Vol. 49, No. 7 July 2006
Barbara Pierce, editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
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Vol. 49, No. 7 July 2006
You Can't Go Home Again?
Reflections on the Twentieth Anniversary of the Louisiana Center for the Blind
by Chris Danielsen
The Kurzweil–National Federation
of the Blind Reader
The Revolution Is Here!
by James Gashel
Reflections on Mentoring
by Gary Wunder
Let's Lift Him Up Where
by Deborah Kendrick
A Look at Eight Months of Training at the Colorado Center for the Blind
by Klaus Zechner
Changing the Public's Attitudes:
Signs of Inevitable Success
by Sheri Wells-Jensen
Confessions of a Sighted
Cane Travel Instructor
by Caroline Rivera Coon
The Scenic Lighthouse Walk
by John G. Paré Jr.
Meet the Boy Scouts
by Tracy Soforenko
by Rusty Marks
Seven Proven Steps to Effective
by Olegario "Ollie" D. Cantos VII
Good Neighbor in Houston
Ask Miss Whozit
The Impact of the Americans
With Disabilities Act
by Dr. John Frank
Copyright 2006 National Federation of the Blind
by Chris Danielsen
From the Editor: Chris Danielsen is the member of the national staff who edits the Voice of the Nation's Blind, the Federation's online magazine <www.voiceofthenationsblind.org>. He recently traveled to Ruston, Louisiana, to take part in the twentieth anniversary celebration of the founding of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, the first privately operated training center for blind adults that is grounded in and conducted according to the positive philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. For almost a generation now the Louisiana Center has been graduating blind people with high expectations for themselves and a determination to contribute to their home communities and the blindness community. Here is Chris's report on the festivities and the institution they celebrated:
The novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote a book titled You Can't Go Home Again, suggesting that we can never recapture the past. But rock and roll singer Jon Bon Jovi has recently countered that sentiment with his song "Who Says You Can't Go Home?," in which he sings about the joys of returning to his hometown, "the only place they call me one of their own." A recent experience has inclined me to agree with Bon Jovi. That experience was returning to Ruston, Louisiana, for the twentieth anniversary celebration of the establishment of the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB), held in conjunction with the state convention of the NFB of Louisiana. The LCB opened in October of 1985, and the celebration event was originally to have taken place last October. Sadly, however, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated parts of the state, and the LCB premises themselves became an impromptu shelter for blind refugees from the storms and their families. So the celebration was postponed to April 7 to 9 of this year.
I graduated from LCB in December of 1992 after undergoing six months of training there. At that time the center had been in existence for only eight years. Although it had moved from a small gray house on Bonner Street to its current location at 101 South Trenton, it was a smaller facility than it is today. Nonetheless, the experience of being there changed my life, and although I had been an NFB member before going to Ruston, I left knowing, at least at a subconscious level, that I would devote my life to the organization that had, through LCB and its students and staff, given me so much.
I first became acquainted with LCB in the summer of 1991, when I attended my first NFB national convention in New Orleans as a scholarship winner. Until that time I was accustomed to thinking of myself as some kind of super blind guy. I received my education at a series of public schools and at a small university, where I was the only blind student, so naturally all of my accomplishments amazed my teachers and peers. I was a little intimidated by the idea of going to a strange hotel in a strange city and participating in the convention, but I thought this anxiety was a natural state of mind for a blind person.
Boy, was I wrong! I quickly discovered that I couldn't keep up with many of the blind people I met at the convention, who walked with such speed and confidence that I was often left far behind, trudging along with what I later learned was a cane far too short for me. More than once I found myself (rather sheepishly) taking the arm of a blind person, much as I would have done with a sighted guide. My fellow conventioneers were uniformly understanding and patient, but in the middle of the week, when I was being mentored by an extraordinarily lively and capable young woman named Melody Lindsey, I found myself seated with and introduced to her friends Joanne Wilson, Louisiana state president and director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and Jerry and Merilynn Whittle, two staff members there. Joanne was blunt in her assessment of my travel skills: "You've got guts, but your skills need some work." She encouraged me to consider coming to LCB. I promised her that I would give the matter due consideration, but even then I was not fully convinced that I needed what the center had to offer.
In the spring of 1992 I had no thought of attending the center; instead, I was focused on trying to obtain an internship opportunity in Washington, D.C., in pursuit of my bachelor's degree in political science. I began to experience doubts about the venture, however, when I learned that, although we would be provided dormitory rooms at American University, we would be on our own for meals and transportation. Quite abruptly I realized that I was not prepared for such an experience. I decided to spend my summer in Ruston instead of Washington. After a bureaucratic tussle with the South Carolina Commission for the Blind, I was on my way to Louisiana.
What I planned as a summer vacation brushing up on my blindness skills turned into a six-month course of study at the LCB. During that time I met people whom I am fortunate to call my friends and colleagues to this day, including Pam and Roland Allen, the Whittles, Karl Smith, Jesse Hartle, Melody Lindsey, Ollie Cantos, Jeff and Zena Pearcy, Ruth Sager, Joanne and Harold Wilson, and many others. In addition to learning to cook, improving my cane-travel skills (with a much longer cane), and significantly improving my proficiency with the slate and stylus, I got up on water skis for the first time and went rock-climbing in New Mexico. I visited soon-to-be President Bill Clinton's hometown of Hot Springs, Arkansas, and got to shake his hand at a political rally there.
I participated in a Toastmasters club that Jerry Whittle organized. I cut down a Christmas tree and walked seven miles to Grambling University. I spent many afternoons in seminar class and many late nights with my fellow students discussing our developing philosophy of blindness and our plans for the future. Despite my mother's constant worry that I would starve, not knowing how to cook, I ate very well but also exercised regularly. I lived in and maintained my own apartment for the first time in my life. I prepared a meal for all of the staff and students, got dropped off at an undisclosed location in Ruston and found my way back to the center, and took a Greyhound bus to the nearby town of Monroe to find a building I'd never been to before. I had access to more Braille books than I had ever seen in my life, and read as many of them as I could. On a trip home to South Carolina to attend the NFB state convention there, I navigated an airport unassisted for the first time. I sang in a local church choir in Ruston and learned to play hand bells.
I experienced some frustration as I worked to acquire new skills, but Joanne and her capable and compassionate staff were always there to encourage me, and I experienced many more highs than lows. I was surrounded by people who had complete confidence in me, and in the end I could not help absorbing that confidence. I left the center with new skills, but, perhaps more important, I left believing in myself and in my ability to cope with any challenge that confronted me, whether it was directly related to my blindness or not.
An unexpected illness and the pressures of law school kept me from returning to the LCB when its facilities were expanded in 1994 or 1995, so I did not return to Ruston until this past spring. Nonetheless, once I had taken a cab from the convention hotel to the area of Ruston where the center is located, I was surprised at how familiar everything seemed, even with the changes to the original Trenton Street building and some of its surroundings. I toured the expanded facility, including the new woodshop, housed in what used to be Hinton's Feed and Seed Store, directly across Railroad Avenue from the center and hard by the railroad tracks. The assistant shop instructor, James Mays, gave me an extensive tour of the shop and showed me the many projects students were working on.
I wish the shop had been in operation when I was a student because I would have loved to make a handsome mantel clock for my final project, as some students were doing. In fact, the lobby of the center is graced by a grandfather clock that a center graduate named Jonathan Cagle built. I was also pleased to see the expanded kitchen and dining facilities, and I rejoiced with Braille instructor Jerry Whittle over the fact that he now has more room for his beloved collection of Braille books, which are also now meticulously organized. I saw many old friends and met many new people during my tour of the center, but all of them greeted me like one of the family, and I felt throughout the experience that I was in a place where I very much belonged. My old friend Melody Lindsey showed me around the expanded facilities, and this time I had no trouble keeping up with her at all.
Not only have the facilities of the Louisiana Center for the Blind expanded, the programs have broadened as well. A career center, where students can take job development classes or work to complete their GED, is housed a few blocks away from the Trenton Street building. The staff of LCB works closely with the faculty and staff of the Professional Research and Development Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University, directed by Dr. Edward Bell and staffed by many LCB alumni. Students now occupy two blocks of apartments on Mississippi Avenue, about a half mile from the main LCB building. In addition to the Buddy Program for preteens and the STEP program for teenagers, which were in existence when I was a student, LCB now conducts programs for infants and toddlers and for senior citizens.
I am not the only person with fond memories of the LCB. Many people I know and others who are part of my extended LCB family shared their reminiscences during the convention. Connie Connolly explained that she believed she would never resume her career as a nurse when she became blind but was able to do so after becoming one of the first graduates of the center. Jesse Hartle, who now works in the governmental affairs department at the National Center for the Blind, told the story of a camping trip he took while a student in the LCB's Buddy Program for preteens, which was rudely interrupted by a fierce thunderstorm. Jesse recounted how, even with lightning striking all around a picnic shelter at an Arkansas campground, Joanne Wilson instructed him to grill a hot dog for himself. "The lady is totally nuts," Jesse said he thought at the time, but realized later, when he became a Buddy counselor, that it was important to take every possible moment during the four-week program to influence the lives and attitudes of the students in a positive way.
I have my own memories of that camping trip. All of the students, from nine-year-olds to adults, were to spend the weekend learning outdoor skills, but after the thunderstorm soaked our tents and supplies, the youngsters were sent home, and several of us adult students and staff dismantled the campsite. The project and the van trip back to Ruston, including a very late meal at a truck stop in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, took the rest of the night, but it was an opportunity for me to bond with fellow students and staff that I remember with pleasure.
The history of LCB was celebrated in other ways besides the many speeches and panel discussions. Jerry "Regis" Whittle quizzed random members of the audience, including me, about Federation and LCB history throughout the sessions and banquet in a simulated game show called Who Wants to Be a Federationist? Karl Smith and a choir of banquet attendees performed Federation songs, including "Happy Home for the Blind," a ditty composed by LCB students and staff and set to the tune of "Home on the Range," about the kind of rehabilitation center that LCB most certainly is not, where blind rehabilitation students "sit around on their behinds" and learn nothing more complicated than punching talking clocks for the time and taking sponge baths.
Jerry and Merilynn Whittle and Neita Ghrigsby, affectionately known to students as "Miss Neita," were given special recognition during the banquet as staff members who had been with the center since its inception. Jerry Whittle kept his speech short and summed up the feelings of many, saying: "In everything that matters, we are one." NFB President Marc Maurer introduced Joanne Wilson and shared the story of how the Louisiana affiliate was organized in 1973.
Joanne emphasized the importance of seeing the possibilities of the future and then making them come true in her keynote banquet address, citing the LCB's rapid expansion as only one example of the kind of thinking that had built the Federation and improved the lives of the blind throughout the years. She told the story of a magical spyglass that allowed the king and subjects of a declining kingdom to see the bright possibilities for its future and, having seen and believed, to make them come true. She emphasized that it is important for each of us as individuals, as well as through entities like the Louisiana Center for the Blind, to pass that magical spyglass on to each blind person and to each generation of blind people in order to make the future brighter and more full of promise. I am grateful to the LCB staff and students, who passed the spyglass on to me, and I will attempt to pass it on to others. I am glad I paid a return visit to my home in Ruston and got another dose of the rejuvenating spirit that makes the National Federation of the Blind so special.
by James Gashel
From the Editor: Jim Gashel is the executive director for strategic initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind. He has been as involved as anyone in the planning and development of the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader. Now that the beta testing period is drawing to a close, it seemed appropriate to ask him to make the announcement of the extraordinary results of the collaboration between technological genius and the knowledge and expertise of blind people. This is what he says:
In 1975 Ray Kurzweil invented the first multi-font optical character recognition (OCR) technology capable of converting printed characters into full-word synthetic speech. This system, which was about the size of a small dishwasher, was called the Kurzweil Reading Machine. Joining with Ray Kurzweil to test and launch this product, the NFB secured financial support to purchase six preproduction units at a cost of $50,000 each. This technology was unique and revolutionary in its time.
Personal computers were not widely available and were not a mass-consumer product in the 1970's, so the original Kurzweil Reading Machine was a stand-alone, dedicated reading system with its own internal computer and built-in scanner. Today the more modern version of the same technology--the Kurzweil 1000--is computer software running on a standard desktop PC connected to a scanner.
Although a certain amount of competition has developed over the last thirty years, the Kurzweil Reading Machine and its offspring have been widely regarded as the gold standard in text-to-speech conversion technology. However, having this technology in a completely portable form has been an unrealized dream. That was true until March 2006, when blind people throughout the United States started to learn about and use the world's first handheld, text-to-speech electronic reading system for the blind. This is called the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader.
The name says it all. Unlike the Kurzweil Reading Machine, named for Ray Kurzweil as its inventor, the portable Reader has been designed by Ray Kurzweil and the National Federation of the Blind. Therefore this device bears both names. This name also symbolizes the fact that the blind themselves have played a leading role in making the world's first completely portable reader a reality.
The Reader combines the latest state-of-the-art digital camera technology with a powerful personal data assistant (PDA). These components are housed in a custom-designed vinyl case that also contains internal circuitry to connect the camera and PDA to operate as a single system. Aside from this hardware, the software is completely new in blindness technology, with several features especially designed for this unique device.
Here are some of the vital statistics: the Reader is 6 inches
long, 3 inches wide, and 2-1/2 inches thick and weighs 15 ounces. Although the
Reader is about a thousand times smaller than the original Kurzweil Reading
Machine, the PDA in the portable Reader is two thousand times faster. In fact,
the portable Reader can execute about 500 million instructions per second as
compared to 250,000 instructions per second for the Kurzweil Reading Machine.
It also has a thousand times more memory (64 megabytes as compared to 64 kilobytes).
But the real difference is to have the power of reading in the palm of your hand. Here are a few reactions from early users known as "Reader ambassadors" and "Reader pioneers":
Dwight Sayer: I have a neat story. Last week my BrailleNote rep came over to bring my GPS unit and some software. She had gotten the disks mixed up, and no one sighted was around. She couldn't tell which one was mine. I said, "Wait a second . . ." I picked up a disk and shot a picture just pointing the Reader straight at it. . . . In a few seconds the Reader just rattled off the text on the CD, and I found I had my software right in my hands. The rep, who was drooling by that time, spent the next hour or so testing the Reader on everything from her checkbook to a receipt she had in her purse. By the way the ATM receipts that pop out of our great ATM machine at the National Center were read with ease as I was wondering what my balance was. . . . This little machine is a keeper!
Ron Gardner: The first thing I did with the Reader was go around
my home snapping photos of the wall hangings. My grandchildren have given us
some very precious quotes which are contained in framed hanging art. The quotes
are covered with glass, and I wondered if the glass would reflect too much light.
I am happy to report that the Reader worked with or without the flash, and the
glass did not prevent a great job. It was terrific to be able to read these
things from my grandchildren!
Ramona Walhof: I demonstrated the Reader at my Lions Club this morning. I started with the Idaho Potato Cookbook, which it does very well. It also read the restaurant menu quite well, although it was green print on white inside plastic. The Lions were more than astonished by its performance.
Amber Chesser: After over a month of anticipation and after a week of reading about everyone's experiences, I finally began using my Reader on Friday afternoon. What a wonderful beginning it was, and what a wonderful weekend of reading I have had! The Reader exceeded my expectations from the moment I took it out of the box. It looked completely different from anything I had imagined. . . . The unit is not bulky or too large; I definitely plan to carry it to all of my university classes as well as to concerts, meetings, and anywhere else I go every day.
I was also quite surprised at the accuracy with which I took
the pictures from the start. . . .I could write a lengthy post brimming with
enthusiastic descriptions of everything that I read over the weekend. . . .
I recognize that there are definitely developments to be made, but at this time
the marvelous designers and developers have hit the nail on the head. Thanks,
National Federation of the Blind, for the honor of being a tester and for such
an exciting creation!
Karl Smith: I just had to write one more time about my experiences at CSUN with the Reader. This morning I attended a session discussing the future of accessibility for portable computer platforms. This was more or less a discussion session with not a whole lot of substance. During the presentation the presenter mentioned that the NFB was about to announce the new Reader. Being much like a proud grandpa with new pictures of his grandkids, I pulled my machine out and waved it over my head. The presenter acknowledged that someone in the room actually had one. The fun started after the end of the presentation. I was suddenly surrounded by a large group of people wanting to see the Reader and know how it worked. Someone gave me a legal-sized piece of print to read. . . A short time later my trusty Reader began reading information on augmentative communication. Everyone listened very quietly because of the low volume of the PDA speakers, while the reading kept going and going with pretty much flawless results.
It was then that the man who gave me the paper admitted that
he had purposely given me what he considered to be a particularly awful piece
of material to scan. It was a printout of a half dozen or so PowerPoint slides
from another presentation. For me it was another one of those dream demos. It
went perfectly, and everyone was very excited. . . . Several of the people said
that this was the best part of the session. Folks, this thing is . . . the beginning
of a revolution. Rarely does a piece of technology by itself really represent
the beginning of an entirely new era for the blind. This one does just that
. . . man, this thing is fun.
Vickie Saucier: I have now had my Reader for three days, and I agree with Gary. You're not getting it back except for repairs, if needed. I've experienced all the problems and limitations that everyone else has mentioned. When Jim first demonstrated it, I was in tears, and I still feel that way. At the first brief demonstration by my representative, I was terrified and thought that I'd never be able to use it. Changing that battery seemed difficult: remembering the commands, focusing, flash cards, etc. really caused me some alarm, since I am not a teckie like some of you. However, I mastered all those things except for the flash card (I just have to read the instruction manual, and I'll know how to do that too). I even demonstrated how to do all those things to another pioneer who didn't attend the demonstration. I am looking forward to all the future improvements, but for now I'm happy reading those Jell-O boxes and cleaning a bookshelf in my office without sighted assistance. It goes everywhere with me, and next week it's going to see Mickey with me and my grandson at one of my favorite places on the planet, Disney World.
Juliett Cody: Yes, the Reader is good on bulletin boards. I did it on campus today, and I was pleased. I was looking for scholarship applications, so the postings were as large as a regular page. I must admit it was wonderful to walk into the scholarship office and not have to wait until someone could help me. I love the Reader, and, like I said before, I am not returning it.
Ron Brown: On April 22 the Indiana State Library held a technology fair. The NFB of Indiana was invited to show off NEWSLINE, so I decided to take the Reader to the technology fair without any forewarning to the host. I charged up my Reader, got together some prearranged documents to read, and went to the fair. When I got to our booth, I set up shop and waited for the participants to come by. It took only a few minutes for word to spread that the Reader was there.
Needless to say, the Reader was a big hit. Ours became the most popular booth at the fair. Not only did the participants stop by, so did the other presenters. The Reader and I worked from 10:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. nonstop. It worked this long without my having to charge the battery. I had to change the camera battery only once. Some of the people that gathered around started handing me other documents to read. I took those documents and shot pictures of them, and the Reader performed like a champ. I started grabbing Kernel books off the table and any other document in sight to read. Yes, I threw caution to the wind and went for it. When I opened a Kernel Book and held it away from me up in the air; one guy from the crowd stated, "He's holding the book upside down," and I shot the picture anyway. The Reader read the page about Mount Everest being the tallest mountain in the world. I guess the Kernel Book story I grabbed was "The Summit." The crowd went wild. I was told three people asked how they could join the NFB.
All in all it was a beautiful day, and the Reader was a big
hit. I have the sore feet and the loss of my voice from talking so much to prove
James Solem: Recently I passed my prelim exams for my Ph.D. Needless to say, the work has just begun. Yet the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader is making it possible. With the use of the Reader I was able to complete the proposal, research prospectus, human subject review summary form, and the informed consent form. Before having access to the Reader, I was unable to read italics. The Reader does an outstanding job of enabling the blind to complete legal documents.
I am currently scanning research information that I have pulled
from numerous libraries. I can read it remotely at the university library, study
hall, gym, or home. This has freed me from having to need a reader to complete
my dissertation. I finally feel like I have a tool that has made me independent
and equal with my sighted peers.
These comments indicate an overall positive response among early users of the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader, and we are only at the dawn of this exciting new technology. Imagine what the future has in store for us with this technology we have created to meet our needs. Now that the Reader we have dreamed about is real, we have the opportunity and the ability to build upon this new beginning and make our Reader an even more powerful tool in the months and years ahead.
Even with its present capacity, however, the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader reads most printed documents, from letters and memos to pages in a book; reads address labels and instructions; reads an entire page or just a few lines of text for identification; and provides easy access to restaurant menus. The Reader even reads play or concert programs, instructions for appliances, and numbers on lottery tickets--the possibilities are endless.
There are hundreds of uses for the Reader every day. No other device in the history of technology for the blind has provided quicker access to more printed information than the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader. The world of the printed word is about to be opened to the blind in a way it has never been before. Get ready; the revolution begins today!
For more information contact the National Federation of the Blind Reader information and sales line at (877) 708-1724. A limited number of Readers are available at a special inaugural discount of $200 below the expected retail price of $3,495.
by Gary Wunder
From the Editor: The National Federation of the Blind has received a grant from the Rehabilitation Services Administration to conduct a mentoring pilot project. For almost a year now about twenty mentoring pairs in Louisiana and Nebraska have been spending time together. Four more states will soon be added to the project. It is impossible to predict what the benefits of this effort will be as measured in the coin of human experience and changed lives, but mentoring is a bedrock element of this organization of ours, so we can say with confidence that it will undoubtedly make a difference to everyone involved.
On February 17,
2006, the following article was posted on the NFB's Web magazine, Voice
of the Nation's Blind, <www.voiceofthenationsblind.org>. Its author
is Gary Wunder, president of the NFB of Missouri and secretary of the National
Federation of the Blind. He is also a marvelously evocative writer and, contrary
to what he suggests in this reflection, a thoughtful and patient mentor to many
of us in the Federation. This is what he writes:
Nothing has helped me become the person I am today more than the mentors I've had along the way. Some have been encouraging and have said, "Follow your dreams." Others have said, "Go beyond your wildest dreams and be surprised at what you can accomplish." But a very important few have said something infinitely more important: "You'll never do big things if you keep considering the normal things you do to be extraordinary and looking for praise when you do them."
My first mentor was my father, a man I now absolutely love and adore, but for the first five or six years of my life I regarded him as little less than my enemy. To me he was a loud, rude, and compassionless bully. He was always talking about how I'd have to grow up like other people, how the women in my life were too soft on me, and how I was taking advantage of all the coddling and playing it for all it was worth. I remember hearing him get up at five in the morning in preparation for work, and pretending to be asleep until his truck roared out of the driveway. Then I would bound from my bed to deal with the civilized people in my family, the ones who would feed me breakfast and tell me what a wonderful boy I was and how miraculous it was that I knew every tune on the Forty Star Survey, the lingo for the popular radio tunes on our local rock and roll station at the time. My father didn't even appreciate the precocious genius under his roof, for he listened to country music and had little patience for songs that had words like "ding dang dong" and "She loves you! Yah, yah, yah!" He thought with the money those boys were making, they could at least afford to cut their hair, and besides, what respectable group of four men would call themselves "The Beatles"? Now Chet Atkins, Hank Williams, Jim Reeves, and Marty Robbins--these were men with talent and names they weren't afraid to use!
Sometime around age seven or so, I learned that all this coddling from family and friends came with a price, and that when it came to being allowed to do things with some risk, things that were really fun, my father suddenly became my greatest ally. My sighted friends were riding bicycles; I thought I should too. My protectors said that this was foolish, but my father said, "You'll have to pay attention to where you're going, so go fast enough that you don't fall over, but slow enough that you can avoid hitting the things you know are in the yard." With every scrape and bruise I was encouraged by my loving protectors to give up on piloting any kind of a moving vehicle and to realize that trying to do so was just plain reckless. My grandfather called his son a damned fool for encouraging me to do something that would get me killed, and when that day came, he'd be the first to go to the prosecutor to provide the needed evidence. But within a few weeks I was riding that bike, and every member of my family rejoiced in how each and every one of them had always told me I could do anything other people could do if only I'd dare to try.
The time came in my development when my father could still be the guiding force in my life, showing me what it meant to be a man, to have integrity, to realize nothing was more important than my honor and my word; but despite all his fatherly advice he couldn't tell me much about what it would mean to be a successful blind man. "You can do anything you set your mind to do" goes only so far when there are clearly things one can't do without sight. Oh, I could work in the hay fields throwing bales onto a moving truck, I could stand atop that truck and deftly stack the bales thrown up to me, but I couldn't drive the tractor to cut that hay or rake it into rows or pull the baler behind me pumping out those bails, which got ever heavier as the day grew longer. I could do odd jobs my father found for me around the farm, everything from feeding pigs and cleaning stalls, to rehabilitating old bricks that had been used in the construction of a schoolhouse by knocking off the mortar so they could be sold and used for new projects, but how I could sell another person on hiring me, how I could get to the job, and how I could ever hope to work in a setting not specially created for me all waited to trip me up as I thought about the next steps I was to take.
One of my childhood interests was radio, and soon I wanted to do more than just listen--I wanted to talk. First it was the walkie-talkies that were all the rage when I was a child; then came CB radio, which truckers would one day make popular in the lyrics of country songs. Inevitably I came to be an amateur radio operator, more commonly known as a ham radio enthusiast. To get that license meant learning the International Morse Code, the basic principles of radio theory, and the regulations governing the operation of a ham radio station.
The books providing this information were readily available on the shelves of electronics stores and the public libraries we visited, but where could they be gotten in a form a blind kid could read? The term "accessible materials" still hadn't been invented, or if it had, certainly it was not a phrase that graced my ever-growing vocabulary. If you could find books you could read, they were something for which you were grateful, not something you thought you had a right to demand. Mostly they weren't produced by institutions but by volunteers whose payment for their hard work was that they got to meet and follow the progress of the blind student they had informally adopted.
Finding books in Braille and on tape inevitably brought me into contact with blind people who shared my interest in radio. One of them was a man named Carl Slavens. His name probably does not appear in any Federation document at the National Center for the Blind, and I doubt any Missourians still remember him. Carl was not a public man--a facial birth defect and fruitless attempts at plastic surgery limiting his exposure to the public to what was absolutely minimal to get along in the world. So badly deformed was he that one day he took a bus trip, and, upon boarding the bus, he heard screams and witnessed a frightened woman hurriedly disembarking. Unsure what all the fuss was about, Carl went on his way, but when night came and he tuned into a local late-night talk show called Night Beat, a distraught woman called to complain that there ought to be a law against monsters being allowed to roam free in the city. She described her trip on public transportation and the hideous creature who had boarded the bus at the location where Carl had entered, and complained that as a pregnant woman she now feared her child would be deformed. Carl understood independent mobility for the blind, the use of the long white cane, and the traffic patterns which, when observed, made it safe for him to walk, but he never again traveled the streets alone.
My friend and first blind mentor worked every day at the Kansas City Association for the Blind and hired his brother, who was a cab driver, to take him to and from work. He made $64 a week and, of that amount, paid $25 in transportation. His brother also did Carl's shopping as time allowed, and this too was a paid service.
He made and kept friends through the safety of the telephone, but Carl's telephone and friendship provided much more than a friendly voice for me. That phone guided me to an experience which forever altered my life. I had always considered learning, teachers, and books just a part of what I did at my stage of life, in much the same way as my father worked for a living. But through our shared interest in ham radio, Carl showed me that I had the capacity to take a subject few people knew anything about and master it with nothing more than a book and my own persistence. No outside force would make me do it. No one would grade me on my performance except the government officials administering the ham radio license exams, and there was no accounting to Mom and Dad for whatever grade I received. This learning was done by my own initiative, and Carl convinced me that I could learn not only radio and electronics, but any number of other things I set my mind to learn. The world expanded, and never was I so proud of an academic accomplishment as when I gained my first, second, and third amateur radio licenses and eventually obtained the highest license offered.
Carl and I shared much more than radio. To some extent Carl lived beyond the walls of his house through me: my stories of horseback riding, figuring out how to ride a bicycle along our country road, and watering an eleven-hundred-pound bull without getting gored in the process. But the street ran both ways, and I learned a great deal from Carl. I learned that being a blind kid wasn't all about romantic stories of Gary the Super Hero doing things no other blind person had ever attempted. Once I told Carl I thought I'd write a book about my life, and with his words, "Yes, I'm not at all surprised you would want to do that," I enjoyed all of three seconds of glory.
"You know," he continued,
"I don't think I've ever met a blind person who didn't think his life was so
fantastic that he should write a book about it. Some have, and some sell, but
mostly they're pretty boring stuff. Do something in the world that's really
worth writing about, and you'll probably be so busy doing it that writing will
be the last thing you have time to do." Feeling kicked in the gut, I told my
friend I was talking on my father's business phone and probably should clear
it for other calls, and I went away about half mad, half broken-hearted, and,
just the least bit grateful for a message I thought I heard in Carl's rebuke--perhaps,
just perhaps, a blind person could do something worthy of the world's notice,
not just because he was blind, but because he had talent and worked around his
When I regained some of my lost courage, Carl and I again talked about other careers. "Maybe I could be a preacher," I said.
"Well, you sound like a believer, but I've never had the impression you've been called to the ministry. Now if you're not called, and if you're not a huckster, maybe we should look at your motives. I bet you've also thought about being a disk jockey."
"Yes, I do like radio."
"I like baseball, but I make a better fan than a third baseman," he said. "Next you'll be telling me you're thinking about becoming a psychologist because, you see, the only thing you're really convinced you can do is talk."
"So what are you trying to tell me, that I have no talent?"
"No, I'm trying to suggest to you that you're not looking for something you love and figuring out how to do it, but looking for something you can do and then trying to figure out how to love it. You're asking yourself what a blind man can do, when you should be asking yourself how you, as a blind man, will do whatever you are called on by talent and temperament to do." I wasn't mad or hurt that time, but I needed a while to think about what he had just said, so again I told him how mad my father got when I tied up his business phone and I'd call when I next could.
Without trying in any way to push me away, Carl began to direct me to other people I could talk with who could tell me what it was like to be an honest-to-goodness blind man. I was afraid of that term, actually hated it, and somehow was convinced that, though I was blind, I'd grow up to be something different. The blind man was the beggar my folks saw when we drove the streets of downtown Kansas City. A blind man was the guy in the shop like Carl--making pens, putting washers on bolts, making brooms, working only around other blind people. Now that was fine for Carl, a person with physical deformities and challenges I could only imagine, but I didn't want to live alone in a rundown house on $64 a week, and I was afraid this was what the future held for me.
There was more to my mentoring than Carl's shooting down my ideas for making a living. "Pay attention to your education," he said. "Learn from history, read the classics, and don't confine yourself to fiction. Fiction is fun, but people are generally paid based on the facts they know. Your family does physical work, and they do very well at it, but it's not something you're likely to be able to do. You'll make more money if you can discipline your mind and make it work for you. I've got a fellow I want you to read--he's a fellow from Tennessee who grew up as poor as a man could, and he's done everything from caning chairs to directing one of the most successful state agencies for the blind in the world."
"What if I don't want to direct an agency for the blind?" I asked.
"Read him anyway. He knows how to write, he knows how to speak, and he knows how to be an administrator. All of those are skills you may find handy some day."
"Okay, I can do that, but is this really relevant to me?"
"You're always telling me that people make you do things that aren't relevant--I guess that's the big word for your generation today--but take my word for it: you haven't a clue what is relevant to you now and what will be relevant to you later on. One thing is relevant to you right now, and it isn't the self-actualization or any other such nonsense they talk to you about these days--it's getting skills and the proper mindset, and once you've got those, you can work on self-actualization and deciding what is relevant."
"Okay, so let's say I read this Jernigan fellow, and what after that?"
"Then you can read some tenBroek, a college professor from California. If you're college-bound, as you should be, listening to a few lectures will do you good."
As you can see, my conversations
with Carl always started off better than they ended, but one does not ignore
what is clearly said in love and sincerity, and for every one of those lectures
I got, my friend endured hour after hour of my talking about me, me, and only
Eventually through Carl I met other people who were more involved in the Federation than Carl felt his physical deformity and limited contact with the public would allow him to be. When I wanted to know more about guide dogs, Carl sent me to a fellow named Jim Couts. Jim would talk with me a bit about dogs and then slowly drift off to talking about this blind group. Jim was an older fellow, and I foolishly assumed he simply couldn't stay on task. After a time I thought perhaps I could trick him into leading me to a person who would talk more about guide dogs and less about the NFB, so I said in my politest tone that I really didn't want to bother him excessively and perhaps he knew of someone who would also be willing to talk about his experience with these wonderful animals. Unsuspecting as he was, he gave me another name and even encouraged me to call this fellow. I did, we talked about dogs, and what do you know--he started down this same road, talking about the opportunities to be gained by associating with this blind Federation. You see, Jim wasn't fooled in the least. He was glad to refer me to someone else, someone closer to my age, who might get across a message he was sending but I was rejecting. The new messenger, thanks to my sneakiness and Jim's cleverness, was Melvin Lewis, the president of the Kansas City Chapter of the NFB, and the man who took every excuse I could throw at him as to why I could not attend a meeting and shot it back to me with a solution for which there was no argument. Did I mention that this Melvin Lewis was a college student--a law student, to be more exact, and one who knew how to make a case and make it stick?
In my time in the Federation I've had many mentors. One fine man named John Cheadle told me I had the ability to lead people and that I should. If I was going to lead, however, I should dress like a leader. He said I should be wearing a suit to Federation events to show respect for the people who had elected me and for the office in which I served. So I bought that garment, a leisure suit as I recall, and another fellow named Tom Stevens taught me to tie a tie on the two-hour trip to a legislative dinner. Until that time I thought the only tie I could use was the kind with the clips one inserted under a shirt collar and clipped on the top button. Proud as punch, I tied my tie, elated at the knowledge that, besides my father, no one in my immediate family knew how to tie a necktie. So off to another meeting I go, this time riding with John Cheadle, and when I give him the opportunity to admire my handiwork, he says that the bow tie I am wearing is a definite improvement over the clip-on, but it doesn't quite fill out the space over my throat, that there is a fancier way to tie a tie, and that he can teach it to me if I dare unbutton my collar. So, with both his hands on the steering wheel and using only words and his occasional glances, I learn to tie what he calls a full Windsor, and true to his word, the new knot does fill up that gap under my throat.
I've since had the pleasure of teaching a number of people to tie their own ties though never have I done so while driving down the road at seventy miles an hour. Some have been glad to learn the skill, others reluctant to admit they didn't know how to do it, and some arguing that their way, which was to have someone else tie the tie and just loosen and hang it between uses was quite sufficient, but the end result is that all have said they now feel better for learning this simple skill.
Any list thanking all my mentors is bound to be flawed and incomplete, because I'll leave out people who have served in this role and leave out important things they've taught me. The first article I ever had published in the Braille Monitor was begun and written in major part by Dr. Maurer and later read by telephone to Dr. Jernigan, who had me correct the grammar on the spot. That article came out under my name with nary a hint it had been crafted primarily by people trying to reveal a talent they thought they saw in me. My friend Bill Neal taught me how to shave with a regular blade, all previous teachers believing that an electric razor was the only safe way for a blind person to shave. Mrs. Jernigan so praised a pair of shined shoes which I had gotten done at an airport that I took up the task of learning to shine them myself, and she continues as my harshest shoe critic. Melvin Lewis told me that, if I had trouble staying awake while listening to boring textbooks on tape, I should study while standing, and if that didn't work, find myself a space and pace. Seldom now do I employ this technique while reading, but lengthy meetings still find me taking to my feet. Now I use the excuse that sitting for prolonged periods is just too hard on a fifty-year-old back.
In reminiscing about the people who have done so very much for me, I'm saddened by my own shortcomings in really being there for others. I don't have those two-hour chats that drew me into this wonderful Federation family. Oh yes, I spend the two hours doing Federation work, but my responses are too often contained in terse little email answers or in my participation in a conference call to map out some strategy for how we're going to accomplish this or that organizational task. I'm too much a volunteer administrator and not nearly enough of a friend providing some direct service and encouragement. To the extent that I work with people directly, my not-very-subtle message really is, "Okay, I've helped you now, so get to work! Write those letters, make some trips, raise some money, and give what you can to this wonderful movement we share."
There's nothing wrong with that message, but I fear the timing is all wrong. I am here, not because I instinctively understood the value of the work we do, but because people demonstrated their friendship for me, caused me to feel friendship for them, and over time caused me to want to be like them. My initial assignments were few and far between. When completed, they were praised lavishly and their importance was probably overrated. When I exercised initiative, it was rewarded, and I came to see that opportunities I had were purchased by a lot of folks I had considered stodgy old codgers who talked way too much about reading minutes, selling candy, and finding places where we could place fruitcakes on consignment.
This initial treatment I received as a yet-uncommitted newcomer contrasted greatly with the one I later received in our Federation. The message soon became, "Now that we know you have some capabilities, you'll get praise when you meet or exceed them and not before. We appreciate what you do, but you're getting to be an adult now, and you won't survive very long on faint praise. We love you, but love isn't always gentle, and it isn't always kind." Now there's a message that sounds remarkably like the one my father repeated over and over again, to which I so strenuously objected as a young child. Federationists went on to say, "You can make it in the world, and if you'll take our help, we'll see that you do. In turn, take stock of what you have been given, and don't consider for a moment how you will repay us as individuals. Instead, think about how you will give to others what we freely give to you."
A burden? You bet! A joyous burden? Absolutely. A gift worth repaying--without a doubt. My mentors have helped me live a life that would be the envy of any sane human being. I have a family, a job, and causes aplenty in which I can make my small contribution to this world we share. Will my name go down with Lincoln or Kennedy or Reagan or Asimov? No. But maybe, if I do the very best I can, it will live for a time in the hearts of others and be reflected in every step they take as my steps are a reflection of John Wunder, Carl Slavens, Tom Stevens, John Cheadle, Melvin Lewis, Marc Maurer, Kenneth Jernigan, Mary Ellen Jernigan, Jacobus tenBroek, and the countless other men and women who have cared about me and have done what they could to give me this rich and wonderful life I now enjoy.
by Deborah Kendrick
(Review of Louis Braille:
A Touch of Genius by C. Michael Mellor, National Braille Press, 133 print
pages, 439 Braille pages, four volumes; $25 softcover Braille or electronic
edition; $35 plus $5 handling hardcover print; $50 hardcover Braille.)
From the Editor: I cannot recall another instance in which the publication of a book simultaneously in print and Braille has caused such a stir. Perhaps the first time that National Braille Press (NBP) pulled off the miracle of getting out a Harry Potter book in Braille on almost the same date as the print edition hit the bookstores made a bigger splash, but this time the story is of interest exclusively to admirers of Louis Braille. Several years ago the author, C. Michael Mellor, discovered a cache of hitherto unknown letters written by Braille and wrote his biography around them. The print edition is truly a coffee table volume, with a number of line drawings, pictures, and reproductions of the newly discovered Braille letters with translation. The Braille edition includes exhaustive descriptions of the visual elements of the print book as well as the complete text.
The NBP staff's dedication to the memory and legacy of Louis Braille and their determination to do this project right are truly laudable. This book is a must read for everyone who loves Braille.
is a professional writer and journalist, a lifelong user of Braille, and a member
of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio board of directors. Here is
her review of the Braille edition of A Touch of Genius:
It's a powerful moment at any gathering of the National Federation of the Blind when a thousand or more voices begin chanting, "We know who we are, and we'll never go back." Indeed the solidarity of any community is reinforced by the knowledge of its own history and roots. To know "who we are," in other words, we must also know from whence we have come and who has gone before us.
With that basic tenet in mind, it is with a blend of incredulity and gratitude that I read these words on the National Braille Press Web site: "Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius is the first-ever full-color biography to include thirty-one never-before-translated letters, some written by Braille's own hands,"--incredulity that it has taken some two hundred years since the birth of the man who gave us literacy for his story and voice to come together in this new book, and gratitude to C. Michael Mellor for recognizing the magnitude of what he was seeing when he first laid eyes on these wonderful letters.
In A Touch of Genius the story of Louis Braille's life is recounted with more fact and less sentimentality than in most accounts. Born in 1809 in Coupvray, France, Braille was the last child of adoring parents. Had they been less so, in fact, it is reasonable to speculate that he might not have gone on to become the exceptional teacher, musician, and inventor that he was. At age three, imitating the work of his harness-maker father in the shop, the little boy injured his eye with a sharp instrument. Again the what-if's sing out since, if he had received better medical treatment, he might not have had the sympathetic reaction in the other eye that led to total blindness. But the child did become totally blind and fortunately for all of us of ensuing generations around the world, his parents continued to adore and nurture him.
Unheard of in those days, Louis Braille actually attended regular school with sighted children in Coupvray for a time, his intelligence shining among sighted peers. At age ten he was accepted into the Institution Royale des Jeunes Aveugles, the Paris school for the blind founded by Valentin Haüy. There, in his midteens, he recognized the value of the "night writing" code brought to the school's attention by Charles Barbier. Louis Braille rebuilt that code from the ground up, so to speak, tweaking and perfecting it for years. A gifted musician (he not only taught at the school but served as organist in churches and performed solo and with others for the entertainment of those in France's upper social echelon), he also devised the first code for Braille music notation--the same code used by blind musicians around the world today.
Mellor provides clear accounts of the individuals, political climate, and social attitudes of the era that together had an impact on the life of Louis Braille and the progress of his brilliant invention. We learn of a great humanitarian who founded the school, a somewhat cruel ophthalmologist who exploited blind children for his own agenda, and Braille's beloved teacher, Alexandre François-René Pignier, who directed the school for some twenty years and remained Braille's lifelong treasured friend.
Where the book is at its best, however, is in the words and voice of Louis Braille himself. Through his letters we see a gentle, brilliant, and devout young man, a man who, in genuine modesty, gave credit at times to others for his own work, who was profoundly appreciative of the gifts of family, friends, and nature. Although many of the letters reproduced in the print edition (and described in detail in the Braille edition) are written in Braille's own hand, in straight legible lines, he sometimes apologizes in them for his "scribbles."
Through his letters we also get a small sense of the physical suffering Braille endured for much of his life. Mellor writes that Braille's father, a master craftsman, must have been appalled at first sight of the Institution Royale des Jeunes Aveugles, when he delivered his ten-year-old son there for the first time in 1819. The 200-year-old building, a former seminary and prison, was dilapidated outside and clammy, dark, and dank with narrow, rickety stairways inside. "The school piped in filthy, untreated water from the nearby Seine for cooking and washing," Mellor writes. Children were allowed one bath per month.
Thus, like many children and adults at the school, Braille contracted tuberculosis in his teens and lived with the ravages of the then untreatable disease for the rest of his life. What comes through in his letters, however, is a simple gratitude for the restorative qualities of country air when he returns to Coupvray for visits, and an occasional sadness that might well have been triggered by his knowledge that his life would not be a long one.
Although we know him for
inventing the foundation of literacy for the blind throughout the world, Louis
Braille made other significant contributions. Among them was the first means
by which blind people could communicate easily in writing to those with sight.
"Until the appearance of a practical typewriter in 1867, the raphigraphe was the most user-friendly piece of equipment available to blind people who wanted to write to those who could see. It is a largely forgotten product of Braille's genius. Ironically it was a young blind man who first invented a means of representing visual information by means of dots in a matrix. Louis Braille used only one hundred dots at most but employed the same principle as do modern electronic devices--television screens, computer displays, digital cameras, cell phones--though they use millions of dots, or pixels."
With regard to studying "who we are," Mellor provides a fascinating cast of other characters whose names deserve to become familiar ones on our tongues. Valentin Haüy, of course, the founder of the school and humanitarian who wanted to educate blind children, train blind people for some means of employment, and put an end to relegating all blind people to poverty and begging. Better still, we read of other blind people--people before Louis Braille--who were high achievers and revered for their contributions. (Do the names Nicholas Saunderson or Maria Theresia von Paradis mean anything to you? If not, you'll enjoy making their acquaintance in this book.)
National Braille Press is not usually in the business of producing print books. In this instance, however, the book as been published in hardcover print, hardcover Braille (called the library or school edition), and softcover Braille. Because much of the book's appeal is, in fact, the reproduction of handwritten letters, engravings, lithographs, photographs, and other artifacts of a visual nature, professional describers were hired to write detailed descriptions of every visual image in the book. The Braille copy is four volumes. Close to half of each of those volumes, however, is devoted to a section of endnotes and another of the detailed figure descriptions. While I would rather have these descriptions than not, they did grow a bit too detailed at times, and the flipping back and forth of pages--from text to descriptions and back again--became tedious. About halfway through the book I admittedly skipped over references to descriptions, opting later to zip through them quickly as a group.
As I read of blind people
begging and in poverty, of little blind children astonishing sighted audiences
with their brightness and newfound literacy, of this remarkable genius himself
relentlessly perfecting his code that is the foundation of everything I do,
I am struck with wonder, gratitude, and something else. We need to know this
man, memorize his story, have his name on our tongues, and bring his name and
our literacy into the foreground of mainstream recognition. Michael Mellor has
written a good book about a great man--and because that man is Louis Braille,
we should be putting copies into the hands of every blind and sighted person
we know. We should spread his story because we know who we are.
by Klaus Zechner
From the Editor: Some readers may look at the title of this article and write the story off as one more in a predictable string of autobiographical pieces in which someone reports on exciting adventures at an NFB adult training center that result in his or her becoming completely capable and confident as a blind person. Since most of us have secret pockets or vast prairies of insecurity in our personalities, it is easy to brush off such glowing stories of success as fiction or at least an experience light years different from anything we might experience.
Klaus Zechner approaches
his story as an everyman. He is bright; he has earned a Ph.D. and is working
in a demanding job. But he is not a natural cane traveler or an expert Braille
reader. Still his eight months at the Colorado Center for the Blind changed
his life, not because of the skills he learned, though he is justifiably proud
of those skills, but because of the transformation in his fundamental attitude
toward blindness and living life as a blind person. In short, he has experienced
the miracle of what an NFB training center--staffed by dedicated NFB members
and predicated on the philosophy of the Federation--offers its students. He presented
parts of his story on November 12, 2005, at the NFB of New Jersey convention.
Here is his story in his own words:
My name probably tells you that I am not from the United States. That's right. I was born and raised in Austria and came to the U.S. for graduate studies in language technologies at Carnegie Mellon University ten years ago. At that time I had been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) for eight years, but, as often happens with mid-stage RP, my eye problems were for the most part limited to the night time. I was fine during daylight hours and had no problems writing, reading even fine print, or working on a computer.
I was an independent person, took care of my bachelor's household myself, and did my studies, all without any visual aids or assistance. My wife can attest to that since we met in those early years in the U.S.; we both lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at that time.
I soon began having some difficulties seeing during the daytime as well, and then, about five years ago, I started using a short cane, but not with much skill. (I received some orientation and mobility training from the Pittsburgh Guild for the Blind.) As time passed, I became less and less independent as I shied away from activities that used to be so easy for me, including cooking, going to the store on my own, taking the bus to an event, and many others.
In 2001 I received my Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon, and a challenging year of job search followed. It was often hard to say if I didn't get the job because of other more qualified competitors, the tight financial situation of the company (a recession was going on) or discrimination because of my visual impairment. Eventually I received multiple offers for good jobs in May of 2002 and accepted a position as a research scientist in speech technology at the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey.
When we moved to Lawrenceville,
New Jersey, in the summer of 2002, I felt even more disabled because no businesses
were in close walking distance, and only one bus went to work and back, which
was a good twenty minutes away. I was too afraid to go that way on my own for
fear of getting lost. My blindness was turning out to be an ever larger burden
on me and was causing a major depression.
It was at this point that I attended the NFB of New Jersey state convention in Princeton and heard someone give a motivational speech about going to the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB) in Denver and learning many blindness skills there, foremost being independence and self-confidence. I felt that I should do that for myself. After all, despite the inconvenience of being far from my home and wife and having to take a leave from work, being so dependent on other people, particularly my wife, was not a good feeling. Our affiliate president, Joe Ruffalo, supported my plan wholeheartedly, so we eventually visited three adult rehabilitation training centers: the Joseph Kohn Center in New Brunswick, the Blind Industries and Services of Maryland program in Baltimore, and the CCB in Colorado. Baltimore and Denver were almost tied, but Denver had a little edge, so I decided to apply there--I just had to convince New Jersey that I needed out-of-state training because it would meet my needs much better than the local center and that they should provide the funding. After I submitted a letter detailing my reasons for choosing the CCB and another letter from the Colorado Center on my behalf, in July of 2004 my stay in Denver was approved.
I had heard that Denver
was a tough program. Some people even claimed that the staff was radical and
extreme in stressing independence, but nothing prepared me for the real experience.
Students at the CCB are required to wear sleepshades from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30
p.m. every weekday. This was not an easy thing to do in the beginning because
I still had a little residual vision but had to get to places and do things
without being able to see anything whatsoever. A nice aspect of the CCB is that
almost all the teachers are blind themselves, as is the director. This kind
of role modeling has a good effect on the students. We were about twenty-four
students altogether, with constant change in the identity of the student population
because of graduations from and entries into the program.
We had four main classes: home management (which I call cooking), Braille, cane travel (O&M), and technology (computers). We also had classes in philosophy, in which we sometimes had guest speakers and discussed a wide variety of aspects of being blind; home maintenance, in which we learned some useful skills such as using an electric saw, hammer, and nails; and jobs, in which we explored potential job possibilities and how to get there. Since I was already employed--ETS had given me a leave of absence for these eight months--we looked for other blind scientists and researchers so that I could network with them.
In addition to these classes we took part in a number of extracurricular activities, some of which were intended to challenge us and push us beyond our comfort zone. For me this included four days of downhill skiing (which was lots of fun, except maybe for that close encounter with a tree), Christmas tree cutting, visits to local museums that had accessible exhibits, participation in community events such as the Martin Luther King parade, and driving lessons at the steering wheel of real cars. I can honestly say that I drove a car with sleepshades on. Other center activities included rock climbing, whitewater rafting, canoeing, and even sky diving (this last activity was optional).
As it turned out, Braille and cane travel were the hardest classes for me. While most students learn their way from the apartments to the center in a couple of days, after two or three months I was still getting lost regularly on my way to and from the center. Here is a short passage from my diary:
Problems [on the way to
the mailbox]; after wandering around for a while, I almost land in front of
the mail room when someone offers me help to get there. Afterwards I want to
go to the bus stop and back--my dad recommended a walk, and the weather is sunny
and nice, but on the way I get lost again and then fall into a pit on the edge
of a parking lot. No major injuries, fortunately, but some real bruises on my
right side… another nice person volunteers to guide me back to my apartment.
I am probably someone who has innate difficulty getting oriented, and my Boy Scout years did not help much. Additionally I have two further handicaps besides the vision impairment that interfere with travel: my hearing loss results in problems picking up auditory cues from the environment, particularly determining the direction of sounds. Also my concentration and focus are impaired because of some medication I have to take. Particularly because of my hearing problem, my travel instructor decided that I should use an Access-Ride bus service to get to places instead of public transportation; that way I would not have to cross busy intersections, which would require much more practice than could be provided in these eight months at the CCB. I first felt a little bit sad and inferior since almost all the other students used public transportation, but eventually I understood that this was a good idea for me--travel was still hard enough, despite an easier way of getting to places.
At the end of the program I successfully completed all three travel requirements: the monster, which is a route to multiple self-selected destinations in one day and accomplishing certain tasks there; the scavenger hunt, which is like the monster, but the instructor chooses the destinations; and finally the most feared, the drop, in which you get dropped off--of course blindfolded as always--at some unknown location and have to find your way back to the center by asking only one question. I was dropped in a quiet residential neighborhood, and it took me quite a while to find a busy street with a bus stop. This bus took me to the light rail, which in turn took me to a station close to the CCB, from which I knew the route back. I was proud of myself to have accomplished all of that without using any eyesight.
In Braille I struggled quite a bit but completed uncontracted Braille by the end of the program. As my graduation project, I labeled my CDs in Braille because it does get harder for me to figure out with my eyes what's on a CD. Technology was probably one of the most important classes since I use the computer for almost all my work at ETS. I feel much more confident using JAWS than before, but I still need more practice.
Finally, in cooking I saw a transformation from someone who is afraid just to put a pot of water on the stove to someone who is able to cook a complete graduation meal for fifty people, independently and wearing sleepshades. I stood in the kitchen for three days, but it was worthwhile; the all-Austrian menu consisted of cream of garlic soup, beef goulash with spaetzle (German egg noodles), and Sacher cake with whipped cream (a famous cake from Vienna, Austria). Again I was proud of my accomplishment. Before the actual cooking I had to find the recipes, translate them into English, convert the measurements, calculate the amount of ingredients needed, and do the grocery shopping on my own.
For my graduation my wife came to Denver from New Jersey, and the director of the CCB gave me the Freedom Bell symbolizing the limitlessness of the possibilities for blind people.
When I look back at my time in Denver, I see many challenges and hard, frustrating times, but also many positive success stories, caring teachers, great classmates, and an antipathy to cleaning my apartment. But more important than all the little things I learned is the big change of attitude that took place from someone afraid of challenges, giving in, relying on being taken care of by others, to someone who is confident in himself and not afraid of taking on any challenges that he may face. I am most grateful for this change of attitude, and in my opinion this should be the main reason and motivation for anyone to undertake such training.
In the days, months, and years ahead my challenge will be to work continuously on and improve the blindness skills I learned in the program. I am currently working on all four main components, but there will always be more to do.
In closing I want to say
that this blindness training experience in Denver was deep and fundamental and
has had a very positive effect on my current life and the way I see my blindness.
I recommend it to anyone who is ready to be challenged in order to gain independence,
self-confidence, and a positive outlook on blindness.
I wish to thank the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired and particularly my counselor, Mary Ann Maysonnett, for their personal and financial support. My deepest thanks also go to the staff of the Colorado Center for the Blind and in particular to its director, Julie Deden, for creating a loving and caring environment and for their dedication and professionalism. I also want to express thanks to my fellow students with whom I had lots of fun and in particular to my roommate Glenn. Last but not least, my thanks go to my wife Michelle, who remained loyal and supportive through very hard times of separation and repeated good-byes and who accompanied me every step of the way to my new independence.
by Sheri Wells-Jensen
From the Editor: Sheri Wells-Jensen has appeared before in these pages. She teaches linguistics as a member of the English department at Bowling Green State University. She is also a lifelong Braille user. Here is a fascinating little report in unacademic language about a small experiment that she and a colleague recently conducted. The full report, titled "Changing the Public's Attitude Toward Braille: A Grassroots Approach," by Sheri Wells-Jensen, Jason Wells-Jensen, and Gabrielle Belknap, appeared in the March 2005 issue of the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, Vol. 99, No. 3: 133-40. Here is the report Dr. Wells-Jensen prepared for Monitor readers:
I've read that the Braille literacy rate is somewhere between 10 percent and 25 percent. I've also read that the unemployment rate in the blindness community is around 80 percent. If these numbers are correct, and we have no good reason to suspect they are not, we have a lot of work still ahead of us. What can any of us possibly do to make a difference? It feels overwhelming. Some days it feels to me as if the social patterns that created and reinforce these situations are carved in unyielding stone and I am powerless to change them. But there are things--important things--we can do.
I am not here to offer the usual encouragement: steady on, do what you know is right and have faith; we're in this together. I'm here to tell you about tangible scientific facts that demonstrate that you already do make a difference, probably every day of your ordinary life. You alone, without any organized program, without public funding, without even thinking about it make significant, measurable differences in how people feel about blindness, Braille, and blind people. Here's how I know:
My training is in linguistics, and I teach at a large public university in Ohio. I like my job. I meet a startling variety of people, and lots of them are very interesting indeed--like the colleague (from another department thankfully) who came into my office one afternoon to wax poetic about how blessed the university was to have me and how inspirational I must be to my students. Besides wishing she'd write all that down in proper academese and maybe send it to my future tenure committee, I started wondering about her remarks after she left. I sat at my desk, looking for the pieces of the good mood I'd been in before her visit. I wondered grouchily if there were any way of defusing people like that before they got into my office. If I set up some kind of maze in the hallway? Maybe a series of really rude cartoons on my door. Then I wondered, trying desperately to be fair, if there were anything at all to what she'd been saying. Clear hyperbole aside, does my presence in the classroom actually do something to change the way people feel about Braille and about blindness?
Every semester my students do see quite a bit of Braille. I Braille their names on the corners of their quiz papers so that I can return them efficiently in class. I use a Braille notetaker (voice turned off) to read my lecture notes and write reminders to myself. Those who are paying attention will have noticed me consulting the Braille room number on the door of the classroom as I enter. If they come to my office, they will notice the Braille display on my computer and see any number of untidy piles of Brailled material and print material sporting Braille labels. In my work Braille is as omnipresent and as necessary as gravity or oxygen. I don't make a point of talking to my students about it any more than a sighted professor would expound on all the print material in an academic setting, but it is everywhere. Does it make a difference? I wondered if there was some way I could really find out.
The very next semester I suddenly found myself in exactly the situation to address this question scientifically. I have a colleague at work who went to the same graduate school as I did. We took the same classes and read many of the same books, and we share a perspective about linguistics and how to teach it. That semester we each had a section of the same introductory linguistics course. We used the same book and gave many of the same assignments, and our students came from the same cohort: all future public school English teachers. One difference you could note however is that while I used significant amounts of Braille all the time, my colleague, who is sighted, did not.
That semester we went about business as usual. And, about two-thirds of the way through, we both handed out a survey on attitudes toward Braille and blindness. We didn't ask them questions about how competent or self-reliant blind people are, since my students might have been afraid to answer honestly. We kept the questions about Braille and about blindness in the abstract or about the students themselves. Although under ordinary conditions you might expect differences like the gender of the instructor to be important, it was my supposition that blindness is a much more salient factor. We hypothesized that differences between attitudes toward Braille and blindness in our two classes might be traceable to the presence, or absence, of a blind, Braille-using instructor.
If you want to read the whole set of results--with five-part harmony and feeling as it were--it was published in the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness in March 2005, but here's the short story. Students in my class had significantly better attitudes about Braille. They viewed it as easier to learn and less complicated than did their peers. Perhaps even more important, they were much more likely than their peers in the other section of the same class to say they would make learning Braille a priority if they lost the ability to read print and that they would be able to learn it. They also had more positive perceptions of blind people, and many of them were strong advocates for Braille signs and Braille menus. Significantly more of my students were indignant about the lack of Braille signs in parts of the university.
We ran the appropriate
set of statistics on our findings, generating lots of printouts and little boxes
with asterisks in them. The statistics told us that there was less than a one
out of one hundred chance (in some cases) that these numbers were some kind
of fluke. Although we can't prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the differences
were real and that they were caused by the presence of a competent blind person
in the classroom, the results stood up to the standard tests of significance
used in psychology today.
If these numbers are correct, and we have no good reason to suspect that they are not, we have been making some excellent progress. Every day, walking, reading, talking, working, interacting, all of us incrementally change perceptions of blindness and about Braille. So social patterns may be carved in stone, but if they are, each of us is a little drop of water, slowly, inevitably doing what water does to stone. We always felt this way: now we have a few figures to back us up.
by Carol Sliwa
From the Editor: Many of us have heard vaguely that the National Federation of the Blind was suing Target because of accessibility problems with the company's Web site. On May 8, 2006, the magazine Computerworld published an article about the case and the frustrating problem that underlies it. The reporter did an excellent job of getting the story and presenting it both clearly and fairly. To see the photographs that accompany the article and to read the sidebars, go to the following Web addresses: <http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=111219>, <http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=111221>, and <http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=111220>. Here is the text of the article:
Bruce Sexton Jr. wants to be able to access the same Web content that anyone else can. Because he can't, he now finds himself at the center of a potentially precedent-setting legal fight over Web site accessibility.
Sexton, who is legally blind, relies on software that reads his PC's screen from left to right and top to bottom, skipping ahead when he uses keyboard-based shortcuts. When he visits Target Corp.'s Web site, a robotic voice announces staccato-style the presence of alternative text to describe images of the retailer's logo and its "Target dog" mascot.
But the screen-reader software doesn't read the weekly list of special offers on Target's Web site, Sexton said. He can't tell whether the numbers he hears on other parts of the home page correspond to products, files, or something else. Deeper into the site he doesn't know which item goes with which price.
"It's difficult to find anything," Sexton said. As a result he no longer tries to buy goods from the Target site, which for a long time he couldn't do anyway because, he said, it required the use of a mouse.
Sexton has joined the National
Federation of the Blind (NFB) as a plaintiff in a lawsuit that charges Target
with violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California's
Unruh Civil Rights Act and Disabled Persons Act. The lawsuit, scheduled for
a hearing next month [June] at U.S. District Court in San Francisco, could have
a broad impact because Target's site is hardly the only one that could be accused
of having access barriers, according to attorneys for the plaintiffs.
Web 2.0 Challenge
The move from text-based to visually oriented Web content has been tough on the blind, and now there's a new threat on the horizon. The shift to dynamic Web 2.0 technology, which Gartner Inc. predicts will be pervasive by the end of next year, could exacerbate the problem of inaccessible sites.
"It's very, very, very scary," said Jeff Bishop, an application systems analyst at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "Before, so what? You had a missing [alternative-text] tag, but at least you knew there was an image. You could click on it, and maybe you could figure out what it was. Now you don't even know where to click. You don't know how to interact."
Bishop, who is blind, and other advocates for people with disabilities aren't expecting an immediate fix. "We want to make sure companies are at least hearing what our concerns are," he said. "I'm not looking for a solution tomorrow. Even if it takes two years, that's fine with me, as long as I know they're working on it."
But it's unclear whether many companies are doing so. IBM, joined by other vendors, is leading a dynamic accessible Web content initiative within the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). One proposal outlines a development syntax for mapping information about the elements of Web applications to an operating system's accessibility API so screen readers and other assistive technology will know what has changed on a Web page. A second proposal details the means for adding semantic role information to a Web application so screen readers can identify rich objects, such as menus and tab panels, on pages.
But the proposals are still in draft form, and adoption remains uncertain. The Mozilla Foundation added support for the technology starting with its Firefox 1.5 browser. Microsoft Corp., however, has said its upcoming Internet Explorer 7.0 release won't support it, and the company has made no commitments for future editions of the browser.
Gartner analyst Ray Valdes has found that Fortune 500 companies have a very low level of awareness about making their public Web sites accessible. Most haven't modified their Web design and production methods and aren't thinking about fixing their current sites because they assume that doing so would be too costly, he said. They also haven't bothered to buy tools that could help them improve accessibility, Valdes said.
The W3C released accessibility
guidelines for Web-authoring tools more than six years ago, and it isn't aware
of a single product that is fully compliant, said Judy Brewer, director of the
consortium's Web accessibility initiative. But Brewer added that many of the
newer authoring tools do have features that provide more support for producing
accessible content. "And users should demand even better," she said.
There are also evaluation tools that can assess a Web site's accessibility. One of the leading vendors of evaluation tools, Watchfire Corp., has no more than seventy U.S.-based corporate customers and thirty international users, largely from the governmental and financial sectors, for its enterprise-grade tool, according to Mike Weider, the Waltham, Massachusetts-based company's chief technology officer.
"We've long expected the accessibility market to grow more than it has. It really hasn't taken off," Weider said. But the NFB-Target case could change that, he added.
The allegations made against Target by the NFB and Sexton have set the stage for a court showdown that could finally clear up the murky legal question of whether the ADA, which was enacted in 1990, before the dawn of the Internet era, applies to Web sites. The lawsuit claims that, because Target's site is difficult if not impossible for the blind to use, the retailer is denying them equal access to the goods and services it provides to customers without disabilities. The NFB this week plans to file a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking the court to order Target to make its Web site accessible promptly.
Target two weeks ago updated
a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the laws in question don't apply
to Web sites because they aren't "physical" places of public accommodation.
The Minneapolis-based retailer further claimed that applying the California
statutes to its Web site, which is accessible to consumers countrywide, would
violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Mazen Baswari, a lawyer at Berkeley, California-based Disability Rights Advocates, a co-counsel for the plaintiffs, contended that the ADA applies to any public place where commercial activity occurs--including Web sites. And even if the law didn't provide such blanket coverage, it would apply to Target's site because www.target.com is integrated with the retailer's brick-and-mortar stores, Baswari said.
Secil Watson, senior vice
president of customer experience for the Internet services group at Wells Fargo
& Co., said a good time for a company to think about making its site accessible
is when it's planning a major redesign. It's "the right thing to do,"
San Francisco-based Wells Fargo four years ago began its accessibility push for people who are blind or visually impaired by making improvements to its most popular pages. But Watson said it was a major restructuring a year later that produced the most critical improvement: template-based pages that helped to enforce design and development consistency. "What was good for the people with disabilities was good for everybody," she said.
Wells Fargo used the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), but Watson said the Web team didn't stop there. It added site-specific details to the more general WCAG directive and created a training document for the company's designers and developers to apply to both internal and external sites.
In addition, some of the bank's user-interface designers have been trained in the use of screen readers so they can see the bank's external site from the perspective of a blind customer. "We're not just trying to make the site accessible," Watson said. "We're trying to make it a decent experience."
Like other companies Wells
Fargo is interested in exploring the use of DHTML and AJAX to create Web-based
applications that could offer an even better online experience to end users.
But Watson said that first the bank will have to figure out how to make the
new technologies accessible.
Finding the Time
Nate Koechley, a senior front-end engineer at Yahoo Inc., which has already taken the AJAX and DHTML plunge, said learning to build accessibility features into applications developed with those technologies is mostly an issue of finding enough time, given the intense, almost frantic atmosphere of Web development. "Preserving and enriching accessibility is just another constraint of Web design and engineering," he said.
Koechley added that the development team at Yahoo has a great in-house resource--Victor Tsaran, the company's accessibility program manager, who is blind himself. "Now we can go over to his cube and say, ‘Hey, does this work for you? Check it out,''" Koechley said.
Mike Paciello, founder of the Paciello Group LLP, a Nashua, New Hampshire-based consulting firm that works to enhance the accessibility of software, said he is optimistic that the process of making applications accessible won't lag with technologies like AJAX and DHTML to the degree that it has with other technologies in the past.
"Technology that supports people with disabilities is so far behind," he said. "Whenever they start to get caught up, they get thrown back another five steps. [But] with AJAX I don't think it will be five steps back because we already have a handle on it. We're probably one or two steps back."
For Paciello, the lack
of a dynamic leader to raise awareness about the need for increased accessibility
remains the larger problem. And there's still much more work to be done, according
to advocates for people with disabilities. Sexton, for one, said that he still
can spend hours trying to figure out whether a Web site is just difficult to
navigate or not accessible at all. "It frustrates me no end," he said,
"and it makes me feel that I'm not able to do something that everybody
Copyright 2006 by Computerworld, Inc., One Speen Street, Framingham, Massachusetts 01701. Reprinted by permission of Computerworld. All rights reserved.
by Caroline Rivera Coon
From the Editor:
Ms. Coon recently applied for National Orientation and Mobility Certification
(NOMC) from the National Blindness Professional Certification Board. The following
comments are based on her essays in the application. They illustrate again that
our positive outlook and high expectations can make sense to committed sighted
professionals in the blindness field. This is what she wrote:
Over the thirteen years I have been a teacher of the blind with the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, I have learned much about blindness. At first I was guided by the coaching, instruction, and correction of my blind supervisors. I also learned firsthand from other blind people.
I have held the hand of weeping seniors dealing with the double complications of getting old and becoming blind, heard the angry storms of consumers who had someone else to blame for their blindness, and chased blind youth who wanted to get to the donut shop before me.
I have learned that the personalities, comprehension levels, and abilities of blind people are as varied as those of the sighted population, that blindness is truly just one characteristic of the many characteristics of an individual. In short, I have learned that, if there is one characteristic that will keep people from leading a successful life, it is not blindness but a pessimistic attitude about their blindness. This negative attitude is the liability, not the blindness.
Growing up with two blind sisters, Mildred and Eileen Rivera, our family always talked of them as amazing. It was not uncommon to hear a relative go on and on about my sisters doing as well as they did with so little sight. Today one is an attorney, the other a Wharton-trained marketing manager raising a family with a husband who is also blind. After attending a national conference on cutting-edge practices in training the blind, I called up my Federationist sisters and told them, "You aren't amazing anymore. You are awesome sisters, but not amazing." And they were glad to hear it. Today I know that to believe my successful blind sisters are amazing is to believe that blindness should have kept them from being successful. I now understand.
My sister Eileen first experienced the white canes in college. One Christmas she came home to Puerto Rico with her cane. She was getting around nicely with it and explained that it helped her move about more comfortably. My family accepted this because it seemed to work. My sisters no longer took someone's hand to get from the car to the house or wherever we were going. I no longer felt responsible for their safety.
Before I worked in the blindness field, my job was coordinating recreational activities for seniors at a nursing home in upstate New York. I called my blind sisters on several occasions and complained that if someone had shown some of the ladies how to use canes and read Braille, they would be much better off.
When opportunity knocked, I came to work with the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, then under the direction of Dr. Fredric Schroeder. My sister Eileen assured me that it was "one of the most progressive in the country," a belief I share to this day. Still I knew little about mobility and how it was successfully accomplished. In New Mexico I learned the alternative skills of blindness while blindfolded for a few months. Then I went out as a field teacher to blind adults and seniors.
My first mobility instructor, Doug Boone, taught me that when phoning new referrals, I was to ask them their height. By subtracting about four inches from this number, I could bring them a long white cane on my first visit to their homes.
At first I convinced my
students to use the cane by explaining that drivers would know they were blind.
Over time my philosophy and methods have progressed. Today I teach that the
long white cane in the hands of experienced blind persons promotes independent
travel and helps avoid hazards--that listening, focusing on one's surroundings,
and knowing how to cross intersections keep one safe.
In addition to my usual work with adults, I work with teens during our Students in Transition to Employment Program (STEP). Most blind adults I work with are cooperative and unquestioning. In working with partially blind teens, I have learned that students need to be convinced of the value of learning and properly applying the most reliable alternative mobility techniques. The teens who had learned other ways of doing things want to know why these techniques are best. From them I learned the importance of explaining the techniques of structured-discovery cane travel. I have been busily learning new ways to illustrate these principles and incorporate them along various travel routes.
With both teens and adults I have learned that I need to keep my expectations high for my students. This is a continuing process because I sometimes realize I did not believe my students could do what they just did. When I recognize these thoughts as a hindrance to progress, I begin to weed them out. Although I would like to think that I have weeded out all my subconscious low expectations, it is probably not true. This kind of thinking is too prevalent in our society not to affect me. That is why I enjoy attending the National Federation of the Blind conventions with my sisters. I think of it as my annual tune-up.
I wholeheartedly concur
with the writings of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, founder of the National Federation
of the Blind. This wise leader said, "Given proper training and opportunity,
the average blind person is able to perform in the average job in the average
How do we provide proper training at the New Mexico Commission for the Blind? To begin, we apply the structured-discovery method. As Jeffrey Altman and Joseph Cutter wrote, "Structured Discovery is more than a collection of instructional methods and strategies. It is a philosophical view of blindness--a view which regards the major barrier to independence to be misconceptions about blindness manifested through low expectations and internalized by the individual."
We assess blind clients' strengths and weaknesses and develop plans to address these areas. The plans include instruction in the alternative skills of blindness, such as Braille and cane travel. In addition students and teachers collaborate with blind role models during training, which is carried out for the most part or entirely under sleepshades and using a long white cane.
To succeed, this rehabilitation must include confidence-building exercises as well as seminars that deal with society's attitudes: exercises that enable blind individuals to apply their knowledge and skills in a society that often doesn't believe that blind people can do much with their lives. Proper training enables a blind person to live a quality life and compete alongside the sighted population in the world--in other words, to pursue happiness along with everybody else.
I firmly believe that what our graduates are doing should be comparable to what their sighted peers are doing. Once our graduates complete their adjustment-to-blindness training with long white canes in their hands and new-found independence in their hearts, they have no trouble confidently advocating for themselves and following their dreams.
by John G. Paré Jr.
From the Editor:
John Paré is a member of our national staff. For several years now he
has directed the NFB-NEWSLINE® program. Like all of us he is still growing
in his understanding of what blind people can do. In the following story he
describes one of his most recent adventures in learning what Federationists
mean when we say that we are changing what it means to be blind. This is what
I recently attended the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped national conference in Portland, Maine. I was there to meet with all of the regional librarians as well as to do a formal presentation on NFB-NEWSLINE®, the National Federation of the Blind's digitized newspaper-reading system. My wife Cindy had come along to help with driving and take pictures and to enjoy Portland. On the second night the group went to an organized dinner at a local college, right on the Atlantic Ocean. It was a beautiful spot, and after dinner about half the group (approximately fifty people) began walking towards a lighthouse. The state of Maine is known for its scenic lighthouses, which help keep the fishing ships away from the rocky coast.
As we proceeded down a smooth path, Cindy described the manicured landscaping. It was dusk, and the air was cool and damp. We had walked faster than most of the others, so we were among the first to reach the shore. I knew that the lighthouse would be located some distance out into the ocean. I expected that we would soon get to a large boardwalk with railings and benches or, if not a fancy boardwalk, at least a smooth path to walk along.
But as soon as I took my first step, I realized that this was not a pier. I wouldn't even have dignified it by calling it a walking path. It was a series of huge boulders that had been pushed together to form a jetty. We were eight to ten feet in the air, and the distance between boulders ranged from one foot to two and a half feet. The top of each boulder was about four by four feet and mostly flat. The first few boulders were reasonably close together, and I was able to step from boulder to boulder. We were all dressed in business attire, so I was wearing dress shoes. The rocks were damp and a little slippery. Our casual after-dinner walk had suddenly turned from a stroll to a major orientation and mobility test. To be honest, I was caught completely off guard. I asked Cindy how much farther we had to go to get to the end of the jetty. She said we had only gone about 20 percent of the way. I estimated that I had successfully crossed about ten boulders. This meant that I had forty transitions to go, and that didn't even count the return trip. The distance between boulders was getting wider, and what had started as a step and then a hop was becoming more of a jump.
I wasn't too concerned about falling as long as I stayed on the boulders. But if I fell off one of the boulders, I would fall eight to ten feet onto jagged rocks and would then roll into the ocean. I didn't want to be reckless; I still had to give my NFB-NEWSLINE® presentation the next morning.
I decided just to keep taking the crossings one at a time. I used my long white cane to find the end of the current boulder and the beginning of the next. I then used it to find the left and right edges of the next boulder. Finally, I used my cane to check the length of the next boulder since I didn't want to jump too far and accidentally jump right over it and land in one of the crevasses. Then I placed my cane at the point where I wanted to land and jumped to that spot. As I have mentioned, some of the transitions were just a step, while others required a jump. A couple of the final boulders demanded more of a leap.
Cindy was of course carrying her camera, so we got one of the other attendees to take our picture. As I moved from boulder to boulder, I contemplated the many reasons why it would be sensible to turn back, but I wanted to continue. After I returned to the mainland, I was happy that I had challenged myself to complete this walk.
Blind people encounter such situations all the time, not necessarily walking out on a rocky jetty, but something much more important. The question is how much we are going to let blindness change or limit the things we really want to do. At that moment in Portland I really wanted to walk the length of the jetty. Several years ago I would have turned back, but the National Federation of the Blind has taught me that blind people can do whatever we want to do. We just have to have confidence and courage in our own abilities. Using my long white cane, I was able to travel across the jetty safely and enjoy the lighthouse trip just like the more adventurous of the sighted people at the conference.
We all encounter these decision-points, and, like that moment for me on the jetty, they often occur unexpectedly. When it happens to you, remember to take one step at a time, and, most important, remember the confidence and courage you have learned from the National Federation of the Blind.
by Tracy Soforenko
From the Editor: It may be high summer as you are reading this issue of the Monitor, but before you know it October and Meet the Blind Month will be at our door. Every chapter should be planning right now for every opportunity that members can dream up to entice members of the community to meet blind people and get to know what the National Federation of the Blind is doing to change what it means to be blind. The following article first appeared in the Winter 2006 issue of the Vigilant, the publication of the NFB of Virginia.
is a rather new member of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia and
already is president of the Potomac Chapter. As part of last October's Meet
the Blind Month, Tracy organized a program in which Boy Scouts were introduced
to blind people and the techniques they use to do everyday activities. Here
is his report of the event; it can serve as an example to all of us as we plan
our 2006 Meet the Blind Month activities:
As the troop meeting was about to start, a mother dropped off her eldest son. Her youngest son, probably age seven, was pulling on his mom's dress. The mother approached me and asked, "Is there any way my son can meet the guy with the guide dog?"
After introducing the mother to Alan Schlank and his dog, I listened for a moment as Alan crouched down to talk with the boy. He introduced the boy to his dog and explained that the dog is led by the blind person, not the other way round. The child was captivated for a few minutes until his mother took him home, and the meeting began.
David, my co-worker and friend, is actively involved as an assistant Scoutmaster in Troop 1577 in Herndon, Virginia. Having spent eleven years in the Scouting program myself, I have often talked with him about the challenges of turning boys into leaders. The morning after a Potomac Chapter meeting where Dr. Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, had talked about Meet the Blind Month in his recorded presidential release, I asked my friend if some of my NFB friends and I could come to talk with the eighty or more boys in this troop.
David asked the boy leaders if they were interested. The boys were very excited. To my surprise one of the Boy Scouts called me to organize the event. Eighty boys, ages eleven to eighteen, are hard to manage and keep entertained. They are constantly in motion, with a short attention span. It is not reasonable to expect them to listen to a lecture. We broke the boys up into smaller groups and routed them around to four stations:
To give you a feel for what went on, let's take a moment at the Braille station. The room roared with the sound of boys breaking up into their designated groups and heading for their tables. The boys noisily sat down on their metal folding chairs while Sue Povinelli waited patiently for them to settle down. They became very quiet while she described the Braille code quickly since she had only ten minutes for each group.
Laid out on the table before her were the Braille cells on a pegboard with the letters of the alphabet divided into three neat rows, along with several samples of Braille books and slates and styluses and a large stack of three-by-five cards. After her explanation of the Braille system, she handed the boys slates, styluses, and a three-by-five card and let them try writing their names with the aid of the Braille alphabet card. She also passed around a sliding jumbo Braille peg slate for them to experience another type of slate.
The boys wrote their names
or a word on their cards and asked her to read it. They were interested in how
long it took to learn Braille, why Braille is written from the back of the page,
and the various uses for it. Even though the boys weren't exposed to Braille
for very long, they did get an appreciation for its usefulness. I bet the next
time they pass a Braille elevator sign, they will stop and try to read it.
Honestly I was a little nervous at first, not considering myself an expert at orientation and mobility, but it was really quite fun and easy. Billie Ruth was stellar with the boys, making them laugh and shaking everyone's hand. The boys were captivated. We were real people doing what everyone else did, occasionally employing a different technique to do whatever active adults do. We asked them questions to get them talking and thinking, and at the end of the ten minutes they still had more questions. I tried to answer their questions through the lens of my Boy Scout experiences.
Here are two sample questions and my responses:
Question 1: "How did you get so good at doing these blind things?"
Answer: "On your first camping trip you didn't know how to pitch a tent, make a campfire, or make breakfast over a campfire. You learned by doing, with a more senior Scout showing you the ropes and expecting that you could do it. As a result you probably ate some pretty bad pancakes as you learned to do things for yourself. Blind people learn travel and other skills in just the same way."
Question 2: "Did you get hurt learning to use a cane?"
Answer: "Yes, I did. At first I was really hesitant to trust the cane and my ability to use it to travel safely. As I continued to use it, I found that I could get places faster. My coaches and instructors expected more from me. I pushed myself beyond my comfort zone, and most of the time I did fine. Occasionally I hit a wall, literally."
[This made the boys laugh.] "But this is the same way you guys learn to get good at something. Whether you are on a hike or in a canoe, you have to push yourself to get better. Being blind is no different."
In conclusion, I was surprised by the similarities between the way the Boy Scouts develop capable youth leaders and the way the NFB develops confident, competent blind people. Both organizations expect a great deal from their membership. Both organizations expect their members to be active in their community and their nation, and they foster leadership by investing in people.
Meet the Blind Month events are intended to foster our mission to change what it means to be blind. My expectations for the event were to change the perceptions of these boys and their adult leaders. However, explaining blindness and our NFB philosophy helped reinforce the effect the positive NFB philosophy has had on my own perception of myself. When you teach our philosophy to others, you are forced to learn it yourself. The best way to honor the many leaders who have gone before us is to pass along the message. Meet the Blind Month events give us that opportunity.
by Rusty Marks
From the Editor: The following story first appeared in the Wednesday, March 29, 2006, edition of the Charleston Gazette-Mail. The reporter approached longtime Federation leader Ed McDonald and his wife Karen with the idea of doing a story about the couple's radio program. Because the subject was music and broadcasting, Ed and Karen did not make a special effort to discuss blindness. The subject naturally came up, but it was clearly only an interesting sidelight. It is refreshing to have a reporter treat blindness as just one characteristic. Here is the story:
Ed and Karen McDonald have a big house in Keyser, a recording studio, and their own radio show. Can fame and fortune be far behind?
"If I were a good business person, I wouldn't be doing this," said Ed McDonald. "We've never turned a profit on it."
"But we've got a lot of nice equipment," Karen chimed in.
Every Friday at 11 p.m., listeners to West Virginia Public Radio can hear "Sidetracks," the radio show Ed and Karen put together from their Keyser home.
The program culls the best of today's acoustic music, with roots in the traditions of folk, bluegrass and blues. "It's kind of like handmade music," Ed McDonald explained of the program's format. "It's the difference between having a handmade wooden chair as opposed to a plastic stack chair. You can sit on both of them. You could listen to synthesized music, but there's something more natural about listening to acoustic music."
Ed is fifty-six, Karen a year younger. They first met in elementary school and even dated in the fourth grade. "He brought me a box of candy," Karen recalled.
But while Karen remained in West Virginia, for years directing the Fairmont Youth Experience community choir, Ed left for a career in broadcasting, working at West Virginia radio stations before going to Ohio University for a master's degree in broadcasting. He worked at college radio stations in Ohio and Kentucky before a need to reconnect with his Appalachian roots brought him back to West Virginia in 1988.
Moving back to his native Keyser to care for his ailing mother, Ed reconnected with his childhood sweetheart as well, and the couple eventually married. Ed, a lifelong bluegrass fan, wanted to produce his own show. The idea eventually expanded into "Sidetracks," which has existed in its current format since 1998. The weekly radio program is heard on community radio stations and Web radio as far away as California.
First heard on small local stations in West Virginia, the show was picked up by West Virginia Public Radio in the fall of 2003. Selections on the program are the result of Ed's experience in radio and Karen's trained musical ear. A piano player and singer who played saxophone in high school, Karen is instrumental in picking the music that is featured on the show each week. "I was doing radio before we were married, but she brings her ear to it," Ed said. "She screens a lot of the stuff before I even hear it."
"You should see my desk," she said. "It looks like a cyclone."
What "Sidetracks" listeners can't tell over the air is that Ed and Karen McDonald are both blind. They don't make a big deal out of it, and not being able to see doesn't affect the product that comes over the radio. "It doesn't take me any longer to listen to a three-minute song than anyone else," Ed said. "But getting ready is time-consuming." Each week Karen goes through the stacks of CDs to decide which might be suitable for the show. Special devices scan the CDs and can read the titles, but a sighted friend spends several hours a week reading CDs for the McDonalds.
Karen labels each CD in Braille, and makes a 3-by-5-inch index card for each track. "What we end up with is a library of cards that represent songs," Ed said. Around the middle of the week he starts listening to songs on the CDs and decides which tunes fit best with the theme of that week's show. The theme for March 24 was in honor of women's history month, but often Ed listens to several tunes and lets the theme develop itself.
He then writes a script of transitions between songs and sequesters himself in his twelve-by-twelve-foot basement studio to put the show together. Using an eight-track digital tape machine, Ed records songs on part of the tape and his voice on another. "When I have all those ingredients on a multi-track tape, I mix those down to a CD master," he said. The CDs are then put in the mail to radio stations all over the country.
"I could say on one
hand blindness has nothing to do with it," Ed said. "You could say
blindness has everything to do with it. My ears were my connection to the world,
so I listened to a lot of radio. Blindness probably had something to do with
my getting into radio."
"I'm a music person in my soul," Karen said. She would be a musician whether she could see or not.
by Olegario "Ollie" D. Cantos VII
From the Editor:
Ollie Cantos, a former state and national scholarship winner originally from
California, is now a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia.
In the article that follows, he provides perspective on networking strategies
he has found successful in his professional development. Interwoven throughout
is the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind, which he has carried
with him since he became a member almost sixteen years ago. Here is what he
has to say:
Members of the National Federation of the Blind have long held that we have the right to succeed or fail on our own merit and that, when given the proper training in basic skills and the opportunity to succeed, we can compete at places of school or work on terms of full equality with others. This rightful assertion serves as a rallying cry for any of us, regardless of age or background, because we know in our hearts that success is there for the asking if we do what it takes to work hard and smart to maximize our potential while demonstrating self-confidence infused with a positive philosophy of blindness. Central to this quest to improve our lives and prepare for a bright future, we must take time and thought to build a support system to sustain us in good times and bad. We naturally find this sustenance in the Federation. To supplement such fellowship and ongoing opportunities to learn from our colleagues, we must increase the size and quality of our individual networks. Here are some step-by-step strategies that can contribute to your success more than you could dream. After discussing these techniques, I will illustrate the way their application can lead to an increase in the quality of life for anyone.
Begin by recognizing that
you already have a network of people in your life, each of whom may lead you
to others, who in turn may lead you to still others. On the principle that only
up to six degrees of separation exist between each of us and every other person
on the planet, the networking possibilities are endless. Let us begin by discussing
the specific steps you can take to enhance your own base of support in any area
of your life.
Step 1: Incorporate into Your Life the Philosophy That It Is Respectable to Be Blind.
From the time we joined the Federation, we have heard and dare to believe that it is respectable to be blind. But what exactly does this mean? It means that individually and collectively we understand to the core of our beings that, when we obtain quality training in the alternative techniques of blindness and can move about efficiently and confidently in the world, blindness itself can be reduced to the level of a physical nuisance--a characteristic as incidental as hair or skin color. It means that the cane and dog guide are tools of independence rather than symbols of pity or shame. It means that we believe wholeheartedly that Braille can be an efficient method of reading and writing for anyone whose use of print is not efficient. It means that we are neither tragically deprived nor wondrously gifted simply because we are blind. Finally it means that blindness does not require that we beat the odds or overcome insurmountable obstacles to succeed.
That said, we will reach out to those who have recently become blind by extending a hand of friendship and support as they make the transition into learning how to become active, productive blind citizens. This means showing them that ability is not proportional to visual acuity and that blindness is not synonymous with darkness, depression, tragedy, deprivation, or other negatives that promote dependence, low self-esteem, and the misguided notion that life can no longer be lived fully.
Believing in the respectability
of blindness also entails not believing that blindness itself is something to
be ignored or overlooked. Saying, "You do so well that I forget you are blind,"
is another way of saying (however unintentionally), "You do so well that I forget
that you are inferior to me because you have a disability that leads to helplessness
and dependence." The fact of blindness need not be forgotten, ignored, or divorced
from the rest of who we are. Blindness does not mean that our lives are necessarily
better or worse than those of anyone else. Blindness is simply not having the
ability to see--nothing more and nothing less. Our own reactions to blindness
and those of others determine how our blindness is perceived.
Step 2: Acquire Understanding and Use of the Alternative Techniques of Blindness.
We use the word "alternative" when referring to the techniques of blindness because these ways of doing things are not inferior to methods that require vision. Belief in the efficiency of alternative techniques and personal efforts to acquire them are critical to incorporation of the NFB's philosophy of blindness with practical application to our daily lives. Mastering alternative techniques takes time. Working to sharpen skills every day while consciously embracing a healthy attitude about blindness will speed improvement. Dovetailing this effort with the discipline of setting personal goals and timelines will help to expedite skill acquisition and integration into one's life. Better still, as Federation members mentor one another and bolster each other while honing personal skills, we position ourselves to live successfully and take full advantage of life's opportunities.
We do not suddenly arrive
at a moment when we are skilled at one task or another. We look at our leaders
and say, "Gosh, I wish I could read Braille as fast and expressively as President
Maurer," or "I wish I could travel as well as Peggy Elliott." But remember,
as good as many experienced Federationists are at one task or another, at one
time they were not as skillful and did not possess the confidence and competence
they project today. Everyone has to learn the skills of blindness, and confidence
and competence come with experience. What is so wonderful is that, like other
rank-and-file members, our leaders are also there for us. As we learn and grow
and pass this knowledge on to still others, we will continue to strengthen our
movement, one life at a time.
Step 3: Network with Others at Organized Gatherings.
At chapter meetings and state and national conventions of the National Federation of the Blind, we often meet people, establishing friendships that can last decades. Coming together through the various gatherings of the Federation is always special because we can learn from one another and support each other during times of triumph and difficulty. Any seasoned member will tell you that indeed we are not just part of an organization but a close-knit family that cares about each of us. Active attendance at and participation in gatherings of the Federation will educate, inspire, motivate, and galvanize those smart enough to get involved.
When new to a large gathering, whether comprised of Federationists or others, it may be difficult at first to know how to begin to network, particularly in receptions in which people are spread throughout the room. Those not accustomed to initiating conversations in such settings may not know how to proceed.
One proven technique for beginning to meet people is to abide by the three-feet rule. This involves greeting anyone within a radius of three feet. In addition to exchanging the usual pleasantries, one should note several kinds of information: occupation, talents and abilities, hobbies and interests, and any other personal facts that may help you get to know the new acquaintance.
Have you ever introduced yourself to someone and within a millisecond discovered that you have forgotten his or her name? Repeating the name three to five times within the first five minutes of the conversation will help your recall. Insert the person's name at socially appropriate times. Don't blurt, "Hi, Bill. It's nice to meet you, Bill. So, Bill, what do you do for a living?" That will only succeed in conveying the impression that you are quirky or strange. Exercise appropriate judgment about frequency of name use while talking with a stranger, and people will see you as a good conversationalist, especially when you express genuine interest in what the person is saying. Using his or her name will achieve several objectives: you stand a better chance of remembering the name; you will encourage the person to pay closer attention to what you are saying because people perk up when they hear their names mentioned (think of the way your attention shifts when you hear your name spoken in a conversation across the room); and acknowledging someone by name conveys the respect that comes from believing that everyone deserves to be called by name.
By the end of the conversation you should have collected the other person's contact information. Typically, especially in a professional setting, attendees are likely to have business cards. If you do not already have business cards, it is important to obtain a set so people can reach you by snail mail, phone, or email. (You can create your own card text and print it on a perforated page of cardstock designed for this purpose.) Once you exchange business cards, keep them in one pocket so that at the conclusion of the event you can note that you met all of these people at this event. Also be sure to take note of date-sensitive occasions such as the mention of an upcoming birthday or anniversary or the upcoming occurrence of another big event in the person's life.
When parting ways with
a person with whom you have been conversing and who may be of personal or professional
interest to you, let him or her know that you will be in touch, and mean it.
This is critical in preparation for what follows below.
Step 4: Capture, Organize, and Retain the Contact Information of New Network Members.
As soon as possible take notes about the people you have met and what you remember about them. You can use a computer, Braille, or even a tape recorder. If using a computer, you can enter information in a word processing file, the address book feature of your email client, or a database program. Database fields should include the complete name, nickname, full address, phone and fax numbers, email address, any Web sites, date of initial meeting, and notes. These will come in handy later on as your network grows, so taking the time to get and organize this information is worth the effort.
Step 5: Follow Up Within One to Three Days.
With contact information in hand, either send new network members an email or give each person a call within one to three days of the initial meeting. This is important for several reasons. First, it will help solidify that person's recollection of you. Second, it will illustrate your diligence in staying in touch, just as you said you would (see Step 3). If sending an email, the subject line might be "Following Up." Remember that I told you earlier to make note of any date-sensitive event or occasion? Here is where such information can be used. If during your initial conversation you learned the date of the person's birthday, anniversary, or another important occasion, this is the opportunity to use technology to impress your contact. Almost every voicemail system has the option of delivering messages at a future date and time, typically up to one year after the present day. Therefore, if the person mentioned that he or she would be celebrating a birthday on August 3, log in to your own voicemail system and internally send a message to yourself leaving the person's name, where you met, and what and when the important occasion is. Also include the email address and phone number and the appropriate message delivery date.
At the appointed date and time you will in effect hear your voice from the past refreshing your memory about the contact, the occasion, and the way to reach the person. Imagine the impression you will make when you call perhaps several months later to remind the person when you met and to offer good wishes on the important occasion. When was the last time you received such a message? You will stand out simply by genuinely and appropriately wishing the person well.
Other examples of using
technology include taking advantage of the calendar feature on the BrailleNote,
PAC Mate, or other adaptive technology. In addition, email programs such as
Microsoft Outlook have powerful reminder features.
Step 6: Set Your Academic or Job-Related Goals and Use the Power of Your Network to Leverage People, Ideas, and Resources.
If you are still in school, building a strong and powerful network will place you in a good position to assemble a brain trust of people knowledgeable in your field. You can also get to know other students who are pursuing similar career goals. For those looking for employment or advancement in their careers, a large and vibrant network may very well make the critical difference between immediate and delayed success.
But, as counterintuitive as it may be for some, the purpose of network-building must necessarily be to enrich the lives of every network member. Building a network simply for the purpose of personal advancement will reap limited results because the glue that holds a durable network together is the loyalty people have to you. That loyalty will not begin and grow from your simply finding ways to take from others or otherwise derive gain from them. Rather, loyalty flourishes when you do whatever you can to be of direct and concrete benefit to them without expecting anything in return, not even a thank you. This intention must be genuine. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to build your network with the intention of adding value to the lives of others. Specifically, adding value means doing what you can to help people in a way they find meaningful.
Recall earlier how you made note of people's occupations, talents and abilities, hobbies and interests, etc.? Here is where that information comes in handy. Say Person 1 in your network needs information or assistance. Assume, further, that Person 17 in your network could be of direct help. The traditional approach would be for you to put Person 1 and 17 in contact with each other, but the more innovative approach is to offer to call Person 17 on behalf of Person 1. Having secured the commitment for assistance, call Person 1 with the name and contact information of your friend who is willing to offer help or information. Be specific and accurate about what you said and what help is available. Suggest that the contact be made in the next day or two, and ask to be kept posted so that you can help further if necessary. A week later follow up with both people to be sure all is well and to see if there is anything further you can do to help.
You will have accomplished several things: added value to one network member who needed assistance; provided a second member with an opportunity to serve another; leveraged your own time by making a significant difference in just a few moments; and created a new synergy that may lead to possibilities not previously anticipated.
Imagine if each network member in this example were an organization president. Simply by bringing two people together, you may not only have added value to the person in need, but have created alliance possibilities between two organizations, extending potential benefit to the members of the organizations brought together.
All of us have only twenty-four hours each day. As we link folks up with one another, an amazing dynamic can take place. To the extent that these members of your network think highly of you, your name will come up in conversation as they continue to interact, and, though you are not present, they will build you up among themselves. They will mention you to others, and those people will continue to do the same. Gradually your cadre of loyal acquaintances increases in size and strength, adding to the momentum of your network's growth and increasing your ability to multiply your time by spreading your influence to more and more centers of support. As your reputation spreads, so will new ways to make a real difference in the lives of those around you. In time people will call or email you, saying that they were referred to you by someone who may never have met you before but who has heard of you from others who see you as the go-to person who knows the answers to various questions or is tied to those who do.
In order to maintain quality communication with your ever-expanding network of those about whom you care deeply and personally, use the power of email. No less than every two to three months drop everyone a line through a group email using the blind carbon copy (bcc) field, tell them how you have been doing, and offer to help them if they need you. Take the time to get to know people so well that you instantly find ways to connect them to one another as they themselves seek to get to know more people. By staying in regular email contact, you will keep them at the forefront of your mind and remind them to think of you the same way.
In using email, however, be mindful of the need to respect people's time by treating your network members online the way you wish to be treated. Do not inundate them with too much too quickly, and refrain from sending email chain letters, jokes, or political diatribes. If your email volume becomes so great that it is no longer possible to respond to people within a few days, be sure to give them your general turnaround time, whether it be a week or six weeks or more, especially if you receive hundreds of personal messages a week. Whatever time you decide upon, however, honor it. To give people a chance to reach you more quickly on time-sensitive matters, ask them to supplement any such email with a phone call to tell you that their email needs more immediate attention. This will allow you to watch for pressing matters and address them accordingly.
As your network grows,
expect some folks to be in touch with you fairly consistently. But do not be
surprised when some network members do not contact you for weeks or months or
contact you only when they need something. Focus on the fact that, of all the
people they know, they have turned to you when they need information or assistance.
Particularly in the professional or business context, that is the nature of
the relationship, so it is to be expected. Moreover, because you want to add
value to others, irrespective of whether or to what extent you receive personal
gain, understand that part of making a difference involves working with those
who, for whatever reason, call only when they need something. These folks will
be offset by others in your network who want to know you and who stay in touch
because of who you are and not because of what you can do for them. All in all,
though, understanding that you have the chance to affect someone's life becomes
a source of very real satisfaction.
Step 7: Commit to Deliberate Daily Action toward Self-Improvement.
Each of us must recognize areas for personal improvement. In order to make the most of every day, honestly analyze your strengths and weaknesses in the areas of family, spirituality, career and finance, and development and pursuit of hobbies and interests. First brainstorm what you would like to have if you could wave a magic wand to make those things happen in each area of your life. Give yourself three minutes to write down as many things as you can without considering the practicalities. Then determine which goals on your wish list you will commit to accomplishing within one month, six months, one year, three years, or five years. Next devise a specific action plan to achieve each goal within the time you have set. Then stick to that plan.
Meanwhile integrate your network into all you do, and devote yourself to learning about the success stories of people you admire. Read personal development books, analyze the lives of those you want to emulate, attend seminars taught by success coaches, and obtain personal study programs that will facilitate growth in your personal understanding. Keep a mental inventory of all that you have and the people who enrich your life. Periodically sit down alone and contemplatively write these things down in recognition of how truly blessed you are. In the words of a favorite hymn: count your many blessings. Name them one by one. And it will surprise you what the Lord has done. If you are steadily grateful for what you have been given, you will have the strength to withstand and confront setbacks and to maintain a strong work ethic as you strive to reach true success in spite of temporary problems.
All the while live out the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind every day, devoting yourself to the advancement of our issues and spending time to work for causes beyond the disability field. In other words, dedicate your energy to working efficiently and with organizations for the things about which you feel most passionate.
To build your network even
faster, I recommend incorporating the pay-it-forward concept into every chance
you get to be of help to others. When people come to me for personal assistance,
I insist on two conditions. First, the person must promise that he or she will
substantially assist at least three other people. Second, the person must ask
each of those three people to help three others as a condition of receiving
assistance. Mathematically your impact will increase exponentially. When combined
with the commitment to engage in random acts of kindness toward others, our
personal impact on this world will be profound and long-lasting.
The networking approaches I have discussed here are not meant merely as general instruction, but for practical and daily application. Their underlying principles go far beyond the blindness field. Do these approaches work? You bet! Since I attended my first NFB national convention in 1990, my life has never been the same. Then for the first time I came to understand the fundamental respectability of blindness and began using a long white cane after denying or otherwise downplaying my blindness for my entire life. I also began learning Braille, a skill I now use every day. By the time of that convention in Dallas, Texas, I had been an NFB member for only a few weeks. Yet, in response to an old television program that portrayed blind people negatively, I drafted what became Resolution 1990-10, and with the help of then California affiliate President Sharon Gold and NFB Second Vice President Peggy Pinder I revised the language.
Rather than being considered during the business session on the closing day of the convention, my resolution was the first to be passed that year, having been taken up when Larry King was on the platform in order to send a clear message that the blind of the nation were outraged by the negative portrayal of blindness. I still remember the thrill of it all, and I recall that a light went on in me as the Convention unanimously adopted the resolution. At the time I was between my sophomore and junior years in college.
Four months later I was elected president of the California Association of Blind Students and a member of the board of directors of the NFB of California, where I remained for the next eight years. The following July at the national convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, I was elected to the student division's national board. After one term I was elected president of the organization in 1993 and served until 1996. During those years I was in law school and was licensed to practice law in 1999.
Within twenty-four hours of the publication of the California Bar Examination results, I was offered a job as an attorney. After three years the networking strategy that I used and have shared here as I have refined it drew the attention of people in Washington, and I moved from working in California to our nation's capital to become the first and only person ever to serve as general counsel and director of programs for what was then the 60,000-member American Association of People with Disabilities. In two years in that capacity, I guided a career-oriented mentoring program from serving 1,600 students and job-seekers in thirty-two states and the District of Columbia to encompassing service to almost 10,000 mentee participants from all fifty states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and nineteen foreign countries.
As my network grew even larger in just over two years, I was named special assistant to the assistant attorney general for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Justice and was commissioned by Attorney General John D. Ashcroft. Within nineteen months I was promoted to special counsel and was commissioned by now Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Most recently I have been named the associate director on disabilities with the domestic policy council in the White House. Meanwhile my once small network now spans the world to five continents, and my communications reach more than 1.5 million individuals whenever I distribute information to my network of contacts. I have also appeared on radio and television and in newspapers and magazines, promoting greater access by people with disabilities to every aspect of community life.
All of this is to say that success is within the grasp of anyone willing to attain it. I will be forever grateful for the leadership training I received through my involvement in the pioneering and groundbreaking work of the National Federation of the Blind at all levels. Each day as I move forward in trying to make a difference, I carry with me the things I have learned from leaders like Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who personally mentored me early on; NFB President Marc Maurer; and others. Sixteen years ago, if anyone had told me that I would get to interact with the president of the United States, meet with cabinet-level secretaries and other senior-level federal government officials, travel the country and give speeches to a total thus far of more than 25,000 people, work in partnership with organization leaders across the country and from different parts of the world, and help forge broad-based policies affecting the lives of millions, I would never have believed it. But that is now the reality, and this is just the beginning.
Together we will continue to change what it means to be blind and to love and support one another as we maintain and expand our individual and collective commitment to take our place as leaders in society. This is not merely a dream; it happens every day. That is the power behind being an active and integral part of the National Federation of the Blind.
From the Editor: We have maintained for a long time that blind people are a cross section of the general population. Mostly people expect us to be helpless victims, if not already, at least in the making. Sometimes, of course, we are, and sometimes blind people are actually the perpetrators of cruelty or violence. But sometimes we are the rescuers, providing dinner to a sick friend, donating blood in an emergency, or organizing the church's hot meals program. So, gratifying as it is to read such stories, it should be no surprise that occasionally blind people find themselves in the position of actually performing with real courage. On March 29, 2006, MSNBC reported such an event. Here is the story:
When Jim Sherman heard his neighbor call out for help, he rushed to her rescue, pulling the eighty-four-year-old woman from her burning home in Texas Monday night. Sherman has been blind since birth. The woman he saved is also legally blind.
Sherman and the neighbor, Annie Smith, shared a baby monitor for communication, the Houston Chronicle reported. When he heard Smith's cry, he used a chain link fence to navigate to the burning house, about thirty miles northeast of Houston. "I got to the door and heard crackling, smelled smoke, and felt the intense heat," Sherman, fifty-four, told the Chronicle. He said he took a few steps inside the house and pulled her outside.
Fire crews reached the
scene at around 10:30 p.m. Investigator Kevin Bates told the Chronicle that
Smith "probably wouldn't have made it out of the house without his help."
Sherman agreed to check
in on Smith while Smith's daughter, Deborah, worked a night shift as a nurse,
he told the paper. Deborah Smith came up with the idea to use a baby monitor
several months ago because she worried about her mother falling, Sherman said.
Smith's other daughter, Delores Perry, told the Chronicle that Sherman also came to Smith's rescue when she had a stroke last month. She said he heard Smith on the baby monitor fall to the floor. "He got her on the couch and called 911 and then called my sister at work," she told the paper.
Stopped from Going Back in
Annie Smith said she wanted to go back inside the burning house to get her three newborn kittens, but Sherman refused to let her go. Deborah Smith arrived in time to rescue the animals. Their dog and another cat also survived, but the kittens' mother died.
Fire officials said the blaze was caused by an electrical overload in the bedroom, the Chronicle reported. Perry said Sherman's actions were not a surprise. "It's just the man he is," she told the paper.
Sherman told the Chronicle, "I'm just glad I saved someone's life."
From the Editor:
From time to time Miss Whozit answers reader questions about etiquette and good
manners, particularly as they involve blindness. If you would like to pose a
question to Miss Whozit, you can send it to the attention of Barbara Pierce,
1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, or email me at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
I will pass the questions along. Letters may be edited for space and clarity.
Here are several recent letters Miss Whozit has received:
Dear Miss Whozit,
For the first time in my life I have my own home. I am shopping and cooking for myself, and I am keeping my home clean and relatively neat most of the time.
I would like to begin to
do some entertaining. My parents did not do much when I was a child, so I do
not have past experience to draw from. I know that, if I do not do things right,
my guests are likely to assume that I can't do better because I am blind. Can
you give me some pointers about preparing to entertain, setting my table, serving
food graciously to guests, and generally being a welcoming and poised host?
Eager to Entertain
Believe it or not, Miss Whozit well remembers all her firsts--first home, the pleasure of shopping independently the first time, cooking in her own kitchen the first time, and beginning to learn the art of keeping a home and entertaining special people the first time. The very fact that you have asked all the right questions indicates to Miss Whozit that you are on the right track and will probably do well at entertaining. It is obvious from your letter that this is something you want to do. Desire is the necessary first step.
Miss Whozit suggests that starting with small numbers and keeping your plans simple would be best. Ask two or three of your best friends for dessert and coffee or tea on a Sunday afternoon. Miss Whozit would prefer that the dessert be lovingly prepared by the hostess, but given the pressures of life today, a selection from the bakery would be acceptable. Or perhaps you could prepare a very nice pie or cake and serve it with ice cream. You can use everyday dinnerware or make it a tea party and use a few silver pieces and bone china (if you have them). Cloth napkins always add to the civility and formality of the occasion, but some attractive paper tea napkins are available in better shops if you prefer. Do whatever feels best to you. Continue to do this kind of entertaining until you are comfortable and ready to move to the next level. (By the way, consult the Independence Market catalog for ideas concerning pieces of equipment that are available--like liquid level indicators and slicing knives, to name a couple.)
Another, slightly more demanding kind of entertaining is a small luncheon party for four. A simple casserole with a salad, bread, and dessert would be very acceptable. Plan the menu and do your shopping several days ahead. Don't wait until the last minute. Do as much of the preparation as you conveniently can the day before. Take some time to set your table with clean, fresh linens and good dinnerware. The point here is for your guests to know that entertaining is something you enjoy and that you have taken special care to prepare an attractive table just for them.
The next level might be a more complete and formal dinner party for four or six. Again your best linens, dinnerware, flatware, and crystal (if you have it) are in order. Of course candles are nice, as are fresh flowers. But you can use a pretty plant that you already have in your home or an arrangement of interesting, attractively colored fresh vegetables with an African violet. Needless to say, Miss Whozit would recommend that you use your best of everything for your dinner party. This does not mean that you need the finest of everything--just the finest that you own. The most important part of any entertaining is that your guests feel welcome and believe that you have done something special for them. Fine crystal, china, etc., are not necessary. Cleanliness and sparkle, good conversation, good food, and the art of making folks feel welcome are the most important ingredients for successful entertaining. Whether your guests are blind or sighted, it is imperative to prepare your entertaining rooms and table in such a way that they are visually and tactilely pleasing to everyone. Miss Whozit is certain that she is not the only blind guest to have encountered soiled hand towels, an empty toilet-paper roll, gritty floors underfoot, or paper towels substituting for napkins.
Remember that you should test the recipes you plan to serve ahead of time and take into account any allergies your guests may have. All the good recipes one needs are available in Braille, on tape, or at hundreds of Web sites on the Internet. But don't forget family favorites and the Braille Monitor recipe section. It is nice to begin to collect your own favorites that will eventually lead to a few signature recipes.
Table settings can vary from quite informal to extremely formal. If you are inexperienced on this topic, consult an etiquette book from the library. Try to make every occasion just right for itself. Don't overdo.
One important thing to remember: everyone has an occasional mishap. If something goes wrong, don't mention it. Keep it behind the scenes if possible. If this is not possible, do your best to make the problem part of a new plan. Stay cool, go with the flow, enjoy your own party! Your guests will so love being invited out that almost any lemon can be turned into lemonade. Miss Whozit believes that confidence comes only with practice. It won't take very many entertaining experiences to make you an expert.
Role models are very important to all of us. Think about the homes to which you have been invited and what it was that made you feel good about being there. Then model your own entertaining on those things. Setting the table, serving food graciously, and being a welcoming and poised host have nothing to do with blindness. They have to do with personal training, preparation, desire, and self-confidence.
Dear Miss Whozit,
Lately it seems that all of my girlfriends are dieting or at the least hyper-conscious about their carb count. For this reason we constantly seem to have lunch at salad bars. Another frequent occurrence is my family's visits to all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants. Both of these restaurant choices make for uncomfortable dining experiences for me. "Why?" you may ask. "Don't you enjoy salads? Or is it that you simply don't have enough room in your stomach for all that's available to eat?"
The answer is neither. Rather, when I go out to eat, I am unsure about how to identify salad dressings and the like at the salad bar. And I consider buffets simply nightmares waiting to happen. How do I handle these social situations? Eager for your response,
Learning to maneuver through a buffet line with grace and ease can feel overwhelming, but, once armed with accurate information and good skills, you too will be able to take advantage of the convenience and selection provided by this vast array of dietary indulgences. Remember that anticipatory anxiety of the unknown is often more unpleasant than the actual event.
We live in an interdependent society. Sometimes asking for assistance is necessary or prudent. As Federationists we have learned the truth of Dr. Jernigan's speech, "The Nature of Independence," in which he defines independence as doing what we want to do when we want to do it without inconveniencing ourselves or others. In that speech he also spoke about the importance of accomplishing tasks efficiently rather than always insisting on doing them alone. Going through a buffet line is one instance in which these two concepts merge.
Once you have made the decision to navigate a buffet line, it is essential to request assistance from someone. If others in your party are going through the buffet line, you can ask one of them to provide the visual information and any necessary assistance, or you can ask your server if an employee is available to assist you. Which decision you make depends on the circumstances. If you are the only one in your party going through the buffet line, solicit the assistance of someone on the restaurant staff. If you feel at ease asking a member of your party for assistance, it is quick and easy to adopt that solution.
Once you are ready to make your selections at the buffet, instruct the person providing assistance about your preference of the best way to move through the line. If you know ahead of time that you are looking specifically for salad items, provide this information. If you decide that life is really too short and you want to eat dessert first, say so. Let the person providing assistance know how you would like the items identified.
If you plan to plate your own food, ask that the items be identified in a column format going from back to front so you know where each item is located when you serve yourself. Be sure when serving your own food to keep extra napkins handy to wipe your fingers if you accidentally come into contact with stray food items or sauces. It is important to maintain good hygiene when handling serving utensils in a public place.
Miss Whozit wants to emphasize at this point that you are responsible for carrying your own plates, glasses, or bowls. You have requested assistance learning what items are on the line and perhaps placing the food on your plate, not providing service as a personal butler, carrying your selections from the line to the table.
One gentle reminder, if you are dining during peak customer hours and you realize that a line is forming behind you, make your selections as quickly as possible and keep moving. The beauty of a buffet is that you are often allowed to return for seconds. So be sure to ask your server ahead of time whether you are dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Miss Whozit recommends that for your first attempt at negotiating a buffet line you go at a time when you will feel at ease so that you will begin to gain confidence in the techniques you devise. If you have a blind friend who is comfortable handling buffets, you might invite him or her to go with you so that you can ask for advice along the way. Remember when embarking on any new challenge, the most important thing is to believe that it is possible and gather as much information ahead of time as you can. Then just do it. As Laing Burns says, "You've got to believe if you want to succeed."
Dear Miss Whozit,
I am newly blind and grappling
with a question. I am often interested in learning how other people have come
to the blindness community. I have tried asking, "Are you blind from birth?"
or "How much sight do you have?" While I fear that such questions
may be perceived as inappropriate, I am trying to learn. Is there an acceptable
way of making such inquiries? If so, how? If not, how does one learn and grow
in dealing with this new experience?
It occurs to Miss Whozit to wonder just what it is you expect to learn from knowing whether a new acquaintance has been blind from birth, blind for many years, or fairly recently blind. She suspects that your curiosity about the amount of useable vision someone has is part of that almost universal assumption that the more one can see, the more competent he or she is likely to be. But if you have been a member of the NFB for any time at all and if some of your blind friends have answered your questions accurately, you know perfectly well that no reliable correlation exists between the two.
If you are aware of this psychological assumption and are asking in order to prove to yourself that residual vision is not required to function efficiently, Miss Whozit approves of your research. If, on the other hand, you are hoping to find excuses for lowering your expectations of yourself, she has little sympathy for your investigations. Only you can assess your motivations, and it is important that you honestly examine why you are curious about other people's blindness and what you hope to achieve with the information.
So perhaps you do have good reasons for asking these personal questions, or at least for wishing to gather such information about blind people you have met. Everyone with much experience of blindness has been asked these questions more times than we can count, and usually out of a motive of pure curiosity. Mostly blind people have settled on their own ways of coping with impertinent personal questions. You may find that, even when you seek such information in an effort to expand your own expectations for yourself, people may respond with unsatisfactorily brief answers or refusals to respond seriously. But most of the time experienced people will be courteous and factual, though they may take the opportunity to suggest that the information is not very important or useful. Miss Whozit suggests that you refrain from asking such questions widely. Choose people whose answers you believe will be truly helpful to you as you struggle to accept your personal visual acuity. Be clear and honest about why you are intruding with such questions. Miss Whozit believes that most people will be happy to assist you if they can.
by Dr. John Frank
From the Editor:
Since Monitor readers were invited to assist with this study, it seems
appropriate to report the findings. They are disturbing, if not very surprising.
Here is Dr. Frank's report summary:
In the January 2004 issue of the Braille Monitor I reported the results of my research with twenty blind volunteers who had requested accommodation for access to print as allowed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In the January 2005 issue the Monitor published a request for volunteers for a larger survey project to study the impact of the ADA on the employment of people with severe visual impairments, funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR).
The study focused on how well the ADA functions as a tool to aid in accomplishing goals. Legal, technical, or philosophical opinions are less important than whether the ADA tool is used and how well it works. The essential questions were: Did you request accommodation? Did you receive anything? Was what you received effective? This was based on the definitions and examples of disability discrimination and readily achievable reasonable accommodations found in the text of the ADA and the EEOC/DOJ guidelines. Request situations in the following five areas were examined: a) job applications and interviews, b) on-the-job, c) school or training programs, d) government services, and e) private services. Here is a summary of the research results:
Out of 151 volunteers, 113 (75 percent) described an average of fewer than three requests each, for a grand total of 311 requests made in all five areas between January 1, 2000, and December 31, 2004. Thirty-eight people (25 percent) made no requests in any of the five years. Since a blind person could request more often than this, I thought the length of the survey might discourage answers, but the survey respondents estimated they did not make many requests. They knew they had the right to request, but the ADA tool was just not used very often.
The survey respondents were asked why they made few or no requests. Eighty-three responses (53 percent) indicated there was no need for any or any more employment-related accommodation. Some were not seeking employment, and others requested and received effective accommodation prior to 2000 and did not need to make more requests during 2000 to 2004. Sixty-five responses (40 percent) indicated the ADA request process was a conflict or just an ineffectual way to obtain access to fulfill one's goals. Some were concerned about retaliation. Some were denied the right to apply for jobs, transfers, or promotions, thereby being denied the right to request accommodation. The reason most often given for not requesting accommodation was that the request process was too much trouble. The ADA tool was not very efficient or user-friendly.
Those who made requests experienced the following rates of failure to accommodate effectively: a) 38 percent during job applications and interviews, b) 35 percent on-the-job, c) 33 percent by schools or training programs, d) 60 percent by government services, and e) 52 percent by private services. The combined weighted average rate for all five areas for the failure to effectively accommodate was 43 percent, or, conversely, the combined weighted rate of effective accommodation for all five areas was 57 percent. The ADA tool was effective less than 60 percent of the time overall with a range of 33 percent to 60 percent failure rate to accommodate effectively. An individual's tolerance for the failure of other tools may vary, but reliance on the ADA is likely diminished due to this low level of reliability. The ADA tool was not very effective.
The accommodations requested fell into three categories. One was equipment, such as a CCTV, a scanner, or a Braille display, or computer access software such as a screen reader. The second category was alternate formats or processes, such as a reader or scribe, Braille, large print, or digital material, or more time, or a change in location. The third category was help with transportation or orientation and mobility. No requests for equipment were made to government or private services. In each category requests were fulfilled or not at nearly the same rate. The type of accommodation requested did not seem to affect the success of requests. All the requests appeared to be reasonable, and the requesters and the entities were covered by the law.
Several questions on the survey asked for the requesters' perception of the quality of the ADA request process. Having to repeat the same request for an obvious accommodation from the same entity makes the process tedious and may discourage requests. It sends the message that providing accommodation is a burden. Of the 82 survey respondents who had ongoing needs and answered the question, 49 (60 percent) had to ask only once or a few times, while 33 (40 percent) had to ask repeatedly or every time they needed obvious accommodation such as alternate formats for print material from the same entity. Of 91 respondents who rated the speed of the process, 45 (50 percent) found the process fast or very fast, 43 (47 percent) said it was slow or very slow, and 3 (3 percent) did not know. Of 90 respondents who rated their satisfaction with the process, 61 (68 percent) were satisfied or very satisfied, and 29 (32 percent) were unsatisfied or very dissatisfied with the request process.
Two other measures of the ADA request process were the requesters' sense of the willingness of the entity to comply with requests and the difficulty of the process. These perceptions did not simply mirror whether accommodation was received and was effective. The process might seem difficult and the entity seem unwilling even when effective accommodation was provided, or the reverse could occur. In 11 (9 percent) of 122 unfulfilled situations the process was viewed as easy or very easy. In 39 (22 percent) out of 178 fulfilled situations the process was considered difficult or very difficult. In 43 (35 percent) out of 124 unfulfilled request situations the entity was perceived to be willing or very willing to accommodate. In 10 (6 percent) of 178 fulfilled situations the entity was perceived to be unwilling or very unwilling to accommodate. At times the ADA tool will be difficult to use but leads to effective accommodation, and at times it may be easy to use but leads nowhere. Also at times the entity required to accommodate may seem unwilling to comply but will do so anyway, or the entity may seem willing, but that will lead nowhere. These findings suggest that perceptions, opinions, or attitudes have less value for describing or predicting ADA request success than do current behaviors.
Another measure of ADA requests was the requesters' knowledge of the entity's accommodation history. In 31 (24 percent) of 128 unfulfilled request situations, requesters thought the entity did not usually accommodate. In 50 (39 percent) of the unfulfilled situations, requesters thought the entity usually did. In 47 (37 percent) unfulfilled situations, the requesters did not know the entity's history. In 10 (5 percent) of 183 fulfilled situations, requesters thought the entity did not usually accommodate. In 140 (77 percent) fulfilled situations, the requesters thought the entity usually did accommodate, and in 33 (18 percent) fulfilled situations, requesters did not know the entity's history. Requests to entities that are known to accommodate are more often fruitful, but knowing the entity's accommodation history will not always reveal or predict its current behaviors.
The ADA appeals process was also examined. People with severe impairments rarely benefit from any redress process. Only 5 percent win an EEOC complaint, and most do not get anything even if they win. They may win the right to sue, but not have access to a lawyer. They lose in court by a huge margin. A rate of 314 losses to 14 wins for the year 2001 is typical. It is not a surprise, then, that for this sample appeals were attempted in only 25 percent of 128 situations where effective accommodation was not provided.
Out of 33 appeals, 3 were made to a federal agency and were ineffectual. One was a lawsuit that was not yet settled. Three appeals were made to a state, county, or city human rights agency. Of those, 1 was in progress, and 2 were unsuccessful. The most frequently used avenue of appeal (22) was to contact someone else in the same organization. Of those appeals 7 were successful, 10 were not successful, and 5 were pending. Of the 17 completed appeals of failure to accommodate made to someone in the same organization, 41 percent were successful. The tools for redress of ADA violations were rarely used and rarely effective.
This was not a random sample. Therefore the results do not generalize to all people with a severe visual impairment. The 151 survey respondents were from forty-one states; 66 percent lived in a city, and the rest were about evenly divided between rural and suburban areas. About 50 percent were totally blind or had light perception only, 44 percent were legally blind, 6 percent had low vision, and 54 percent had had a visual impairment since birth. Also 58 percent had a bachelor's degree or higher, 54 percent were female, 87 percent were white, and 50 percent were employed. The average age was forty-nine, ranging from twenty to sixty-four.
The most troubling findings came from the review of the literature. Rather than accepting that civil rights for people with disabilities is the law of the land, the professional literature either ignores the ADA or debates its merits as though seeking to have the law repealed. The professional, scientific media, not just the public media, seem to be conducting a silence or smear campaign against the ADA. The silence and distortions represent systemic disability discrimination in academia.
Systemic disability discrimination in research on the impact of the ADA is perpetrated by perverse-results studies that report that the ADA harms the people it intended to help. In addition, some professionals redefine the ADA's purpose, concepts, and processes. The ADA is then measured by those false concepts and found lacking. Instead of looking into disability discrimination, which is what the ADA prohibits, some researchers study the ADA as though it were created to solve all problems for all people with all types of disabilities. Others say Congress never intended it would do much of anything. Some researchers act as if the ADA is implemented while others claim research on implementation of the ADA cannot be done or cannot be done by disability type.
In highly relevant areas in the social sciences disability discrimination is ignored or distorted, and the benefits of the ADA are hidden. Vague opinions may get reported, but behaviors and contexts that contribute to or constitute disability discrimination are ignored. The law is used to justify diminishing or dismantling disability support systems on the basis of the false claims that we now have equal access. People with disabilities are being blamed for the discrimination they face and for the ADA's limitations. The ADA and people with disabilities are ignored in relevant areas in research, reports, and professional textbooks. This is a repeat of the way some writers treated race and gender civil rights laws.
The confusion created by the professional literature in the past sixteen years means we have not received pertinent information on disability discrimination and the impact of the ADA. We were told we have the right to request accommodation, but until this study there has been no research on how well requests would be honored. Unless we speak up, disability discrimination will remain hidden, and the next generation of professionals will continue to create or evaluate the environment without us. This research begins to provide insight on the functioning of the ADA as a tool for those who need it, and I hope this type of research on the implementation and impact of the ADA will be continued.
Many thanks to the NFB, the Braille Monitor, and the volunteers who made this research possible. To read the entire report, contact the RRTC on Blindness and Low Vision at P. O. Box 6189, Mississippi State, Mississippi 39762, phone (662) 325-2001 or <email@example.com> or <firstname.lastname@example.org> to order a digital copy for $20 of "A Survey of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accommodation Request Experience of People Who Are Blind or Have a Severe Visual Impairment."
July is the height of ice-cream-eating season, so we pause in our usual schedule of recipe contributors to pass along several luscious-sounding homemade ice cream recipes sent a few months ago, when Idaho was supplying the month's recipes. These come from longtime Federation leader Ramona Walhof. This is the way she introduced these recipes:
They say that variety is the spice of life, so here are six different ice cream recipes you can make at home. All you need are an electric or old-fashioned hand-crank ice cream maker and the ice and rock salt required to make it work. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions about layering the ice and salt when you pack the freezer. And remember that the final product will benefit from being allowed to rest in ice for at least forty-five minutes after churning.
Easy Vanilla Ice
by Ramona Walhof
1 cup sugar
5 cups light cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
Method: Combine all ingredients and pour into ice cream maker. Pack with rock salt and ice and churn until done. Makes a half gallon.
Blueberry Ice Cream
3/4 cup fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin, softened in a little cold water
2 cups heavy or whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Method: In small saucepan combine blueberries, lemon juice, and honey. Cook over low heat until sauce thickens slightly, stirring constantly. Add gelatin and continue stirring. When gelatin is completely dissolved, remove mixture from heat and allow to cool. Add cream and vanilla to berry mixture and chill for one hour. Pour mixture into ice cream maker, then churn until done. As a variation, try combining these ingredients without cooking for a different taste.
Easy Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream
1 cup light cream
2 cups whipping cream
1 cup fresh strawberries, chopped and crushed
2/3 cup sugar or 1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Method: Combine all ingredients. Pour into the can of an ice cream maker and chill in refrigerator for two hours. Pack ice cream maker with ice and salt and churn cream for about ten minutes or until done.
Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
6 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 cup milk
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 12-ounce package semi-sweet chocolate chips
Method: In top of double boiler heat the heavy cream. Combine cornstarch with milk and stir to remove lumps. Add milk mixture to hot cream. Cook until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Remove 1 tablespoon of hot mixture and stir into beaten eggs; then add egg mixture to double boiler. Continue cooking and stirring custard until thick, then remove from heat. Add sugar and beat until smooth. Chill for one to two hours. Add vanilla and chocolate chips, pour into ice cream maker, then churn until set. Serve immediately or freeze to serve later.
Graham Cracker Ice Cream
2 cups crushed graham crackers
1 cup sugar
5 cups heavy cream, whipped
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Method: Combine all ingredients. Pour into ice cream maker, then churn and freeze. Makes a half gallon.
Philadelphia Vanilla Ice Cream
This ice cream has a richer flavor than ordinary vanilla. It's great if you want something special without getting too fancy.
6 cups light cream
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 3-inch vanilla beans, split
1/8 teaspoon salt
Method: In top of double boiler combine sugar, salt, vanilla beans, and three cups of cream. Cook for ten minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Remove the bean pods, scraping the pulp and seeds into the cream, then cool. Add the remaining cream to the cooled mixture and mix well. Pour into ice cream maker, then churn and freeze. Makes a half gallon.
News from the Federation
Tribute from President Bush:
On May 11, 2006, President
George W. Bush was the first sitting president of the United States to address
the graduating class of a community college. He spoke to the graduates of Gulf
Coast Community College. During his remarks he referred to Kendrick Kennedy,
a member of the class and a member of the 2005 NFB scholarship class. This is
what President Bush said:
Earlier today I met one of your classmates who represents the character necessary for the Gulf Coast to succeed. Kendrick Kennedy grew up here in Biloxi. He's a proud graduate of Biloxi High. At age thirty, an illness caused Kendrick to go blind, and eventually he lost his job. So he decided to come to this college. He recorded each of his lectures on tape and scanned his books into a computer program provided by the school that reads them aloud. When the hurricane hit, Kendrick opened his home to family members in need, and he returned to school as soon as possible.
Today this good man is
graduating at the top of his class, and he hopes to attend law school one day.
[applause] Here is what Kendrick said: "I'd be dawgoned if I was going to let
Hurricane Katrina stop me." [laughter and applause] "I thought, ‘You started
school when you were blind, and you can overcome this hurricane.''" Kendrick
is right--and today we honor his inspiring example. [applause]
Congratulations and good luck to Kendrick Kennedy, president of the Gulf Coast Chapter and a member of the board of directors of the NFB of Mississippi.
Attention Those Interested in Editing:
The time has come to begin looking for an associate editor for the Braille Monitor. If you are a knowledgeable member of the NFB, have a good grasp of grammar and punctuation, write well, and are committed to improving the lives of blind people, you may be the person we are looking for. Send letters of inquiry, including your resumé and a writing sample, to Barbara Pierce, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230. If you have questions, call her at (440) 775-2216, or email her at <email@example.com>.
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 2006 NCAA College Football Schedule:
Available again this year
with 119 Division 1A and some requested Division 1AA teams. Included will be
the results of the 2005-2006 bowls, the AP top twenty-five final polls, the
2006-2007 bowl schedule, and much more.
The cost of this year's schedule is $10. Make checks payable to Allen H. Gillis and send to him at 302 Schaeffel Road, Cullman, Alabama 35055; phone (256) 734-4047; email <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
An Opportunity to Cruise:
VIEW International Foundation is partnering with Cruise Planners and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines to offer a seven-night, eight-day cruise in the western Caribbean aboard the Legend of the Seas January 6 to 13, 2007.
Day 1--Tampa, Florida,
board the Legend of the Seas
Day 2 at sea
Day 3--George Town, Cayman Islands
Day 4--Costa Maya, Mexico
Day 6--Cozumel, Yucatan, Mexico
Day 7 at sea
Day 8--Tampa, Florida
Stateroom Types Available
and their Prices
Ocean View $899.00 per person
Interior $809.00 per person
Prices include the cruise,
all port charges, taxes, government fees, and prepaid gratuities valued at $70
per person; third and fourth passenger rates are not guaranteed until deposit
is made. A deposit of $250 per person is required to hold space.
Royal Caribbean can accommodate most special needs for its blind guests. Accommodations include Braille and large-print menus, service animals allowed onboard (a four-foot-by-four-foot wooden box with cypress mulch is provided), Braille and tactile signage, Braille elevator buttons and audio call signals, daily cruise compasses available in large print and Braille, cruise services directories available in Braille, and early boarding available for orientation tours. Other needs can also be accommodated such as special diet, accessibility with wheelchairs, and dialysis. You'll need to talk to our travel agent Sue for details (see below), and we'll arrange to have your needs handled by Royal Caribbean's special needs department.
Each port of call has a variety of tours available. These should be booked in advance at an additional cost. Have you ever wondered what a sea turtle feels like? How about a dolphin? Have you ever been to a Mayan temple or a coastal town in Mexico? These and other touching experiences await you.
For more information click
on the link <http://www.escape2sea.com>. Scroll down the page until you
see "VIEW International." Click on that link and use the login ID of "view2007"
to get you into our secured Web site for information and registration for this
exciting vacation. We expect and invite your questions. Please call Susan Yanaros
at Cruise Planners anytime, (800) 847-3460. Let's talk soon.
The mission of VIEW International Foundation is to make the world more accessible. Currently VIEW seeks to accomplish its mission by creating tactile books and three-dimensional models and facilitating hands-on experiences. There is no better way to learn about this part of our world than to experience it firsthand. For more information about View International Foundation contact Robert Jaquiss, executive director, phone (318) 396-1853; email <email@example.com>.
BSC Games, a subdivision of blindsoftware.com LLC, specializes in creating accessible computer games for the blind or visually impaired. The company's owner, Justin Daubenmire, who is blind, oversees all the work of the company's dedicated programmers, sound engineers, content writers, sales support, technical support, technical writers, marketing, and beta testers--all of whom are blind or visually impaired. Daubenmire's deep respect and personal identification with this community fuels his desire to bring games to the visually impaired.
Currently BSC Games offers three action-packed arcade games, several educational games, and several freeware games. Troopanum 2.0, Pipe2 Blast Chamber, and Hunter are the company's hottest titles. Each game comes with accessible game documentation, a simple keyboard interface to play the game, optional joystick or gamepad support, a set of rich stereo sound effects, fully produced music, ability to post your score across the Internet to the company's top ten score charts for worldwide competition, and the ability to play the games at three levels of difficulty: easy, normal, or insane.
For more information on
BSC Games, visit the company's Web site at <www.bscgames.com>, or phone
the sales office at (559) 224-2436 Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.,
PDT, or reach them by email at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Scholarship Program for Visually Impaired High School Students:
The Jewish Guild for the Blind offers an annual scholarship program for college-bound legally blind high school students. Applications will be accepted from students at the start of their senior year, with recipients selected and scholarships awarded later in that academic year. The program will award twelve to fifteen scholarships of up to $15,000 each. Requirements include completion of the GuildScholar application form online, proof of legal blindness, proof of U. S. citizenship or legal residency, documentation of academic achievement, three letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. Applications and supporting documents must be at the Guild by September 15. Scholarship recipients will be announced by mid-December and scholarships awarded by June 15. The application process is online. The recommendations and personal statement must be submitted electronically as a Microsoft Word document; other supporting information may be submitted in Word, PDF, JPEG, or TIFF format.
To apply for the scholarship,
log on to <www.jgb.org/guildscholar.asp>. For more information about the
scholarship, email questions to <email@example.com>.
World's Fastest Skier Is Blind:
Readers of the Voice
of the Diabetic will recognize the name, Dr. Peter J. Nebergall, who has
contributed to that publication for years. He recently sent the following brief
news story to the Braille Monitor:
Kevin Alderton from Dartford, Kent, England, is the world's fastest downhill speed skier. He believes he might someday reach 130 mph.
"You have to have a streak of lunacy in you to even attempt something like this," says the thirty-four-year-old former soldier. "I channel my fear into determination, and that's what's going to get me down today."
Kevin set the world record, 100.94 mph, on a course at Les Arcs, in France.
Kevin, who was blinded by a gang attack when he went to help a woman in 1998, has about 4 percent vision. He navigates his courses using a helmet radio and a friend who guides him down the hill--but not from alongside, for who could keep up?
"If I can inspire somebody to do something they would not normally do, my aims have been achieved. I'm not doing this just for fun," he says. Kevin is more than just the world's fastest blind skier; he's the world's fastest skier--period.
(Thanks to BBC Online,
14 April 2006, for the information.)
Pen Friend Wanted:
Juma Bakari Mwishaha is
looking for a pen friend. He is thirty-four and a journalist. He writes Braille
and is working to improve his English. He reads the Braille Monitor. His
hobbies are exchanging letters and ideas with people around the world, listening
to news, sports (goalball), and traveling. You can correspond with him by sending
letters to Juma Bakari Mwishaha, P.O. Box 90387, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.
2006 Dart Tournament:
The sixth biennial Harold
Schlegal dart tournament will be hosting its audio dart tournament the weekend
of October 6 to 8, 2006. The tournament will take place at the Best Western,
875 Greentree Road, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15220. Reservations must be made
by September 18 by calling (412) 922-2707. For further details call Gene Barton
at (412) 341-0114 or Joe Wassermann at (412) 687-5166.
Attention Alumni of the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children:
The Alumni Association
of the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children will hold its reunion
on the weekend of August 11 to 13, 2006. The reunion will be held at the school
in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For details call JoAnna Berkovic (412) 683-1798.
I am a graduate student in sociology at Rutgers University conducting an interview study for my dissertation on the visual attribution of sex (maleness and femaleness). I would like to interview a small sample of blind people for the project to explore how sex is attributed when it is not seen. Participation involves a one-to-two-hour interview at a time and place of the respondent's choosing. Interviews will be in person if interviewees live within a two-hour drive of New York City. They will be by instant messaging or email if that is possible or by phone for those who live farther away. If you or someone you know might be interested in participating or hearing more about the study, my contact information is Asia Friedman, phone (917) 554-4782; email <firstname.lastname@example.org> or <email@example.com>.
The notices in this section have been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.
I have a BrailleNote 32
notetaker for sale. It is running Keysoft version 3.06 and Windows operating
system 2.12. Asking $2,100 or best offer. I would also be willing to accept
payments. Please contact James Konechne by phone at (605) 680-4740 or by email
Like new Freedom Scientific Braille Lite M20 notetaker with Braille keyboard and twenty-cell, eight-dot Braille display; modem; programmable Whiz Wheels; and speech output. Comes with print and tape manuals, 512MB Compact Flash, carrying case with shoulder strap, AC adapter, and serial port connector cable. Ships in original box. Used only three times; in perfect condition. Retails for $3,700; selling for $2,900 or best offer plus shipping.
Also for sale: brand new
Perkins standard Braillewriter with dust cover. Never used; in perfect condition.
No manuals or original box. Retails for $640; selling for $400 or best offer
plus shipping. Purchase of these items will benefit blind cancer patient.
Contact Erika Rockwell at (804) 662-9793 or <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Helping Hands Braille Ministries,
Inc., has a gently used PowerBraille 80 refreshable Braille display for sale.
It includes the Braille user's guide and all necessary cables and cords for
hookup. Asking $5,000 or best offer. This display normally costs about $10,000.
Contact Christina Oakes, email <email@example.com>; phone (616) 243-0468; cell phone (616) 307-0596.
I am selling the following three items:
1. A Braille Lite 2000. This is an unused, straight-out-of-the-box, two-pound personal organizer, complete with speech output and a forty-cell Braille display. It can do everything from word processing to Internet access and email retrieval. Comes with a multi-volume Braille manual. Asking $1,300.
2. SuperBraille. This is a combination laptop computer and personal notetaker. It is complete with a speech synthesizer and a forty-cell Braille display and hosts such other standard features as floppy drive, CD-ROM, and QWERTY keyboard. Comes with heavy-duty carrying case and online user's manual. Asking $1,000.
3. Eureka 4a. This is a portable notetaking device from Australia. It uses a six-dot Braille keyboard and has synthesized-speech output. Comes with cassette album containing the operations manual. Asking $300.
If you are interested in
any of these items, contact Dennis Farro at cell (803) 979-2720, home phone
(516) 825-5815, or email <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Sorry, but I cannot
accept installment payments.
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.