Braille Monitor June 2006
The Rest of the Story
by Betsy Zaborowski
From the Editor: The preceding article discussed in depth the educational programs conducted or currently in development by the NFB Jernigan Institute. Following is a description of the other activities of the Institute prepared by Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, the executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute:
It is quite amazing to
consider that we are in the third year of the development of the Jernigan Institute.
Last year at our national convention I used three words to describe the primary
purpose of the Institute--innovation, inspiration, and influence. We can now
say progress has been made in all three of these areas. In a separate article
Mark Riccobono has outlined the programs of the Education Initiative, so let
me share with you the rest of the story.
The International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC)--A comprehensive evaluation, demonstration, and training center, complete with over $2.5 million worth of the tactile and speech-output technology now available to the blind, has served since its inception in 1990 and continues to serve as a rich resource for vendor-free advice on all aspects of access technology. Staff members of the IBTC consult with individuals, employers, rehabilitation and education professionals, and technology developers, thus helping to ensure that the consumer perspective is represented and technology choices are the best for each blind person.
Along with providing useful information to the thousands of visitors who tour the IBTC each year, the access technology staff led by Anne Taylor answer thousands of calls on the technology help line and frequently meet with specialized access technology vendors and mainstream technology developers. This past year we added to the list of those who have benefited from the IBTC engineering students from Johns Hopkins University, who have received orientation on access technology issues and have participated in technology demonstrations.
The Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader--The first handheld portable reading machine for the blind has been developed through a partnership between Kurzweil Technologies, Inc., and the National Federation of the Blind, making print accessible with the flash of a camera. The Reader uses digital camera technology and specially enhanced optical character recognition technology to produce a synthetic speech translation of text. Soon to be launched at the 2006 NFB convention, this revolutionary technology will make a significant impact on the lives of all of those who have difficulty accessing regular print. Many Federationists serving as ambassadors for the Reader are reporting nothing but tremendous excitement when demonstrating this new technological advancement for the blind. Success has been documented when the Reader is put to the test reading correspondence, newsletters, menus, recipes, and common household bills. It is a real joy to pick up a piece of print and in a matter of seconds know if it is something that has to be dealt with immediately or if it can wait. If you haven't had a chance to see the Reader firsthand, get in touch with your state president; Readers are being tested throughout the country.
The NFB Nonvisual Accessibility Web Certification Program is a Web-site certification process that provides a mechanism for governmental agencies, for-profit companies, and others to ensure that their Web sites are usable by blind individuals who use access technology. Certified to date are such companies as General Electric, Wells Fargo, Merck & Co. Inc., HP, and several others. This program provides a vehicle for us to educate the technology community about accessible design that really works.
Access to consumer electronics remains a high priority for the Institute. Finding a washer, stove, or dishwasher that a blind person can operate using nonvisual techniques is a challenging task but one that many face. The Institute has launched an initiative to:
• Provide an online location for up-to-date information on what is out there that works for the blind. For details see our Web site at <www.nfb.org>.
• Conduct discussions with consumer appliance and electronics producers that will encourage the development of usable products for the blind. The Whirlpool Corporation is actively involved with the Institute in identifying usable products and improving the design of future models.
• Establish the Accessible Home exhibit each year at the NFB national convention and a permanent exhibit at the national headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore.
The Technology Training Lab in the Jernigan Institute will soon be completed. Thanks to the generous help of HP, Microsoft, Freedom Scientific, the HumanWare Group, and others, this--the first fully accessible technology training lab--will train blind individuals, educators, rehabilitation providers, and technologists on a full range of access technology and related issues. Later this year we will be announcing more about the various kinds of training seminars that will be available in the lab.
The Help America Vote Act,
NFB Nonvisual Election Technology Project, now in its third year of funding
by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, primarily educates voting
officials and protection and advocacy state agencies about accessible electronic
voting technology. Training material now located on the NFB Web site has been
designed to familiarize state officials with voice-driven electronic voting
machines now available and provide objective evaluations of all features, thus
helping to ensure that this new technology will truly make a secret ballot available
to the blind. Included on the Web site are video clips of the various voice-driven
voting machines, giving blind users and election officials a comprehensive look
at the various options. This is one more way that we work to ensure the full
implementation of this historic legislation.
Seniors Fair--For the past four years the Jernigan Institute has sponsored the Possibilities Fair for seniors with low vision or blindness. Kaiser Permanente and many area nonprofit organizations help to make the event, which hosts over four hundred seniors, a big success. The emphasis is on presenting helpful information in the context of exposure to successful blind role models. Demonstrations of nonvisual techniques and equipment are available to participants along with informational tables featuring service organizations. Members of the NFB from around the country have attended with the goal of learning how to conduct such fairs in their home communities; to date Possibilities Fairs have been conducted in New Mexico, Colorado, and Idaho.
This year's Celebration event was another success. The over four hundred in attendance had a great time sampling cuisine from eighteen of Baltimore's best restaurants and browsing the silent auction tables featuring over $20,000 worth of gift certificates, sporting memorabilia, trips, artwork, and jewelry. Guests were dazzled by the demonstration of the Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader and words from Governor Robert Ehrlich and special guest Ray Kurzweil. Once again we brought to life the efforts of the Federation in a style envied by many other organizations. Although a full accounting of income and expenses is not complete for the Celebration, we are confident the net proceeds will significantly increase the total raised in this year's Imagination Fund.
The NFB Meet the Blind Month was even more successful this past year with over two hundred different community outreach events reported by affiliates around the country. Materials distributed from the National Center were handed out at fairs, in malls, and at special events. We will be challenged to make Meet the Blind Month in October of 2006 even more successful.
The Imagination Fund will
soon complete its second year campaign. This year hundreds of Federationists
and friends of our movement have been involved. Many state affiliates have been
able to reach out to parents, those newly blind, and professionals working with
the blind thanks to Imagination Fund grants distributed this year. A full report
of this year's campaign will be given by the fund's chair Kevan Worley at convention
Jacobus tenBroek Library
This library, named in honor of the founder of the National Federation of the Blind, includes an extensive collection of material dealing with blind people. The collection chronicles the history of the organized blind, blind authors, materials written for the blind (both historical and contemporary), and the papers of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. Dr. tenBroek was a distinguished blind professor at Berkeley in the 1940's and 1950's, well known for his writings promoting immigrant rights and his perspective on blindness, which has become the philosophical underpinning of the NFB. The library also has the complete collection of the extensive writings of Kenneth Jernigan, president of the NFB from 1968 to 1986 and active until his death in 1998, including many original speeches and video footage of civil rights activities in the 1970's and 1980's.
The Independence Market, formerly known as the NFB Materials Center, will soon be housed in the tenBroek Library, featuring numerous aids and appliances for purchase by blind and low-vision individuals and their friends and families. Also the extensive free literature collection will be displayed for visitors in alternative formats--large print, Braille, and cassette.
The historical archive
of the NFB is now being organized, and a fully accessible library management
system will make available both the digital and hard copy resources from this
library dedicated to telling the story of blindness from the perspective of
As you can see, a number of programs are in full operation in our Institute. Along with these efforts we continue to strengthen partnerships with universities, companies, and influential individuals. Staff of the Institute are increasingly asked to present at conferences and participate on numerous committees. The largest challenge we now have is to choose strategically where to place our limited time and resources. We all know that rehabilitation and education of the blind, access to the ever-expanding world of technology, and society's attitudes about blindness continue to demand innovation; the effectiveness of our voice in matters of the blind continues to strengthen our influence; and the quality of programs and well-placed partnerships built upon the strong foundation of the NFB's philosophy continues to inspire those touched by the Institute. Input from our members, friends, and others concerned with improving the lives of the blind is essential. The only way that the Jernigan Institute will be successful and worth all the talent and treasure we are investing in the effort is with your input. I will be conducting conversation hours on the Institute the afternoon of Saturday, July 1, at our national convention in Dallas; please join me and help to make sure we are creating a future full of opportunity.