The Braille Monitor
Vol. 48, No. 11 December 2005
Barbara Pierce, Editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
MARC MAURER, PRESIDENT
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
telephone: (410) 659-9314
email address: [email protected]
Web site address: http://www.nfb.org
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 48, No. 11 December 2005
Convention Bulletin 2006
the Driver's Seat
by Heather Field
by Ruby Ryles
of the Darkness: Craig Roisum
by Tom Ford
The 2006 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Program
by Larry Streeter
Soft Side of Mr. Hardball
Chris Matthews Joins Forum on Disabilities
by Matt Viser
by Katie Keim
Teacher Helps Visually Impaired Students
by Lauren Burt
Educator of Blind Children Award for 2006
by Sharon Maneki
2006 Blind Educator of the Year Award
by Stephen O. Benson
Advocate for Blind Urges
Shift in Attitude
by Gary Massaro
by Sharon Buchan
Hints and Helps
by Barbara Pierce
Annual Meet the Blind Month Campaign
by Jerry Lazarus
Social Security, SSI, and
Medicare Facts for 2006
by James McCarthy
Copyright 2005 National Federation of the Blind
Convention Bulletin 2006
It is time to plan for the 2006 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. This year we will return to Dallas, Texas, deep in the heart of the LoneStar State.
We will again experience the hospitality of the Big D, but this time we are going to the stunningly beautiful Wyndham Anatole Hotel. Once again our hotel rates are the envy of all. For the 2006 convention they are singles, doubles, and twins $60 and triples and quads $65. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 15 percent. No charge will be made for children fifteen and under in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested.
For 2006 convention room reservations you should write directly to the Wyndham Anatole Hotel, 2201 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, Texas 75207, or call (800) 996-3426. Online use the link from the NFB Web site, <www.nfb.org>, or go directly to <www.anatole.wyndham-hotels.com> to make reservations. The hotel will want a deposit of $60 or a credit card number. If you use a credit card, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately, just as would be the case with a $60 check. If a reservation is cancelled prior to June 1, 2006, $30 of the $60 deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.
Guest-room amenities include cable television, coffee pot, iron and ironing board, hair dryer, and high-speed Internet access.
The Wyndham Anatole has
several restaurants and bars and even a disco. Nana offers a five-star dining
experience with panoramic views of the city and prices to match. La Esquina
Restaurant and Tequila Bar offers south-of-the-border lunches and dinners with
a Texas flair. At Common Ground in the atrium you will find light breakfast
and lunch fare. The Rathskeller Sports Bar provides a basement hideaway for
dinner. At the Crocodile Disco you will find cocktails, a disk jockey, and dancing.
All restaurants are nonsmoking. See later issues of the Monitor for information
about tours and other attractions in the Greater Dallas/Ft. Worth area.
The 2006 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will be a truly exciting and memorable event, with an unparalleled program and rededication to the goals and work of our movement. Make plans now to be a part of it. The schedule this year is our usual one. Preconvention seminars for parents of blind children and other groups and set-up of the exhibit hall will take place on Saturday, July 1, and adjournment will be Friday, July 7, at 5:00 p.m. Convention registration will begin on Sunday, July 2, and both Sunday and Monday will be filled with meetings of divisions and committees, including the Monday morning annual meeting of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind, which is open to all.
General convention sessions begin on Tuesday, July 4, and continue through the afternoon of Friday, July 7. The annual banquet will take place on Thursday evening, July 6. To assure yourself a room in the headquarters hotel at convention rates, you must make reservations early. The hotel will be ready to take your call or deal with your written request by January 2.
Remember that as usual we need door prizes from state affiliates, local chapters, and individuals. Once again prizes should be small in size but large in value. Cash, of course, is always appropriate and welcome. As a general rule we ask that prizes of all kinds have a value of at least $25 and not be alcoholic. Drawings will occur steadily throughout the convention sessions, and you can anticipate a grand prize of truly Texas proportions to be drawn at the banquet. You may bring door prizes with you or send them ahead of time (identifying the item and donor and listing the value in print and Braille) to Denice Hopper, 3726 Dutton Drive, Dallas, Texas 75211, phone (214) 339-3697.
The best collection of exhibits, featuring new technology; meetings of our special interest groups, committees, and divisions; memorable tours arranged by the Texas affiliate; the most stimulating and provocative program items of any meeting of the blind in the world; the chance to renew friendships in our Federation family; and the unparalleled opportunity to be where the real action is and where decisions are being made--all of these mean you will not want to miss being a part of the 2006 national convention. We'll see you in Dallas in 2006!
In the Driver's Seat
by Heather Field
From the Editor:
The theme of the annual seminar for parents of blind children conducted by the
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children at the 2005 NFB convention
was "in the driver's seat." The idea was to encourage families and teachers
to step out in faith and confidence to encourage their blind children to embrace
independence and the alternative skills of blindness. The keynote speaker was
Heather Field, a blind woman from Australia who discovered the National Federation
of the Blind on a trip to the United States and decided to move to Nashville
to follow her own dream of writing country music. She is also a trained and
obviously gifted early childhood educator and an energetic and dedicated Federationist.
Her remarks were aimed largely at the blind youngsters in her audience, but
her message was also directed at parents and teachers. This is what she said:
Part of the fun of being in the driver's seat is that joyful experience of being able to blow the horn. It makes an announcement to the other drivers on the road. It says, "I'm driving my car, and I want you to take note of what my car is doing!" Sometimes it says that you aren't happy with what another driver is doing. But, more often than not, it says, "Look out! Pay attention. I'm coming through!" From the driver's seat of our lives we have to make those kinds of announcements. Even though we're not in our cars right now, we all have a life, and we have the choice to be in the driver's seat of that life and to blow our horn when we choose to.
They say, "Practice makes perfect," so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for you to get a little practice at saying, "Look out! Pay attention. I'm coming through!" During this presentation we're going to have the opportunity to blow our horns. Whenever I raise my hand like this and say, "Horn," you get to go, "Beep, beep, or bawp bawp," or whatever noise your horn makes. So let's practice. Are you ready? Horn! Oh dear, that's not a very convincing group of horns! I wouldn't be getting out of your way if I heard that. Let's try that again, ready kids? "Horn!" (Loudly from the audience, "Beep, beep.") Oh, that's much better. All right, let's get started and be ready for me to say "horn" because it might come at any moment.
"It's going too fast. We'll have to jump off or we'll fall off. Quick, jump!" My sister Lynda shouted, and we jumped off the rolling forty-four-gallon drum, tumbling into the long spring grass in the paddock being spelled this year from growing small crops.
"I don't think it was a very good idea to run to get us started," I said crossly, standing up and, my sister still laughing, we set out down the hill where the drum had banged into the fence at the bottom of the paddock.
"I didn't know it would roll so fast, did I?" she replied, evading the blame.
"Well you shouldn't have said to run," I said peevishly, remembering how many of her daredevil escapades went wrong and frustrated with myself that I so often still went along with the new ones--like the time when she suggested we climb up the tree and sit on the platform our elder brother and his friend had made over ten years before. Of course the wood had rotted, and the platform collapsed. Being the oldest, she had climbed up first, so I was on the lower end of the platform. Naturally she half fell on top of me when we hit the ground in a tangle of branches and old rope.
"Well I am not going on with you this time; I'm going to go on the drum by myself, or I'm not going. And it's my turn because you made us crash last time," I declared as we began the long trek pushing the drum back up the hill. When we reached the top, I climbed up on the drum, stood up, and began to walk, making the drum roll forward with my weight. Slowly, slowly and then, suddenly, I was off down the hill. When it started going too fast, I leaned back and went slower, and I was in control. "Horn!" (Audience loudly, "Beep, beep.") But it was no fun going slow, so I started to speed up. Oh, it was exhilarating, and I began to run, whooping as I went. Then I hit the patch of weeds, and I heard the scratchy sound that told me I was coming to the fence, so I jumped backwards off the drum as it banged into the fence. I had done it all by myself! I was the driver, and I hadn't had an accident because I couldn't see the fence coming. My sister cheered and ran down to help me push the drum back to the top so she could take her turn.
Many blind people, and by "blind" I mean people with varying amounts and degrees of vision loss, but especially blind children, never get to know the joy of being in charge of their own movement through the environment--certainly not on a vehicle like our rolling drum or a skateboard or a scooter or a bike, not even walking independently on their own two legs, making the driving decisions for their own bodies. Do I go fast or walk slow? Turn left or stop because of the weeds telling me there's a fence coming? Have I gone too far now that I have come to this driveway? No! Unlike their sighted peers, who get to make thousands of these decisions even before the age of three, many blind children never get to make even such simple decisions. Instead they are taught to walk with a sighted guide, to hold onto someone and let that someone who can see be the driver, towing them along like a trailer, nice and safe, just mindlessly hooked on with nothing to think about and no decisions to make. Easy for the sighted adults, disastrous for the blind children!
This happens for many reasons, most of them stemming from the belief, on the part of those who can see, that, because these children can't see well enough to gather information about their environment visually, they simply cannot travel safely to a destination and will get hurt or lost or both. This belief is of course nonsense and absolutely false because information about the environment can be gathered nonvisually, and safe and direct travel by blind people occurs all the time, as demonstrated by thousands of competent blind people every day all over the world. Yet this belief persists, fueled by stereotypes of the helpless blind person portrayed by the print media, literature, and television. Even worse, it is reinforced by the experiences of people who lose their sight later in life and who aren't taught the skills of blindness using nonvisual, alternative techniques that can reduce blindness to simply another of life's many inconveniences. These poor souls and their families and friends languish in the perceived tragedy of blindness when in reality blindness need be nothing more than a nuisance. Sadly for all concerned, they believe that blind people, far from being in the driver's seat of their lives, can be nothing more than a cumbersome trailer, grateful for being taken for a tow now and then.
I was fortunate because my parents already had three children before I was born, so they knew what children could be expected to do at various ages. By the time I had lost my vision at about eighteen months of age, another brother had been born, and Mother simply didn't have time to run around after one child. Pregnant again, she had to keep house as well as do work around the farm because Daddy was away at work all day. So I was expected to do as much as possible for myself, and, just as important, I was not stopped from trying new things.
I pulled everything out of the shoe cupboard and crawled inside. I snuck under the rainwater tank on its low stand and lay with the new puppies. I danced on the picnic table, and I climbed on the couch and jumped up and down and then jumped off, and Mother never knew. She did know when I climbed up on the new wardrobe from Auntie May, however, because she got a terrible scare when I shouted "boo!" from the top as she walked past where it stood in the hall.
Life was an adventure, and I loved it. I longed to know and to move and to learn, and Mother encouraged me. She always seemed to know that being blind didn't automatically mean that I would be incompetent or have accidents. When it rained and rained for days at a time, Mother would relent and let us children ride our little bikes around the circuit of the house hallway, and, I'm proud to report, it wasn't me who scratched the fridge when a bike crashed. It was my little brother Robert. "Horn!" (Audience loudly, "Beep, beep.") Even at age three and four I was allowed to be age-appropriately in the driver's seat of my life, getting practice at making my own decisions and gathering my own information about my environment using nonvisual cues--sound cues and texture cues, smells and distances, slopes and context. I was choosing my speed and my direction, and I was choosing my destination. Most important, I was deciding when I would stay in one place and when I would go. I wasn't waiting around for some adult to hook me up and tow me like a trailer to the next place he or she wanted me to go.
Now, mind you, Auntie Emily
didn't think much of that independent driving my parents fostered, and she was
especially unimpressed by the way they let me be in the driver's seat of my
own life when I would climb. "You get down; you'll fall," she would cry when
she spotted me sitting up on the crossbar of the swing set or balancing as I
practiced walking along the top rail of the fence or scrambling among the branches
of the big mulberry tree. I spent many joyful hours during long summer days
climbing in that mulberry tree. Climbing way up high, hiding among the leaves,
playing at being a naughty monkey, and learning to trust my own judgment and
to be brave and confident. Checking the strength of each branch with my feet
before I decided whether it would take me higher up and whether it would take
my weight, feeling the direction of the branches, deciding whether it went down
or up or had lots of leaves so I could hide. Sitting so still that the sighted
people couldn't even see where a naughty monkey was hiding. I loved that mulberry
On one of those summer days some relations came to visit. Now it was no use calling oneself a naughty monkey if one in fact never did anything naughty. So, when unsuspecting Auntie Emily walked underneath the berry-laden mulberry tree, I decided that a truly naughty monkey's moment had come. Quickly I used those seven-year-old problem-solving skills, nonvisual techniques, and decision-making skills and put a plan into action. I gathered some over-ripe, squishy, juicy, very purple mulberries, and when Auntie Emily was almost under me, I opened my hands and dropped them all down where my ears told me she was. "Ahh, aahh," went the monkey.
"Ohhhh," shrieked Auntie Emily in surprise and, "Ooo dear," she wailed in displeasure as she looked at the stains on her dress, where the purple juice had slopped. "Oh, look at this stain!" said her angry voice as she peered vainly up into the tree to see the identity of the naughty monkey. Immediately another of my nonvisual techniques, ascertaining mood by tone of voice, told me that perhaps this was not the best decision this monkey had ever made. Not surprisingly, Mother was unconvinced by my claims that I couldn't see where Auntie was and that it was an accident. Declaring that I had known perfectly well where she was, she sent the naughty monkey off to its punishment. I spent the next hour and a half up the mulberry tree using those nonvisual techniques and decision-making skills to fill a bucket with mulberries at the right stage of firmness for a pie she wanted to bake that night.
Come to think of it, Auntie Mary wasn't sure about my parents allowing me to do so much driving and deciding for myself either. Although she was prepared to watch with warnings--"Be careful, be careful," she'd say--I never knew quite what I needed to do to be careful or, for that matter, what it was that I should be careful of, so it wasn't much help. But anyway, at least she didn't harass me with demands to stop.
Auntie Mary used to come to visit us on the island where we spent our vacations. The only way to get to the island was on a little passenger ferry. You boarded it from a jetty on the mainland, and you got off onto another jetty on the island. For those who may not know, a jetty is a long thin construction, rather like a bridge, that goes out over the beach and the water until the water is deep enough that ferries can come alongside and tie up. People can then use the jetty steps to board the ferry. I had been playing on the jetties and getting on and off the ferry since I was six years old, so I spent many happy times terrifying the bystanders. They simply could not understand what was wrong with my parents, letting a blind child roam freely about the jetty, playing in such an obviously dangerous environment without assistance, let alone allowing me to board the ferry by myself.
Anyway, after one of Auntie Mary's visits when I was about nine, we decided to walk over and see her off. They had just built a brand new, much longer jetty for the island, and it was still exciting to me to go out on it. This was because, while one side of the jetty had railings all the way along and down around the end--the sort of railings of which the terrified bystanders would approve for a blind child--the other side had railings only half way out. Then it just had big posts, where fishing boats could tie up every twenty feet or so all the way along to the steps at the end, where the ferry docked. These steps went down to the water, and only one side had a railing. The other side had to be open to allow access to the ferry. Since the water level went up and down with the tides, the ferry would pull in next to whichever wide concrete step it was level with.
There was something thrilling about walking out along that jetty with no rails between me and the water and having to keep myself away from the edge. When my brothers and sisters and I and Auntie Mary started walking out along the big new jetty, Auntie Mary made it clear that she didn't want me walking near the edge without rails, and she certainly didn't want me walking down the steps without holding onto someone.
Then she didn't want me stepping out over the water across the two feet or so of space between the rocking ferry and the jetty without holding on to anyone or anything. She wanted me to let the ferryman lift me on. But that was never going to happen. "You're such a stubborn little piece of work! Why don't you let someone help you?" she'd say exasperatedly as I'd say, "I'm okay; don't worry, Auntie."
"Oh, crumbs, be careful!" she'd say. "I can't watch." Poor Auntie Mary! I'm sure she had visions of me plummeting down into the water from the moment we set foot on that jetty. But, to her credit, she never let her fears stop me from being in the driver's seat of my life. What she didn't understand, however, was my belief that I was like all the other kids my age. They walked on the jetty unguided, and they walked down the steps unaided, and they boarded the ferry without help, and so, I knew, could I.
I'm sure she would have felt better if I'd used a long white cane, but I didn't use a cane because I didn't want to look blind, and my daddy didn't want me to look blind either. Ridiculously, the school for the blind didn't teach any orientation and mobility skills to me, so I didn't know what a cane would do for me beyond advertising to the world that I was blind. Since it wasn't respectable to be blind, who'd want that? I had to wait until I found the National Federation of the Blind to learn the value of a cane and the respectability of blindness. Nevertheless, looking back I realize how frightening it must have been for poor Auntie Mary and the other passengers, having the stereotypical view of the helpless blind person in their minds, and being forced to watch a blind child refusing to be guided, withdrawing her arms from the grabbing hands, driving herself right past those gaps in between the jetty posts and down the steps--holding their collective breath while she felt with her feet to find the edge of the wet step, and then reaching out into nothingness with left hand and right foot for the moving target of the ferry steps.
But I loved it when I was like all the other kids and I got on the ferry by myself and achieved it without letting anyone help me. No one was going to take that feeling of independence and achievement away from me. "Horn!" (Audience loudly, "Beep, beep.") That feeling was so important to me as a child, even when I was very small. I remember it: so sweet, so affirming, laying down strength of character, building belief in oneself, confidence that perseverance would bring mastery and triumph. How sad that over the years so many people tried to take it from me, wanting me to sit down and stay safe and scared of the unknown or be passively towed along through my life by whatever sighted guide took pity on me that day.
But it was not so with my beloved mother. She expected me to live the life I had to the full. I remember feeling very grown up when she sent me on messages. Mother would say, "Run down to Auntie Pearl's and tell Lynda it's time to come home for lunch." Now Auntie Pearl's land joined ours at the bottom of the small crop paddock, and it was her fence that the drum banged into at the bottom of the hill. But actually going to her house was not as easy as it sounds. You see, the gate into her yard was right in the middle of the fence. You walked out of the side door of our house to where the grass was warm from the sun, turned right, and headed downhill towards the gate.
After a little walk, if you were lucky, you would come onto a little track worn by the feet of children running through the grass and weeds that grew in the paddock. If you didn't pay attention to the track under your bare feet or if they had mowed it and all the tall weeds on either side of the track were gone, you would veer off to the right or left. And when you came to the fence at the bottom of the hill, you wouldn't know whether you were to the left or to the right of the stupid gate. Then you'd have to decide which way it might be and follow the fence along till you came either to the gate or to the corner. This was very annoying and time-consuming, and it took much too long for an impatient girl. But no matter how long it took, Mother would always send me.
One day when the weeds had been mowed and the track was hard to follow, I decided that there must be a better way. Out of complete frustration I decided to think of a new way to find the gate. I stood still in the silence of a hazy, hot summer midday and thought. Suddenly I heard a crow caw, and I heard the echo bounce off the house way over across the paddock, and I had it. I knew what to do. I'd clap my hands periodically and try listening to the echoes that would bounce back from the wooden fence off to the far left of the gate. If I heard it getting too close, I'd know to go right. Yes. I would not make a mistake this time. Oh, joy of joys when I straightened myself up three times: once by detecting the less trodden grass when I had veered off the track and twice from the fence echoes. And I found the gate really quickly.
It was thrilling, I remember the smells and sounds and the very feel of the hot day when I bring it back to mind. I had solved my own problem, and, I thought proudly, I was only ten. I leapt over the locked gate (it had to be locked to keep our cows from eating Auntie Pearl's garden), and I went galloping over the yard to Auntie Pearl's house yelling, "Lynda!" in, as Auntie Pearl informed me, a most unladylike manner.
Years later I asked my mother if she had known how much trouble I had finding the gate when she sent me on those trips. She said, "No, I never really thought about it." She just expected that, if I had a problem, I'd figure it out and go and do the job I was sent to do. She didn't know the nonvisual techniques I would need to get myself from point A to point B, but she knew that I needed them and that I needed opportunity and the motivation to develop them for myself. She knew that, if I got lost, I would need to figure out a way to get myself unlost. I was safe in the confines of the farm and the neighborhood, and there I learned the lessons that only experience can teach.
Her expectation that I should walk up and close the henhouse for the night or go down to the shop and get a loaf of bread just around the corner at the bottom of our street or collect the kindling for our stove or pack my own overnight bag for a sleepover, just as she expected the other children to do, sent me the message, "Of course you can do it. Blindness has nothing whatsoever to do with your ability to do what everybody else does." The attitude that she fostered made my brothers and sisters and me think that it was natural that I would be in the driver's seat of my own life. "Horn!" (Audience loudly, "Beep, beep.")
Yes, thankfully, I learned that it was my life and that, when I grew up, it would be me controlling it--controlling it as a high school student choosing my own courses, controlling it as a university student choosing my readers, moving out and sharing a house with other people, making my choices to become a teacher, choosing to join the National Federation of the Blind, and getting my own, very blind-looking cane, and even moving to America to risk all as a songwriter competing alongside my sighted peers.
It is very likely that within our lifetime, certainly within the lifetime of the children here today, there will be a car that blind people can drive. Are you parents and teachers teaching these children to expect that they will, that they must, as competent adults and responsible citizens, be in the driver's seat of their own lives and maybe even of their own cars? Are you giving them opportunities to acquire the knowledge and skills they will need to travel independently? Do you dream big? Are you excited about the prospect of a blind son or daughter going down to the hardware store to get the gas bottle filled so he or she can grill the steaks while you make the salads for the cookout? Are you excited about the prospect of your blind son or daughter coming in the car to take you out for a day's drive to give you a break from the nursing home?
Or do you think of yourself as the driver? Are you imagining that in thirty years your child, though an adult, will still be a trailer being towed along by a sighted guide? Are you imagining your child, with all this potential, sitting, a passive blind adult, rocking on the sidelines of life without a real say in what happens to him or her, all the choices being made by somebody else? In your imaginings do you secretly think that someone will always need to be there, if not you, then perhaps another person, but always someone who can see to take care of your adult child? Or do you daydream about a competent man or woman who just happens to be blind, achieving and living alongside other adults who happen not to be blind? Are you giving your child or your students the opportunity to get lost and the time to develop the courage and self-confidence to know that they're not going to be rescued, so they better get unlost by themselves?
Do you imagine a future filled with possibilities in which blind drivers understand yield signs and five-way intersections and use them and count freeway exits as they speed home from college for Thanksgiving, driving themselves? You know, a dream costs nothing, and imagining is free, but they both pay enormous dividends when you teach your blind children that they can be as much in the driver's seat of their lives as their same-aged sighted peers. And it's never too young to begin. It's up to you to let them know that it's up to them. "Horn!" (Audience loudly, "Beep, beep.") Let's get our young people into the driver's seats of their lives and get those horns honking, "Look out, pay attention, I'm coming through!"
Yogi Was Right!
by Ruby Ryles
From the Editor: The annual convention of the NFB of Texas took place the fourth weekend of October. One of the speakers was Dr. Ruby Ryles, a longtime Federationist, the mother of a blind son, a distinguished researcher and writer on the importance of Braille literacy, and now assistant professor of visual impairment in the College of Education at Louisiana Tech University.
In the November
issue two other distinguished university professors discussed the crisis in
the education of blind children, and the mother of a blind middle-school student
described her family's struggle to force a school system to provide an appropriate
education to their son. In her convention speech Dr. Ryles told the Texans the
same heart-breaking and infuriating story from yet another perspective. Here
The humorous Yogi-isms of the legendary Yankees catcher Yogi Berra have become a part of our American culture. Are you old enough to remember these? Yogi's observations on a Steve McQueen movie: "He must've made that before he died"; Yogi's answer to a friend who asked what time it was: "You mean now?"; his directions to a lost traveler: "When you see a fork in the road, take it"; and Yogi's answer to his wife's questions about his preference of burial sites: "Surprise me"--all make Yogi Berra's simple wisdom uniquely his own. But last Friday, outside an old school building in a rural Louisiana town, one Yogi-ism was driven home with a clarity uncharacteristic of the great Pinstriper.
Damen Roberts is an imposing man--over six feet, four inches tall and built like a bear or a wrestler. If you ever ride in his pickup truck, you'll need a stepladder to get to your seat on the passenger side. Somehow I wasn't surprised when he told me how he supports his family. He is a tugboat pilot, and it fits him to a T. Damen and his high school sweetheart Dee are the loving parents of a young son and an infant daughter. Four and a half years ago, when their son Lance was born blind, Damen and Dee Roberts knew nothing of the reality of blindness. They had never met normal, active blind adults, teenagers, or children. When Lance was born blind, like other residents of their small Louisiana town the Roberts knew nothing of the normalcy of blindness and especially did not know the potential for their son to lead a normal life.
Damen and Dee grew up in Louisiana. From the time Lance was diagnosed as blind, they made certain that school administrators and special education service providers knew that their son would be coming to school where Damen and Dee had gone to school. The Robertses trusted their hometown school administrators and teachers because, after all, small-town folks take care of one another. And hadn't teachers, school administrators, and the superintendent (who, by the way, had been Damen and Dee's high school principal), all known for several years that Lance was coming and would unquestionably need Braille and cane travel instruction? Yep, things would be fine for Lance because the parish school system had plenty of time to get ready for him.
But qualified teachers for blind children are nearly as scarce as igloos around northern Louisiana--as they probably are in Texas and other areas of the country. In fact, did you realize that more than 5,000 teachers of blind children are needed nationwide? And didn't I hear on CNN that mobility instructors are on the endangered species list? Okay, maybe that hasn't happened yet, but I do know that in all fifty states there are fewer than three dozen university degree programs for teachers of blind children and fewer than two dozen O&M degree programs--in the entire United States.
Wow! Little Lance Roberts was born under a lucky star, because just sixty-four miles from his parish superintendent's office is an internationally known training center for blind adults with resources and programs that other small-town school superintendents could only dream about. And if the proximity of the Louisiana Center for the Blind to the superintendent's office weren't in itself a sure sign of a charmed life ahead of little Lance, then a short three-block walk west of the Center was a dream-come-true for any dedicated, child-centered school leader. At only sixty-four miles from his office Lance's future school superintendent had at his fingertips all the training, the workshops, the seminars--even the educational degrees with state and national certifications in blindness that the Parish school faculty could ever want or need to teach Lance.
Remember how few university-training programs for teachers of blind children there are in the United States? And remember that there are even fewer university training programs for O&M degrees? Well in addition to a progressive, prestigious international training center for the blind at his doorstep--relatively speaking--Lance's superintendent would have easy access to, not just one, but two of those rare university-training programs for teachers of blind children and O&M instructors.
Imagine. In lovely northern Louisiana, Louisiana Tech University sat poised and ready with the Louisiana Center for the Blind to offer world-class training to the small-town school system--and sometimes even financial assistance. And if no one in the school system wanted a degree in teaching blind students or O&M, then the superintendent or special ed director could encourage a teacher to take Louisiana Tech's series of courses that leads to state or national certifications in blindness. Or the teacher's aid could make that sixty-four mile drive west on Interstate 20 to take a Braille course and other blindness courses so she could work with Lance more effectively. Or Louisiana Tech would even send a professor to the small town to teach courses or workshops or seminars or simply to help Lance's preschool get ready for him.
Oh the possibilities--just sixty-four miles from the superintendent's office. Yes, indeed. Lance Roberts is a lucky little guy, don't you think? But when Lance entered preschool last month, no one in the parish had ever made the relatively short drive to some of the best blindness training in the United States. The special education director had even refused the university professor's repeated offers to provide district-wide or individual trainings to faculty and staff in the parish--all at no cost to the district.
I have been in the field of work with the blind since the late seventies and have participated in many IEPs over the years, including those for my own blind son. Since the early nineties I have gradually done less and less teaching of blind children as I have become more involved in developing programs and teaching at the university level. But the common thread among many of the IEP meetings I used to attend–particularly the litigious ones–surfaced when the discussion turned to the child's needs. Amazingly, blind children at the center of an IEP always seem to need, and need only, whatever services the school district just happens to have.
I've been at the university level for about twelve years now, and my own blind son is thirty, so it has been a few years since I attended an IEP meeting as a parent, a teacher, or even an advocate. But last Friday in a small Louisiana town, in the truest fashion of Yogi-isms, it was "déja vu all over again."
Not one but two O&M instructors drove-in separate state cars, I might add--from Baton Rouge (a distance of 209 miles to the Roberts' hometown) to support the superintendent as he insisted that Lance Roberts would not be allowed to use his cane in school. Instead Lance must use a pre-cane in the form of a walker made of PVC pipes.
After all, said the O&M instructors from the residential school for the blind, Lance was not safe with a cane and would endanger himself and other children; and then the school, the superintendent, the town, the teachers, and the O&M instructor himself--everyone remotely connected with Lance, it seems--would be liable and would be sued for a vast amount of cash.
Mom and Dad Roberts recognized that the scare tactics of the O&M instructor were simply an excuse for poor service, inferior instruction, and most of all low expectations. But, as is so often the case, the familiar ploy of teaching fear worked. The superintendent declared to the thirteen people sitting at the table that the O&M instructors from the school for the blind would be his experts, regardless of the presence of national expertise just sixty-four miles from the IEP meeting.
Several times during the stress-filled meeting, the superintendent and his so-called experts alluded to Lance's attending the state residential school for the blind, which was home base for the two O&M instructors. This option was clearly inappropriate for Lance and totally unacceptable to his parents. For nearly three hours a Louisiana tugboat pilot and his wife weathered yet another Louisiana storm, this time inland and in the form of a contentious IEP meeting. Among the statements (many of which were legally questionable at best) that were made to the incredulous, beleaguered parents was one statement for the books. In a heated exchange the superintendent clearly delineated his position and spoke for the parish education system--in reference to the absence of qualified personnel to teach Lance, he curtly replied to Lance's mother, "It's not my problem."
It's not my problem. You think that might make a good campaign slogan for the next school board election in the parish? Or maybe a national response to No Child Left Behind from educational leaders like this one?
I said earlier that no one in the parish is trained in blindness. That's not true. Dee Roberts is taking a Braille course through Louisiana Tech University, and a little birdie tells me that she has one of the best grades in the class. She has spent hours in Ruston talking with Federationists who direct and teach the programs at Louisiana Tech University and the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Last Tuesday night after class, she sat on the curb under a streetlight with a teacher of blind children who graduated from Louisiana Tech's master's degree program in teaching blind students. They were deeply engrossed in a discussion of blindness, services, and IEPs when I waved goodnight to them. I assure you Lance's mom learned more on that curb Tuesday night than the declared experts for Lance's school district will ever know about blindness.
Dee took home a copy of
Future Reflections (the National Federation of the Blind's magazine
for parents of blind children). She has been so eager to learn about blindness
that I was puzzled when I asked her after class one night if she had read the
literature on blindness I had given her, and she answered, no. But she was exonerated
when Damen called my office. He was many miles from his hometown. He called
from his tugboat off the shores of Houston. Seems he had taken Dee's copy of
Future Reflections to read to get ready for last Friday's IEP. He had
read it several times, he said, and had a couple of questions--he even quoted
Damen and Dee Roberts are dedicated, loving parents who will do almost anything to ensure that Lance has the chance to live a normal, full life. They are learning from the real experts. They are meeting skilled, competent blind adults. Federationist Dr. Edward Bell, director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness and coordinator of Louisiana Tech's O&M program, was the first blind man either parent had met. Along with her courses from Louisiana Tech, Dee is getting mobility lessons from NOMC-certified Roland Allen at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. And the tugboat pilot? Since last Friday he's been fitted for a long white cane so he can practice traveling under sleepshades.
Even though the Robertses will have to weather many more storms created by the education system, I'm not too worried about them. They are learning--and fast--not from self-styled experts, but the real deal--the National Federation of the Blind.
To their parish school
system the Robertses now offer a last Yogi-ism, "It ain't over till it's over."
And the Robertses are just getting started with the National Federation of the
Blind. Oh, and in case you don't know, where do you think the Roberts family
packed up and went this weekend? That's right. They'll be here through tomorrow's
session, so when you see them, teach them what a Federation greeting is.
If you are interested in helping us change things for all the Lances, come join us at Louisiana Tech. If you were a part of the gathering yesterday at noon that cheered Lance as he used his cane to walk independently down several steps for the first time in his life, you know the excitement of watching a little life take off. Come join us. Until you experience it yourself, it is impossible to describe the rush you get when your first-grade Braille student giggles wildly at his Frog and Toad storybook or begs to read The King, the Mouse and the Cheese book to you for the sixth time this week. Come join us. Are you like Emily, one of the current students in the Louisiana Tech TBS program, when I asked her why she was in the program? She said she wanted to make a difference. Do you? Come join us. If you want a degree in teaching blind children or orientation and mobility from the only university programs in the United States based on Federation philosophy, please talk to us.
Four of our current teachers in training are here and will also be happy to talk with you about the programs. You can call me, Dr. Ruby Ryles, or Dr. Edward Bell at (318) 257-4554. Or if you forget that number, just call the Louisiana Center for the Blind at (800) 234-4166, and Zena Pearcy will get you in touch with us.
Stay active in the National Federation of the Blind. Together we are making a difference for tomorrow's blind kids.
The Forgotten Gift!
Matching gift programs are one of the most overlooked methods of giving offered by many corporations, banks, and other businesses. In order to encourage their employees to support community or national nonprofit organizations, employers often match individual gifts to charitable organizations by making a gift of their own that doubles or triples the amount of the employee's contribution. In many cases charitable contributions from retired employees are also eligible for matching gifts.
To determine whether your employer has a matching gift program, contact the human resources or personnel department for eligibility guidelines and an application form. Once you have completed the form, send it to the National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, and we will do the rest.
Thank you for your continued support.
Out of the Darkness: Craig Roisum
by Tom Ford
From the Editor:
The following article appeared in the August 9, 2005, edition of the Minneapolis
Star Tribune. The title is a bit trite, but the article profiles one of
the 2005 NFB scholarship winners. As we prepare for the 2006 scholarship season,
it is well to remember what can happen when a student learns about and embraces
the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. Here is the story:
Craig Roisum thought this was it. Sitting on a Florida dock last July near his father's seaside home, basking in the setting sun, Roisum, father of a ten-year-old Lakeville boy, nearly decided this is where he could live out his wrecked life.
Months earlier, with his vision almost gone because of an eye disease, Roisum, then thirty-six, had to give up driving and his job as a boiler operator and mechanic. Feeling helpless, Roisum thought that in Florida his father would be his lifeline. Then he dozed off. He awoke, alone, with the sun fully set.
"When it gets dark, it's dark," he said. The fear he faced in making his way back home, with no cane and no railing at hand, convinced him that he had to learn how to help himself.
Now, more than a year later, after completing a Minneapolis school to teach blind people job and life skills, Roisum has a scholarship to study civil engineering at the University of Minnesota, will intern next summer at NASA, and is a more optimistic and happy person--and dad.
"He's a better father,"
said his son Justin, a fourth-grader at Lakeville's Eastview Elementary School.
"He spends a lot more time with me." The two often play football together,
trading jabs about who is the bigger butterfingers. While more independent,
Roisum no longer hesitates to ask Justin for help in finding his shoe or the
television remote, which usually are inches away, Justin said.
That's a big change for Roisum, who said that for years he tried to hide and deny his loss of sight. He was born with normal vision and led a typical kid's life in Mankato. He played hockey and skied, got his driver's license. He married Justin's mother (the two eventually divorced). He lived for a while in Phoenix and ended up in Burnsville. He worked a series of maintenance jobs, and things seemed to be going fine until about ten years ago.
Roisum started to notice it was harder for his eyes to adjust to the darkened boiler rooms in which he usually worked. He also was losing pencils or tools he knew he had set down right in front of him. There were a few embarrassing moments, such as when he mistook a woman's belly for an elevator button. He went to the doctor and learned that he had retinitis pigmentosa. It affects the retina and gradually limits vision. It eventually caused Roisum to see as though he were looking through a straw.
"I knew I had to do
something," he said. "But I needed my job. I had to pay bills."
He kept working and driving. And he tried to hide his troubles at work and from
his family. He thought that being blind would turn him into an unemployed hermit,
A life change
It wasn't until April of 2004, after a nerve-shattering, rainy, late-night drive home from work, that he finally decided to call it quits. He got in touch with state agencies that assist the blind. They introduced him to BLIND, Incorporated, in Minneapolis, the job and life skills school.
His first day there was last July--after the night on the Florida dock. When he entered, he was shocked to find that no one felt sorry for themselves, or him. That revelation, along with walks he took with other blind students to nearby restaurants, laid waste the stigma he attached to blindness. He realized there was an independent life ahead, he said.
In his several months at the school, he got used to his cane, learned Braille, and became adept at computer programs for the blind. He has met mentors who are partly or totally blind engineers, computer technicians, and lawyers. He has volunteered several times to speak to students at Justin's school about being blind, making for a proud son.
The future is exciting for Roisum, who now lives in St. Louis Park, and not without a little mystery. He said he does not yet know what he will do at NASA next summer. Wherever that might lead him, Roisum knows he will face limitations. Driving or riding a bike are probably out of the question. But nevertheless, that fails to dampen his resurrected confidence. "I can do anything a sighted person can do," he said. "I'm up for a challenge."
The 2006 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Program
This year's scholarship program will be the twenty-third since the organization determined to expand the number, variety, and value of the scholarships presented each year at our annual convention in July. Assisting the nation's most talented postsecondary students to fulfill their academic and professional dreams is one of the most effective ways for us to demonstrate our conviction that blind people deserve the chance to enter whatever field they demonstrate themselves equipped to succeed in.
Scholarships will be presented this year to thirty college, vocational-school, and graduate students. Again this year the NFB awards will range in value from $3,000 to $12,000. This top scholarship has been named the Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship and is presented by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. We will, of course, also bring the winners as our guests to the 2006 convention of the National Federation of the Blind to experience firsthand the excitement and stimulation of a gathering of the largest and most dynamic organization of blind people in the country today.
Again we plan to present
at least three of the scholarships to students who won scholarship awards in
a previous competition. The purpose of these special awards is to nurture in
today's students an ongoing commitment to the philosophy and objectives of the
Federation. The students so designated will be recognized and honored as the
2006 tenBroek Fellows. All current students who were scholarship winners in
previous years should take particular note of this program and consider applying
for the 2006 National Federation of the Blind scholarships.
Full-time employees interested in pursuing postsecondary degrees should take a close look at the scholarship form because one award may be given to a part-time student holding down a full-time job.
Every state affiliate and local chapter can help in spreading the word of this extraordinary opportunity for America's blind students. The scholarship application is now available for downloading from the NFB Web site, <www.nfb.org>, and forms have been or soon will be mailed to financial aid offices in educational institutions around the country.
Many of these will be filed away and forgotten by the time students come to ask about financial assistance. It is very helpful to have local representatives deliver or mail forms to the actual college administrator who works with blind students. Being identified with such a valuable national scholarship program gives the local chapter and state affiliate prestige and respect, and the local touch insures that more blind students will actually have an opportunity to apply for these scholarships.
Anyone can order scholarship forms from Peggy Elliott, 805 5th Avenue, Grinnell, Iowa 50112-1653, phone, (641) 236-3366, or email <[email protected]>; or from the Materials Center, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230 or <[email protected]>. State presidents and members of the 2005 Scholarship Committee will also be sent scholarship forms. These may be copied as long as all sides of the form are reproduced. Please do what you can to spread the word about this program.
Reflections on Leadership
by Larry Streeter
From Mary Ellen
Gabias: Larry Streeter has served the Federation in several capacities over
the past thirty years. His reflections on sound leadership in the following
article may be familiar to the more experienced among us, but finding them gathered
together in one place will certainly be useful to newer members of the Federation
family. Besides, it is valuable for us all occasionally to review what we know
to be true. This is what he says:
The four major influences affecting my life every day are my religious beliefs as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my family responsibilities, my employment as the dispute resolution coordinator with the Idaho State Department of Education, and my involvement in and commitment to the National Federation of the Blind.
I have been a member of the NFB for over thirty years. Without a doubt it plays a major role in my life. In those three-plus decades I have been shaped by our philosophy and influenced by our dynamic leadership. Like many others I do my best to live our philosophy every day. I know that no one can succeed perfectly, but it is still an ideal worth striving to achieve.
Each summer, following our NFB national convention, I attend an education law conference in Portland, Maine. After the conference this year I caught a train back to Boston so that I could attend a session at our church's temple there. I do some of my best thinking inside our temples. After the session was over, I sat for a long time reflecting on my spirit, my religious convictions, my general beliefs about life, and my activity in the NFB.
In his book, On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis identifies three major ingredients of leadership. His concepts have become very important to me in my Federation work and in the rest of my life.
1. The first is a guiding vision. The leader has a clear idea of what he or she wants to do and the strength to continue even when failure occurs. We must know where we are headed, or we will never arrive at our destination.
2. The second ingredient is the combination of passion and hope. The leader loves what he or she does. He or she also knows that hope is essential, for without hope we cannot progress and will therefore not survive. This hope spreads to others and inspires them to succeed.
3. The final ingredient is integrity. The way we conduct ourselves is critical for others, blind and sighted alike, for we are constantly being judged.
These principles were already a part of my life when the opportunity to serve as NFB of Idaho president was offered to me. I did not seek the office; my colleagues sought my services. After accepting the challenge five years ago, I always felt I knew where I was going as president, had great passion for the position, and served with integrity. Years of observing our movement in action and developing my own leadership skills had taught me that these qualities were basic requirements of the job.
When I attended my first
convention in Chicago in 1975, I had been a member for a very short time. I
had been involved in reorganizing a chapter and had then been elected president
but did not know beans about the organization. I decided to go to the convention
because of the strong urging of a fellow member. I arrived just in time to register,
which took quite a while in those days. The first person I met in that long
registration line was Bennett Prows, who was kind enough to take time to respond
to my many questions. I wondered how the Federation functioned and wanted to
understand the philosophy. He talked to me about the basics of the organization,
the meaning of leadership in the Federation, and the foundation on which we
stand. He was an excellent mentor.
Ben's mentoring was just the beginning of my study of our policies and history. My exploration quickly proved to me that we have done more to make life better for blind people than any other entity in the field. In large part these remarkable, hard-fought achievements have occurred due to the efforts of those talented people who have held the presidency on the national, state, and local levels, ably aided by dedicated, active, resourceful members.
Most organizations pass leadership from one president to another at each election, like passing a loaf of freshly baked bread around the table and watching each person take a slice. We are often accused of being undemocratic because we do not have term limits for our presidents. But it takes time for a person to develop into an effective leader. How foolish to squander that time investment by removing a president from office arbitrarily at the end of a term!
The NFB has much more at stake than a run-of-the mill organization. It seems to me that we have the responsibility to choose with care those who lead us because the presidency at every level of this organization demands a unique perspective. Our approach has driven our opponents crazy over the years. They do not comprehend why our view of leadership and the presidency is so different from their own, and they fail or refuse to understand that this view is tied to our success.
Clearly, finding leaders is our most important internal decision. The first duty of any president is to find his or her successor. Finding the right person is no easy task. We should carefully observe individuals over an extended period, mentor them to the best of our ability, and provide opportunities for them to demonstrate their talents. At some point we must step back and observe the results of our efforts, like a mother bird watching her young fly for the first time. Though finding leaders is difficult, future leaders are easy to recognize when they appear.
I observed this process in action when I attended the farewell dinner for Dr. Jernigan in Des Moines in 1978. I was moving about the hotel the night before and met Mrs. Hazel tenBroek and Muzzy Marcelino. They invited me to join them. For over an hour they overflowed with information about the Federation. They encouraged me to continue reading and to ask questions. They invited several of us, including Fred Schroeder, to join them for dinner. The food was great, and the conversation was an educational experience. I learned much that evening.
After dinner Mrs. tenBroek, Fred, and I headed back to the hotel. All of a sudden Mrs. tenBroek, who was in the middle, threw one arm around Fred and the other around me. What a privilege and honor it was to spend time with Dr. tenBroek's widow. I recall that she made me feel completely comfortable. I felt particularly honored to be spending time with such a great lady because Fred and I were just young pups at that time. I observed Fred and had a very strong impression that this guy was being groomed for future leadership.
The NFB has always been blessed with great leaders, starting with our founder Dr. tenBroek. He freely gave of his time, energy, and resources to create and build an organization that would alter the course of life for coming generations of blind people.
Even when Dr. tenBroek was not serving as president, everyone still regarded him as the leader of the movement. I firmly believe that it is possible to be a Federation leader without holding an office. James Omvig is a perfect example. He demonstrated leadership for many years before serving as Maryland state president and continued leading when he moved to another state. Several years ago I invited him to Boise to participate in one of our leadership seminars. He taught us well.
Though it is not necessary to be president to be a leader, it is essential that presidents be leaders. We expect many things of our presidents. Here are a few that seem important to me:
Presidents should be teachers.
Every member must learn our most basic philosophy. While Dr. Jernigan was alive,
I often heard the words "equality, opportunity, and security." While we have
not lessened our commitment to these concepts, those words used to be part of
the NFB logo. I sometimes wonder if the introduction of the vigorous, active
Whozit logo without these three words has lessened our emphasis on the concepts.
Dr. Jernigan taught us the importance of these principles, and these three goals
have inspired many members to reach a higher level of commitment. We must continue
to teach these basics to old and new members alike.
Good presidents encourage members to read, study, and digest our literature. Our writings are critical in the development of the membership. They tell of our history, identify our philosophy, and keep us abreast of current issues in the blindness field. They are the heart of our movement and declare our vision, mission, and independent spirit. Reading our literature also has a tremendous impact on our level of personal commitment.
Presidents set the example
for their members. Glenn Crosby served as president of the NFB of Texas when
I moved back there in late 1977. President Crosby never expected anyone to do
more than he did. The affiliate did not have a dime to spare. We made up for
the money we did not have with our enthusiasm. We sold stuffed animals to raise
funds. High school girls just loved them.
Glenn knew the importance of teaching NFB principles. He took the money we earned from the sale and conducted a leadership seminar in San Antonio. It was a tremendous weekend. We were taught about our history, the importance of being in the organization, and the benefits of our efforts. We shared personal stories of success and failure as blind people and made a commitment to work together for the betterment of the blind. The result was a more cohesive and collaborative affiliate. It was a privilege to serve as first vice president later in his administration. A few of that group have gone on to a better place. However, every living person who attended that seminar has remained strong in our movement to this day.
Presidents should be committed to improving their own personal skills, including Braille, independent travel, and the other skills of blindness. But this also includes general leadership and communication skills. Although most of us will never be able to write great speeches like presidents tenBroek, Jernigan, and Maurer, we should still take the time and make the effort to improve our writing skills by raising our personal bars.
A good president is not afraid to set high expectations for the organization. Once a major issue has been identified, our presidents have expected excellence of themselves and the membership. Our goals have often been lofty and seemed impossible, but we have always been a motivated, decisive, and talented group of blind citizens. If our goals were too easy, we would all become bored and lazy. Many of us would become inactive or even leave the movement.
Presidents must be good communicators. Peggy Elliott, our esteemed second vice president, once told me that poor communication is the most critical of all member complaints. I strongly concur with her thinking. However, communication is a two-way street. We all need to work to communicate better. Presidents are not mind readers and should not be expected to be. If a president is worth his or her salt, a member should be able to go to that president and discuss anything under the sun.
Presidents must be willing to respect and honestly consider the opinions of all members. Members should be encouraged to voice their opinions, even those that are strongly held or opposed by others. Open discussion is critical to organizational success; every issue has at least two sides.
Part of communicating is listening. Presidents must listen closely and be open to constructive criticism. One of my former Idaho board members was very good about calling me to express her opinion. We did not always see eye to eye or agree immediately. I readily admit that I was not always ready for her open manner of addressing issues, but I appreciated her candor just the same. Sometimes I had to hang up the phone and think about her comments to digest fully what she was communicating. But her calls helped me to see and appreciate other perspectives.
Presidents must be flexible
and able to deal effectively with a diverse membership. Blind people mirror
our society. This great movement attracts people from various classes, religions,
geographical regions, and ages. The president must work with them all.
Good presidents demonstrate confidence. At times the membership may misinterpret confidence, labeling it as arrogance. People who are regarded as confident share a number of characteristics. They are goal setters, active planners, and decision makers. They are not afraid of opposition or fearful of expressing an opinion. They are assertive, self-motivated people who usually achieve their goals. Confident people in our movement have at least most of the characteristics above, demonstrate positive attitudes about blindness, and have good skills. Confidence goes hand in hand with competence. The more work we do in the Federation, the more likely it is that our confidence and competence will grow and the greater our commitment will be.
Presidents must be willing to face and learn from adversity because it is inevitable and can help us to grow and become something better tomorrow than we are today. It is not always easy to understand. Dr. tenBroek provides a dramatic example. I never knew the man but have read many of his works. I have been told that in addition to his intellectual capabilities he was kind and considerate. For nearly two decades he built this organization into a strong entity, only to have his opponents viciously attack him. He was forced to watch the organization he loved endure a civil war, and he eventually chose to give up the presidency. This courage and selflessness spurred the Federation to resolve the crisis and laid the foundation for our unity and strength today. Several years after this decision, Dr. tenBroek returned to the presidency for the final two years of his life. He never left the movement that he had created. Rather he stood the difficult test.
A good president writes well in order to carry the message to the membership and the public at large. Dr. Jernigan set the standard high, and his speeches will always influence our thinking. President Maurer continues to impress the membership and society with his words of wisdom. Their eloquent, powerful, and truthful words have certainly been a major factor in changing what it means to be blind.
We expect our presidents to be good speakers. I have heard many eloquent speeches delivered by state and local presidents. However, when it comes to blindness issues, who can name two better speakers than Dr. Jernigan and President Maurer? The high points of our annual conventions are the presidential report and the banquet address. No one will ever be NFB national president for long unless he or she possesses the skill to deliver a powerful presentation.
Presidents must set agendas and plan, organize, and conduct meetings. In the name of democracy they should encourage members to speak their minds and then cast their votes. But once the vote has been taken, the time for debate has passed. Members then have the obligation to support the decision the group has made. If a member still continues to oppose the will of the majority, the healthiest and most responsible course for him or her to take is to remain silent on that subject until everyone has had a chance to observe the policy in action.
Presidents must understand and apply organizational policy. The issue of person-first language is a good example and particularly important to me. Our society pressures all of us to be politically correct for no very good reason. Some of us have fallen into this trap. I served on the Resolutions Committee the year Dr. Jernigan wrote his resolution on person-first language, and I sat next to him while he eloquently read it. Chills ran up and down my spine. I had not realized just how strongly opposed I had been to person-first language until he put my feelings into words. My opposition today is just as strong as it was then. Person-first language either removes the word "blind" from our vocabulary or hides the characteristic behind the noun. We are blind people, not people who are blind. I am absolutely convinced that using person-first language is dangerous because it implies discomfort with the characteristic. In my opinion a good president should implement this Federation policy by resisting person-first language at every opportunity and absolutely refusing to let it creep into his or her speeches and writing.
Presidents must frequently testify on legislative issues and represent the organization in the community. They appoint committees and supervise their work and are often called upon to help solve members' personal problems. One of the most important skills for presidents to develop is the ability to know when and how to delegate responsibilities. Every president must provide leadership in guarding the NFB from threats to its autonomy. We are not a cross-disability group. I heard Dr. Jernigan say on more than one occasion, "If we need to participate in a cross-disability effort, let us get in and get out again quickly." Occasionally I hear people say, "We need to work together." The doctrine of working together goes far beyond sitting around in a circle, smiling at one another, holding hands, and singing "Kum Ba Yah"; clearly that is not what we are all about. Of course we need to work together with other organizations when our interests coincide, but working this way requires that we allow open and honest discussion of difficult topics. Nothing is wrong with working with others outside the Federation as long as we always plan the activity and speak for ourselves through our own collective voice.
We must all remember that we are the voice of the nation's blind, the National Federation of the Blind. We are the leaders of the blind community. Not everyone in the world is happy about this fact. We did not get to this position overnight; it took considerable time and effort and more than one battle. Our enemies want to see us fail. They would be delighted if we were to go away, to disband. We will never see eye to eye with some of these individuals and organizations. So be it.
The Federation has been very good to me. I am thankful for the many powerful, unforgettable experiences I have had over the years. They have helped me become a more determined person in my daily life, given me the confidence to compete on terms of equality with my sighted peers, allowed me the opportunity to serve others by sharing my time and talents to improve our future as blind people, and guided me to acquire knowledge and come to a better understanding about blindness. At least for me the Federation is a way of life.
I think of the Federation as being like our galaxy with the sun, moon, and stars. Whether on the national, state, or local level, the sun is the president and the moon is the person being prepared to assume the office some time in the future. The stars are the general membership--some who burn brightly, some who sparkle from time to time, and others who can barely be observed. How brightly we shine, regardless of our position, depends on our understanding of the Federation's basic principles and our personal level of commitment.
The Soft Side of Mr. Hardball Chris Matthews Joins Forum on Disabilities
by Matt Viser
From the Editor:
The following story first appeared in the November 14, 2004, edition of the
Boston Globe. David Ticchi is a longtime leader of the NFB of Massachusetts
and the Cambridge chapter. Here it is:
Chris Matthews starts out each show saying, "Let's play hardball." And for the next hour he pummels the pundits with heat and curves. But to David Ticchi there's nothing intimidating about that rat-a-tat voice. It helped the Newton school administrator get through college.
Matthews will be the keynote speaker at a disability awareness event this week in honor of Ticchi, who is blind. The MSNBC-TV talk show host was one of a group of friends at Holy Cross who read course books aloud to Ticchi, essential help in the 1960's when much of the required reading was not available in Braille.
When Ticchi introduces
his longtime buddy at the Newton function, he may have a surprise story or two
to share with the crowd. Like the one about Matthews's pivotal role in the Holy
Cross Doughnut Rebellion, when the cafeteria doubled the price from a nickel
to a dime.
It was Matthews's thick Philadelphia accent that first drew Ticchi to him in 1963 on the second floor of Beaven Hall. Ticchi, a West Bridgewater native, recruited Matthews to be one of his readers.
"He's giving me a lot more credit than I deserve," Matthews said in a phone interview. "He got a tremendous grade point average at Holy Cross. He did a lot of his exams orally and impressed the hell out of the professors. But a lot of it was reading, and he needed that support."
Matthews and Ticchi are among a dozen buddies who have stayed in touch since college. When Matthews was in town for the Democratic National Convention, he invited Ticchi to a press briefing at the Union Oyster House. And when Ticchi couldn't attend Holy Cross's graduation last year for Matthews's commencement talk, the talk show host read his entire address to him over the phone.
But it's the odd things that the two remember about one another. For Matthews it's the dorm room wrestling matches. "These rooms were pretty darn small," Matthews said. "But Dave could reduce the size of the mat pretty quickly. He would find you--let's put it that way. And you wouldn't want to be in his grip; he's a strong guy."
"I used to twist them into a pretzel," said Ticchi, referring to Matthews and another friend, Jim Moran, who is now a Democratic congressman from Virginia. "It was just guys horsing around."
Matthews has since risen to cult stardom on Hardball, an inside baseball show for political junkies. He has also written four books, including Now, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think and Hardball: How Politics Is Played. Each time a new book comes out, Matthews sends the audio version to Ticchi.
"I love it," Ticchi said about listening to Matthews's books on tape. "It's like being there with him. It's like being back in college in the room, him reading to me. I just sit back with my glass of scotch and listen to him." Ticchi, though, said listening to Matthews's rapid-fire voice is "like a tape on fast-forward."
"I come from Philadelphia, and I blame everything on that," Matthews said. "I had four brothers; we talk fast, that's all. I've always talked fast. My father would always say, ‘Slow down, slow down, slow down.' But that's my type. That's me."
Blind from birth, Ticchi was not one to let his disability get in his way. In college he was a lineman in the Friday afternoon touch football games. He has golfed, bowled, played basketball, and learned to hit a baseball after tossing it in the air. Ticchi was accepted by Cornell's law school and Dartmouth's business school (the first blind student to achieve that distinction), but turned both down to volunteer for a Jesuit program in New Mexico.
When he returned, he earned a master's degree in education at Harvard University. He continued at Harvard and got his doctorate, and in 1969 he became the first blind person to be certified to teach in Massachusetts.
He taught English at Day Middle School in Newtonville and math at Newton North High School. He now works as an administrator in the high school's career and technical education program. Ticchi uses a computer that reads his email to him. He has a machine that gives him easy access to his appointment calendar and phone numbers, although he remembers most of the numbers anyway. He runs stairs and lifts weights. His one compromise is taking the back seat of the tandem bike he keeps in his office.
"It's amazing how he does some of the things he does," Matthews said. "You can sit and watch a basketball game with him at a bar, and he's incredibly on top of things. It's just a fact. He's an amazing person."
Ticchi also has a keen sense of humor. Once when he and Matthews were standing in line at the cafeteria, Ticchi turned to Matthews and said, "Matty, you need a haircut." Matthews still laughs at that joke.
"It was the sixties," Ticchi said. "I knew the percentages were with me." Matthews and Ticchi will speak on Tuesday night at the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of the Understanding Our Differences program, which teaches Newton students about disabilities. Roger Berkowitz, president of Legal Sea Foods, will also speak at the event, and Ticchi and Berkowitz will be presented with leadership awards.
Aloha with Love
by Katie Keim
From the Editor:
Katie Keim is secretary of the NFB of Hawai'i. She is also a rehabilitation
teacher at Ho'opono, Hawai'i's state agency for the blind. In the following
article she reports on a special presentation made at the NFB of Hawai'i's convention.
This is what she says:
One of our longtime soldiers was honored this year at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Hawai'i. We were honored and give thanks to our national president, Dr. Marc Maurer, for reading Hawai'i's resolution 2005-01. Thanks go as well to many in Hawai'i and across the country for their participation in authoring this resolution. Whether joining in the spirit that created it, in the thought that conceived it, or in the writing and editing of it, thank you.
Dr. Floyd Matson was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawai'i. In our local language of pidgin we call him "one kine Kama'aina," which means of the land or earth, and Matt is indeed of the earth. Dr. Floyd Matson has been rooted in our Federation, an NFB kama'aina, for over fifty years.
He first became involved after his return to California at U.C. Berkeley, having completed a tour of duty during World War II and then two years during the occupation of Japan. He returned in early spring of 1948 to Berkeley, where he completed his undergraduate work in what was then called public policy. A young man earning a mere $65 a month on the G.I. Bill needed to supplement his income, supporting himself through school. Seeking out the campus's help-wanted ads, he responded to a notice looking for a research assistant.
A partnership began that quickly evolved into a long-standing friendship with our movement, first with Dr. TenBroek, then Dr. Jernigan, and now Dr. Maurer. Dr. Matson was often in Dr. tenBroek's office while Chick was discussing NFB business. Within the first year that Matt worked with Dr. TenBroek, Chick began to share the nature of his business with his assistant. As happens to many NFB members, Matt gradually found his day filled with NFB matters.
Early in Matson's work as an assistant doing research for a book to be published by Dr. tenBroek, it became apparent to Chick that Matt had, in essence, written a third of the book while doing the research. Dr. tenBroek's partner and co-author, another professor, was adamant that a lowly undergraduate and a paid assistant to boot should not receive the honor of being a co-author. In the spirit of fair play that created our organization, tenBroek was just as adamant. The book, Prejudice, War and the Constitution, was born in the fall of 1954 with three co-authors; known fondly as Matt, Chick, and Barnie. The book almost immediately received a major award, the Woodrow Wilson Award, and was nationally known as the best book on government and democracy. Great honor, prestige, and $1,000 divided three ways went to the bank that day.
Dr. Matson graduated from Berkeley in 1950 and immediately began his master's and then his Ph.D. in political science, which he received in 1960. Political controversy being nothing new to Matt by the early sixties, he undertook to publish a book that undermined the foundations of behavioral sciences of the day in his bid for tenure at U.C. Berkeley. Though Matson lost his chance for tenure in California, his support by 75 percent of his scholarly readers landed him an academic job back in Hawai'i in 1965. The book is titled The Broken Image, Man, Science, and Society.
As with any devoted Federationist, Dr. Matson took the NFB with him wherever he went. Because the NFB had been in Hawai'i informally and later formally since the 1920's, he connected with Eva Smythe. She had organized a blind movement with graduates of the Diamond Head School for the Blind. Ms. Smythe originally called her blind movement "the Hawai'i Federation." She later communicated with Dr. TenBroek in the 1950's, making our Hawai'i Federation a formal part of the NFB.
Matt first met Eva Smythe
in 1965 at our twenty-fifth national convention, sitting at the Hawai'i delegate
table. That evening he also met several representatives who served and continue
to serve in Congress. When Dr. Matson returned that fall to Hawai'i, by then
deeply entrenched in our philosophy, he connected with Eva Smythe and has continued
to work tirelessly for our cause ever since.
Dr. Matson first met Kenneth Jernigan in the early 1950's in Oakland, California, while Dr. Jernigan was teaching at the orientation center for the blind. After almost two decades of work with Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, Matt began to work regularly with Dr. Jernigan in 1968, meeting in Jernigan's office, home, and often at formal dinners that the Jernigans hosted for legislative representatives and politicians.
Matt first met Marc Maurer while meeting with Kenneth Jernigan in Iowa. Dr. Maurer was coming in as a new student at the commission for the blind in Des Moines. Dr. Jernigan invited Dr. Matson to stay and observe this new student. Who could have guessed then that young Marc Maurer would come to be our next national president? Matt's relationship with President Maurer was quickly established since his role had already been well defined in the Federation with two preceding presidents. Matson would come to work as closely with Dr. Maurer as he had with Drs. tenBroek and Jernigan.
We in Hawai'i have been blessed to have as a member such a distinguished historian as Dr. Floyd Matson. He has remained with us since his return in 1965. He still sits on our state board as a director, and if you bring him a bottle of wine, he might just recollect a few anecdotes from NFB history.
Hail, hail to our Mattie!
Here is the text of the resolution:
A Resolution Celebrating the Contributions of Dr. Floyd Matson to Our Blind Civil Rights Movement and Declaring Him a "State Treasure"
Author: Many devoted Federationists, with love
WHEREAS, Dr. Floyd Matson has humbly toiled in the cause of justice, equality, and liberation for the blind of this country in the service of the National Federation of the Blind for over five decades; and
WHEREAS, through his research, writing, and oral contributions, Dr. Matson has helped to transform the status of blind people in the eyes of society from a dependent, helpless social group to a progressive, capable, and vibrant civil rights movement; and
WHEREAS, Dr. Matson has set an example of true commitment, stepping up to the line whenever called upon to serve both the national organization and its Hawai'i affiliate; and
WHEREAS, Dr. Matson has preserved for generations to come the historic legacy of our founder and revered leader, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, by brilliantly chronicling his life in a recent biography; and
WHEREAS, Dr. Matson, a sighted man who joined Dr. tenBroek as an assistant in the 1950's, continues to stand steadfast with the Federation on the barricades, in the halls of Congress, before the media, and in the pages of history forever as one of us, an indefatigable advocate for the blind of America:
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Hawai'i in convention assembled in the city of Honolulu, Hawai'i, this 10th day of September, 2005, that we honor and salute Dr. Floyd Matson for his decades of tireless service and monumental historical achievement and for the written legacy of our blind civil rights movement to which he has dedicated so much of his life, and accordingly that we proclaim Dr. Floyd Matson to be a Hawai'i affiliate State Treasure; and that we declare with utmost pride that he is and shall remain one of us: a devoted and loyal Federationist.
Honored Teacher Helps Visually Impaired Students
by Lauren Burt
From the Editor:
Time has come again to nominate outstanding teachers of blind students for the
NFB's annual Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award. (See the following
story for details.) As a reminder of what our very best teachers are doing,
here is a story that appeared on September 24, 2005, in the Des Moines Register.
It is about Merry-Noel Chamberlain, the winner of the 2005 Distinguished Educator
Award. Here it is:
The day that Merry-Noel Chamberlain totaled her car and almost killed her daughter in the accident was the day she realized she was going blind. "I thought I saw a green light and drove right in the middle of an intersection," said Chamberlain of Des Moines. "I started to realize that streetlight signals disappeared from my view and street signs became blurry."
Losing her sight was a psychological adjustment as well as a physical adjustment for Chamberlain. "When I started using a long white cane, I realized my head had been down, and I wasn't seeing what I used to see. It was an awakening moment, but it wasn't negative," she said.
As a child, Chamberlain suffered from amblyopia, also known as "lazy eye" and began wearing glasses at age two. Her eyesight worsened, and she had optic nerve damage as she got older. Today at forty-three she is legally blind, with no vision in her right eye and only 20/100 sight in her left. She also lost all of her peripheral vision. But vision loss hasn't stopped Chamberlain. It has driven her to help others, especially visually impaired students in Iowa.
"People, blind or sighted, often search and search for their niche in life--for the one job that makes it worthwhile to get up in the mornings," said Chamberlain. "I'm so fortunate that I found mine."
Chamberlain, who teaches students with visual impairments in the Des Moines school district, recently was honored as an outstanding teacher. She was named the 2005 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children by the National Federation of the Blind in Louisville, Kentucky.
In the United States, about 95 percent of teachers for the visually impaired are sighted. Chamberlain is one of four blind teachers in Iowa. "Teaching and helping the students is so important to me," she said. "A blind teacher knows what they're going through and understands because I've had the same experiences firsthand. I also want to make sure they have the same accommodations that I had as a student."
Chamberlain teaches her students Braille writing, computer technology, handwriting, and independent living skills. She teaches students from age six to seventeen. Chris Waters, a sixteen-year-old sophomore at Hoover High School, has been meeting with Chamberlain four times a week. "I like meeting with Merry-Noel. She's helped me read, and I used to hate reading. I'm reading Harry Potter now, and it's double-sided Braille," said Waters.
Chamberlain has a bachelor's degree in elementary education from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and a master's degree in educational psychology from Louisiana Tech with a focus on orientation and mobility. She is working toward a second master's degree at Western Michigan University in teaching students with visual impairments. Chamberlain hopes to complete her doctorate in interdisciplinary health studies from Western Michigan University in 2008.
In her final remarks during a speech at a student seminar at Louisiana State, Chamberlain reflected upon becoming blind and her journey through life. "I no longer look down at the sidewalk," she said. "I go everywhere with my cane, and I hold my head up high."
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award for 2006
by Sharon Maneki
From the Editor: Sharon Maneki is president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. She also chairs the committee to select the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for 2006.
The National Federation of the Blind will recognize an outstanding teacher of blind children at our 2006 convention next July. The winner of this award will receive an expense-paid trip to the convention, a check for $1,000, an appropriate plaque, and an opportunity to make a presentation about the education of blind children to the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children early in the convention.
Anyone who is currently teaching or counseling blind students or administering a program for blind children is eligible to receive this award. It is not necessary to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind to apply. However, the winner must attend the national convention. Teachers may be nominated by colleagues, supervisors, or friends. The letter of nomination should explain why the teacher is being recommended for this award.
The education of blind children is one of our most important concerns. Attendance at a National Federation of the Blind convention will enrich a teacher's experience by affording him or her the opportunity to take part in seminars and workshops on educational issues, to meet other teachers who work with blind children, to meet parents, and to meet blind adults who have had experiences in a variety of educational programs. Help us recognize a distinguished teacher by distributing this form and encouraging teachers to submit their credentials. We are pleased to offer this award and look forward to applications from many well-qualified educators.
Please complete the application and attach the following:
• A letter of nomination from someone (parent, coworker, supervisor, etc.) who knows your work;
• A letter of recommendation from someone who knows you professionally and knows your philosophy of teaching;
• A letter from you discussing your beliefs and approach to teaching blind students. In your letter you may wish to discuss topics such as the following:
• What are your views about when and how students should use Braille, large print, tape recordings, readers, magnification devices, computers, electronic notetakers, and other technology?
• How do you decide whether a child should use print, Braille, or both?
• When do you recommend that your students begin instruction in the use of a slate and stylus, of a Braille writer?
• How do you determine which students should learn cane travel (and when) and which should not?
• When should keyboarding be introduced?
• When should a child be expected to hand in print assignments independently?
National Federation of the Blind
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
Deadline: May 15, 2006
City, State, Zip:_________________________________________________
Use a separate sheet of
paper and answer the following:
• List your degrees, the institutions from which they were received, and your major area or areas of study;
• How long and in what programs have you worked with blind children?
• In what setting do you currently work?
• Briefly describe your current job and teaching responsibilities;
• Describe your current caseload (e.g., number of students, ages, multiple disabilities, number of Braille-reading students)
Attach the three required letters to this application and send all material by May 15, 2006, to Sharon Maneki, Chairwoman, Teacher Award Committee, 9013 Nelson Way, Columbia, Maryland 21045, (410) 715-9596.
The 2006 Blind Educator of theYear Award
by Stephen O. Benson
From the Editor:
Steve Benson is a longtime leader of the National Federation of the Blind. He
also chairs the committee charged with identifying each year's Blind Educator
of the Year. This is what he says:
A number of years ago the Blind Educator of the Year Award was established by the National Organization of Blind Educators (the teachers division of the National Federation of the Blind) to pay tribute to a blind teacher whose exceptional classroom performance, notable community service, and uncommon commitment to the NFB merit national recognition. Beginning with the 1991 presentation, this award became an honor bestowed by our entire movement. This change reflects our recognition of the importance of good teaching and the impact an outstanding blind teacher has on students, faculty, community, and all blind Americans.
This award is given in the spirit of the outstanding educators who founded and have continued to nurture the National Federation of the Blind and who, by example, have imparted knowledge of our strengths to us and raised our expectations. We have learned from Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, and President Marc Maurer that a teacher not only provides a student with information but also provides guidance and advocacy. The recipient of the Blind Educator of the Year Award must exhibit all of these traits and must advance the cause of blind people in the spirit and philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.
The Blind Educator of the Year Award is presented at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Honorees must be present to receive an appropriately inscribed plaque and a check for $1,000.
Nominations should be sent to Steve Benson, 7020 North Tahoma, Chicago, Illinois 60646. Letters of nomination must be accompanied by a copy of the nominee's current résumé and supporting documentation of community and Federation activity. All nomination materials must be in the hands of the committee chairman by May 1, 2006, to be considered for this year's award. For further information contact Steve Benson at (773) 775-9765.
Advocate for Blind Urges Shift in Attitude
by Gary Massaro
From the Editor: As you will find when you read the Federation Family section of this month's Monitor Miniatures, on October 9 the NFB of Colorado conducted its election, and for the first time in a number of years, the members elected a new president. Here is the story that appeared in the Rocky Mountain News on Wednesday, October 5, 2005:
Diane McGeorge is stepping down, but not slowing down, especially when she talks. McGeorge, seventy-three, is retiring this weekend after thirty years as president of the Colorado branch of the National Federation of the Blind.
She will stay active, still be a voice for the Federation. And what a voice. It is a snare drum of words--rat-a-tat-tat--when she's talking about issues important to her. But don't call her a militant. She prefers to be called an activist. Here, in a nutshell, is what she's all about: "We believe in change. The basic problem is attitude. That's what we work so hard to bring about, a change in attitude," she said. "Blind people are just like sighted people--except we don't see."
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the organization at its state convention Friday through Sunday at Adam's Mark Hotel in Denver. McGeorge said the organization's greatest accomplishment has been the Colorado Center for the Blind, which is available primarily to Colorado's 13,000 blind people, but also others from around the globe. "We have a worldwide renown," she said. "We had a student from the United Arab Emirates who took what he learned here and established a center there."
The center offers a variety of courses, including computer skills. "We teach them independence. We teach them that they don't have to wait for other people to do things for them. We give them self-confidence," McGeorge said. "We just did all these things because they needed to be done."
McGeorge grew up in Nebraska, around Omaha. She came to Denver to go to Barnes Business College and became a medical transcriber. "When I did it, it was a brand new field for blind people to get into," she said. "I needed a job bad. I was a good speller and a good typist. So I took a class."
She met her husband Ray, who is also blind. He had volunteered to teach her how to get around town. They hit it off, have been married fifty-one years and raised two sons. Ray, a retired machine operator, is volunteering with the growing population of senior citizens who are losing their sight--an estimated twenty million Americans by 2020, he said.
McGeorge and her husband live in Denver. "When we bought our home two months after we got married, we automatically selected it where we would have good transportation," McGeorge said. "Public transport for a blind person is essential. I can't just jump in my car and drive to work."
She gets around with a cane or a guide dog. Meningitis took her sight when she was two. "I don't see it as a handicap," she said.
by Sharon Buchan
From the Editor: Sharon Buchan has been an active member and leader in the NFB for a number of years now. She and her husband Bill have retired to Orcan Island off the coast of Washington State. She reports that she still looks for ways to be an NFB gardener even in her out-of-the-way corner of the world. In addition she has become a potter, selling her work in local markets. She does not allow her customers to be told she is blind until after they have decided to buy her pieces because she does not want to be characterized as "a good potter for a blind person." She also arranges flowers for others and, when asked, advises friends on home decorating. She says that she will now try her hand at more writing as well. But she was determined that the first thing she would try was her story about Diane McGeorge. Here it is:
When I was thirty-two years old, an air force ophthalmologist told me I had a rare eye disease. He said I would have to give up driving and would eventually not be able to read print. I was devastated, and by the time I drove home I thought my life was over. I knew my husband would divorce me, perhaps I would lose my children, and I would be on welfare and have to learn Braille.
What actually happened was that I did learn Braille and lost none of the people I loved. We moved to Alaska in the late 1970's, and I decided to go to the Sensory Impairment Center for Blind Adults. I also attended my first NFB convention.
I had just given up driving, and I did not want to go to this convention. I had met the president and vice president and did not like either of them. My husband thought I should go, and he practically dragged me to the hotel. I did have a cane and had been using it. I sat in the lobby by myself for a long time and thought of ways I could get out of there. I had a girlfriend I could call who would let me stay with her for the weekend. I did not want to be with all these blind people.
I found out I had a roommate, and I did not want a roommate. That roommate turned out to be Diane McGeorge. I was impressed with her. Her hair was beautifully coiffed, and she was immaculately groomed. She was self-confident and caring, and she had this wonder guide dog named Pony. I remember being deeply impressed by her dog. When I kept going on about the dog, she said, "Sharon, you know, I direct the dog; he doesn't direct me." I asked her questions like how did she know what colors looked good on her and plenty more stupid questions. She answered every one of them graciously. I complained and whined about being blind. Then I watched her read Braille, her fingers flying across the page as she looked up and made eye contact with the audience. She spoke as eloquently as anyone I have ever heard, handling one delicate situation after another.
After the convention some of us met in the president's suite. The state president wanted to call Dr. Jernigan to tell him how well we had done with fundraising. Remember, we were in Alaska, and on the East Coast it was two or three in the morning. Even though she had Dr. Jernigan's home number, she would not give it to the president, explaining that it was important for him to get a good night's sleep.
Shortly after that experience my husband and I were stationed in Europe for almost four years. During that time I came back to Alaska for six months to learn Braille and also NFB philosophy. A year later we returned to Alaska, and thanks to Jim Omvig, the affiliate had a new president, Kay Porth. Due to Kay's poor health, I became president within the year.
About three years later Diane came back to Alaska as the national representative. I introduced her as Diane NFB-seed, because over the years I had had time to think about that first convention, the NFB, and Diane. I knew I wanted what she had. I did not want just her wardrobe, hairdo, and smile, but her love and enthusiasm for life and for the NFB. I wanted to have her self-confidence, can-do attitude, and Braille and mobility skills. I wanted to return to the workplace as a competent blind person with a meaningful job. And finally, I wanted to give back to the NFB, the organization that had already given me so much. At that convention, when I introduced Diane, I told folks how I had whined about being blind and what an impression she had made upon me. Diane came to the podium and said, "Sharon just told the story I was going to tell you," adding, "What makes it all worthwhile for me is coming back and seeing how Sharon has grown and changed."
After that convention I attended my first national convention, and a few years later I served on the Scholarship Committee, where I met several other NFB gardeners. I learned that the secret NFB fertilizer is love and hard work. It is still a thrill for me to watch the NFB seed planted, bud, and bloom.
Holiday Hints and Helps
by Barbara Pierce
In October one of our Internet listservs developed a thread about baking, specifically how blind bakers can get good results. Some of the questions made their way to my inbox along with a request for particularly good recipes. My correspondent suggested that, with the holiday season fast approaching, this might be a good time to offer some of my favorite recipes and useful baking tips.
I do not pretend to be an expert on alternative techniques in the kitchen. As I have often confessed, I have never been rehabilitated; I certainly was never lucky enough to attend one of our NFB adult training centers. I have, however, been cooking for more than forty years now, and, being married to a college professor, I have necessarily collected a number of easy and popular cookie and bar recipes. The baking tricks and techniques I have devised for myself may not be the most efficient ways to accomplish the job, but they work for me and seem to be efficient. I trust that my experience will encourage you to have a try at working things out for yourself.
One of my favorite tricks during the holiday season has little to do with baking, but it fills the house with wonderful fragrance. In a large covered saucepan place a couple of cinnamon sticks, several whole nutmegs, about twenty whole cloves, a teaspoon of allspice berries, and the discarded peels of a couple of oranges and perhaps a lemon. Fill the pan with water and reduce the heat to low. Check on the pan from time to time to be sure it is not boiling dry. The citrus peel and spices will persuade anyone who drops in that your home is the scene of great culinary delights.
But now down to the real thing. The one hard and fast rule that every blind cook should follow is to wash hands early and often during kitchen activities. If you lick your finger, wash your hands again immediately. It goes without saying that you should never taste something from an implement and then continue using it without stopping to wash it thoroughly.
The question, I gather, that initiated the email discussion about baking was how to tell when cookies are golden brown and ready to be removed to a cooling rack without being either soggy in the center or too crisp to serve. It helps to have an accurate oven or at least a consistent one. If you know that it is always twenty-five degrees high, you can preheat to a lower temperature. Unless the recipe instructs you to do something different, bake with the rack placed in the center of the oven. Invest in a cookie sheet that is constructed to bake evenly. Work to make all the cookies the same size so that they will take about the same amount of time to bake. If you know that your oven bakes unevenly, rotate the cookie sheet halfway through baking. Keep accurate note of how long your cookies have been in the oven. When you determine what the perfect baking time is, you will then be able to repeat it with the next batch.
When you prepare to bake
the first tray of cookies, study the recipe for any tips about baking time and
handling. Some recipes say to leave the cookies on the sheet for a minute or
two before removing them to the cooling rack. If you do not follow this advice
when it is given, the cookies are likely to fall to pieces when moved because
they have not had time to finish baking and become firm on the sheet. Other
recipes warn you to remove the cookies after the stipulated cooking time and
not to wait until they brown. You should follow this advice scrupulously for
the first set of cookies, at least. If, when they have cooled, they are still
too soft, increase the baking time a minute or two for the next batch. My favorite
recipe warns that the cookies are done when they begin to crack on top. These
cracks are easy to feel by touching the surface lightly. The cookies have the
additional virtue of freezing well either before or after baking. When I found
myself in London without cookie cutters or money to buy Christmas tree ornaments,
I even resorted to burying one side of a loop of colorful yarn in the cookie
dough so that we could hang the cookies on the tree. Here is the recipe:
Coffee Hour Molasses Cookies
3/4 cup shortening, melted and cooled
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
Method: Beat sugar and cooled shortening with an electric mixer. Add molasses and egg. Then add soda, spices, and salt. Finally beat in the flour. The dough will be stiff but sticky. Chill at least a half hour before rolling into balls. Roll in sugar and bake on ungreased sheets at 350 degrees until cookies just begin to crack on top, about twelve minutes. Transfer to rack to cool completely. You can also freeze either the baked cookies or the balls before rolling in sugar and baking. I usually quadruple this recipe and still run short.
If the recipe you are using simply says something like, "Bake for twelve minutes or until cookies are golden brown and remove immediately to cooling racks," you have to pay close attention to how long the cookies are actually taking to bake the way you like them. If you are unfamiliar with the recipe, begin by baking just a few cookies. Remove the sheet from the oven after the exactly recommended amount of baking time. Note how they smell. Touch them lightly. Try lifting one with your turner. If the cookies feel very soft, are obviously thick and not fully spread out, or do not smell as though they have yet begun to brown, you are probably safe returning them to the oven for another minute or two. Do not try lifting one until you are pretty sure it is done. If it crumbles or collapses, remove the evidence from the sheet and return the rest of the cookies to bake a bit longer.
Keep noticing how the cookies are smelling. If they smell distinctly done and you fear that they are going to over-bake before they seem to be ready to remove easily with a turner, let them sit on the sheet for a minute or two to set a bit before you try moving them. By the time you are ready to bake the second sheet, you will have a better idea of how long cookies of this size at the temperature you have set your oven will take to bake. This technique requires sampling of the product to assure that you are doing the job right. (One can always find excuses for tasting the product.)
If you have children to
entertain or you like to hang Christmas cut-out cookies on the tree, you may
want to try my spicy cut-out cookies. These are particularly tasty, decorate
well, and freeze beautifully. When my three children were of an age to prefer
going to the Christmas tree to select a cookie for dessert, I kept most of the
cookies for the tree in the freezer, already strung with yarn loops for hanging.
Then when the tree began to look a bit bare or someone could not find the shape
cookie he or she wanted, we could restock with fresh cookies and keep staling
to a minimum. Any sugar cookie recipe will do for this purpose, but I think
this cookie is better than any other recipe I have tried.
Mikie's Christmas Cut-Out Cookies
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup dark molasses
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
Method: Cream together with an electric mixer brown sugar, molasses, and shortening until mixture is light and well combined. Sift together (these days I usually just stir them together) the remaining dry ingredients. Alternately with buttermilk beat these into the sugar mixture. Half way through this process, add the vinegar. This seems to improve this dough's rollability. When dough is ready, you may wish to chill it for a few minutes to make it easier to handle. Roll all or part of the dough to about a quarter-inch thickness. Working from the edges in toward the center, press cookie cutters into dough. Carefully clear away dough between the edge of the cutter and the edge of the rolled dough. You can usually gently pick up the cut-out and transfer it to an ungreased cookie sheet. As you work, be sure you leave an inch or so between cookies to allow for expansion as they rise during baking.
Before sliding cookie sheets into a preheated 375-degree oven, make a little hole near the top of each cookie with the tip of a skewer or clean tapestry needle. The hole should be a bit larger than you will need to thread the yarn through, because as the cookie rises, it will decrease the size of the hole. Even if it closes up, you can usually slip a tapestry needle threaded with yarn through the place where the hole used to be. Organize the cookies so that larger ones are together; they will take longer to bake. These cookies take from ten to fifteen minutes.
Frosting holiday cookies is the part that children always remember with delight and parents usually with somewhat less enthusiasm. The simple truth is that for best color results you should try to have someone with enough vision to judge color decide when enough food coloring has been added. If you chill the food coloring, you can feel the drops more accurately, but I am never sure when I have added enough. Remember that children will always think that the colors should be darker than adults find appropriate.
I usually frost these cookies with confectionery sugar with about two tablespoons of softened margarine added to each cup of sugar. I stir with a fork to mix the two and then gradually add milk while continuing to stir until frosting is of spreading consistency. If you add too much milk, throw in a bit more sugar.
I divide the frosting into three bowls. I add red to one bowl and green to another. The third I leave white. I then assign one spatula to each bowl and locate them in different parts of the kitchen or table lined with newspapers covered by paper toweling. I divide the cookies, putting a stack beside each bowl. The children can move from bowl and spatula to bowl and spatula. The only rule is that no one can mix up the spatulas. This protects you a bit from frosting the cookies with mud-brown icing. Allow the cookies to dry thoroughly before tying on loops, stacking, and freezing any that are not consumed or given away immediately.
Yet no matter how efficient
you are, baking cookies inevitably takes longer than making bar cookies, particularly
if children are helping. Brownies are probably the all-time favorite bar cookie.
I have probably made thousands of pans of brownies over the years. I occasionally
try a new recipe, but I always come back to the one I found in the Better Homes
and Gardens Dessert Cookbook forty years ago. Doubling it makes a thirteen-by-nine-inch
panful. These brownies also freeze well if you by some miracle have any left
1 stick butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 1-ounce squares unsweetened baking chocolate
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped nuts, optional
Method: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat well with an electric mixer. When sugar has pretty well dissolved and mixture is very light, add eggs, beating well after each. Meanwhile melt chocolate in a glass measuring cup in microwave. When the eggs are well incorporated, add vanilla, then pour melted chocolate into mixture. Do not worry about cleaning out the cup. Pour the measured flour into the mostly empty chocolate cup. Stir it around with a fork or even your fingers. The chocolate will adhere to the flour. Using the flour to sop up the remaining melted chocolate, you can completely clean the glass cup and get every speck of chocolate into the brownies as you add the flour and beat batter until flour is completely incorporated; do not over-beat. (You can pour vanilla into a wide-mouth jar, and measure it accurately using a metal measuring spoon that you have bent to form a right angle. Dipping such a modified spoon into a pool of liquid enables you to measure the amount accurately. I usually pour directly from the bottle past my clean finger to estimate the amount required.)
Pour batter into a greased
eight-by-eight-inch pan and bake for thirty-five minutes. Edges will begin to
pull away from the pan when the brownies are done. The center should not quiver
when the pan is gently shaken. Allow brownies to cool completely on rack before
cutting and serving. If you are doubling this recipe, the baking time will be
almost forty-five minutes.
One of the nicest and easiest holiday gifts you can give, assuming that you are already baking for your own family, is to make up small trays of holiday treats on decorative disposable plates. If you really want to impress the neighbors, add homemade chocolate truffles to your trays. These are even more spectacular than fudge, and they are incredibly easy to make, even if a bit messy. Here is my recipe:
Miss Whozit Truffles
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
1/2 cup Chambord or Grand Marnier
24 ounces German's sweet chocolate
1/2 cup unsalted butter
Method: Subdue the impulse to substitute lower-calorie or less expensive ingredients. In a heavy pan reduce the cream to one half cup. I let the cream boil hard for a few minutes. When I think it may be reduced by half, I place a half-cup measuring cup in the center of a high-sided cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. I slowly and carefully pour the cream into the cup, trying to stop pouring just as the liquid reaches the top of the cup. If a little overflows, I can pour it back into the pan from the tray, which is going to hold the finished truffles. Assuming that I stop in time, I can then cautiously check with a quickly moving finger to see if cream is still collected at the bottom edge of the tipped pan. If it is, I pour the half cup of cream back into the pan and continue boiling it until I have just a half cup. If you go a bit too far, you can dribble a bit of water into the cup to make up the volume. After all, boiling is done only to drive off water from the cream. But watch the process carefully. I have managed to let the pan boil dry. This is not a good idea.
When the cream has been reduced, drop the heat to low and add the liqueur and break the chocolate into the pan. Whisk gently till the mixture is smooth. Then whisk in the butter. When mixture is homogeneous, pour it into the waiting, large, flat pan to cool completely. When it is room temperature, refrigerate it until it is firm.
Using a teaspoon, scoop
up amounts the size of the truffles you wish to make and quickly form the truffles
into rough balls. They will begin to melt almost as soon as you touch them,
so don't worry about getting them smooth. Return them to the refrigerator to
chill until firm again. Line a container with waxed paper or plastic wrap. Working
quickly with small groups of truffles, smooth each truffle into a ball and roll
in cocoa. Place each in the container. You may have to return everything to
the fridge several times to chill again before you finish this process. But
when you are done, you will have a collection of incredibly rich candies to
tuck among your brownies and cookies.
I could go on for hours describing the recipes I give as gifts in holiday seasons. I have not mentioned the Swedish coffee bread or sticky buns or German stollen that our friends and neighbors look forward to each year. With great restraint I have resisted writing out the recipe for white fruitcake with brandy that I give the Maurers and Mrs. Jernigan each Thanksgiving. This moist, fragrant cake filled with fruit and nuts bears no resemblance to the dry, cardboardy confection that gives fruitcake such a bad name.
Whoever you are and whatever you bake, I hope that your holiday season this year is filled with good cheer, good company, and good food.
Fourth Annual Meet the Blind Month Campaign
by Jerry Lazarus
From the Editor:
Here is Jerry Lazarus's report on Meet the Blind Month 2005:
Our membership has done it again. For the fourth year in a row we have increased the number and types of events held across the country. More than three hundred outings were planned and completed this year by affiliates, chapters, and active members to make October 2005 the most successful Meet the Blind Month to date. (For a complete list of events go to <www.nfb.org/meet/schedule05.htm>.)
The campaign, which was
first launched in 2002 and conducted during the month of October, is a coordinated,
nationwide project planned and designed to provide opportunities for members
to reach out to their communities, schools, local civic groups, and others to
let them know about blindness and the NFB, ensuring that the public will learn
even more about our movement.
Early planning by affiliate and chapter presidents, taking advantage of the free Braille alphabet cards, NFB literature, Kernel Books, PSAs and NFB promotional videos provided by NFB President Marc Maurer, not only helped increase the number of events but enhanced the creativity, versatility, and energy displayed in this, our best year yet.
The National Center staff processed and shipped more than 375,000 pieces of literature, Kernel Books, Imagination Fund brochures, and NFB public service videos to Meet the Blind Month organizers for distribution to the public.
The Braille Is Beautiful video kit program was sent to interested affiliates and chapters at no charge. The program, a disability-awareness curriculum for elementary and middle school students, includes two copies of the video Jake and the Secret Code, along with a teacher's guide in both Braille and print. Many affiliate and chapter members visit public and private schools during Meet the Blind Month, and Braille Is Beautiful is an easy and interesting way to demonstrate and promote Braille. NFB Braille alphabet cards are given to the students, and, after viewing the video presentation, they have a better understanding of the Braille code and the way a blind child uses Braille to read and write. No doubt, by using a professionally produced video with a follow-up discussion with blind adults, the visits achieved the goal of sharing with the students the importance of Braille.
In addition a number of our members made arrangements with Lions Clubs and Rotary-type service groups to act as luncheon or dinner speakers to share the message about blindness and the NFB. Some used the adult version of the Braille Is Beautiful video--That the Blind May Read, while others used one of our informational videos, including the Science Academy video that was shown during this year's national convention.
From north to south, east to west, and many points in between, chapters held meet-and-greet events. In Rhode Island Richard Gaffney held a bake sale at the Warwick Mall and, while speaking to buyers, distributed our literature. In New York, Greater Long Island Chapter president David Stayer participated again at the Bellmore Street Fair, distributing literature and selling our blue NFB bracelets. Heading south, despite all its weather-related problems, Florida had a very active year with at least eight different chapters or divisions developing many events. Southwest Florida Chapter president Joanne King held a number of meet-and-greet activities and participated in the 2005 Vision Awareness Walk. Gloria Mills, president of the Tampa Bay Chapter, organized two Wal-Mart outings and a White Cane Walk from the Tampa Bay City Hall to the Hillsborough County Center and picked up White Cane proclamations from both locations. Towards the west, in Ohio five chapters scheduled various events. Wal-Mart meet and greets were popular with these chapters, according to Annette Anderson (NFB of Cuyahoga County), Ronald Williamitis (NFB of Miami Valley), and Mary Pool (NFB of Stark County).
Further west, Bryan Turner,
president of the Kankakee Heartland Chapter of the NFB of Illinois, along with
his guide dog Madison solicited sponsors and walked more than thirty miles to
raise awareness about blindness and the NFB. In Washington State, Judy Jones,
Tacoma Chapter president, promoted our public service announcements to local
radio and television stations, while Kris Lawrence, president of the Seattle
Chapter, presented the Braille Is Beautiful video to both the Lions
Club and a local Girl Scout troop.
In California at least five chapters scheduled events, including Wyeman Wong from the San Francisco Chapter, who organized a walk-a-thon, and President Shelley Alongi from the Orange County Chapter, who helped with a Braille Is Beautiful workshop sponsored by the California Affiliate and picked up White Cane Safety Day proclamations in multiple cites in Orange County. Nathaniel Wales from the River City Chapter involved his chapter with the Blind Olympics, on the grounds of Cal State University.
Wal-Mart, the nation's
largest retailer, and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts continued to offer an outstanding
opportunity for NFB members to get in front of hundreds of shoppers during the
month and in many cases helped create a profitable fundraising component.
Meet the Blind Month events helped break the stereotype of blindness when Utah Valley Chapter members participated in a fun event at the Hee Haw Farms corn maze as reported by Utah's Daily Herald. NFB of Utah members Kara Campbell and Ray Martin said the event helped show people that the blind like to join their families in outdoor activities just like everyone else.
The NFB of Idaho's Treasure Valley Chapter hosted its annual community recognition dinner and silent auction October 6, with a theme of beyond the horizon. The honorary chair was a popular motivational speaker; the MC was the morning anchor on the River Radio; honored friends were the Weyerhaeuser Company Foundation (for donating scholarships), Hallmark Motors (for handling car donations), and David Carter, coordinator of the Braille Transcription and Production Project at the Corrections Corporation of America facility near Boise. The chapter expressed its appreciation to sponsors and all others who participated. This festive evening has become a major event in Meet the Blind Month and an important fundraiser for the chapter.
NFB of Alabama president Mike Jones inspired inventors of the future with the second annual National Federation of the Blind of Alabama Invention Competition for young inventors at the Wrights Mill Road Elementary School. The competition, as reported by the Opelika-Auburn News, involved designing a practical item that could be used by the blind. The winning entry was "The Capteller" which would allow blind people to enter the soda aisle of a grocery store and simply read a Braille-inscribed bottle top to determine a bottle's contents. Each member of the winning team was awarded a $25 savings account provided by AmSouth Bank.
These members and listed chapters of course only begin to recognize the individuals who participated in planning and conducting the many 2005 Meet the Blind Month events. We congratulate all who were involved and look forward to hearing about your plans for our 2006 Meet the Blind Month campaign.
Social Security, SSI, and Medicare Facts for 2006
by James McCarthy
From the Editor:
Jim McCarthy is director of governmental affairs for the National Federation
of the Blind. Here is his annual Social Security summary:
One more year recedes into the past with another poised to take its place. This inevitable passage of time brings annual adjustments to the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicare programs. The changes include new tax rates, higher exempt earnings amounts, SSDI and SSI cost-of-living increases, and alterations to deductible and coinsurance requirements under Medicare. In addition there is the prescription drug benefit under Medicare that this article will not address. What follows are the new facts for 2006.
FICA and Self-Employment Tax Rates: The FICA tax rate for employees and their employers remains at 7.65%. This rate includes payments to the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Fund of 6.2% and an additional 1.45% payment to the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund from which payments under Medicare are made. Self-employed persons continue to pay a Social Security tax of 15.3%, which includes 12.4% paid to the OASDI Trust Fund and 2.9% paid to the HI Trust Fund.
Ceiling on Earnings Subject
to Tax: During 2005 the ceiling on taxable earnings for contributions to the
OASDI Trust Fund was $90,000. This ceiling rises to $94,200 for 2006. All earnings
are taxed for the HI Trust Fund.
Social Security Disability Insurance
Quarters of Coverage: Eligibility for retirement, survivors, and disability insurance benefits is based in large part on the number of quarters of coverage earned by any individual during periods of work. Anyone may earn up to four quarters of coverage during a single year. During 2005 a Social Security quarter of coverage was credited for earnings of $920 in any calendar quarter. Anyone who earned $3,680 for 2005 (regardless of when the earnings occurred during the year) was given four quarters of coverage. In 2006 a Social Security quarter of coverage will be credited for earnings of $970 during a calendar quarter. Four quarters can be earned with annual earnings of $3,880.
Trial Work Period Limit: Beginning in 2001, the SSA established a rule that changes the amount of earnings required to use a trial work month. This change is announced with the cost-of-living adjustments each year. In 2005, the amount was $590, and in 2006, it rises to $620. In cases of self-employment, a trial work month can also be used if a person works more than eighty hours, and this limit remains the same each year unless expressly adjusted.
Exempt Earnings: The monthly earnings exemption for blind people who receive disability insurance benefits was $1,380 of gross earned income during 2005. In 2006 earnings of $1,450 or more per month, before taxes, for a blind SSDI beneficiary will show substantial gainful activity after subtracting any unearned (or subsidy) income and applying any deductions for impairment-related work expenses.
Benefit Amounts: All Social Security benefits are increased by a cost-of-living
adjustment (COLA) of 4.1% beginning with checks received in January 2006. The
exact dollar increase for any individual will depend upon the amount being paid.
Supplemental Security Income Standard SSI Benefit Increase: Beginning January 2006, the federal payment amounts for SSI individuals and couples are as follows: individuals, $603 per month; couples, $904 per month. These amounts are increased from the 2005 level of $579 per month for individuals and $869 per month for couples.
Income Exclusion: The
Student Earned Income Exclusion is adjusted each year. In 2005, the monthly
amount was $1,410, and the maximum yearly amount was $5,670. For 2006, these
amounts increase to $1,460 per month, and $5,910 per year. The SSI program applies
strict asset (resource) limits of $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for couples
that can only be adjusted through legislation.
Medicare Deductibles and Coinsurance: Medicare Part A coverage provides hospital insurance to most Social Security beneficiaries. The coinsurance payment is the charge that the hospital makes to a Medicare beneficiary for any hospital stay. Medicare then pays the hospital charges above the beneficiary's coinsurance amount.
The Part A coinsurance amount charged for hospital services within a benefit period of not longer than sixty days was $912 during 2005 and is increased to $952 during 2006. From the sixty-first day through the ninetieth day there is a daily coinsurance amount of $238 per day, up from $228 in 2005. Each Medicare beneficiary has sixty lifetime reserve days which may be used after a ninety day benefit period has ended. Once used, after any benefit period, these reserve days are no longer available. The coinsurance amount to be paid during each reserve day used in 2006 is $476, up from $465 in 2005.
Part A of Medicare pays all covered charges for services in a skilled nursing facility for the first twenty days within a benefit period that follows a three-day in hospital stay. From the twenty-first day through the one-hundredth day in a benefit period the Part A coinsurance amount for services received in a skilled nursing facility is $119 per day, up from $114 per day in 2005.
For most beneficiaries there is no monthly premium charge for Medicare Part A coverage. Those who become ineligible for Social Security Disability Insurance cash benefits can continue to receive Medicare Part A coverage premium-free for ninety-three months, after the end of a trial work period. After that time the individual may purchase Part A coverage. The premium rate for this coverage during 2006 is $393 per month. This is reduced to $216 for individuals who have earned between thirty to thirty-nine quarters of coverage under Social Security-covered employment.
In 2006 the Medicare Part B (medical insurance) deductible rises again. The 2006 deductible will be $124, up from $110 in 2005 and $100 in 2004. This is an annual deductible amount. The Medicare Part B monthly premium rate charged to each beneficiary for the year 2006 has increased by $10.30 to $88.50. (The 2005 premium rate was $78.20.) This premium payment is deducted from Social Security benefit checks, so while 2006 Social Security benefits will increase, some of the increase may be eroded by the rise in Medicare Part B premiums. However, the Medicare premiums are not permitted to decrease a person's monthly Social Security benefit amount. Individuals who remain eligible for Medicare, but are not receiving Social Security benefits because of working, will pay this premium directly.
Programs Which Help with Medicare Deductibles and Premiums: Low-income Medicare beneficiaries may qualify for help with payments. Assistance is available through two programs--QMB (Qualified Medicare Beneficiary program) and SLMB (Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary program).
Under the QMB program, states are required to pay the Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance) premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance expenses for Medicare beneficiaries who meet the program's income and resource requirements. Under the SLMB program, states pay only the full Medicare Part B monthly premium ($88.50 in 2006). Eligibility for the SLMB program may be retroactive for up to three calendar months.
Both programs are administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in conjunction with the states. In order to qualify, the income of an individual or couple must be less than the poverty guidelines currently in effect. The guidelines are revised annually and were last announced in February 2004. New guidelines will be issued in February or March of 2006.
The rules vary from state to state, but in general the following can be said: A person may qualify for the QMB program if his or her income is less than $818 per month for an individual and $1,090 per month for a couple. These amounts apply for residents of forty-eight of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. In Alaska the income threshold used to define poverty is less than $1,016 per month for an individual and $1,356 per month for couples. In Hawaii income must be less than $938 per month for an individual and $1,250 per month for couples.
For the SLMB program the income of an individual cannot exceed $977 per month or $1,303 for a couple in forty-eight of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. In Alaska the income amount is $1,215 for an individual and $1,623 for couples. An individual in Hawaii qualifies if his or her income is less than $1,121 per month; for couples the amount is $1,496.
Resources--such as bank accounts or stocks--may not exceed $4,000 for one person or $6,000 for a family of two. (Resources generally are things you own. However, not everything is counted. The house you live in, for example, doesn't count, and in some circumstances your car may not count either.)
If you qualify for assistance under the QMB program, you will not have to pay:
• Medicare's hospital deductible amount, which is $952 per benefit period in 2006;
• The daily coinsurance charges for extended hospital and skilled nursing facility stays;
• The Medicare Medical Insurance (Part B) premium, which is $88.50 per month in 2006;
The $124 annual Part B deductible;
The 20 percent coinsurance
for services covered by Medicare Part B, depending on which doctor you go to.
If you qualify for assistance under the SLMB program, you will be responsible for the payment of all of the items listed above except for the $88.50 monthly Part B premium.
If you think you qualify but you have not filed for Medicare Part A, contact Social Security to find out if you need to file an application. Further information about filing for Medicare is available from your local Social Security office or Social Security's toll-free number, (800) 772-1213.
Remember, only your state can decide if you are eligible for help from the QMB or SLMB program. So, if you are elderly or disabled, have low income and very limited assets, and are a Medicare beneficiary, contact your state or local Medicaid office (referred to in some states as the Public Aid Office or the Public Assistance Office) to apply. For more information about either program, call CMS's toll-free telephone number, (800) 633-4227.
This month's recipes are
from members of the NFB of Florida.
Key Lime Pie
by Kathy Davis
Kathy Davis is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida. She is also the president of the Greater Daytona Beach Chapter and Chairwoman of the Florida Rehabilitation Council for the Blind. Kathy has been employed as a licensed mental health counselor at Daytona Beach Community College for the past twenty-five years. She enjoys preparing some of her holiday favorites, especially this year when her entire family will be coming home for Christmas.
She says, "This is a quick
and easy but delicious recipe which is always a hit with my family and other
guests. The only problem is that it is a real challenge to eat only one slice!
1 9-inch graham cracker crumb pie shell
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
3 egg yolks (whites are not used)
1/2 cup key lime juice
Method: Combine milk, egg
yolks, and lime juice. Blend until smooth. Pour filling into pie shell and bake
at 350 degrees for fifteen minutes. Let stand ten minutes before refrigerating.
Just before serving, top with whipped cream and garnish with lime slices if
Cornwallis Sweet Potato Soufflé
by Kathy Davis
6 medium cooked and cooled sweet potatoes
1 cup sugar (can substitute Splenda in equal amount)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ground or freshly grated
1/2 cup butter
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup coconut, shredded (optional)
Method: Cook fresh sweet potatoes in microwave oven for approximately twelve minutes or bake at 350 degrees in traditional oven until soft to the touch (approximately forty-five minutes), cool, then scoop the sweet potato flesh into a large mixing bowl, discarding skins. Mash potatoes thoroughly. Add remaining ingredients except for coconut. Mix well and pour into a greased 11-by-11-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for forty-five minutes. Sprinkle with coconut and serve. Absolutely delicious and a Christmas favorite!
Easy-to-Make Brownie Blitz
by Kathy Davis
This recipe should be made a day ahead of serving. Therefore, depending on the time available for cooling of the brownies, you may want to make the brownies two days in advance.
1 package brownie mix, baked, cooled, and broken into bite-sized pieces
1 large package instant chocolate pudding
1 12-ounce container Cool Whip
2 to 3 Butterfinger candy bars, sliced into very thin slivers (or 3 to 4 Heath bars broken into small pieces)
Method: In a large fluted or glass salad bowl place approximately half of the crumbled brownies. Prepare pudding as directed. Add about half the pudding to the brownies and spread a layer of Cool Whip over the pudding. Then sprinkle with half the candy bar slivers. Repeat these layers in this order with other half of the ingredients. You will have to work quickly to prevent pudding from setting before layering is complete. Refrigerate overnight to allow the pudding to soak into the brownies and to set. Serve and bask in the compliments.
by Betty McNally
Betty McNally is a longtime Federationist, having begun her journey in New York in 1968. She has been an officer in the Massachusetts and Idaho affiliates. She is now a member of the NFB of Florida board and president of the Miami-Dade County Chapter. Betty is proud of serving for five years on the Miami-Dade County Commission on Disability Issues and has chaired the group for the past two years.
1 3-ounce package dark-color Jell-O (any of the reds is good for Christmas)
1 3-ounce package light-color Jell-O (I use green for Christmas)
2 cups water, divided
1 15-ounce can whole cranberry sauce or 21-ounce can pie filling
1 7-ounce can crushed pineapple in its own juice
1 3-ounce package cream cheese
1 cup miniature marshmallows
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup whipping cream or 1 cup Cool Whip
2 tablespoons nuts, chopped
Method: Dissolve dark Jell-O in 1 cup boiling water and add cranberry sauce or pie filling. Pour into oiled 9-inch square pan and chill. Dissolve light Jell-O in one cup boiling water and set aside. Blend cream cheese and mayonnaise until smooth. Add Jell-O slowly and then add undrained pineapple. Whip cream and fold it or Cool Whip into Jell-O mixture. Fold in marshmallows. Pour over first layer when almost set. Sprinkle nuts over top. Chill completely. Serves twelve.
I use black raspberry and
lemon for Easter and black cherry and orange for Thanksgiving. Use your imagination
and create your own combinations. Cherry and blueberry pie fillings are good
by Betty McNally
The story behind this one is that it was created during a blizzard in Western Massachusetts. Our friend's mother, who was with us, kept saying "just another taste" as she took another spoonful until the bowl was empty. Thus the name.
3 cups sliced potatoes
2 cups sliced carrots
1 cup sliced onion
1 pound ground meat
1 4-ounce can mushroom stems and pieces
1 10-ounce can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 8-ounce container sour cream
Method: The day before you plan to serve, bring potatoes, carrots, and onions to a boil and cook for about ten minutes. Drain and place in 2-quart casserole. Brown ground meat and spoon over vegetables. In drippings sauté drained mushrooms. Stir in can of soup. Blend in sour cream. Pour mushroom mixture over meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight. When ready to bake, place casserole in preheated 350-degree oven for about an hour. Serve immediately. Serves six to eight.
Oatmeal Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies
by Tom Hartig
Dr. Thomas H. Hartig joined the Federation about five years ago and is treasurer of the Greater Orlando Chapter as well as of the NFB of Florida. Tom is also the Chairperson of the NFB-NEWSLINE® Policy Steering Committee. He retired in 1999 after twenty years in university fundraising and marketing. Tom's oatmeal milk chocolate chip cookie recipe holds blue ribbons from the 1988 Iowa State Fair and the 1995 New York State Chocolate Festival. If you make even one change to this prize-winning recipe, Tom refuses to be held accountable for your failing to bite into the most delicious chocolate chip cookie you have ever tasted!
4 ounces butter (a half stick)
1/4 cup (4 ounces) solid shortening
1 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 to 5 teaspoons water
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups unbleached flour
2 cups rolled oats
12 ounces milk chocolate bits
2/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly cream the shortening and butter. Add the sugars and cream thoroughly. Beat in vanilla and eggs, then water. Sift together flour, soda, and salt. Add to butter mixture and blend well. Stir in rolled oats, milk chocolate bits, and toasted walnuts. Drop dough by spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for ten to twelve minutes. Makes two to three dozen cookies.
by Tom Hartig
2 pounds ground turkey
1 bunch sliced scallions, white and light green part only
1/2 inch piece fresh ginger root, finely chopped
4 to 6 artichoke hearts, chopped
Cajun Essence, optional
Method: Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Form into patties and grill on a grill pan or in a Teflon skillet. If using a skillet, deglaze with a tablespoon of soy sauce, as needed–do not add oil. Serve on crusty buns with lettuce, tomato, and jalapeno aioli (recipe follows). Yield: six servings.
1 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
1/2 jar canned jalapeño peppers
Method: Blend the two ingredients in a blender until combined.
Tuscan Bean Soup
by Tom Hartig
3 tablespoons olive oil plus 1/2 cup
1 cup minced red onions
1/2 cup finely diced carrots
1/2 cup finely diced celery
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup tomato puree
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 cups dried cannelloni beans, soaked for six hours and rinsed (may substitute Great Northern beans)
8 cups water
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary cut in half
2 cloves garlic, peeled
4 ounces dried short pasta, such as ditalini or small macaroni, cooked until tender, drained and rinsed under cool water
Loaf of crusty Italian bread
Method: In a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat, heat three tablespoons olive oil. When it is hot, add the onions, carrots, and celery. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté for two minutes. Add the tomato and garlic. Continue to cook for two minutes. Add the beans. Continue cooking for one minute. Stir in water and bay leaves, then season with salt and pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook until the beans are tender, about one hour and fifteen minutes to one-and-a-half hours.
Meantime, in a small saucepan combine the half cup olive oil, rosemary, and second set of two cloves of garlic. Bring to a simmer and cook until the garlic is golden, about ten to twelve minutes. Remove from the heat and strain, discarding the rosemary and garlic cloves. Using a handheld blender, puree enough of the soup to give it the thickness you prefer. Season with salt and pepper. Return to pan, stir in the cooked pasta, and continue to simmer for fifteen minutes. Just before removing from heat, stir in half the flavored oil. Ladle soup into individual bowls. Serve remaining oil and bread on the side. Yield six servings.
from the Federation Family
On Saturday, August 20,
2005, the NFB of Mississippi organized the Grenada Chapter. The officers are
president, Emma White; vice president, Rosie Ford; secretary, Aileen Richardson;
treasurer, Margaret Smith; and directors, Walter Cain and Ryan Commander. Congratulations
to this new chapter.
The National Federation
of the Blind of New York State held its forty-ninth annual convention the weekend
of October 21 to 23, 2005. Sunday, October 23, elections for officers were held.
Elected were president, Carl Jacobsen; first vice president, Mindy Fliegelman;
second vice president, Michael Robinson; secretary, Julie Phillipson; and treasurer,
The Statewide Chapter on
Aging of the NFB of California held elections on October 14, 2005, during the
California state convention. Those elected were president, Jim Willows; vice
president, Patricia Munson; secretary, Shari Main; treasurer, Greg Phelps; and
Mary Willows and Michael Cuohy, board members. Sybil Irvin is a holdover board
The National Federation of the Blind of Colorado elected the following leaders: president, Scott LaBarre; first vice president, Kevan Worley; second vice president, Jeremiah Beasley; secretary, Julie Deden; treasurer, Mary Larsen; and members of the board of directors, Diane McGeorge, Eric Woods, Jim Misener, and Melissa Green.
Braille Coins for Sale:
The Cincinnati chapter
and the Ohio Organization of Blind Seniors are selling Louis Braille coins.
These unique coins have the words "Louis Braille 1809" (the year of
Braille's birth) in Braille on one side and a picture of hands reading Braille
and the words "Braille Opens Doors" in print on the reverse side.
These attractive coins, which can serve as key chains, are ideal for affiliates
or chapters to use in promoting Braille Literacy Week in early January. The
Louis Braille coins sell for $5 each and will be mailed using the Free Matter
privilege. To order, send payment to Paul Dressell, 2714 Ruberg Avenue, Cincinnati,
OH 45211, (513) 481-7662. Make checks payable to NFB of Cincinnati and mail
to the above address.
As we were going to press,
Allen Harris notified us that The Band Aid evening of music, dancing, food,
and fun recently held by the Iowa Department for the Blind to aid blind hurricane
victims raised at least $3,435.50. A bit more may come in, and it will all go
to the Louisiana affiliate to help blind Gulf Coast residents who lost homes,
jobs, or property in Katrina and Rita. Thank you to Iowans and everyone else
who has donated funds to help folks in Mississippi and Louisiana.
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.
Braille Writer Repair Service:
Paul Jackanin is a factory-trained
Braille writer service technician. He uses only factory parts. His turnaround
time is five to seven days in most cases. He is an authorized vendor for the
commission in all fifty states. A cleaning and basic repair is only $65. He
buys broken Braillers and also sells reconditioned Braillers starting at $325.
If interested, contact Paul Jackanin at (718) 749-3774.
Computers for $100:
Computers are once again available to blind people for $100. Use your Talking Book playback machine to listen to a six-cassette step-by-step tutorial on how to use Windows, from Bryan Hartgen. It includes using email and reading Web pages. The computer comes with a CD drive, sound card, speakers, 56K dial-up modem, and demo copy of Window-Eyes. Keep track of your tax and insurance files. Write letters and email to your friends and family. Keep your own recipes and family genealogy records. An email service, Juno, and a shareware screen enlargement program are provided.
Contact Bob Langford at
Texas Center for the Physically Impaired, 11330 Quail Run, Dallas, Texas 75238;
(214) 340-6328 during CST business hours. His email address is <[email protected]>.
The RRTC on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University is seeking applicants for the vision specialist in vocational rehabilitation ten-week graduate certificate program being held March 20 to May 26, 2006.
The purpose of the program is to provide vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselors and graduate students in VR programs with the expertise to address issues specific to vision impairments. Students receive a stipend which includes tuition and fees, per diem for university housing and meals, and a travel allowance. The program consists of four courses for twelve graduate-level credit hours: rehabilitation for people who are visually impaired; resources for people who are visually impaired; computer access technology for people who are visually impaired; and special projects in rehabilitation of people who are visually impaired.
Applicants must complete
and return the application; submit a letter indicating that they are interested
in the program; submit two letters of recommendation; and submit a transcript;
and upon acceptance into the program be accepted for admission to the graduate
school at Mississippi State University. The registration deadline is January
5, 2006. Additional information, including the registration form, can be obtained
at <www.blind.msstate.edu/Vspecialist1.html> or by contacting Stacy Butler,
phone (662) 325-3304; TTY (662) 325-8693; or email <[email protected]>.
I pledge to participate
actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality,
opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs
of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.