seen him with his cane or doesn’t know him; then he is still the “blind kid” for a moment. But they soon learn he is Jordan Richardson, and blindness is only one of his characteristics.
When Jordan brought his class picture home this year, I noticed something new. A white cane was in the picture, held proudly across his chest. I ask you, who imparted that casual comfort to Jordan? Whose philosophy passes the crash test? I thank God for the National Federation of the Blind.
I’ve been asking people in all kinds of positions across my state to Imagine with us. Imagine a day when it is well to be blind anywhere. I’m just an ordinary mom--but I know that no human rights advance ever took place without regular people giving all they had. I’m not a blind person, but I believe in the normalcy of my son. I believe in the normalcy of all our blind children. I believe in the normalcy of all blind people. I ask each affiliate to wrap your arms around the parents and children in your states as Minnesota has wrapped its arms around us. If we change things for the children, we will change the future. And we will because, as Dr. Maurer has said, we will never give up. What seems impossible can become reality. Every one of you is living proof.
Finding and Training the Teachers of the Future: A Partnership
by Kathleen Mary Huebner
From the Editor: Dr. Kathleen Huebner
is professor and associate dean of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry and
co-director of the National Center for Leadership in Visual Impairment. She
was the second speaker on this panel. It was a hopeful sign in an all too often
dismal picture to have one of the foremost professionals in the blindness education
field come to the NFB convention and say to the membership that she recognizes
consumers must be part of training new professionals and that the NFB must be
central in this effort. This is what she said:
Thank you, Dr. Maurer, distinguished officers of the National Federation of the Blind, Federationists, and all participants in the 2005 NFB convention. To have been invited to speak with you today is truly among the greatest professional honors bestowed upon me. Ms. Gilmer, it is a particularly special honor to share the dais with you. Thank you for your eloquent and heartfelt presentation. The NFB, its leadership, members, publications, and actions have been a tremendous source of information and inspiration for me throughout my nearly forty-year career in the field of blindness, and for that I thank you all.
Introduction to PCO and NCLVI
Today I come before you to speak with you about two major efforts taking place at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) that represent collaborative efforts with many organizations, including the NFB and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC).
First and very briefly, the Pennsylvania College of Optometry is located just outside Philadelphia. It is a professional college that prepares doctors of optometry and audiology and also grants masters’ degrees in optometry in other nations. Within the Department of Graduate Studies, PCO also grants masters’ degrees and certificate programs for orientation and mobility specialists, teachers of children with vision impairments, rehabilitation teaching, and low-vision rehabilitation specialists. All of the programs in the Graduate Studies Department at PCO are available online with summer face-to-face institutes. The only exception is our full-time face-to-face O and M master’s degree program.
In addition, PCO is the home for the National
Center for Leadership in Visual Impairment (NCLVI). Today I want to talk with
you about the National Center and a little about the O and M Programs. The National
Federation of the Blind and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
are both active and contributing members of the NCLVI’s Public Advisory Council.
The Public Advisory Council is comprised of thirteen national organizations
of and for the blind as well as others from related fields of higher education,
early childhood, and special education administration. Dr. Zaborowski represents
NFB, and Mrs. Cheadle represents NOPBC. NFB also hosted our first Public Advisory
Council Meeting at the NFB headquarters in January. To the best of our knowledge
it was during this meeting that an executive director of the American Council
of the Blind not only attended meetings but slept overnight at the NFB headquarters
in Baltimore, Maryland. It was a very productive meeting, we were graciously
welcomed, and we also had fun.
Need for Special Education Leadership Personnel in Blindness and Visual Impairment Is Great
The NCLVI is a federal cooperative agreement funded by the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). It is a new model for preparing individuals with doctoral degrees who will work specifically in leadership positions directly related to the special education of blind and visually impaired children. As we heard from Drs. Maurer and Zaborowski yesterday, there is a tremendous need for leadership personnel in the area of special education for blind children. For the past decade Dr. Kay A. Ferrell collected data that demonstrates that our country is producing an average of only four new doctorates a year with emphasis in special education of children who are blind or visually impaired, whereas research indicates a need for thirteen a year. In 2003 we had thirteen open or unfilled university tenure-track positions open in the field of blindness.
Within the next five years we need a minimum of seventy-two leaders with doctorates to fill a variety of positions such as university professors, state vision consultants, directors of special education programs, and top administrators at special schools and agencies for blind children. We desperately need researchers and individuals who are interested in, trained in, and devoted to public policy development in our nation and who are committed to blindness. Over one fourth of our leadership professionals in the field are nearing retirement and will be leaving the work force in the next five years.
Historically universities have submitted proposals to Office for Special Education Programs for funding of doctoral credit tuition and stipend support. Each university applies individually. The competition is great since programs with an emphasis in blindness submit proposals along with programs representing all other disability groups. Our track record for securing funding has been abysmal. Leadership positions go unfilled in our field; some university training programs are therefore terminated, or positions are not replaced or are replaced by individuals without knowledge or training in blindness.
In the summer of 2003 PCO developed a concept for a national consortium of universities that offer doctoral training in special education with an emphasis in blindness and visual impairment. We presented the concept to officials at OSEP and to the university personnel preparation programs in blindness that offer doctoral degrees. After several meetings and conference calls it was unanimously voted that the PCO concept would be supported and that PCO should lead the way in the preparation of an unsolicited proposal.
The NCLVI was funded in October 2005. It has six objectives and will fund twenty-five individuals for four years of full-time study. (See the Web site at <http://www.pco.edu/nclvi.htm>.) NCLVI is unique in many ways in that there will now be a national cohort of doctoral students. Fourteen students will be starting in August/September 2005 and studying in eight different universities throughout the nation. Next year eleven students will be funded. Students first apply to one or more of the fourteen universities participating in the NCLVI Consortium. They then apply for funding through NCLVI. If selected as an NCLVI Fellow, the student will have many opportunities to study together with all NCLVI Fellows as a group through an added-value enrichment program.
The Public Advisory Committee (thirteen national organizations) and the University Consortium, consisting of fourteen universities throughout the nation, have identified the needed competency areas unique to blindness that the NCLVI Fellows must achieve by the completion of their studies. Students will participate in two face-to-face seminars attached to two major conferences or conventions each year and participate in a separate three-day training annually. They will also participate in online issue discussions led by leaders in the field of blindness that will include individuals who are blind and parents of blind children. The discussions and forums will include leaders from NFB and NOPBC as well as other public advisors. In addition students will participate in short-term residencies, job shadowing, and internships. All of the NCLVI Fellows will receive sponsorship through NCLVI to attend at least one NFB national convention.
We need your help in recruiting individuals
to pursue their doctorates. The financial support for the four years includes
full tuition coverage and a minimum of a $20,000 annual stipend. This is a chance
of a lifetime, and if any of you who have a master’s degree and have been contemplating
the possibility of earning a doctorate and working in the field of special education
for children who are blind, you should contact me here at the convention or
at <firstname.lastname@example.org> or Dr. Garber, the NCLVI project coordinator, at <email@example.com>.
You may also wish to visit our Web site at <http://www.pco.edu/nclvi.htm>.
Preparation of O and M Specialists
The other effort I wanted to share with you is PCO’s effort to recruit and train more individuals in all of our programs who are blind. PCO has for many years required field trips to NFB and has organized visits for its O and M students to the Baltimore headquarters. NFB publications, monographs, and articles from the Braille Monitor and Future Reflections are included in required readings for its students. We have traditionally had students in our teacher and rehabilitation teacher training programs who are blind. We frequently have parents of blind children who complete one of our programs. This year we have our first blind O and M student. We have been in active discussions with NFB leadership, members, and blind O and M instructors to increase our knowledge of structured discovery learning and other techniques used at Louisiana Tech. We are working on procuring funding so that our O and M professors can spend time at the Louisiana Tech program and so that they can visit us. We have been strategizing with Drs. Ruby Ryles, Ron Ferguson, and Joanne Wilson on how best to realize our goals. PCO and NCLVI are committed to a strong collaborative relationship with NFB and its members.
The National Agenda, NFB, and NOPBC
As a recent national cochair and long-standing member of the steering committee of the National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youth who are Blind or Visually Impaired, Including those with Multiple Disabilities, I and the two parent national co-chairs, Mrs. Brunhilde Merk-Adam and Donna Stryker, met with Drs. Maurer and Zaborowski as well as Mr. Riccobono and Mrs. Cheadle to discuss collaborative efforts regarding the National Agenda. You will be hearing more about these collaborative efforts shortly.
In closing I would like to remind you of what Dr. Maurer said yesterday: “We need more specialized services, not less. We need more specialized education programs, not less. We need more O and M training programs, not less.” We need more leaders to work for the rights of blind people and children.
We need leaders with the highest expectations for blind people, and we need teachers and leaders who are the most highly qualified. The philosophy at PCO and NCLVI is that we can do it better together and that blind people are essential to personnel preparation programs and need to be involved in all aspects of personnel preparation.
We want to continue to work with NFB and
NOPBC. We hope our collaboration will serve as an example for the future. Dr.
Maurer stated it best in his Memoriam to Dr. Jernigan, published in the January/February
1999 issue of the Braille Monitor, in which he wrote: “We comprehend
what must be done, and we rejoice in the challenges ahead. We know the need
for joint action, for shared commitment, and for the willingness to work.” I
cannot say it better. I can only share with you that the efforts of NCLVI and
PCO are and will continue to be shared and collaborative. Thank you very much.
The Role of the Consumer in the Education of Blind Children, from the Perspective of an Educational Program for Teachers of the Blind
by Kay Alicyn Ferrell
From the Editor: Dr. Kay Ferrell is executive
director of the National Center on Low-Incidence Disabilities and a professor
in the School of Special Education, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences
at the University of Northern Colorado. She was the third speaker on this panel.
We have waited a long time to hear someone from the professorial establishment
acknowledge the role of consumers in the education struggle on behalf of blind
children. This is what she said:
Thank you, Dr. Maurer. It is indeed an honor to be here. And good morning, Federationists. Thirty-four years ago, a blind man changed my life. First he hired me as his legal secretary after he graduated from Harvard Law School. Then he told me I should be a teacher of the blind--because, he said, I would be “hard on blind kids.”
I never asked him what he meant. I think what he meant is that I would have expectations for blind children, that I would see the possibilities and potential of blindness, and that I would know that blindness was no impediment to success. He certainly taught that. He expected me to pass it on. He was my first experience with blindness, and I have never forgotten what I learned from him.
I completed my training as a teacher in the mid-1970’s. It was a rude awakening. The emphasis in my master’s degree program was on low vision and vision stimulation. It did not take long for me to figure out that the curriculum approached blindness as a problem. Thus Braille was a compensatory skill for reading; Nemeth was a compensatory skill for mathematics (although there wasn’t a Nemeth course in the curriculum); and all of the other methodologies we were taught were meant to compensate for the loss of vision. The approach, as is so often the case in special education, emanated from a culture of care, of doing good deeds. My training seemed strikingly different from my experience. Blind people do not need care--they need skills.
I try not to perpetuate that negative attitude at the University of Northern Colorado. Instead of teaching compensatory skills, we talk about alternative skills. We have three Braille courses, one created especially for teaching second-language learners. We try to choose our words carefully because the words we use often reveal our presumptions and prejudices about blindness.
For example, I have never understood why we try to second guess parents of newly identified blind children by interpreting their actions as a stage of the grief process. Why do special educators think that a process associated with death applies to the experiences of families, or why is grief even used as a metaphor? After all, there is no empirical evidence that parents go through a grief process upon learning that their child is blind. Even if you acknowledge that there is some sort of coping strategy going on, why make the analogy to death, the ultimate loss? What does that say about our feelings about blindness?
If you know the facts--in this case, that assumptions are not supported by research--you have to act.
So we did, by changing our views and the language
we use and by teaching that blindness is a different way of doing things–not
a lesser way, or a second choice, but simply different. I try to avoid what
I call visual cultural imperialism, where vision is viewed as the standard and
all other experiences are secondary to it, where people with so-called normal
vision force their experiences, their perspectives, and their choices on others.
Just as history is more than the experiences of white men with power in western
civilizations, education is more than the experiences and opinions of sighted
people. Visual cultural imperialism is equally oppressive, inherently unequal,
and potentially damaging to the education and self-determination of children
and adults with visual disabilities.
If you know the facts–how insidious prejudice can be–you have to act.
But what does that have to do with the role of the consumer in the education of blind children? Everything. We need you. We need you as teachers, guest lecturers, role models, and dreamers. We need you to keep us honest, to keep imagination alive. We need more of you to infiltrate the system, and the only way to do that, especially given the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, is to become a certified teacher. There is simply no finer way to change the system.
We also need your advocacy. Too many blind children are being left behind due to good policies implemented poorly. For example, both the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 require that teachers be highly qualified for the subjects and grade levels they teach. That’s sort of a “duh.” Of course teachers should be highly qualified.
But even this affects blind children. At least two states have exempted teachers at specialized schools for the blind from meeting state standards for highly qualified teachers. This is mind-boggling. Blind children need highly qualified teachers just as much as other children do.
If you know the facts, you must act. Don’t let this happen!
These laws and regulations are silent about special
education teachers of blind and deaf students, apparently believing that they
are consultants to the classroom teacher rather than primary instructors. Yet
these teachers work differently from other special education teachers. If the
highly-qualified-teacher standards require that you be certified in the subjects
you teach, where does Braille instruction fit in? Is it merely a medium, like
print, that anyone can teach, or is it reading? If it’s reading, do teachers
of the blind need an endorsement in reading? Would classroom teachers then need
an endorsement in Braille? What about Nemeth code? Where does the code leave
off and the mathematics begin? And what happens to the itinerant teacher who
is highly qualified to teach her blind students when they are in elementary
school but not highly qualified when those same students progress to secondary
school a few years later?
Frankly, I worry that urging you to infiltrate the teaching profession is in reality sentencing you and every other teacher of students with visual impairments to perpetual professional development and a life of split personalities, where you are highly qualified one year and not highly qualified the next.
If you know the facts, you have to act.
Because the reason the highly qualified teacher issue is not receiving much attention is that the prevalence of blindness and visual impairment is considered so small that it is inconsequential. According to the U.S. Department of Education, children with visual impairments comprise only 4/100ths of 1 percent of the school-age population. However, because the federal policy requires that children can be counted in only one category, the vast majority of children with visual impairments do not officially exist because they are counted in other disability categories such as deafblind and multiple impairments. In comparison, the American Printing House for the Blind, using the more restrictive criterion of legal blindness, has twice that number registered for annual federal quota funds. In Colorado alone the number of children with visual impairment is three times the number reported to Washington. But officially the U.S. Department of Education believes there are only 26,000 children with visual impairment between the ages of six and twenty-one in the entire country.
Twenty-six thousand children is small and seems insignificant in the larger scale of all children with disabilities. The Department of Education has shown no interest in an accurate count of children with visual impairment. While it does sponsor a separate count of children with deafblindness–which, by the way, consistently finds ten times more children than are reported in the annual IDEA count–calls for an accurate count of children with visual impairments go unheeded.
Visual impairment affects how you learn, not what you learn or how much you learn. Once identified, under the law a child must receive appropriate special education and related services. If a child is never identified, the services do not have to be delivered. You can almost be assured that children who are not identified as visually impaired will never acquire the alternative skills they need for future success.
If you know the facts, you’ve got to act.
Because, while we all had high hopes for the
No Child Left Behind Act, it doesn’t necessarily mean great things for blind
children. Even though No Child Left Behind requires every child to participate
in annual standardized testing, the law allows 5 percent of children with disabilities
to be excluded from the report. Obviously, if visual impairment officially comprises
only 4/100ths of 1 percent of the school-age population (or 45/100ths of 1 percent
of all children with disabilities), it is relatively easy to exclude, especially
if their scores are not high. So the promise of No Child Left Behind may actually
result in MORE children left behind.
If you know the facts, you must act.
Why should you even care? We consistently hear from the Department of Education that the special education longitudinal studies show that children with visual impairments are doing well, much better than other children with disabilities. At first glance that seems to be true. But if you dig deeper, you find that blind children were not included in some of the studies and that the only children with visual impairments who were included were those who were print readers.
Furthermore, if you examine the state assessment
data of those states that report scores by disability category (only twelve),
you find that children with visual impairments almost invariably do better than
the entire group of children with disabilities. But they are still more than
twenty percentage points behind children without disabilities. Knowing as we
do that the children identified as being visually impaired are probably not
those who have additional disabilities, twenty percentage points behind is nothing
to brag about.
If you know the facts, you have to act.
Because in this high-stakes environment children who are blind are at risk. They are too small in number to count, and if they don’t count, nothing will change--not that any educator or administrator knowingly excludes blind children. It is simply relatively unimportant to them. It’s the politics of scale. They need to hear it from you, the organized blind, about what the issues are, why they are important, and why change is needed.
If you know the facts, you must act.
You must. Washington needs to know that you expect it to pay attention and to take action on behalf of the next generation of blind children.
My husband, a sixties activist and organizer, suggested that I end my speech today with a phrase from a Chilean protest song that he felt captured what I told him I wanted to say to you:
“The people united will never be defeated!”
Have you heard that before?
“The people united will never be defeated!”
As usual, my husband is right. This is truly
the way I feel about the role of the consumer in the education of blind children:
“The people united will never be defeated!”
Education needs blind consumers. Christa McAuliffe said, “I touch the future; I teach.” You touch the future every time you become involved with a blind child. Keep it up.
The Organized Blind and Education for Blind Children
by Allen Harris
From the Editor: The final presentation
of this education panel was made by longtime NFB leader Allen Harris, who now
serves as director of the Iowa Department for the Blind. Allen has served as
a member of the board of directors and treasurer of the National Federation
of the Blind and president of the NFB of Michigan. Before he became an administrator
of state services for blind adults, he was a teacher, coach, and administrator
in the Dearborn public schools. Here are his remarks:
It is an honor to speak to you this morning. I wish that what I had to say were a bit more upbeat, but, as you know, we in the organized blind movement always call it the way we see it. How many of you were with me outside the Department of Education building on May 26? [loud shouts from the audience] That event is destined to be like Woodstock, where a hundred thousand people were present, and three million claim to have been.
I am here today, not to find fault with the programs that have been discussed, like the one at PCO--I am delighted about that--but we know that the real story is Jordan. It does not matter (I don’t mean it is unimportant), but it does not matter how many doctoral students we train or people with doctorates we have in services for the blind or in special education if, when Jordan shows up in the classroom, he cannot receive an appropriate education. That’s the hard news.
Earlier this morning we honored the members who served in our armed forces in defense of freedom for this country, and we were proud to do so. I am here today to enlist you as foot soldiers in another army, one battling for freedom, opportunity, expectation, and achievement for blind children, and every one of you must help. Are you willing to help? [affirmative shout]
Let’s talk about some of the things we have done and must do. The National Federation of the Blind is no stranger to the value of education; we are proud of what we have achieved by passing laws and by working, unfortunately all too often, case by case. But if we do not all enlist as foot soldiers in this battle, we will continue to see Jordan’s story in every case. Many parents, like the Gilmers, work more or less full-time trying to ensure an education for their blind children that has challenge and expectation about it. What about the families that do not have the time, expertise, or understanding to do so?
Back in the days when an effort was made to corral all blind students in the schools for the blind--I guess that time did have the advantage that we knew where the students all were--the teachers made a fairly determined effort to be sure that blind students were literate. If I ever had confidence in that model, however, I lost it about forty years ago. Parents today do not want their blind children to be educated apart from their sighted siblings and friends. Today we in the Federation want to have blind students prepared with the skills to compete fully, not to pretend, but to meet high expectations. Pats on the back, certificates of achievement, and other empty commendations to blind students are not helpful. In fact, if we do not change this practice, we will lose a tragically high percentage of today’s blind students. We in the National Federation of the Blind have a proud history of achievement on behalf of students. The Educational Testing Service no longer consistently denies blind students reasonable accommodations or flags their test results. Thanks to Peggy Elliott and others in this room, blind test-takers are often treated fairly. We have promoted Braille literacy through the Braille Readers Are Leaders program that reaches across the country. Encouraging students to take part in this program is something that our army must work at. Have you done everything you can to persuade Braille readers to participate in this contest? Only you can answer the question of whether you have done everything you could to help.
We understand the importance of Braille literacy. If a student cannot read and write, the rest doesn’t matter. The National Federation of the Blind has fought to pass Braille bills in more than thirty states. Really no one else has worked on that effort.
In 1988, when I was president of the NFB of Michigan, with the help of Steve Handschu, Jim Gashel, and President Maurer, we wrote a Braille literacy bill. I expected that we would get it passed no later than 1989. When I left the state in 1999, it was still not passed, but it did pass the next year. On the other hand, I went to New York, and I wrote the bill one year and saw it pass the next. I have had both experiences, and they are equally effective. Ask yourself if you have done everything you can to see that the blind students in your state will be Braille literate, will be able to read and write efficiently. For years we were led down the dead-end lane of electronics and maximized use of low vision. I have nothing against using vision and certainly nothing against electronics. I am in favor of literacy for blind children. We have learned the hard way that concentrating on electronics and low vision to the exclusion of learning and using Braille effectively results in functional illiteracy.
You heard President Maurer and Dr. Zaborowski yesterday describe the model programs that we are developing at the NFB Jernigan Institute to challenge blind students and assist their teachers to set high expectations for them. These programs must be replicated and funded across the country. As foot soldiers we must see that this happens. We have to get these programs into the classrooms of all the Jordans out there. If we do not, we will fail this generation of blind students, but we will not fail.
What about texts on time? Who did it? The National Federation of the Blind. Within two years we will see blind students getting their text materials on time. That is a huge advance when we are fighting for the efficacy of Braille and Braille literacy.
I repeat: it is not that we have not worked hard for the education of blind children, it is that we have so much more to do. It is not that we are lacking partners of good will with effective programs and who support our efforts. But we face an urgent crisis. As foot soldiers in the Federation’s army we must support blind children as they reach for freedom, opportunity, expectation, and achievement. We dare not leave the job to anybody else. We have seen what happened in the past; No Child Left Behind for blind children is an empty promise. In fact we are likely to fight even lower expectations and reduced opportunities for blind children than before it was thought up. It may be a clever slogan; it is not a grand idea, at least not for blind children.
Like our commitment to each other, our commitment to our blind children must be a promise that we keep, because we always keep our promises to ourselves. We have our history to show the way: the work of Dr. tenBroek, the brilliance and inspiration of Dr. Jernigan, the strength of President Maurer, and the efforts of the leadership we enjoy. The very least we can do is work for the blind children in our own communities. If you have participated in an IEP for a blind youngster, say aye. [audible chorus] Way too few of you. We must all participate in IEPs. Do you need to be a lawyer? [no] No, you need to have resolve, to find your voice and raise it. Don’t worry about the cadre of professionals Carrie described. Who cares? All we need is our beliefs, values, and ideas. Our army can overcome any of their big groups.
Our history points the way that we must go. We are rightly proud of our current accomplishments. Yesterday’s presidential report recounted great accomplishments. But as of this day we are on high alert. I ask each of you to join me as foot soldiers in this army. Our job is nothing less than guiding this generation of blind students to strive for freedom, opportunity, high expectation, and great achievement. Let’s get busy!
Who Committed the Outrage?
by Barbara Pierce
On Sunday, September 25, 2005, Gabrielle Hamilton, a New York restaurateur and writer for the Times' food section, set a snide and nasty cat among the pigeons of the blindness field with a story in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. She also undoubtedly did profound and subtle damage to all blind job seekers and shoved us all a long step backwards by corrupting the attitudes of sighted readers toward blind people through her invitation to share her unholy delight in making fun of a blind job applicant with apparently no blindness skills and no capacity to deal directly with his blindness.
Hamilton clearly asked for the storm of vitriol that rained down upon her and the Times for publishing her article. Every reader could tell where she was going when early in the piece she announced her surprised discovery that her job applicant was blind with the following unfortunate dip into the purple prose of freshman composition: “His eyes wandered around in their sockets like tropical fish in the aquarium of a cheap hotel lobby." She goes on to make a point of registering her astonishment at their actually having managed to find each other’s hands and shake before and after the interview despite his blindness. She seems obsessed by his lack of eye contact, straggly handwriting, and need for a short focal length in order to see whatever she demands he look at.
In short, it is impossible to draw an accurate conclusion of what actually went on during her interactions with this man because of doubts about her objectivity as a reporter. She is so busy calling gleeful attention to every quirk in the applicant’s behavior that one is inclined to doubt even her tale of her thoughts and actions between the interview and the apparently eight-hour “trail” when he returned to the restaurant the following day to observe and actually work in the kitchen. According to her, after the interview and before his return, she concluded that she must be selling blind people short and that this applicant must surely have some techniques or compensatory skills that made it possible for him to do this job. As she tells it, she was aggressively ready to give him an even chance at the job despite the reservations that her staff continued to articulate.
As you will read in the Times article, the trail was a disaster from beginning to end. Every blind person who cooks a lot has experienced sighted observers who gasp or grab when they fear that something the blind cook is doing might be dangerous. So it is impossible to guess how much of Hamilton’s recital of near misses and barely averted catastrophes in the kitchen is accurate. Whatever did or did not happen there or took place between Hamilton and the job applicant, several things seem clear. Hamilton never asked the man about his vision. In the post-ADA world employers fear raising such matters, and rightly so. But nothing prevented the applicant from mentioning this particular elephant in the living room. One is left to conclude that his previous experience as a chef probably occurred while he had sufficient vision to use visual techniques to do the work. He had obviously not mastered nonvisual techniques for doing his job or even for dealing with employers and other sighted people in the real world. He certainly seems not to have thought through the necessity of candidly addressing the issue of his limited vision and what led him to believe that he could work competitively at such a job.
One wonders if he had ever received blindness training. What happened to him in this eight-hour-long nightmare, as recounted by an antagonistic would-be employer, provides powerful ammunition in the NFB’s battle to train blind people to limit their dependence on unreliable vision to use in only those tasks and in only in those situations in which it is good enough to be efficient. For whatever reason, this poor man had never been taught to prepare food or cook safely by weaning himself away from dependence on visual cues.
I have no idea whether blind cooks are out there doing the kind of fast-paced, demanding food preparation required of a line cook in a first-rate New York restaurant. I suspect there are. Many blind people work in food service businesses and catering. A handful of young blind chefs are even winning prizes. It’s clear, however, that it will be a long and bleak time before any restaurateurs who read Ms. Hamilton’s article will even give another blind cook a chance to try.
On many levels publication of this article was infuriating and even tragic. That the New York Times would choose to publish an article deeply riddled with discriminatory commentary demonstrates clearly how far we have to go in being recognized as a minority group with a claim to equal treatment under the law and at the hands of members of society. That a nationally recognized food writer would stoop to poke fun at the tragedy of another human being to glean maximum entertainment value in her nationally read column in the Sunday New York Times Magazine is little short of despicable.
Yet, when all is said and
done, the most tragic part of this fiasco is the exposure of one man’s humiliation
to thousands, maybe millions, of people and the fallout from that experience
that affects every blind person in the country. The rehabilitation establishment
in New York State (or wherever he lost his sight) failed him, and he failed
himself. Perhaps even we failed him. He never learned what was possible for
him to become, or he never dared to make the dream of freedom and opportunity
his own. We will all pay for his lost opportunities and the bad taste and cruelty
of the media. This very public display of what happens when blind people are
encouraged to continue using inadequate vision must energize us all to advocate
for effective rehabilitation and encourage our colleagues losing sight to demand
and benefit from good rehabilitation. Here is the text of the September 25 article:
Eat, Memory: Line of Sight
by Gabrielle Hamilton
A couple of years ago I placed an ad for a line cook. And there was a guy who, according to his résumé, should have been right up my alley. He held a grill position in a busy seafood joint at the shore; he had studied philosophy and political science; and he had about four years of experience in the industry. I was looking forward to meeting this guy, with whom an after-work conversation over beers might be possible and who had just enough years in the industry to still have something to learn, but not so few that he would need to be taught everything. I called him up, and we had a pleasant phone exchange. I liked his voice, his manner; he was intelligent and articulate. I invited him in for an interview the following day.
The first thing I noticed when he arrived was that he was blind. His eyes wandered around in their sockets like tropical fish in the aquarium of a cheap hotel lobby.
We managed a handshake and sat at the bar, and I asked him about his responsibilities at the busy seafood restaurant, and he answered entirely reasonably. He understood the language I used and spoke it back to me: the sort of shorthand code that people who work in kitchens speak.
I said, "How many covers for lunch?"
And he said, "Eighty-five to a hundred ten."
I said, "What kind of mis"--prep--"is there in a fried-seafood place?"
And he laughed and said, "Yeah, it's all lemon wedges and tartar sauce."
We talked a bit about his education in philosophy: he was a Hegel fan. Finally I showed him our menu. He held it up to his face as if to breathe in its written contents, to discover by inhaling what it said in plain print. I felt more certain than ever when I observed this that he was blind but naturally doubted myself because obviously the guy had worked in restaurants, something that--though we may joke--really can't and shouldn't be done. And in spite of the proximity to his face at which he held the menu, I thought maybe I was making some despicable assumptions about the sight impaired and needed to get my politics up to date. So I booked him for a "trail," the industry equivalent of an audition.
I went right downstairs and unpinned the schedule from the cork board and penciled him into the grill station the next night. He wrote his new phone number on the top of his résumé in large unwieldy script and even managed, more or less, to locate and cross out the old number. I looked at him as directly in the eyes as I could, thinking maybe I should ask about what seemed obvious, but instead I said: "Well, you seem average in build--we have pants and jackets in the general human range, so you don't need to bring your own whites. And you'll just need a chef knife, a utility and a paring knife. No need to bring your forty-pound kit tomorrow." He nodded without returning my gaze.
"Is there anything else you can think of?" I asked hopefully. He said only that he'd like to keep the menu if I didn't mind so that he could study it a bit before his trail. Done deal. We shook hands again, miraculously.
For the rest of the day I thought that maybe he wasn't blind, and that just because his eyes rolled around didn't mean he couldn't make out shape and color. But then I thought shape shmape and color schmolor, how is this guy going to dice a white onion on a white cutting board? I thought maybe I was an ignorant jerk who didn't realize how far the blind had come. Maybe he had worked out some kind of system to compensate. I took a mental inventory of famous accomplished blind people. Could playing the piano be anything like grilling fish over open flame in the midst of hot fryer fat, sharp knives, macho line cooks, and slippery floors? What was the preferred term for “blind” these days anyway?
By the morning of his trail I had talked myself into the certainty that though blind he was obviously "sighted" in some other way. I felt sure that I was behind the times for thinking that just because someone was blind that he couldn't work a job as a line cook in a busy restaurant. Or even be the lunch chef of one, as his résumé claimed. I knew vaguely that, when a person lost one sense, the others kicked in expertly to compensate. I assured myself that he had developed a system by which he heard the food, or felt the food, or smelled which plate was used for which entree. I became convinced that he, in fact, had evolved into such a higher species of line cook that we would learn greatness from him. I got so on board with the whole blind line cook thing that I was plainly righteous when asked by my incredulous and slightly unnerved line cooks why I had booked a trail with a blind guy. I practically had indignation in my tone. "What? You think just because the guy is ‘visually challenged’ that he can't cook in a restaurant?"
When he arrived for his trail, I took him around on an introductory tour of the prep area and the walk-in and the hot line. At each station he bent over and put his forehead against everything I showed him. It was fascinating at first--and later heartbreaking--to note the angle at which he scrutinized each item in the refrigerator.
"Over here," I said, "is where all the proteins are kept. Fish here. Meat here. Cooked above raw. Always. Okay?" And instead of holding the pan of pork belly close under his nose and squinting down upon it--like a very old man might do trying to read his train ticket--he instead held each item up to his forehead, above his eyebrows, and stared up imploringly into it.
We set him up in the basement prep area with a cutting board and a menial task that wouldn't matter if he messed it up: picking parsley. This took him most of the afternoon, and it was painful to watch him bent in half, killing his back in order to have his untethered eyes close up to the cutting board.
The trail is simply the time to sniff out the guy, to see how he stands, how he holds his knives, how much he talks or doesn't, and what he says. Does he ravage everything with tongs or finesse with a fork and a spoon? Does he sit at the bar at the end of his trail and get hammered? Did he bring a pen and small pad of paper? Did he thank the people who trailed him? I wasn't worried that he was supposed to hold down the grill station. And I didn't give a damn about the parsley. But I understood twenty-five minutes into his trail that there was no system of compensation, that he had not become hypersensate, and that he had not, emphatically, evolved into a superior cooking machine. Sadly, the guy was just plain blind. And I still had on my hands another four hours thirty-five minutes of a trail to honor.
The night started slowly, with just a couple of order tickets at a time. I buckled myself into a seat at the back of the bus, so to speak, right behind the blind guy in the grill station, and let my sous chef do the driving: calling out the tickets and their timing, expediting their plating and pickups. Every time an order came into our station, I quietly narrated the procedure to the trailer and watched, slack-jawed, as he painstakingly retrieved a portion of meat from the cooler, held it to his forehead, set it on a plate, and then proceeded to carefully season the countertop with an even sprinkling of salt. When the call to "fire"--start cooking--an item came, I stood back and let him place the meat onto the grill--which he managed--but I had to pull him back a few inches from the flames so he wouldn't singe his bangs.
Eventually we fell into a kind of spontaneous, unfunny Vaudeville routine in which I shadowed him, without his knowing, and seasoned the meat he missed, turned the fish he couldn't, moved the plate under his approaching spatula to receive the pork, like an outfielder judging a fly ball in Candlestick Park. I was not worried about him slowing down the line, as we never expect a trailer to actually perform a vital function. But I really started to feel sick with worry when he pulled a full fresh piping-hot basket of shoestring fries up out of the fat with his right hand and turned them out to drain--not into the waiting stack of giant coffee filters he held in his left hand, but into the thin air directly adjacent, pouring them out onto the dirty rubber mats and his clogs.
This did not escape the notice of the other cooks. All the lightheartedness of a good night on the line went right up the exhaust hood. The banter between salad and sauté came to a screeching halt. The fun part of getting through the night--donkey noises, addressing the male line cooks as "ladies," as in, "Let's go, ladies!"--was abandoned. The stern but softhearted barking from the sous chef down the line lost all playful bite and was tamed down to the most perfunctory, gently articulated "Please fire apps on seven." With one basket of hot fries cascading to the ground, we all saw at once that this fellow was in physical danger.
In silence I raked the fries up off the floor, trashed them, and dropped another order on the double. I asked him, kindly, to step back to the wall and just watch a bit, explaining that the pace was about to pick up, and I wanted to keep the line moving. This is--even when you have all your wits--the most humiliating part of a trail: when the chef takes you off of the line in the middle of your task. You die 1,000 deaths. For a blind guy with something to prove, maybe 2,000.
To this point I had somehow been willing to participate in whatever strange exercise this guy was putting himself through. I was suspending disbelief, as we are all asked to do every time we go to a play or a movie. I know that this isn't real, but I agree to believe that it is for these two hours without intermission. But something about the realization of the danger he was flirting with in service of his project, whatever his project was, suddenly made me furious. I took over the station and started slamming food onto the plates, narrating my actions to him in barely suppressed snide tones. "This," I practically hissed, "is the pickup on the prawns. Three in a stack, napped with anchovy butter. Wanna write that down?"
I exhausted myself with passive-aggressive vitriol. "On the rack of lamb, you want an internal temp of 125. Just read the thermometer, okay?"
This got the attention of my sous chef, who quietly came over and asked the guy if he'd like to step into garde-manger (the cold station) for a while to see how things there ran. I was relieved to have the guy away from the fire and the fat and in the relatively harmless oasis of cold leafy salads and cool creamy dressings. And I was grateful to be rescued from my worst self. The guy spent the rest of his trail with his back up against the wall in all the stations, eyes rolling around in his head, pretending to apprehend how each station worked. I spent the remainder of his trail wrestling meat and unattractive feelings triggered by this insane predicament in which we had found ourselves.
I never did find out what he was doing. I allowed him to finish out the whole trail, and when he had changed his clothes, I encouraged him to sit at the bar and have something to eat, which he did. And as he was leaving, I said I would call him the next day, which I did. I told him that I was looking for someone with a little more power, a bit more of a heavy hitter, but that I would keep him in mind if a position more aligned with his skills became available.
This, remarkably, he seemed
to see coming.
That was the article, and it was outrageous on every level. Not surprisingly, many readers were outraged and took the time to write letters to the Times. Here are the full text of one letter and a snippet from another that reflect the reactions of some:
To the Editor:
I am writing regarding the essay "Line of Sight" by Gabrielle Hamilton, which appeared in the Magazine section of the New York Times of Sunday, September 25th.
Shame, shame, shame!
If Ms. Hamilton's cooking is as tasteless as her prose, she'll soon be looking for a new daytime job. Her puerile attempt at humor in describing the job applicant's eyes as wandering "around in their sockets like tropical fish in the aquarium of a cheap hotel lobby" reads like something written for Creative Writing 101, and for which she would have received a D for Disgusting. This was not Harpo Marx ogling for the cameras--it was a human being who clearly was not as perfect as Ms. Hamilton pictures herself. Did she really think that this sentence enhanced the quality of the essay?
If she enjoys amusing herself by ridiculing others who have disabilities, she might want to look up some people with Parkinson's disease--it would be a real hoot for her to see all those folks standing around twitching. Better yet, she could visit Walter Reed Hospital and check out all those guys and gals who lost eyes and arms and legs defending Ms. Hamilton's right to write tripe like this essay--what a gas that would be! She could regale her friends for hours with her rapier-like wit as she recounted those experiences. Think of the sympathy she could evoke as she bleated, as she did in her essay, of her nobility in suffering through "another 4 hours 35 minutes...to honor."
The proofreaders, editors, and management personnel who approved this article for publication in the Times share equal blame. Together with Ms. Hamilton they have collectively set back employment opportunities for blind people, and physically challenged people as well, for years by writing and publishing an article that clearly warns prospective employers away from hiring less-than-perfect people. Even worse, they have demeaned and degraded another human being who has not done anything to harm them. Didn't any of them think about the fact that the job applicant has friends who will read this essay to him? Did any of them think about his feelings? What were they thinking? Were they thinking? Do they have the capacity for thinking?
These people have the sensitivity of tree stumps, and like Ms. Hamilton they should also get a D--this time for Disgraceful.
It is my hope that Ms.
Hamilton and all those involved in the publishing of this essay will dine at
her restaurant and spend the next week with stomach cramps.
Finally, here are the closing sentences of one other letter:
Could you please let me know about this hate policy toward the blind? Is it standard? A change of direction? To be applied to other disabled groups across the board?
I'll appreciate any clarification.
Clarification is the last thing we are likely to get. We will just have to settle for outrage.
You Want Me to Learn What?
by Ameenah Lippold
From the Editor:
Ameenah Ghoston became Mrs. Ameenah Lippold on October 8. She is an access technology
specialist at the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind
(IBTC) of the NFB Jernigan Institute. She originally wrote a version of the
following article for use in the IBTC’s technology outreach seminars. We thought
it would be helpful to make this practical information available to everyone.
Here it is:
In the twenty-first century using the computer proficiently is essential. For work, academics, and recreation we constantly find reasons to use a personal computer (the PC). We communicate through email, use Microsoft Word to create documents, use optical character recognition (OCR) to scan and print materials, play online games, and often use the computer to locate information on the Internet. But some of us are blind and cannot use a computer by viewing the screen and moving a mouse around to select functions. Methods for training sighted people to become computer literate do not work for us, so becoming a proficient computer user is a challenge for many blind people. This article will help you overcome the challenge of searching for effective computer training.
The first and most important question is how do you learn? The answer will determine which are the most effective training resources and materials for you. Everyone learns differently, so knowing your individual learning style will guide you in locating resources that meet your learning preferences. So what do I mean by “how do you learn?”
1. Do you learn best by reading user manuals by yourself with occasional contact with an expert?
2. Do you prefer guided instruction and hands-on training in a structured setting? If you prefer hands-on instruction, are you most comfortable in a one-on-one setting, or do you prefer learning with a group?
3. Finally, do you prefer your own unstructured exploration over instruction from manuals or teachers?
None of these learning styles is superior to the others. Each fits particular individuals, so you must consider the advantages and disadvantages that each presents to choose what fits you best.
If you prefer to learn by reading manuals by yourself, what reading format works best for you? Training materials are generally provided in Braille or large print, on cassette, and (more commonly) on floppy diskette or CD (also called CD-ROM). Knowing which of these formats you prefer and are able to access dictates which training manuals to search for. (Of course, if you can take advantage of several formats and media, locating training manuals is less challenging.) The advantage of this learning preference is that you control the pace and speed of what you are learning. One disadvantage is that some manuals are not written clearly and concisely. Another is that instruction by manual, simply following its plan for learning, does not always meet your instructional needs.
In contrast, in one-on-one training, although instruction is guided by your individual needs, the disadvantage is that it is often subject to variables outside your control--cost, teaching style of the instructor, other participants’ time constraints, and the instructor’s expertise. An advantage is that the student has assignments set by another person, which often helps students focus more than they would with no set time by which to learn a subject. The most effective way to evaluate these factors is by speaking with blind people in your community to learn more about local trainers specializing in nonvisual access technology instruction.
If you prefer learning in a group setting, while subject to the same variables as one-on-one training, learning alongside other blind people provides the big advantage that students can learn from both the instructor and each other. This mutual quest for understanding and mutual support is often helpful when studying something new. Many of us find that support from other blind people is necessary because more is involved in our training than in that needed by sighted computer students.
At first glance learning how to use a computer may seem a daunting task, but it is well worth the effort. Now that you have determined your learning style, you must consider your level of exposure to the PC. Are you a beginning, intermediate, or advanced user? While the following descriptions are not an industry-defined standard, they should assist blind computer users in assessing their computing skill and ability.
A beginning computer user is someone who has little or no experience with a PC or is generally unfamiliar with the nonvisual alternative techniques used by blind people. Lacking a real and concrete conceptual understanding of the Windows environment, the beginner is someone who uses the computer only by route navigation. This person learns a sequence of steps to carry out one task and does not know what to do if other tasks are required. Limited understanding means limited production.
In contrast, an intermediate blind computer user has a conceptual understanding of the Windows environment. This blind user is comfortable with his or her ability to navigate application menus (menus to access options to perform a specific task) and can follow on-screen prompts. At this level the user can manage files and folders, browse the Internet, and customize settings to nonvisual access technology, allowing for personalization.
In addition to all these skills, the advanced computer user is capable of taking advantage of advanced features provided by nonvisual access technology, is comfortable with performing mundane maintenance and installation procedures, and can troubleshoot through computing problems.
In the remainder of this article the emphasis will be on how to obtain adequate training for each computing level. Keep in mind that for the average blind computer user, in addition to learning the Windows environment and specific applications, he or she must also learn related nonvisual access technology commands in order to use screen-access software. Screen-access applications replace the need for seeing a monitor or using a mouse. These software applications such as JAWS for Windows from Freedom Scientific, Window-Eyes by GW Micro, and Hal from DolphinComputer Access, LLC, rely exclusively on keyboard commands to relay information and to perform screen navigation. Thus blind people must evaluate their level of proficiency in using a QWERTY computer keyboard. The other option is a Braille display to invoke commands or to read screen information.
Touch typing: self-voicing typing instruction applications (software) are available to help you improve your typing speed and keyboard familiarity. From the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), you can purchase Talking Typer for Windows for as little as $49; from De Witt and Associates you can order PC Typing Talking Tutor for as little as $99. You can request demonstration copies of both applications to determine which you like better.
Basic vocabulary: In addition to being proficient with a computer keyboard, a blind computer user must have an understanding of basic computer and Windows terminology, which is equally important. Screen-access programs and Braille displays rely on computer and Windows terminology to convey aural and tactile on-screen feedback to the blind computer user.
To learn about basic computer and Windows terminology, we recommend buying a copy of Windows XP Explained. Written by Dr. Sarah Morley and published by the National Braille Press (NBP), it is sold in electronic format, Braille, cassette, and regular and large print. In addition, accompanying large-print or tactile diagrams illustrate the way Windows XP appears visually on the screen. Another informative book is Word Wise by Sharon Monthei, also published and sold by National Braille Press in formats used by blind readers. This book explains from a blind person’s perspective how to use basic to advanced features of Microsoft Word.
If you are a Braille reader, we recommend buying a copy of the “Computer Braille Code Reference Card.” Created and sold by the National Braille Press, this is an excellent reference and an essential resource because it lists the associated Braille symbols for computer ASCII Braille.
Other resources for locating
literature on basic computing concepts and Windows terminology are available
from Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) and from the National
Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). A search of
both lending institutions shows that they have a plethora of Braille and recorded
books on this topic. Contact your local NLS center or RFB&D for more information,
and be sure to check the publishing date for any materials that interest you.
Because of the rapid changes in the computer world, the more recent the publication
date, the more likely the material is to contain up-to-date information.
One of the primary ways through which blind people receive group or one-on-one computer training is state vocational rehabilitation agencies operating under the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration. Every state provides technology training to clients with plans for employment. The quality of the training offered ranges from poor to excellent, depending on the level of commitment in the individual state services. Investigate the efficacy of the technology training provided in your state by speaking with other blind individuals in your local community. Even if the training does not meet all of your needs and expectations, it is another avenue, and it can be supplemented with other training resources, once you know that supplementation is needed.
Finally, a possible resource for technology training and instruction is blind individuals in your local chapter or state affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind or unaffiliated blind people in your local community. Blind people who already know how to use computers well are a great resource, because who knows better how to use a computer with access technology than experienced blind users?
Screen-access technology: Once you feel confident in your keyboarding skills, understanding of computing concepts, and Windows terminology, it is time to move on to screen-access programs. If you are a beginning computer user, in addition to the sources listed above, we strongly recommend that you seek instruction in using the computer with nonvisual techniques. Few people are successful in learning these skills on their own.
Using the screen-access program of your choice, you should become comfortable in navigating the computer desktop, opening applications, and managing files and folders. You should be able to create, save, open, and retrieve documents. In order to write and edit, you should be able to move around a Microsoft Word document, perform editing and basic formatting of text, and use the spell-check feature. Once you master these tasks, you can move on to retrieving and sending email. You should be able to perform all of these tasks by navigating the application menus and not solely by keyboard shortcuts. As for Internet navigation, you should be able to open and navigate a Web page, perform basic Internet searches, fill out forms, and download files.
The three best known screen-access application vendors--Freedom Scientific, GW Micro, and Dolphin Computer Access--offer training classes in using their screen-access products. Other well-known providers, including De Witt and Associates, Project ASSIST from the Iowa Department for the Blind, and Crisscross Technologies, offer training as well. Training curricula are designed to provide instruction in the use of specific applications, primarily in Microsoft Office and Internet navigation. While these training curricula can be costly, they are generally well worth the time, effort, and money. Contact individual providers to learn more about the training classes they offer and whether training is onsite, by telephone, on cassette or CD, on the Internet, or by some combination of these formats.
Internet-based training is appealing and cost effective but requires access to a PC. However, online training can potentially offer advanced training in the Microsoft Office suite of applications, which includes Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint, all of which provide advanced features and functionality for increased productivity.
As you progress in your computer training, you will find it is impossible and unnecessary to know every feature of each application. When you move into the advanced level, be clear about what tasks are essential to function in your day-to-day life. For example, if you are a college student, besides knowing the basics of Microsoft Word, you need to know how to create footnotes and endnotes and how to insert objects such as graphs, images, pictures, etc., into your documents. If you are working in a professional environment that relies on Outlook not only for email but also for scheduling, task management, and maintaining contacts, learning Outlook should be your primary focus.
Fixed and mobile: As an advanced blind computer user, you will likely consider using one of the many accessible notetakers or accessible pocket PC devices in conjunction with your desktop computer. This configuration allows mobility and increased productivity. If you need to be away from your computer and you want access to your documents, calendar, contacts, and email, it is now possible to share and synchronize data by using your mobile computing device. This solution offers blind people the ability to work in a note-taking or mobile computer environment customized for the blind computer user and simultaneously share data and communicate with sighted peers. Mobile computing devices are becoming the next generation of computing hardware for sighted users, and it is important that blind users progress technologically with our sighted peers.
The impact of computers
and their effect on our society is inescapable. As nonvisual access technology
advances, the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC),
a service of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, is committed
to keeping you abreast of new developments. Contact or visit the IBTC for reference
and referral services and an unbiased opinion on nonvisual access technology.
Included in this commitment is ensuring that blind individuals are aware of
and are receiving quality training.
American Printing House for the Blind (APH), 1839 Frankfort Avenue, P.O. Box 6085, Louisville, Kentucky 40206; phone (502) 895-2405; (800) 223-1839; fax (502) 899-2274; Web site <http://www.aph.org/>; email <firstname.lastname@example.org>
CrissCross Technologies, 110-64 Queens Boulevard, Suite 406, Forest Hills, New York 11375; phone (718) 268-6988; Web site <http://www.crisscrosstech.com/>; email <email@example.com>
DeWitt & Associates, 700 Godwin Avenue, Suite 110, Midland Park, New Jersey 07432; phone (201) 447-6500; fax (201) 447-1187; Web site <http://www.dewittassociates.net/>; email <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dolphin Computer Access LLC, 60 East Third Avenue, Suite 130, San Mateo, California 94401; phone (650) 348-7401; toll free (866) 797-5921; fax (650) 348-7403; Web site <http://www.dolphinusa.com/>; email <email@example.com>
Freedom Scientific, Blind/Low Vision Group, 11800 31st Court North, St. Petersburg, Florida 33716-1805; phone (800) 444-4443; (727) 803-8000; fax (727) 803-8001; tech support for all products (727) 803-8600; Web site <http://www.freedomscientific.com/>; email <firstname.lastname@example.org>
GW Micro, 725 Airport North Office Park, Fort Wayne, Indiana 46825; phone (260) 489-3671; fax (260) 489-2608; Web site <http://www.gwmicro.com/>; email <email@example.com>
National Braille Press (NBP), 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02115; phone (617) 266-6160; (800) 548-7323; fax (617) 437-0456; Web site <http://www.nbp.org/>; email <firstname.lastname@example.org>
National Federation of the Blind (NFB), 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; phone (410) 659-9314, option 5 for the technology answer line; Web site <www.nfb.org>; email <email@example.com>
National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science c/o Curtis Chong, 3000 Grand Avenue, Apt. 916, Des Moines, Iowa 50312; phone (515) 277-1288; email <firstname.lastname@example.org>
International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC), National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; phone (410) 659-9314; Web site: <http://www.nfb.org/>
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, 1291 Taylor Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20542; phone (202) 707-5100; (800) 424-8567; fax (202) 707-0712; Web site <http://www.loc.gov/nls>; email <email@example.com>
Project ASSIST with Windows, c/o Iowa Department for the Blind, 524 Fourth Street, Des Moines, Iowa 50309-2364; phone (515) 281-1357; Web site <http://www.blind.state.ia.us/ASSIST>; email <ASSIST@blind.state.ia.us>
Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D), 20 Roszel Road, Princeton, New Jersey 08540; phone (609) 452-0606; (800) 221-4792; fax (609) 987-8116; Web site <http://www.RFB&D.org/>; email <custserv@RFB&D.org>
You're in the Army Now
by Kevan Worley
From the Editor:
Kevan Worley is first vice president of the NFB of Colorado and president of
the NFB’s merchants division, the National Association of Blind Merchants. In
the following reminiscence Kevan evokes the exuberance of childhood.
For a while when I was a kid, my brother and I played army outside almost every day after school and throughout the long summers. We were constantly on the move, running from backyard to backyard. We'd sneak around the corner of a building to ambush the other army squad patrol, Delta Force, or Roman legion. Using the trash cans as cover or crouching behind hedges, always on guard, listening, ready for action, ready to jump into the fray--whatever that was--or to dart across a field to safety, which probably meant into the house for lunch. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Kool-Aid, a nap, and then back to the game.
Sometimes our war games were played by a few, but often they would grow into a full neighborhood squad of kids ages five to eleven or twelve. Sometimes we organized into elaborate formations, only to scatter again with frenetic energy to all corners of the neighborhood without rhyme or reason--an ongoing, free-form fantasy game driven only by imagination and energy. "Get 'em. Get 'em. Get up. Hit the dirt. Get down. Get down. Ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba ... CCh, cch, cch, cch, cch ... Got ya. No you didn't. No you did not. Hey no fair, no fair," would echo throughout the neighborhood, from the basements to the yards across the fields and over the woods.
Some Saturday mornings my brother Paul and I would get up earlier than our parents to build an elaborate army fort. We'd cobble it together out of chairs, shoes, hangers, blankets, parts of toys, books--whatever came to hand--directed only by our imaginations. Then, as soon as we got it built, we took great delight in crashing it all down, usually making enough noise to bring Mom and Dad out of the bedroom. Then we'd have breakfast, brush our teeth, and head out to play with friends--again, more army.
This was before political correctness, before the escalation in Vietnam. Combat and The Rat Patrol were mainstays on television, and we went to movies like The Longest Day and P.T. 109. Elvis had just served a hitch in the army, and in school we learned about General Washington crossing the Potomac on Christmas Day, Florence Nightingale, Valley Forge, the Little Big Horn, and D-Day. But it was all storybook drama to us--conflict without consequence, and, to round out this climate made for militaristic masquerading, my father was an army sergeant, right there, right then, right at the height of the Cold War.
When I was growing up, my home always had a room filled with Dad's army stuff. He was always just back from or getting ready to go to the field on maneuvers. Paul and I were responsible for cleaning his army stuff. We were always getting Dad ready for the field or a parade or inspection. I still remember the feel and smell of canvas, tin, tents, ponchos, mess kits, and boot polish. Spit and polish, that was Dad, and Dad expected me to shine them boots. Blind or not, I was expected to be like the other kids in our family and in the neighborhood, shining his shoes, taking out the trash, or playing outside.
We lived in military housing in places like Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Sheridan, Illinois; or Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri--nice suburban areas with plenty of fields and woods for kids to play in, or should I say patrol. During much of this time we were stationed in Frankfurt, Germany, living alongside the kids of other enlisted NCOs and officers. I'd listen to the American Forces Network Europe (AFN) on the radio, featuring the sounds of jeeps and trucks punctuated by constant appeals for top military readiness. "Re-enlist now" and "buy bonds," sandwiched between the top tunes of the day and old radio shows like Suspense, The Shadow, and Gunsmoke.
I played with Dad's army stuff--I mean I helped Dad get ready for the field. And we'd play army, running through the housing areas with wild abandon, giving scope to our overactive imaginations and boundless childish exuberance, making up the rules as we went. Nothin’ was more stimulating to a pack of prepubescent boys than a rousing rendition of
You're in the army now.
You're not behind the plow.
You're digging the ditch,
You son of a ... Well, you get the idea. And mostly I was a kid like any other kid.
Rarely was blindness an
issue. When you were a rambunctious kid like me, your exuberance and natural
glee just got you through. I mean, I've known that I was blind since, well,
since I knew anything about me, but my family never dwelled on it much. And
if you were a kid like me and if the people around you didn't stop you, well
you'd just go. If you tripped, you got back up. If you listened sharp, kept
low to the ground, and accepted your share of the bumps and bruises, none of
the other kids questioned your ability to be a soldier. After all, "Private,
didn't I just tell you I was General Worley? Now fall in, son." You see,
if you have some personality and imagination and leadership: "Ten, hut.
Who goes there? Isn't it true that you are a spy for the Von Stouiviners?"
Of course I refer to the dreaded kids who lived on Von Stouivin Strasse. We
lived on Heugil Strasse during the time Dad was stationed in Frankfurt.
The housing areas were comprised of big concrete block buildings built by the Germans circa World War II. There were three stairwells in each four-story building with two apartments on either side of the hall. A basement stretched the length of the building with little storage rooms lining the hall and actual bomb shelters by the basement back stairs.
I don't think we were supposed to get into the bomb shelters, but they weren't locked, and, well, we were kids. We'd go rumbling through the front of the building, down the stairs, traipse the length of the basement, and dart through the back entrance and up the back stairs. Finding no opposition, we might creep back down the stairs. We'd listen for the enemy or the adults, and if neither was around, we'd ease open the metal bomb shelter door and hide for a while. Then we'd make a plan and be off again.
There was this big field stretching away behind our building over to Von Stouivin Strasse. One Saturday morning the word went out that the kids from Von Stouivin were actually coming. Some new kids had transferred in over there. Someone speculated that they were older kids; I was betting at least ten or eleven. They were set to lead a charge against us. Anyway, someone told my brother Paul that they had some big kids. A kid named Jackson from the next building told me he had heard that one of the new kids was a colonel's son. The whole neighborhood was alive. There was to be a battle. Finally we would be facing off against those Von Stouiviners. What it all meant no one knew, of course, or cared. It was the anticipation, the planning, the drama, the play. It was part of being an army kid during the Cold War.
By mid morning kids were lining up on our side of the big field. We were milling and planning. There must have been hundreds--okay, twenty or thirty. Anyway, it was time, and Hudson, the older kid from C stairwell in our building passed through the ranks. He and his adjutant, some kid whose voice was already changing, told us to find bigger tree limbs and be ready. We would form up in a V formation and move out sharply. I searched around out into the overgrown field and found myself a pretty good-sized forked tree branch; choosing it as my weapon. I began waving it with nervous intensity.
Then I heard from back by the buildings: "Form up. Form up." I scampered back to the line. I wondered where my brother Paul was. This was going to be the big one. I thought: "Should I cross the field by myself, or should I touch my brother's shoulder so that I would have a better idea what was going on?” Then I heard Becky Dowdy's voice: "Hudson says you need to be one of the V anchors. They don't want you to get captured. Besides, I'm the unit nurse, so I'll look for you, you know, because of the wounds on your eyes and all from the last battle." I was in turmoil. I wanted to go into combat. This was going to be the big one. These were the Von Stouiviners. I was ready for the battle, but the game was the game. It was free form, and, well, if my role was to be wounded and evacuated, someone had to be.
The next thing you know we were falling in. I was at the base of the V, and we were moving out, marching forward across the field. It was really happening. We were going after the Von Stouiviners. And sure enough, almost unbelievably, there they were, the kids from Von Stouivin Strasse--a whole herd of them. They came running, screaming, scattering towards us, with seemingly no plan of attack. Colonel's kid, my eye. In my mind we had already won. We had a formation; we were in a V.
Now the battle was on. We were all running, screaming, jumping, chasing, waving tree branches, pointing imaginary rifles, and scattering. Both sides were taking prisoners, then, quick as you could say, "Mom's calling," the retreat back to our side of the field for an exuberant debriefing all about how "We got 'em, Yeah, we got 'em. You should have seen it. They didn't know what hit 'em. Yeah, they sure didn't." Becky, our nurse, reported to our Commander Hudson, Jackson, and the rest: "Only one injury, sir." I was pleased to hear that she was not talking about me. Me, I was thinking about heading in for lunch--all in a day's work for a normal little blind kid playing army.
Ask Miss Whozit
From the Editor:
For several months now Miss Whozit has been answering reader questions about
etiquette and good manners, particularly as they involve blindness. If you would
like to pose a question to Miss Whozit, you can send it to the attention of
Barbara Pierce, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, or email me
at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. I will pass the questions along. Letters may be
edited for space and clarity. Here are the most recent letters Miss Whozit has
Dear Miss Whozit:
Over the years, even at NFB conventions, I have observed people, particularly those born blind or without families who taught them how to handle themselves in public. I have just enough vision to notice inappropriate behavior and sometimes correct myself when I observe the way sighted people behave. I can then ask for advice about how things should be done. It is often embarrassing but also rewarding.
One thing that should be addressed when people are ready for employment after going through our training centers is habitual rocking or other repetitive motions. Several sighted friends who have worked in the corporate world have asked me about this behavior, and frankly I cannot think of an adequate answer.
Why do people who are blind, particularly those who have been in residential schools, rock? I was helping in a booth in the exhibit hall one year, and my partner was sitting Indian fashion on a folding chair, rocking back and forth, swinging a keychain from side to side in front of his face and shaking his head. I do not know how he kept from falling out of the chair. In the course of conversation I discovered this man had been to college and had several degrees but had been unsuccessful for years in finding a job. I asked him if he had figured out why, and he said that he did not know. He said he wore clean jeans and t-shirts to the interviews and made sure he had showered that morning. I asked if he had ever taken a job-readiness class in college, and he said that he didn’t need one. All he had to do was present his résumé and recommendation letters. Setting aside the question of inappropriate dress for an interview, he is not the only person I have seen rocking or exhibiting unusual behavior.
Should I have tried to
say something direct enough to make him recognize his unacceptable behavior
without making him angry or embarrassing him? Whether we want to admit it or
not, the majority of people in human resources are sighted and extremely dependent
on first impressions. I worked in an office for almost thirteen years and had
to maintain a certain level of decorum. Aren’t these subjects addressed at our
training centers? What about the importance of good posture and appropriate
Dear Decent Impression:
You have raised a very important yet sensitive issue that often falls into the category of the elephant in the living room that everyone studiously avoids mentioning. It falls into the broad category of behavior often called “blindisms”--idly or vigorously rocking front to back or side to side, twisting the head from side to side, rubbing the eyes, fluttering fingers in front of the eyes to make sure they still work, twisting hair, and other equally odd mannerisms. The second part of the equation is the reaction of sighted people to any unusual, different, or even unacceptable human behavior.
Miss Whozit wishes to begin by pointing out a truth which should be self evident but nevertheless needs occasional repeating: sighted people can see! Strange as it may seem, some blind people apparently forget this reality from time to time and engage in activities in public which are disgusting or embarrassing to those watching. Any human being, blind or sighted, may well engage in activities in private which are simply unacceptable when the behavior is or may be observed by others. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan wrote extensively on this topic in his article “The Barrier of the Visible Difference” in the Kernel Book, Gray Pancakes and Gold Horses. Blindisms have been discussed and written about widely. Miss Whozit is sad to report that some people propound deep psychological and philosophical foundations to explain this phenomenon, and perhaps they are right. Unfortunately such explanations do not provide an excuse that lets the blind person off the social hook. Miss Whozit is convinced that the reasons for such behavior are simple. All small children engage in a variety of behaviors that are universally unacceptable. If little Suzie is sighted, her parents and other relatives will say, “Stop picking your nose [or whatever]! You may not do that. That is a nasty habit.” Moreover, the concerned adults will keep at it until the habit is broken.
If little Suzie is blind, however, many parents and other adults seem to be reluctant or even afraid to hold the blind child to the sighted standard. When the parents listen to the faux experts in the field rather than the authentic experts (the organized blind), the expectation for normal and appropriate behavior becomes obscured. When this happens, what begins as a petty little habit eventually becomes a hard-wired characteristic which is nearly impossible to reverse.
These unacceptable mannerisms then run head long into the social expectations of sighted society and reinforce the minority-group status of the blind. If a sighted person engages in some activity which is not the norm (some do), those around him or her dismiss the undesirable habit as the actions of a weirdo. Other sighted people are not tarred by the weirdness brush and are certainly not placed in that category just because of the odd behavior of one weirdo. When, however, a blind person exhibits such behavior, many in society judge all blind people by the unacceptable or bizarre behavior of the one. Like it or not, we blind people are already thought of as different and are scrutinized more closely. Adding the unacceptable behavior compounds the novelty of blindness and the attention it draws.
In his book Freedom for the Blind, Jim Omvig devotes an entire chapter to the topic of blending in and endeavoring to behave in such a way that one is acceptable to others. Miss Whozit pleads with parents of blind children to read this chapter and also to be relentless in their effort to stamp out overtly bizarre behavior or even silly little habits. What can and should adults do to combat such behavior in themselves or those they care about? If one recognizes personal blindisms, he or she should ask friends and family members to offer quiet, private reminders when the old habits surface. If friends or family members care about a person who is not aware of blindisms, they should go quietly to that person and ask if they can help. In either case a private plan should be devised to give a signal to the blind person as a reminder that he or she is engaging in the activity and should stop.
The sad truth is that until and unless the blind adult with such habits recognizes them and wishes to be rid of them, no one else can help very much. What we can do is to make clear to these friends just how much of a problem the behavior is and at what a disadvantage it will put the person socially and professionally. We do nothing but harm our children or friends by pretending that everyone else will understand or that the peculiar behavior will not be as much of a roadblock to social acceptance as poor grooming or disgusting table manners.
Dear Miss Whozit:
I realize that this column is chiefly concerned about points of etiquette focusing on blindness. My inquiry deals more, however, with the etiquette of setting boundaries and practicing good manners between guest and host. I have some vision, and I need advice about what to do about a totally blind guest who has been with me one weekend and who will be back.
To what extent may I as the hostess set boundaries? This guest will be coming to my city for five more weekends because she is taking a computer class. Let me say to begin with that this housing arrangement was not my idea, though I did agree to it when this person asked for a place to stay since she lives out of town and does not have the money to take a hotel room for the weekend of each class meeting.
The first problem results from the fact that I try to eat healthily; my guest does not. Does Miss Whozit think etiquette demands that the hostess should go out of her way to prepare unhealthy meals (which, by the way, would require purchasing totally different foods), or should the guest eat the healthy dishes served in the hostess’s home in order to be courteous? When I tried to find a compromise, my guest indicated that she didn’t wish to order out or go out to eat because she didn’t wish to spend money. Complicating the situation is the fact that I am recovering from major surgery. Although I am now back to work, I am far from energetic and able to prepare special meals for her. The disconcerting thing about preparing a meal for this woman is that it is not at all uncommon for her to declare that she doesn’t care for what has been served.
What boundaries can a hostess set without being rude, and, on the other hand, to what extent can a guest call the shots without being perceived as insulting to her hostess? Another complication is that the guest in this situation is totally blind, has deformed hands, and seems to have a wretched sense of direction. As a result she is often very demanding. For example, she frequently asks others, in this case me, to take the dog guide out for relief. She also often expects that the hostess will treat her to meals when they are out.
Shouldn’t the guest treat once in a while, considering that she is not paying for a hotel room? Would Miss Whozit consider discussing these matters with the guest to be inappropriate or rude? If not, how can I raise these problems without insulting my guest?
Last Saturday evening three of us had dinner together, each buying her own meal. At my suggestion we then bought coffee and went to my apartment to drink it. My guest clearly said that she thought the third person would prefer the hostess to make coffee rather than buying it. I responded that, because I was still recovering from surgery, the friend would have to make do. I think it was really my guest not the friend who wanted brewed not bought coffee. As usual with this guest, we had to repeat this exchange of suggestion and refusal several times before she gave in. I think she believes that if she restates her position enough times, other people will cave in and do things her way.
As you can probably tell, I have come to feel that this whole arrangement is a grave imposition on me. Would it be rude to suggest to this guest that after her class she simply go home? Then my entire weekend would not be monopolized by a nagging, demanding guest who is pushy and self-centered. Thank you for your courteous attention to this matter.
Being Pushed Around and Tired of It
Dear Pushed Around:
Miss Whozit has almost been forced to dab her brow after reading such a list of catastrophes between hostess and guest. Except for the specific details, which have to do with blindness, the issues you raise really have nothing to do with visual acuity--other sorts of acuity, yes; etiquette, yes; but not vision. Nonetheless, you obviously require assistance, and your guest needs advice, so in the name of civility Miss Whozit will undertake to remind you both of a few of the facts of polite society.
In all candor and with deep respect for your generous impulses, why, my dear Pushed Around, did you ever agree to have a house guest while you were still recovering from surgery, especially one whom you did not know well? I recognize that you did not spontaneously issue the invitation, but you did agree to the arrangement. It is never uncivil to refuse such a request when you are recovering from surgery, have a new baby, are preparing to move, or face other personal complications.
But if you think that you again might consider having someone stay in your home during six weekends, I trust that you have now learned the hard way the necessity of making some inquiries and laying down some guidelines. Most people making such a request of an acquaintance understand the difference between using a bedroom and bath while taking a course in a distant city and accepting an invitation from someone prepared to entertain one during a visit. Your current guest apparently does not perceive the distinction.
In the circumstances Miss Whozit feels compelled to review the responsibilities of host and guest in this social interaction between rather distant acquaintances. Before beginning the series of visits, the two should agree on what meals are included in the arrangement. Usually this is at most a continental breakfast. If the hostess cooks her own breakfast and is willing to prepare more food, the guest should decide if she wishes to join in the meal. Because this convenient-bed arrangement is not the usual host-and-guest relationship, the guest can simply decline the meal or even make a request to bring in a few staples for preparing her own meal or meals.
Lunch or dinner can be shared if the hostess clearly invites her guest to join her. A statement such as, “I am having stir-fried tofu and vegetables (or fried chicken and mashed potatoes) this evening and could easily count you in,” would signal to the guest what kind of cuisine is to be expected. Making any such offer is not required in the name of civility, given the terms of this housing arrangement. Miss Whozit does insist, however, that, if the invitation is accepted, the meal should be graciously served and graciously eaten. No announcements about not caring for the food one has been served or requests for alternative dishes should ever pass a guest’s lips. If what is offered is completely inedible, one must as lightly as possible pass off the uneaten food with a face-saving fiction such as, “It smells delicious, but I have a strong allergy to peanuts (or something else in the dish), and neither of us wants the consequences of my eating them.” This should be followed by an assurance that one is not hungry or that the salad will be plenty or anything to make the hostess feel less that she has sent her guest to bed hungry.
A conscientious hostess who has had such an experience will wish to find something within the range of her cooking style and skill that will be more acceptable the next time a meal is shared at her table. Sometimes this is impossible, and civil people will not make the experiment often, but under no circumstance is it appropriate for a guest to announce that he or she does not care for a dish or meal and demand something different. Likewise a gracious host or hostess never insists that a meal be eaten. Polite fictions have their place in civil society.
If a guest is staying without charge in the home of another person, even if no meals are included in the invitation, inviting the host or hostess to a meal out would certainly be a gracious gesture. If the host has reason to believe that accepting the invitation would cause financial hardship, it can be tactfully refused.
If a guest who uses a guide dog breaks a leg or sprains an ankle while staying in someone’s home, the host should certainly make arrangements for someone else to take the dog out while the guest is incapacitated. This was not the case with your guest; she presumably was trained with the dog while her hands were impaired, and she takes the dog out when she is at home alone. She should certainly not expect that someone else will relieve the dog for her just because that person happens to be at hand. Therefore refusing gently to do the task, perhaps with a pleasantly stated reminder that the responsibilities of caring for the dog, however inconvenient, belong to the owner, is absolutely appropriate and perfectly civil.
As for your dinner out with coffee to follow at your home, it is usual for the host to offer refreshment to a group spending an evening in his or her home. Considering that you were still recovering from surgery, however, it was perfectly appropriate for you to suggest that everyone grab a cup of coffee and maybe a dessert before returning to the apartment. You might have saved yourself the barrage of hints about your providing refreshments if as part of this suggestion you had made reference to your still weakened condition, perhaps with an apology for being unable to fulfill the usual responsibility of a hostess. If this disclaimer did not head off the hints altogether, it would at least have put you in an unassailable position. On second thought, with a guest more or less tone deaf to the subtleties of social interaction, such an explanation might well have made no impact at all.
The real question is what to do to extricate yourself now that the two of you are enmeshed in a pattern of behavior that makes you, at least, feel angry and pushed around. Miss Whozit regrets to say that she fears nothing but a frank discussion can alter your difficult position. Pointing out the many incivilities in your guest’s past behavior would probably do little to improve her manners. On the other hand, trying to reduce the number of points at which your lifestyles and notions of appropriate conduct come into conflict seems to Miss Whozit a sensible course of action. In the long run, however, Miss Whozit hopes that you have learned to establish the ground rules and limits of such housing offers.
Blind people are not naturally less capable of behaving with tact and consideration than the rest of society. Some people allow themselves to become self-centered and inconsiderate when their lives are complicated by poverty, disability, or misfortune. When faced with such a person, others must try to be understanding without becoming doormats. Happily, civility and graciousness cost nothing but a bit of self-discipline and development of consideration for others.
The Deposit Box
by Seville Allen
From the Editor:
Seville Allen is a longtime leader of the National Federation of the Blind.
She currently serves as first vice president of the NFB of Virginia. In her
cover note transmitting this little article to me, Seville said that she had
been thinking about this subject for some months, so she wrote down her reflections.
She has made me think as well. Perhaps this Thanksgiving all of us in the Federation
should think about the blessings that previous generations have deposited for
us to draw on and then consider how much we are doing for the generations to
come. This is what she says:
It was April 21, 2005, a beautiful spring day in Arlington, Virginia. I grabbed my purse and cane, locked the house door, and began the three-block walk to my bank. My purpose was to retrieve my passport from my deposit box as part of my preparation for a trip to Italy. I arrived at the bank, advised the bank officer that I needed to get into my deposit box, produced my box key, and we entered the vault. The bank officer turned a key in one lock, and I used my key in another. I heard the sound of metal on metal as the bank officer lifted my box from the drawer, placed it on a table, and left the room. I found myself alone in the vault accessing my deposit box with complete privacy.
My passport retrieved, I walked the three blocks home. As I waited for the light to change at a busy intersection, my mind wandered back to the late 1970’s. The memory was so vivid that it was hard to believe it was twenty-five years ago that Marion McDonald, one of the founders of the NFB of Virginia, couldn’t have retrieved anything from a deposit box because she had been denied one on the basis of her blindness. How different her experience was from my own!
I recalled that during a NFB chapter meeting all those years ago Marion had explained to the members that she had been denied a deposit box at the bank. She had gone to the bank to rent a box to have a safe place to keep our affiliate financial records. The bank officer told her that the bank could not be responsible for anything taken from her box, and when she explained that she would be keeping track of the box contents, the bank officer said that someone might come into the vault and take something without her knowledge because she wouldn’t see it happening. “How could that be?” I thought as Marion continued her story. I had learned this positive reaction and also my indignation from Marion and my chapter colleagues.
Marion McDonald was one
of the most competent people I have ever known. She was one of my first positive
role models of what a blind person could do. She was our treasurer, taught kids
piano lessons, and was a wise, gentle, and competent adult making her way in
Alexandria. She had taught at a prison, so why would she let anyone come into
a bank vault and take something of hers? Surely Marion would hear footsteps
and recognize the sound of paper being moved--these were my thoughts as Marion
told her sad story.
But Marion’s story ended with her telling us that no one in the bank would let her have the box despite her explanations and arguments to the contrary. The bank official’s ignorance prevailed, and Marion could not have a deposit box even if she paid for it.
Now, in 2005, all that has changed. As I walked down my quiet street, approaching my home, I thought of how pleased Marion’s spirit would be to know that another layer of discrimination had been removed, giving my generation access to something her generation, and Marion particularly, never got to enjoy. I thought about how much Marion had taught me, especially that blindness in itself isn’t the issue, but society’s attitudes about it. These constitute discrimination and make the absence of vision for many of us more a social handicap than a physical disability. As I thought about Marion’s experience, it occurred to me that our work to change what it means to be blind is a big deposit box--a box constructed from our positive approach to blindness. Our deposit box keys consist of hard-won legislation, improved rehabilitation regulations, our Kernel Books, and our Jernigan Institute. Our collective experiences represent the contents of the box. Each generation of Federationists makes deposits in the box, deposits that can be retrieved by the next generation.
Marion’s teaching me that blindness need not be a barrier to functioning as a responsible adult was the deposit slip marked “confidence” that Marion placed in the box for me to retrieve: to go to the bank and get a deposit box rather than assume that, because I am blind, the bank would deny my application. That bank deposit box containing my valuable papers is only a symbol of the contents of the deposit box our NFB offers each of us to learn how to be a part of changing what it means to be blind for ourselves, bank officials, and society at large. These accumulated experiences are the essence of changing what it means to be blind.
So What Can You Do?
by Jean King
From the Editor:
The following article appeared in Voice of the Diabetic, Volume 20,
Number 1, Winter 2005, published by the Diabetes Action Network of the National
Federation of the Blind. One of the fundamental tenets of the National Federation
of the Blind is that blindness need not be a tragedy. All too often, however,
especially when it is only one of several disabilities, it can be powerfully
debilitating. What is one to do under those circumstances? Jean King looks at
this painful question and evolves the answer that worked for her. Her story
is pure inspiration. Here it is:
I recently called the Talking Book Library and requested an inspirational book that would help me with the task of being legally blind. I received a book the next day. The writer, an elderly, retired columnist of some sort, recounted for me the problems he faced and documented all the things his wife did for him.
At first I had wished for such complete custodial care. I had already known the problems this man spoke of, but I dutifully finished the book, boxed it up, and promptly sent it back. Then I wheeled myself out onto our beautiful deck and had a good cry.
I could have generated these emotions on my own. I had not needed the book I had spent my day reading. Then I felt anger at the time and energy wasted in this effort to get myself fixed. While I was atoning for my anger, it occurred to me: since I hadn't found inspiration, I wondered if, perhaps, I might have it to give. Up to now, I have not shared my experience. I have guarded my feelings just in case they might not be legitimate. But now I will share them.
Twenty-some years ago, when I was in my forties, my feet began to give me trouble. I did not have diabetes, but I had all the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. My first task, it was soon apparent, was to convince the medical establishment and its psychological cohorts that my pain was not all in my head. That done, I traipsed to the major medical clinics, confirmed my own diagnosis, and discovered there was little else to do. I finally accepted reality and went about experiencing the painful loss of real sensation in my feet and legs. It has since moved on to my hands, face, and gut but is somehow not very relevant to the real living of my life anymore. It is just part of my reality.
The nerve loss in my feet was taking away the long hikes in the Colorado mountain foothills and impeding my ability to drive, even with the hand controls I used at that time. Reading was becoming increasingly difficult. I had read constantly since before I started school, so I thought perhaps I should cut back on what might be over-use of my eyes. It did not help.
My ophthalmologist recognized the problem. Over the years we had not discussed my macular degeneration much, but in 1992 she sent me off to another specialist, her friend, who specialized in low-vision problems, and she broke the news that I was now legally blind.
There were not many choices left to make. I had already given up my driver's license. I was not ready to give up being a public school teacher. Registration with the state department of vocational rehabilitation was a given. The staff valiantly attempted to find a means for me to continue teaching. My husband cooperated in every way. Nothing worked. I said goodbye to my last student. I went home to accept my new situation and to mourn.
My husband returned to work. At home I huddled under an afghan that my mother had crocheted for me long ago. I could not cry. I huddled. My dog Daisy, a Cairn terrier, cocked her head and watched my behavior in dismay. She chased her tail in a futile attempt to get me to go for a walk. Then, when I lay down completely, she leaped up and settled herself on top of me to wait. She sighed...and waited. She waited for months. I dwelt on all the things that I could not do. Still she waited. Finally my sluggish mind wandered. It wondered: what can I do?
If I could find my shoes, I could venture outside for Daisy. She was at the door, watching, waiting for me. While I waited for her, I could see a tall weed in my columbine garden. I could sit on the ground and pull it. I could. I could scoot over a bit and reach another. I could. They needed water. I could. That night I met my husband at the door with a grin that he had almost forgotten. I could. Daisy smiled with my husband.
Each day Daisy helped me find things that I could do. She smiled again as she got her first good hair brushing in a year. I could smile too. I could. My emotional and physical pain is not what I need to share with you. We are the experts on what is our own. What I want to give you are the things I learned while dwelling on the things I had lost. You will not have time to do that job yourself once you realize that you too can do.
As you know, in your own life you will suffer losses through aging, perhaps through diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, macular degeneration, or some of the other ills of mankind. Whatever those losses are, I ask you to face them. Look at whatever it is in the light of reality. Look it over well. Get to know exactly what you have lost. Accept it. Mourn it thoroughly, but don't take too long about it. Life is short.
Then ask yourself a question: what can I do about this condition, now that I have just accepted it? The keyword here is “can.” Don't waste your time on the reverse. Find one thing that you can do and act on it. Another "I can" will follow. If it is slow to appear, do the first "can" again while you wait. Celebrate it.
There might be something else you can do. Think about it; be creative. Hand controls on my car allowed me to keep driving for a time, in spite of neuropathy and numbness in my feet. Another example: I now read books on tape. I didn't quit reading--I switched. And I recorded my own favorite recipes on tapes while I still could read print. Then we found new measuring cups at a discount store made for folks with limited vision. We marked the temperature settings better on my oven control--and I was a cook again.
Do everything you can think of to help yourself. Then drop it. If you can do more, you will think of it. Do it and move on. Mantra for dealing with loss: face the loss. Mourn the loss. Do everything you can do to mitigate that loss. Locate the help you need and ask for it. Accept the help graciously and move on.
for Income–How You Can Make a Charitable Gift
That Pays You Income for Life
Charitable Gift Annuity (CGA)
Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT)
Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust (CRAT)
* What is
a Charitable Gift Annuity?
A Charitable Gift Annuity (CGA) is a contract under which, in return for a transfer of cash, marketable securities, or other property, a charity agrees to pay a fixed sum of money to the donor (annuitant) for a period measured by one or two lives. These payments are fixed and unchanged for the term of the contract.
Payment Initiation of Charitable Gift Annuities:
Immediate Gift Annuity – The annuitant starts receiving payments at the end of the payment period immediately following the gift.
Deferred Gift Annuity – The annuitant starts receiving payments at a future time. The date chosen by the donor must be more than one year after the date of the contribution.
Types of Charitable Gift Annuity Agreements:
Single life agreement – Pays one person only for his/her lifetime.
Two Lives in Succession Agreement – Pays person A first. If person B survives person A, agreement pays person B.
Joint Survivor Agreement – Pays two people simultaneously.
Guidelines for Gift Annuities with the National Federation of the Blind:
Annuitant(s) must be sixty-five years or older.
Minimum amount of Gift Annuity Agreement is $25,000
Example: On April 1, 2005, Kathryn Jones, age sixty-five, made a donation of $25,000 to the National Federation of the Blind in exchange for a charitable gift annuity at 6.0%. She received a charitable deduction of $8,882.25 for the gift. Her annual annuity payments of $1,500 are based on her life expectancy of 19.9 years.
* What Is a Charitable Remainder Unitrust?
In establishing a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT), the donor transfers cash or property irrevocably to the trust. The donor decides what percentage of the fair market value of the trust assets he or she wishes to receive as income (must be at least 5 percent). Unitrusts offer a wonderful hedge against inflation. As the value of the trust increases, so does the income. Conversely, if the value of the unitrust declines, the donor still receives the same percentage, but income payments are smaller.
* What Is a Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust?
A Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust (CRAT) is similar to a unitrust, but the income the donor receives is set as a fixed amount when the trust is established. In this way the donor receives reliable, stable income that is not subject to market fluctuations.
For more information please contact:
Izzy Menchero, Director of Outreach Programs
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
(410) 659-9314, ext. 2408, email: email@example.com
Recommended Nonvisual Access Products for Blind Seniors
by the Staff of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind
From the Editor: Anyone who staffs a state or local National Federation of the Blind phone deals almost daily with calls from seniors losing vision or members of their families. They need help, advice, and support. In so many words they are asking for tools or techniques to allow the blind person to see again. It requires patience and tact to guide them to the admission that, because as they know very well their vision is not going to return, they really need to learn nonvisual ways of doing the tasks that they have always used vision to accomplish.
This message is far from welcome, but it eventually makes sense to most people. Teaching a newly blind person or a friend how to dial a phone without looking takes only a few minutes. Describing methods of marking appliances tactilely is simple. Providing contact numbers for the NLS Talking Book program and NFB-NEWSLINE® opens the door to returning literacy and intellectual stimulation.
But what about
the technology? What is available? What does it do? Where can people learn more
about it? The access technology staff at the International Braille and Technology
Center for the Blind of the NFB Jernigan Institute has now compiled some valuable
information about low-tech and high-tech equipment of interest to many seniors.
This is what they say:
As the huge baby boomer generation ages into senior citizens, it is inevitable that more senior citizens will encounter some form of vision loss. The National Federation of the Blind has discovered that, with proper training and a positive attitude, blindness can be reduced to a mere inconvenience. However, good training can be hard to come by, especially for a senior who has recently become blind. On the one hand we believe that blindness should not be a factor that will prevent anyone from being independent; on the other hand, we realize that newly blind seniors need some time to learn new skills and to adjust to new ways of doing things as vision loss becomes more severe. The staff of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC) of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute takes this opportunity to recommend several nonvisual products that many blind seniors find useful, especially those who are new to mastering the skills of blindness.
Please note: This article
does not contain product comparisons or product evaluation. For extensive comparison
and evaluation, contact the IBTC staff with specific requests. Prices can change
quickly, so we have not included prices here, but we have included the manufacturer
for each product. However, the first products listed do not have the name of
the manufacturer because they are available from the NFB’s Materials Center,
1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230. For detailed information and
pricing, please contact the NFB Materials Center by telephone at (410) 659-9314,
(8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Time), or email your question to <firstname.lastname@example.org>;
or read the NFB Aids and Appliances Catalog on the Internet at <www.nfb.org>
(under “Aids and Appliances”).
The daily task of taking
care of our health is probably the most important task that puzzles many newly
blind seniors. By use of proper technology the level of frustration associated
with this task can be dramatically reduced. Here are some of the medical products
Digital Talking Thermometer. This clinical thermometer provides an audible output of the temperature as well as a visual display. You can retrieve the value of the last temperature measurement from the memory.
Digital Probe Covers. These thin, disposable covers are for use with the digital talking thermometer. 100 per package.
Lo-dose Count-A-Dose–1/2 cc. This device assists diabetics to fill syringes with insulin. Holds one or two bottles of U-100 insulin (any brand), uses low-dose (1/2 cc) disposable insulin syringes, fills in one-unit increments, and makes a distinctive click that can be heard and felt with each increment. The device is small enough to fit in the palm of the hand.
Talking Rx Prescription
Reader. This is a single self-contained base unit on which a doctor, a pharmacist,
or a caregiver records the patient’s prescription instructions. At home the
patient pushes the red button on the base and listens to the recording. The
base fits a 12-, 13-, 16-, or 20-gram size prescription vial. A separate unit
is needed for each prescription.
Our home is our sanctuary. Regrettably, newly blind seniors often must struggle to maintain their independence. Many of the mundane tasks they are accustomed to doing have become more difficult. To assist newly blind seniors in maintaining their independence, we recommend the following houseware products:
Bump-Ons. These clear, circular bumps with self-adhesive backing come in three sizes and can be used to mark appliances, telephones, televisions, and much more.
Large-Width .44 x height
.20 inches with 28 bumps to a sheet.
Medium-Width .375 x height .150 inches with 24 bumps to a sheet.
Small-Width .312 x height .085 inches with 36 bumps to a sheet.
Steak Weight. This heavy, cast aluminum flat plate with a waffle design is used to brown meats on both sides simultaneously. 1/4 x 4-1/2 x 8-3/4 inches.
Talking Digital All-Purpose Thermometer. The all-purpose thermometer can be used for cooking, bathwater, gardening, and hobbies. The accuracy of this item is +/-1.8 degrees Fahrenheit over the range of -4 to +248 degrees Fahrenheit. The probe measures 5 inches by 1 1/2 inches wide, features a LCD screen, has a retention loop for hanging; and a rocker button that, when pressed to the left, will turn the thermometer on, when pressed to the right, will announce the temperature, and, when pressed left again, will turn the device off. Uses one 3v cr2032 disk battery (included).
EZ Fill Liquid Level Indicator. This small device buzzes when any liquid is one inch from the lip of your container. Measures 2 1/2 x 1/4 inches and has two prongs which fit inside your coffee cup or other container. Uses three 1.5V LR44 disk 9-volt batteries (included).
Audio Dialer. This device is connected to your telephone. A user can load up to fifty names into the memory. It requires two easy steps to program your frequently used phone numbers. After that in three easy steps you have made your telephone call.
Indoor/Outdoor Talking Thermometer. This device has two digital displays and will speak both temperatures at the touch of a button. It has an alarm and hourly report feature. The outdoor temperature is taken from a probe attached to a long wire that must be placed outside a window or door. Uses two AAA batteries (included), and measures 5 3/4 x 3 1/4 inches.
Note Teller. Measuring
6 1/4 x 3 x 1 1/4 inches and weighing 7.1 ounces, this banknote reader identifies
U. S. currency, from $1 to $100 denominations, including the new bills. It speaks
English or Spanish, has a three-level volume control switch, and has a stereo
plug-in jack for personal listening.
This is the end of the selection of appliances sold by the NFB Materials Center. The accessible equipment that follows is sold by other vendors as noted.
Talking Microwave. Manufactured by Independent Living Aids, it is specially modified with a clear male voice to talk you through all the operating functions. It has a built-in turntable for heating evenly and features a speaking countdown timer that can be used independently from the microwave function to provide accurate timing for any purpose.
CC Radio. Manufactured by C. Crane Company, Inc., it is specifically designed for talk radio, news, sports, and weather. Its control buttons are fully accessible by blind users, and both print and cassette owner’s manuals are provided. With the built-in weather band you can listen to the NOAA weather station for current local conditions. A special weather alert feature sounds an alarm to notify you of weather emergency updates. This feature even works while you are listening to AM or FM. This alarm will even sound at night to wake you up if there is an alert. In fact you can select three weather alert functions: flashing light and no alarm, NOAA audio, or flashing light and siren. This radio operates with the supplied AC cord or may be operated for up to 250 hours on four D cells (not supplied). A carry handle lip is built into the rear panel. All of the radio’s functions are available by logically positioned controls and buttons.
KELVIN Talking Thermostat. Manufactured by Action Talking Products, it can be activated by voice, manually, or by clapping hands. You can set time, date, and program temperature schedules for different times of the day or week.
The VIP Talking Thermostat.
Manufactured by Talking Thermostats, it is a digital thermostat with audio playback
that uses human recorded speech. Features include voicing of time, indoor temperature,
temperature setting, and programming instructions so blind and visually impaired
users can precisely and easily manage their indoor comfort.
Accessing Text Information
Every day we are bombarded with printed material. For a newly blind senior, not being able to read is a major challenge. Technology exists to scan a print page and read it back to you. To do this, you need to use optical character recognition (OCR) technology. The machine must recognize a document in order to read it correctly. This means the software that runs the machine must be told whether there are columns, headings, or other print features. Most printed and typed items are easy to understand. You can scan incoming mail and often determine what it is from the return address or the first page of the item. If you have some vision, scanning will be easier because you can determine where items begin and end. Handwriting and items such as bills may not read clearly. You can improve your chance of success by having someone explain the print layout of such items.
Once you become familiar with the layout of documents you regularly read, lots of enjoyment and information from the world of print are available to you. Don’t get discouraged. You do not have to learn every feature of a program to obtain the results you want.
For newly blind seniors who want to take advantage of advanced computer technology designed for ease of use, here are the latest high-performance, print-reading hardware and software possibilities:
NFB-NEWSLINE® is the only electronic news service that provides on-demand access to over 200 newspapers plus three magazines seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day to people eligible for service from the National Library Service for the Blind. The only tool needed is a telephone. Eligible registered users residing in sponsored states may access the service using any Touch-Tone telephone from anywhere in the United States free of charge. Those residing in unsponsored states may not. For further information contact the local National Federation of the Blind affiliate or local regional library for the blind.
OpenBook, distributed by Freedom Scientific, is designed to give a blind user the ability to scan documents, newspapers, books, and magazines. After the page is scanned, the program translates the image into a file that the machine can read aloud upon command. The program comes with several voices, some very human-sounding. This is helpful if you are not used to listening to a computer with speech. The text on the screen can be magnified to help low-vision users read the text. The numerical keypad on the PC can be used to perform many functions within the program, such as scan a page, read a page, erase a page, adjust voice rate, and adjust the volume. After a document is scanned, the document can be saved in several file types: Word, text, and even MP3. If the file is saved as an MP3, it can be transferred to an MP3 player to listen to on the go. Please be advised that you must purchase a separate scanner to use with this optical character recognition application.
SARA (Scanning and Reading Appliance), distributed by Freedom Scientific, is a stand-alone unit that allows a user to scan and read print text, whether in English or one of several foreign languages. SARA will read aloud in the language written on the document. It will also play DAISY-formatted books on CDs.
The SARA has a key describer mode that allows the user to press all the buttons to learn their functions. Four buttons along the front of the unit can be set to perform functions defined by the user. You can set the buttons to do such things as delete page, read column, or ignore column, jump from top to bottom of file, jump from bottom to top of file. With the press of the scan button, the SARA will scan a document and process the scan. After scanning the first page, you can continue to scan more pages or begin to read the text.
You can also choose to scan pages while reading other pages. Rocker buttons on the front of the unit allow the user to adjust voice rate and volume. There is no QWERTY keyboard on the unit; therefore you can’t type on it. When saving a file, you can record the name of the file. This file name will be spoken in your voice when you open a file. The SARA has an onboard CD reader and writer for saving files to CD.
A television or computer monitor can be plugged in to the SARA, and as the unit reads text, it will also highlight and magnify the text for users with low vision. When listening to the unit read, you have several voices to choose from.
Kurzweil 1000, distributed by Kurzweil Educational Systems, contains many features to assist users when scanning and creating documents. If you are new to the world of scanning or the use of a computer, Kurzweil 1000 can be set up so it is easy to use. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:
When you install the program, a message appears asking if you want Kurzweil 1000 to start automatically each time you start your computer. If you plan to use Kurzweil 1000 on your computer for scanning and reading documents only, answer “yes,” and your computer will act like a stand-alone reading machine.
Another feature, which
is automatically selected during installation, allows the use of the numeric
keypad at the right of standard computer keyboards to enter all Kurzweil commands
and to read documents. The seventeen-button keypad is similar to a calculator
in appearance. There are keys for scanning and reading documents, saving and
retrieving previously scanned items, and changing the speed and pitch of the
voice. A help feature identifies each key pressed to aid in learning its function.
A handy reference guide that describes how to get started quickly is provided
in print and through the computer’s file system. No other keys on the computer
are needed when the keypad is in use. Kurzweil comes with several voices that
may be installed. The voices are humanlike and quite easy to listen to. For
those newly blind seniors who are Internet experts, Kurzweil can locate the
repository of specific book titles if they are available as electronic books
on the World Wide Web. Kurzweil also has a feature called Recognize Currency,
which can identify U. S., European, and British banknotes. Kurzweil is not a
stand-alone reading machine. You must have a computer and compatible scanner
in order to use this optical character recognition software.
Technology Resource List: Prices and Sources
For more comprehensive listings of print-reading hardware and software, consult the “Technology Resource List: Prices and Sources” (online or alternative copy), a publication of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC) of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. Both print and Braille hard copy can be requested by telephone by calling (410) 659-9314, option 5 for the technology answer line. If you prefer to read it online or download the pamphlet from the Internet at <www.nfb.org>, go to the subject heading “Technology,” then to the title. Other useful information about accessible technology will be found listed here as well. For the most current pricing contact manufacturers or distributors directly. Remember that this article does not contain product comparisons or evaluations. For more extensive evaluation contact the staff of the IBTC at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute with your specific requests.
The First of the First Ladies, Mrs. Hazel tenBroek, Dies
by Marc Maurer and Sharon Gold
From the Editor: On Friday, October 7, my phone rang at lunchtime. It was Sharon Gold telling me that at 1:30 that morning Mrs. tenBroek had slipped away to rejoin her beloved Chick. It was fitting that Sharon was the one to deliver this news to the Federation family. For many years she was the president of the California affiliate and a close friend of Mrs. tenBroek until her death. In fact, from the time of Mrs. tenBroek’s move to Sacramento in 1988 until her move to a nursing facility, Sharon was probably her closest friend and greatest support. Here are President Maurer’s and Sharon Gold’s recollections of and tributes to Hazel tenBroek. We begin with President Maurer’s:
On Friday, October 7, 2005, as I was attending the convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, I learned that Mrs. Hazel tenBroek, the widow of our founding president, had died during the previous night. She had been ill for a long time.
About five years ago I went to visit her in an assisted living facility, and we enjoyed a conversation that lasted for more than two hours. The Parkinson’s had affected her muscles so that she had difficulty holding a pen or writing, holding a fork or a glass, or doing much of anything else with her hands. Her voice also had been affected. Her speech was slow and often difficult to comprehend, but she spoke of the early days in the National Federation of the Blind and of her time with Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. She remembered especially her tasks in support of Dr. tenBroek--of helping with his writing, of helping with the entertaining that occurred in their home, and of the extensive driving assignments she had for Federation gatherings. She and Dr. tenBroek had purchased a great big used 1929 Buick, which was just right for picking up hordes of Federation members. Unfortunately, after they had driven the car for a couple of years, somebody stole it. Mrs. tenBroek thought the vehicle had been particularly suited for bringing crowds to meetings, gatherings, and political events. She was proud of having driven so much for Dr. tenBroek and for us.
I first met Mrs. tenBroek in 1969. She was then associate editor of the Braille Monitor, a job she held through 1976. At each convention of the Federation the first item on the afternoon agenda for the first day of sessions is the presidential report. During the time that Mrs. tenBroek served as associate editor of the Monitor, the item following the presidential report was her report from the Berkeley office. I first heard her voice as she delivered the Berkeley report from the podium in 1969.
Mrs. tenBroek was warm and generous to us, but she was also a fierce advocate, who could speak her mind directly when the Federation was attacked. During the NAC wars she took the scoundrels to task and demanded that they be responsive to the blind of the nation.
Mrs. tenBroek shared her home with Federationists: dreaming with them, planning with them, preparing for action. During many conventions her room was a gathering place for good talk and the fellowship that goes with convention.
In 1997 Mrs. tenBroek gave to us the documents and papers Dr. tenBroek and she had collected. We said then that we would establish a library with these papers as the central element of a collection on blindness. We broke ground for our new building in 2001, and we finished construction in 2004. The biography of Dr. tenBroek written by Floyd Matson is among the first volumes to be placed on the shelves in the tenBroek Library. The biography was completed in time to be released at the 2005 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. We sent Mrs. tenBroek an inscribed copy. Her spirit and her strength are reflected in the book.
Mrs. tenBroek helped to
make the Federation what it is. Her fierce, bright, indomitable character will
be part of our movement as long as the blind walk the earth. She and Dr. tenBroek
were inseparable; she and the National Federation of the Blind are also inseparable.
We will miss Hazel tenBroek.
That was President Maurer’s personal recollection of Mrs. tenBroek. Here is Sharon Gold’s:
On October 7, 2005, Hazel tenBroek, the first first lady of the National Federation of the Blind, died in Overland Park, Kansas, after suffering a long siege with Parkinson's disease. She was born December 19, 1911, and was nearly ninety-four years old.
During her long life Mrs.
tenBroek was the devoted wife and then widow of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, mother
of three children, grandmother of eight, and great-grandmother of ten. She was
a true and loving Federationist and a great and wonderful "Jewish mother"
to all of us in the National Federation of the Blind. Our memories of her go
way back--for some further back than for others. We remember her in the big
house on Shasta Road in Berkeley, California, with all of her books and files.
We shared many meals that she had lovingly prepared for all of us to enjoy.
Regardless of our religious backgrounds and beliefs, the long table where we
sat and looked out over the San Francisco Bay held many people as we shared
Passover and Hanukah meals and other celebrations with her.
As many others of you do, I remember spending time in my early days in the NFB learning about the history of our great movement at Mrs. tenBroek's capable hands and records. She was there in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on November 16, 1940, when the National Federation of the Blind was organized. And she was a constant presence as the Federation matured and came of age.
Following Dr. tenBroek’s untimely death in 1968, Mrs. tenBroek was employed by the National Federation of the Blind in the original Berkeley office to keep and manage all of the early records of the organization. As the associate editor of the Braille Monitor, she maintained all of the mailing lists of the NFB, oversaw the printing and mailing of the organization’s publications, and worked hand-in-hand with the editor of the monthly magazine, helping to write the articles and doing all of the editing and proofreading of the publication. On occasion she was called to then NFB President Jernigan’s office in Des Moines, Iowa, to work with him on special publications.
Mrs. tenBroek traveled to meet with state and national legislators to help fellow Federationists work toward improving the lives and rights of blind people. When we raised pickets against the repressive National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving People with Blindness and Visual Impairments (NAC), Mrs. tenBroek was right at home walking among the blind in the picket lines. The last march against NAC was held in the San Francisco Bay Area after Mrs. tenBroek’s health began to fail. She was concerned that her health would not allow her to participate. I encouraged her to come along to give us moral support, which she did. Much to our surprise and delight, soon after the march began, the spicy and determined Hazel tenBroek was outside marching with us around the hotel on that dark, cold, windy, and foggy night on the shore of San Francisco Bay.
When “Mrs. T” (as many of us in the Federation affectionately called her) came to NFB conventions, she held parties to which as many Federationists as could be stuffed into her room were invited. We ate from her supply of San Francisco sourdough French bread and dry salami, which always arrived at conventions in a green suitcase, and we drank from the cache of beverages that she served in her room. During these times she reminisced about the many years of our movement, discussed the development of the organization, and told new Federationists stories from the early days. No doubt many can remember her voice from the back of meeting rooms, where she always sat, when she corrected our English or made wise and necessary comments about what was going on in the meeting.
How many times did we look to Mrs. tenBroek for her expertise and guidance! And of course we remember the early morning walks she took with Dr. Jernigan for many years.
In about 1980 Mrs. tenBroek moved to Washington State to spend some time near her grandchildren. While there, she became active in the Washington affiliate of the Federation and served on the board of the NFB of Washington.
Mrs. tenBroek returned to California and settled in Sacramento in early 1988. At the time I was finishing preparations for the NFB of California convention. Mrs. tenBroek invited Michael Tigar, the highly acclaimed criminal attorney and student and friend of Dr. tenBroek, to address the convention. Mr. Tigar spoke at the memorial celebration of the twentieth anniversary of Dr. tenBroek's death. He told us of his experiences in the classroom of a blind academic (see the March 1989 Braille Monitor).
In Sacramento Mrs. tenBroek was again active in the NFB of California and became a member of the local Sacramento chapter. She spent many hours helping in the NFB of California office with mailings and other activities. She was always available to proofread the affiliate's newsletter and to help with the writing of resolutions.
Whether Hazel tenBroek is remembered for her devoted and lifelong work with Dr. tenBroek on research, writing, and academic and Federation concerns, or for the early morning walks at conventions with Dr. Jernigan, the parties she held in her room during conventions, or her remarks from the back of the meeting room, she will always be remembered and loved by Federationists across the country. She always said, "When you think of me, have a celebration." And we will.
The first first lady of the NFB, Hazel tenBroek, has left us. However, she lives on in the minds and hearts of the members of the National Federation of the Blind.
This month’s recipes come from members of the NFB of the District of Columbia.
by Linda Black
Linda Black serves on the board of directors of the DC affiliate and is president of the Greater DC Chapter.
One medium or large eggplant
1 box Stove Top stuffing
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup green pepper, chopped
Chopped jalapeno peppers, optional
Method: Peel and slice eggplant; soak in container of water and one tablespoon of salt overnight or for at least two to three hours to remove bitter taste. Drain and place eggplant in saucepan with small amount of water; cook until eggplant becomes lumpy or loose. Prepare stuffing according to directions on box. Combine all ingredients in a greased baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for forty-five minutes or until firm.
by Stan McCray
Stan McCray is a member of the Greater DC Chapter.
Handful of dates, optional
1 cup whole milk, rice milk, or yogurt
Ginger root to taste (small amount)
Grapes, any kind
Substitutions: prunes, mangos, or strawberries
Method: In blender or Magic Bullet combine all ingredients, using a total of about a cup of fruit. Blend until smooth. Pour into two glasses.
Gourmet Banana Pudding
by Vanessa Fields
2 bags Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies
6 to 8 bananas, sliced
2 cups milk
1 5-ounce box instant French vanilla pudding
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 12-ounce container frozen whipped topping, thawed (or equal amount sweetened whipped cream)
Method: Line the bottom of an 8-by-8-inch dish or pan with one bag of the cookies arranged in straight lines, and layer bananas on top. In a bowl combine the milk and pudding, and mix well using a handheld electric mixer. In another bowl combine the cream cheese and condensed milk, and beat until smooth. Fold whipped cream or topping into the cream cheese mixture. Then fold the pudding into the cream cheese mixture. Pour this mixture over the cookies and bananas, and cover with the remaining cookies, aligning the top layer of cookies with the ones on the bottom. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
by Joie Stuart
Joie Stuart is first vice president of the NFB of the District of Columbia and president of the Capital East Chapter.
2 10-ounce packages frozen cut broccoli
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 cup grated cheese, your choice as long as it will melt
1 cup bread crumbs
Dash hot sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Method: Cook broccoli according to package directions and drain. Then combine all ingredients and pour into a greased baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for twenty-five minutes. Serves six.
by Alice Sorrell
Fried chicken, any recipe
1 can chicken noodle soup
Method: After cooking fried chicken, drain excess grease from the pan. Then pour freshly opened can of soup over chicken. Add one half can of water. Turn heat to low. Simmer for about ten minutes. Serve with your favorite vegetables.
Chicken with Lemon
by Tsgreda Thare
Several boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced
Flour for dredging
One half red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
Enough olive oil for sautéing
1 to 2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 to 1 1/2 lemons
1/3 to 1/2 cup water
Fresh parsley, chopped
Method: Sauté onion in olive oil in a pot. Clean, slice, and drain the chicken well. Dredge the chicken lightly with flour on both sides. After the onion is slightly cooked, add chicken bouillon and garlic. Cook for a few minutes and then add the chicken. Stir the chicken well and let it cook with the pan half covered. When the chicken is almost done, add fresh lemon juice (amount depends on how much chicken you are preparing). Stir and allow the chicken to cook a little further. Add parsley towards the end and a little water to make more sauce. Serve with risotto, pasta, or rice.
News from the Federation
Celebrating Twenty Years of Excellence:
During October the Louisiana
Center for the Blind had planned to celebrate its twenty years of hard work
and life-changing programming serving blind children, teens, and adults. Hurricane
Katrina forced postponement of the celebration until next year. Yet party or
no, the twentieth anniversary should still be noted. Here is the brief history
prepared by the LCB staff for the Ruston Chamber of Commerce:
On October 1, 1985, the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB) opened its doors in a little house on Bonner Street (now the home of Christian Community Action) with five staff members and five students. The goal was to establish a novel training program for the blind of Louisiana, but, as word and reputation grew, it quickly attracted the attention of individuals from across the nation, then the globe. As the Bonner Street location filled to capacity, the first of many expansions took place when the center purchased its present training site at 101 South Trenton. During an expansion of this location in 1995, the Hinton Feed and Seed store was purchased and now houses an industrial arts woodshop; 401 West Louisiana (formerly the old Kappa Sigma fraternity), purchased in 1999, houses the Career Center. Current students live in an apartment complex on East Mississippi, and summer programs for blind children and teens are held in an adjacent complex called the Education Center. During its twenty-year existence the center has served over 800 adults in its primary program and hundreds of children and seniors in outreach programs.
When asked why a training
center of national importance has remained in Ruston, Pam Allen, executive director
of the center, explains that the community has always supported the positive
philosophy and spirit of independence instilled among students, and countless
businesses continue to offer employment opportunities. Equally important, the
Ruston community has come to understand the importance of dispelling misconceptions
about blindness. The Louisiana Center for the Blind welcomes visitors and extends
an invitation to the community to tour the center as it celebrates its twentieth
anniversary during the month of October.
We commend the LCB staff, students, and alumni for being our hands and heart at this difficult time on the Gulf Coast and for helping to blaze the trail in changing what it means to be blind everywhere. Congratulations to you for twenty years of outstanding service to blind people. We look forward to cheering your accomplishments in the future.
The Westchester Chapter
of the NFB of New York had its first meeting on September 17, 2005. The following
officers were elected: president, James R. Bonerbo; vice president, David Halston;
secretary-treasurer, Ed White; corresponding secretary, Susan Swift; director/publicity,
Richard Sweeney; and director-at-large, William Messing. Congratulations to
this new member of the Federation family.
The NFB of Arizona elected the following board of directors at its September 11, 2005, election: president, Bob Kresmer; first vice president, Vicki Hodges; second vice president, Marc Schmidt; secretary, Arielle Silverman; treasurer, Donna Silba; and at-large members of the board of directors, Sandy Addy, Bob Eschbach, Samira Farwaneh, Mark Feliz, Allison Hilliker, and Fred Rockwell.
On Friday, October 14,
2005, Bill English (superintendent, Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped),
William Hadley (founder of the Hadley School for the Blind), Abraham Nemeth
(creator of the Nemeth code), and J. Max Woolly (superintendent, Arkansas School
for the Blind) were inducted into the Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends of
the Blindness Field at the American Printing House for the Blind. Dr. Nemeth
is of course a longtime member of the National Federation of the Blind. Here
is the brief biography of him that appears on the APH Web site:
Abraham Nemeth is a lifelong professor of mathematics who created a unique and revolutionary Braille code that is used worldwide for mathematical and scientific notation. As a professor Dr. Nemeth inaugurated the Graduate Department of Computer Science at the University of Detroit and as an inventor developed a program to convert a computer into a scientific calculator. Among his many awards are the Migel Medal of the American Foundation for the Blind; the Creative Use of Braille Award from the American Printing House for the Blind; and the Exemplary Advocate Award of the Council for Exceptional Children, Division on Visual Impairments.
The Hall of Fame was established and opened in 2002 with the induction of thirty-two people, including Kenneth Jernigan. Congratulations to Dr. Nemeth.
Did You Know?
The NFB maintains a low-traffic
email list that carries nothing but announcements of general interest in the
blindness field and the Federation family. To subscribe to nfb-announce, you
can go either to <http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/nfb-announce>
to subscribe from the Web page, or you can do it by email by sending a message
to <email@example.com> and writing the word “subscribe”
in the subject line.
Memorial Celebrations for Mrs. tenBroek:
A family ice cream social
to which Hazel tenBroek’s relatives and friends were invited took place as a
memorial to her on October 30, 2005, at Manor Care in Overland Park, Kansas,
where Mrs. tenBroek had lived for the past several years. Another memorial at
which her Federation family will celebrate her life and contribution to our
movement will take place during the 2006 NFB convention in Dallas.
A Holiday Gift Idea with Fundraising Potential:
Carmela’s Gourmet, owned by blind entrepreneur Carmela Cantisani, is offering her six gourmet salad dressings at the special wholesale price of $25 (including shipping within the continental U.S.). You can also order a $25 gift certificate to give as a holiday gift. Carmela’s Gourmet will donate $5 from each $25 purchase to the NFB Imagination Fund.
These award-winning dressings
are made with all natural ingredients, no sugar, and low sodium and are cholesterol
free. The flavors currently available are the Vinaigrette Authentique, the Balsamic
Vinaigrette, the Low Fat Provençale Vinaigrette, the Low Fat California
Caesar, the Low Fat Roasted Garlic Fantasy, and the Low Fat Mediterranean Mystique
Vinaigrette. To order the dressings or the gift certificate, please send your
check to Carmela’s Gourmet, 415 English Avenue, Monterey, California 93940,
phone (831) 373-6291. If you wish more information, please visit <www.carmelasgourmet.com>.
Please mention the Braille Monitor when placing your order.
Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.
New Braille Instructional Books for Adults Available:
Sandy Price has written
two Braille instruction books for adults who struggle to learn Braille. Made
up of easy words and simple sentences, they are designed to help a person quickly
learn uncontracted Braille. Both books are double spaced, and the first portion
of each book adds extra spacing between the letters. The Easy Jumbo Book is
excellent for diabetics or those with poor tactual perception. She has been
successful in teaching jumbo Braille to many who were not able to read standard
Braille. Once people have learned to read jumbo Braille, they can make their
own labels using a jumbo slate and stylus, a great tool for increasing independence.
The Simple Standard Book is similar to the jumbo book, but it is written in standard Braille. Additional words, sentences, and reading material have been added to this book. Both books are thirty-five pages and are spiral-bound with thick, sturdy covers. Please contact Sandy Price if you would like to order a book or receive free sample pages from either book. Prices: jumbo $26.95, standard $24.95, and print manuals $5. (Shipping costs vary according to weight and ZIP code.)
To order, contact Sandy
Price, Braille Instructor, Virginia Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and
Vision Impaired, email <firstname.lastname@example.org>, phone (804) 550-3733.
BVI Women's Health Project:
Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School hope to survey 12,000 blind and visually impaired women in order to identify risk factors associated with certain health disorders, such as breast cancer and sleep problems. The results of the survey will help both blind and sighted women make more informed lifestyle choices. The survey is open to all women aged eighteen or over who are legally blind. All participants will be entered to win one of many prizes. You could be one of fifty winners to receive a subscription to either of National Braille Press's Our Special or Syndicated Columnists Weekly magazines. Two winners will receive a gift certificate worth $250 to spend with EnableMart. Finally, one grand prize winner will be awarded a roundtrip airline fare to anywhere in the continental U.S. courtesy of EnableMart.
You can register for and
complete the survey in the convenience of your own home using our rigorously
tested Section 508-compliant Web site at <www.bvihealthsurvey.org>. The
Web site also includes a tutorial on completing forms written by expert screen-access
users. The survey may also be completed in Braille, by audiotape, in large print,
or over the phone. If you would like more information or if you have questions,
please email Erin at <email@example.com> or call (888)
828-4294 (888-8 BVIBWH). To visit our partners go to <www.enablemart.org>
Link to Life Personal Emergency Response Services:
As a pioneering provider
in personal response services, Link to Life is proud to be known as “The Company
that Saves Lives.” Subscribers simply touch a portable help button to connect
with the response center whenever they need assistance. Skilled operators will
assess the situation and summon appropriate help--a friend or nearby relative
for minor problems or emergency response personnel in more serious situations.
We will notify loved ones when an emergency has occurred. Services can be tailored
to address subscribers’ individual needs. For more information call (800) 848-9399
or visit <www.link-to-life.com>.
The notices in this section have been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.
Alva Delphi Multimedia 440 40-cell Braille display with status cells, touch cursor strip, and serial and parallel interfaces. Asking $1,000 or best offer.
Thomas Braille Embosser
from Enabling Technologies, excellent condition. Asking $1,000 or best offer.
Please contact Gilbert at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Joseph Colvin has urgent
need of a stand-alone reading machine to help with mail and other printed material.
He is on disability and cannot afford to purchase even a secondhand piece of
technology. If you could pass along a used free-standing machine, contact him
at <email@example.com>. His address is 300 South Wayne Avenue,
Apartment 621, Waynesboro, Virginia 22980, his phone number is (540) 241-5233.
Edge self-contained, free-standing reading machine. Latest model, used very
little. Two years old. A bit slower than the newest technology, but far more
reliable and easier to use than all of the latest machines of its type. Originally
cost close to $3,500, but will sell at best offer over $1,400 plus shipping
and insurance. For more details and information about the features that still
put the Reading Edge at the top of the heap, call Howard Edelman at (626) 798-9226
or email <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
by Humanware, like new with transferable warranty, technical support, all accessories,
and documentation. Assistive-technology loan fund applicable. Asking $1,100.
Contact Steve at (517) 347-7046. Please speak slowly and clearly if leaving
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.