Braille Monitor August/September 2006
by Barbara Pierce
Anyone who has been to Texas has heard the oft-expressed conviction that everything is bigger (and probably better) in the Lone Star State. The three thousand or so Federationists who converged on Dallas, Texas, the first week of July can confirm from firsthand experience that the claim to super-sized hotels, at least, is not an empty boast. The sixty-sixth annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind took place at the Anatole Hilton Hotel, a twenty-seven-acre resort complex with luxurious guest rooms, adventurous dining, Southwestern-accented retail shopping, spa and recreational facilities, memorable tactile artwork, and expansive meeting facilities. This grand hotel proved equal to accommodating one of our largest national conventions ever. Convention attendees steadily arrived throughout the first weekend of the conference, welcomed by large doses of hospitality from members of the host affiliate--a warm and generous greeting that even rivaled the headquarters hotel in size.
Bigger still was the convention program, filled with evidence of progress and possibility for the future. The unveiling of the revolutionary Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader; the description of the NFB's role in NBC's program, Three Wishes; and the inaugural release of an educational video on blindness to be shared nationwide with Lions Clubs set the tone for a conference full of substance and animated spirit. And a record-breaking attendance at the banquet on Thursday evening, July 6, confirmed in the minds and hearts of Federationists the simple little fact that everything is big in Texas!
Because the convention agenda had been available for a month on our Web site, attendees were greeted by stacks of Braille and print agendas almost from the moment we arrived. A tactile map of the hotel would also have been welcome. As the week progressed, however, we began to recognize and welcome such things as the little fountain that provided assurance that one really was heading for the other end of the hotel lobby.
On Saturday morning everyone hit the ground running. Those interested in technology found a full menu of workshops and demonstrations. A day-long seminar for those interested in careers in rehabilitation titled "Foundations and Professional Issues" attracted attendees from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
"The Equation for Success" was the title of this year's National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) seminar and the theme for many NOPBC activities. The agenda of parent and educator activities was astonishingly full and diverse. President Maurer got down to business with the kids at 9:00 a.m. when he taught them how to use the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader and talked about blindness issues in a way they all understood and could identify with.
The parents seminar is always splendid, but this year it was particularly fine. It's always dangerous to call special attention to part of the program because readers may assume that other presenters were disappointing. Ryan Strunk, president of the National Association of Blind Students, and Dr. Eric Vasiliauskas, a physician and father of two blind sons, were immensely entertaining and thought-provoking. But the panel talking about blind students and access to higher math was superb. We can only hope that all these presentations will make it into print in the months to come.
The afternoon was devoted to many workshops for older and younger students and their parents and teachers. All of these were excellent and filled with useful information and inspiration.
A number of families received scholarships to convention this year with the understanding that they would return home to help build parent programs in their home states. These new parents clearly enjoyed their convention experience and found the information and inspiration they had been looking for. Family hospitality was busy Saturday evening, especially before and after the Rookie Roundup. Teens, too, had a great time this year throughout the week in the teen hang-out room. Both blind and sighted teens found a comfortable and supervised place to spend time with new friends and old in a suite off-limits to parents.
While families were busy learning about chemistry and knitting; making up plays and doing art; and thinking about social skills, low vision, and effective blindness skills for children, the rest of us were sitting in on various workshops about accessible technology, exploring the Accessible Home Showcase, learning about effective strategies for the job search, reading poetry, and brainstorming about the programs of the Jernigan Institute.
Saturday evening continued
to be busy. Divisions and committees met, and about two-hundred-fifty people
attended the Rookie Roundup reception for first-time convention attendees. The
rookies received special ribbons and tote bags. Hundreds enjoyed Karaoke Night,
sponsored by BLIND, Incorporated, the NFB of Minnesota's adult training center.
Teen conversations in which young women or young men exchanged ideas honestly
with each other and blind adults were popular again this year. And for everyone
else the Henderson Family provided western swing, fiddle, and country music
at the Bluegrass Ball, hosted by the Texas affiliate.
Sunday morning we had a chance to see firsthand just what a difference our first-ever convention preregistration had made. Registration has never been particularly irksome because the lines have moved so quickly. But staffing it always swallowed a tremendous number of volunteer hours. This year those who had taken advantage of the efficiency and savings of preregistration simply walked to a table and picked up an envelope containing their materials. I did it while walking past. Of course those who decided to wait till the convention to register found their lines considerably shorter as well. The result was that even more people than in past years quickly filtered into the exhibit halls, the Accessible Home Showcase, and Sensory Safari.
The two sessions of the Cane Walk, intended to assist the families and teachers of blind children, were filled with parents, children, and teachers ready to don sleepshades, grab a long cane, and work with a teacher on travel skills. Joe Cutter, 2006 recipient of the Fredric Schroeder Award, supervises these sessions and makes himself available to those who need his help and wisdom. This is an extraordinary opportunity for families and provides great teaching experience for Louisiana Tech master's students, as well as the NOMC (National Orientation and Mobility Certification) teachers who volunteer to help.
A year or two ago the board of directors voted to limit Materials Center (now Independence Market) sales to items with an obvious connection to blindness. The NFB Store this year reflected that decision. As a result fewer aids and appliances were available for sale, but the exhibit hall devoted to NFB literature and sales was still crowded with attendees eager to see what materials were available.
Throughout the week the Accessible Home Showcase provided periodic demonstrations to standing-room-only crowds of the microwave prototype that was described as part of an agenda item Thursday morning. In the large exhibit hall fifty-six outside vendors and thirty-six Federation organizations staffed displays and talked with eager shoppers.
Sunday afternoon the Resolutions Committee considered twelve resolutions and recommended them to the Convention for passage on Friday afternoon. The complete texts of all the resolutions passed by the Convention this year appear elsewhere in this issue.
The afternoon was filled with old-favorite activities like the mock trial, which this year examined the Lee Martin case and used humor and common sense to explore employment discrimination, and brand new events like a seminar conducted in Spanish discussing NFB philosophy.
MATHCOUNTS® is a foundation that stimulates math excellence in middle and high school students by sponsoring competitions resembling spelling bees that test math skills. The foundation is committed to finding and nurturing math abilities in all sorts of minority groups, including blind students. Sunday afternoon the NOPBC, the Jernigan Institute, and MATHCOUNTS jointly sponsored a competition that attempted to use accessible materials and equipment for the four students who took part. Kids and adults all learned valuable lessons from both the competition and the panel discussion that followed.
Later in the afternoon the National Center for Blind Youth in Science launched its Web portal. This unique portal will serve as a resource clearinghouse for blind youth in science, technology, engineering, and math. The initiative was developed under a grant from the National Science Foundation's Research and Disabilities Education Program.
During the evening a number of divisions, groups, and committees met, some for the first time. The Classics, Antiques, and Rods (CAR) Division officially organized and held elections. The National Organization of the Senior Blind conducted a very successful not-so-silent auction in conjunction with its meeting. And the National Association of Blind Students conducted its usual high-energy and thought-provoking seminar for hundreds of blind students. Affiliate Web masters gathered to discuss the pros and cons of live Web broadcasting and the new NFB Web site and what it will offer state and division Web masters. Our new system will have a content manager, which will be usable with screen-reading software and will allow us easily to update information for our states and interest groups. Since we have spent a fair amount of time trying to determine which Web-authoring software is usable with which screen readers and at what price, this new content-management system will be helpful to us all.
As usual, the only program item Monday morning was the meeting of the board of directors. President Maurer began by calling for a moment of silence in memory of the Federationists who have died in the past year. Following that, the first order of business was a review of the offices open for election this year. Hold-over board members are Ron Brown (Indiana), Don Capps (South Carolina), Cathy Jackson (Kentucky), Anil Lewis (Georgia), Joe Ruffalo (New Jersey), and Fred Schroeder (Virginia). All other officer and at-large positions were open. President Maurer then recognized First Vice President Joyce Scanlan, who said:
Mr. President and fellow Federationists, for more than three decades I have had the honor of serving on the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind, first as a member of the board and then as secretary and finally as first vice president. During these years I have been proud to be a part of the outstanding progress we have experienced as an organization. Together we have grown in numbers as well as in understanding of what we as a people's movement are capable of accomplishing. I have personally benefited from the energetic work of this organization. I want to thank my fellow Federationists for that.
Today we have many young
leaders who have much to offer our movement. It is time for those of my era
to move on and encourage those with more innovative ideas and insight into the
problems of our day to come forward. Therefore I will not be a candidate for
election this year. I have no plans to disappear from the scene. I have long
been an enthusiastic student of history, and I ask you to remember that even
a fossil has value and can play a significant role. I look forward to a long
future in this organization. Thank you. [sustained ovation]
President Maurer acknowledged that Joyce had preceded him on the board by more than a decade. She led the struggle against the oppression of the Minneapolis Society for the Blind and taught us much about public demonstrations. He then thanked her for her service and recognized Charlie Brown, who said:
Thank you, Mr. President. President Maurer and fellow Federationists, I would like to take this opportunity to join the fossil brigade and announce that I will not seek reelection as your treasurer.
It seems time for me to move on. When I stepped aside as Virginia state president two years ago after twenty-six years, I did so because I firmly believed that it would provide an opportunity for dynamic new leadership to emerge. I was certainly right. Dr. Fred Schroeder became our state president, and he is doing a bang-up job. Yes, I certainly could have served another term or two as state president, but it seemed like the right time for me to move on then.
That same thing is true today. For twenty-two years I have been incredibly blessed to serve you on the national board, the last four as treasurer. As national treasurer I joined a relatively small group of distinguished Federationists who have held this position before me. What an honor to follow men like Richard Edlund and Allen Harris, a rare privilege indeed!
Thank you so much, Dr.
Maurer and all of the rest of you, for your generous help and support over the
years, but I think it is now time for me to make way for new leadership on the
national board. Yes, I am rotating off the board, but I'm not going anywhere.
I will continue to work with energy for the success of our wonderful movement.
I will just be taking on new and different tasks. I look forward to that with
genuine excitement. Thanks again, and God bless you. [sustained applause]
President Maurer acknowledged Charlie's wisdom, forthright good sense, and willingness to do whatever needs to be done and warmly thanked him for his service. Then he called on Diane McGeorge, who said:
My two predecessors gave such wonderful speeches. Dr. Maurer, I can't quite say "three decades." I'm close, Joyce. I was elected to the board in 1977 in New Orleans, and no question it was one of the greatest honors I have had. It has indeed been a great honor and pleasure for me to serve as a board member and in the role of first vice president, at one point, of this marvelous organization.
I spoke to the Scholarship Committee the other night, and I said, "I started the Colorado Center for the Blind, and I was state president for most of the years from 1976 until 2005. But don't look at me as a has-been. I'm a gonna-be. [laughter and applause]
I have been state president;
I have been director of the Colorado Center; I have been an active member of
the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind; but, believe
me, as long as there is breath in my body, I'm gonna be an active NFB member.
President Maurer recalled all the traveling that he and Diane have done through the years, building affiliates, finding potential members, and dreaming about what blind people could accomplish. He concluded by saying that it has been an honor to serve with her on the board. He then recognized Carla McQuillan, who said:
Dr. Maurer, fellow Federationists, I would like to begin by saying that I am not a member of the fossil club--brigade. But it is in fact because of the support and the work that this organization has done to enrich my life that at this time I have to say that I will not be seeking reelection to the board. This is only my sixteenth national convention. I am what some would call a baby in this organization. It was with the help of this organization that I got my business started and really became aware that I had the ability--Benson [Steve Benson], stop saying, "Now she's going to cry!"--[laughter] to achieve all my goals. We started in 1993 with a $15,000 loan from the National Federation of the Blind to start a school in a rented facility. We now own three pieces of real estate (and we own more of them than the bank does). We are looking for even greater expansion of about 25 percent of our current capacity in the '07-'08 school year. We have started a teacher-training program and a parent education program that will eventually result in brochures and books.
I am a member of the Jernigan
Institute Early Childhood Committee, and I believe that, as Dr. Jernigan said,
"We fought for our place in society, and it is now time that we step up and
take it" and be part of our community and show people what blind individuals
really have the capacity to do. I have found that both my career and the Federation
are suffering because I have too much on my plate. It is with great regret that
I have to say that I can no longer serve on the board, but I am not going away.
I will be here every year running NFB Camp as long as Dr. Maurer wishes for
it to happen. I thank you so much for your love and support. [cheers and applause]
President Maurer expressed gratitude for Carla's contributions to the board and referred to her part in making our recent videos more powerful.
In introducing Tommy Craig, president of the Texas affiliate, President Maurer mentioned that we were facing all the usual difficulties of having a large convention in a large hotel: full elevators, slow service in the restaurants, difficulty finding friends--the usual situation at the beginning of an NFB convention. He then commented that this hotel was about the size of a small continent. On that note Tommy stepped to the mike to welcome everyone to the convention and to review housekeeping details.
Mary Ellen Jernigan then made several announcements. She pointed out that the average wait in the line for those who had preregistered to pick up their materials had been about thirty seconds on the first day. She then urged everyone to find a way to preregister for the convention next year. She assured the audience that the very few kinks in the system this year had now been worked out.
Jim Omvig next came to the platform to explain the thinking behind writing his latest book, Education and Rehabilitation for Empowerment, by James Omvig and Dr. C. Edwin Vaughan, available at this convention. Jim explained that he had quite consciously written Freedom for the Blind as a straightforward statement of what the organized blind have learned about what effective rehabilitation for blind people is and how to achieve it. But the academic community wants and needs to understand the research underpinning the programs that are doing effective training. This new book is an effort to provide academics both the research and the footnotes they have demanded. Both books are available from the National Federation of the Blind.
The thirtieth Kernel Book, Freedom, was released at the convention, and President Maurer read his contribution to it. Fifty-eight Federationists submitted eighty-three Kernel Book stories this year and were eligible to win $1,000 in a special drawing. Art Dinges of Arizona was the lucky writer whose name was drawn. Another contest will take place during the coming year. Those wishing to enter the contest should send their Kernel Book stories to Marsha Dyer at the National Center for the Blind.
President Maurer then announced convention plans for the next several years: 2007, the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, singles and doubles, $61, triples and quads, $66; 2008, the Hilton Anatole, singles and doubles, $61, triples and quads, $66; 2009, the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, singles and doubles, $62, triples, $66, quads, $68; and 2010, the Hilton Anatole, singles and doubles, $62, triples and quads, $67.
With the passage of the
Louis Braille Commemorative Coin Act, we will need a list of the names and contact
information for every certified Braillist and proofreader that we can identify
in the nation. President Maurer asked that people attending the convention and
holding either of these credentials get their contact information to him during
the convention. Those who did not do so or who were not in Dallas but who are
willing to assist with the Braille literacy campaign should send or email their
information to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Jim Gashel reported that the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader had made a grand debut during the first days of the convention. He explained that those who had been beta testing the Reader through the spring would be wearing badges during the convention so that people would know whom to contact if they had questions. He also presented President Maurer with a very special ribbon for his badge. It said, "Ask me about the Reader; I'm an inventor." The press and television coverage of the new reader were extraordinary during and following the convention. Jim said that the night before at midnight he had gotten a call from a man in Phoenix, who wanted to buy the Reader for his mother and have it shipped that day. The toll-free number for asking questions about the Reader and ordering it is (877) 708-1853. A drawing for a Reader took place during convention, and another was given as a door prize at the banquet.
When Jim Gashel finished his report, Carl Jacobsen moved that $100,000 be added to the pool available for loans by the Committee on Assistive Technology, chaired by Curtis Chong. These funds are to be available to blind people interested in purchasing Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Readers. The interest rate for these loans is 3 percent. The motion was seconded and carried.
Sharon Maneki then came to the platform to present the 2006 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award to Gayle Prillaman of Tennessee. The full text of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
A number of state affiliates have made sizeable gifts to the national organization during the past year as part of our program of sharing bequests equally with the national organization. The two states that have contributed the most are Colorado, with $299,750, and California, with more than $368,000. President Maurer graciously accepted these gifts and acknowledged that this policy has enabled us to do much more for blind people than we would otherwise have been able to accomplish.
At this point Peggy Elliott asked the members of this year's scholarship class to come to the platform, where she introduced them. Their comments appear elsewhere in this issue as part of a full report of our scholarship program.
Allen Harris, president of the National Blindness Professional Certification Board, introduced James Omvig, who presented the 2006 Fredric Schroeder Award to pediatric O&M specialist and deeply respected teacher and mentor Joe Cutter. The full text of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue. Then Allen had the names read of those who have earned National Orientation and Mobility Certification (NOMC) during the past year. They were Garrett Aguillard, Erin "Mandi" Bundren, Denise Mackenstadt, Bryan Schetele, and Daniel Kish.
The final business of the morning was a presentation by the International Braille Research Center. Dr. Harold Snider presented the 2006 Louis Braille Award to Dr. Abraham Nemeth. The full text of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue. Since no further business was brought to the board of directors, the meeting was adjourned.
The remainder of the day offered attendees a wide range of division and committee meetings, seminars, workshops, receptions, and theater productions. The Jerry Whittle play production this year was titled One Woman's Treasure and was performed as usual by the Louisiana Center Players, made up of students and alumni of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. All proceeds from the two performances were used to support the center's summer programs for blind children.
Federationists celebrated the Fourth of July this year by kicking off the convention general sessions with true Texas flair. Following the invocation, President Maurer called Tommy Craig to the platform. The four hundred Texans in the host delegation provided a real Lone Star State welcome, and the delegates responded appropriately. We received hot and spicy jellybeans as we entered the ballroom; now we got a sample of the diverse cultures that make up the richness of the Texas experience. A Mariachi band from La Esquina Cantina, one of the fine hotel restaurants, played their way into the ballroom and briefly serenaded the convention from in front of the platform.
Then, much to the delight of some in the audience and the shock of others, Tommy introduced author, musician, and candidate for governor of Texas Kinky Friedman. Kinky demonstrated his brand of irreverent, rather politically incorrect humor in his welcome to Texas.
The tone of the opening session shifted when Dwight Sayer, first vice president of the NFB of Florida, and Joe Ruffalo, president of the NFB of New Jersey and member of the national board of directors, called all veterans of the United States Armed Forces forward to receive red, white, and blue ribbons and introduce themselves and state their military branch. Thirty-four answered the call, including Robert Crawford of Ohio, who was one of the revered Tuskegee airmen of World War II.
The remainder of the morning was devoted to the roll call of states. Each president announced the name of the delegate, alternate delegate, and member of the Nominating Committee and then reported the date and location of the next convention as well as the name of the national representative if one has been appointed. In addition states took the opportunity to make a variety of announcements and comments. Here is a sampling of the information that we learned during the morning: The Jernigan Fund assisted more than fifty Federationists from twenty-six states to attend this year's convention. Ten state agency directors and many other agency staff members were part of their states' delegations. Noah Buresh, son of Nebraska affiliate President Amy Buresh and her husband Shane, celebrated his two-month birthday on July 2. All of the students and staff of BLIND, Incorporated, the Colorado Center for the Blind, the Louisiana Center for the Blind, Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, and Camp Tuhsmeheta in Michigan were attending the convention. The Mississippi affiliate had eighteen first-time convention attendees in its delegation. With four hundred registered attendees, Texas took home the attendance banner, but Maryland promised that, like General MacArthur, the banner will return [to Maryland]. Indiana, Idaho, Oregon, and Vermont reported that NFB-NEWSLINE is now or soon will be available in those states. Pam Allen, president of the NFB of Louisiana, read a resolution passed at the affiliate's April convention. It reads as follows:
NFB of Louisiana RESOLUTION 2006-04
WHEREAS, In 2005 Louisiana was devastated by two major hurricanes; and
WHEREAS, Following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, hundreds of Federationists contacted the NFB of Louisiana with expressions of love and support; and
WHEREAS, Along with their good wishes, many in our Federation family sent donations intended to assist blind people throughout the state; and
WHEREAS, As a result of the generosity shown by our brothers and sisters throughout the country, we have been able to assist blind people across Louisiana as they begin the process of rebuilding their lives: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana in Convention assembled this ninth day of April, 2006, in the City of Ruston, that the members of our affiliate thank all those who gave so generously when we needed so much; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED,
that we will continue to support blind people throughout our state in their
efforts to recover from these devastating natural disasters.
Following the lunch recess, President Maurer delivered the 2006 presidential report, which appears in full elsewhere in this issue. Then Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute, reported on "Education Initiatives and the 21st Century." She described the various programs of the Institute and interspersed her comments with video clips of colleagues outside our movement describing the impact the various programs have had on them, the community at large, and blind people today and in years to come. When Dr. Zaborowski finished, it was clear that, now that the Institute is up and running, we are making progress on every front on which we have engaged.
Dr. Matt Maurer, younger brother of President Maurer and professor of instructional technology at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, addressed the topic of "Best Practices in Education of the Blind." He has conducted research in a number of schools for the blind and a handful of mainstream programs for blind students. He is convinced that we must recognize and salute the work of all gifted teachers of blind students and work in good faith to improve the skills of moderate to good teachers. In the instruction of blind children, "good" is not good enough, but simply criticizing entire programs will not accomplish our goal of improving the instruction that blind students receive. We must find ways of calling attention to and praising the work of excellent teachers while encouraging good teachers to improve and poor teachers to change their career paths.
Dr. Stuart Wittenstein, superintendent of the California School for the Blind, discussed the leadership of the California affiliate in setting the state's Braille standards for the education of blind students. He urged other states to take a look at the California standards and the way Braille has been interwoven into all the subject standards.
Mark Riccobono, director of education for the NFB Jernigan Institute, next discussed "The Power of Numbers" in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). As he reviewed the accomplishments of the Institute, it was clear that the NFB is increasing the opportunities for blind students to claim their right to a future in the STEM careers.
Dr. Bernhard Beck-Winchatz, associate director, NASA Space Science Center for Education and Outreach at DePaul University, then discussed "Science Education Initiatives for the Blind." He made it clear that his connection with the NFB has taught him new ways of teaching all of his students. He is certain that blind students have a place in astronomy.
The final presenter on this panel of Jernigan Institute programs was Dr. Ted Conway, program director, research in disabilities education, Division of Human Resource Development, Directorate for Education and Human Resources, National Science Foundation. His topic was "Science, Research, and Development: A Role for the Blind." He pointed out that effective people with disabilities are problem solvers, are creative, and know all about perseverance. These are the very characteristics of those who succeed in the STEM careers. The National Science Foundation is committed to helping disabled people, including blind people, find their rightful place in STEM fields.
Dr. Zaborowski concluded the Institute's presentation with a video announcement of the 2007 Youth Slam in late July. Two hundred young people will gather with mentors for four days of STEM activities in Baltimore, culminating in a public event at the Inner Harbor. Watch the NFB Web site for more information about this absolutely unique event.
The last item of the afternoon agenda was Kevan Worley's Imagination Fund report, which appears in full elsewhere in this issue. Dolores Reisinger of Iowa was named Imaginator of the Year. At the close of his report, Kevan announced that early in the morning of the opening day of actual convention, July 3, we plan to conduct a march for independence. We will undoubtedly find ways for everyone who wishes to have a part in the event to do so, but only those who have signed up and raised at least $250 will actually take part in the march itself.
While Kevan was making his report, we began to hear peals of thunder from outside. Sure enough, a Texas-size thunderstorm rolled in and caused the hotel to move the giant barbeque hosted by the Texas affiliate indoors. Luckily this hotel had space enough to pull it off. What the event lost in the way of ambiance, it made up in air conditioning. And the food was even more enjoyable with the absence of insect guests. After brisket of beef, grilled chicken, corn on the cob, peach cobbler, and free beer, guests enjoyed boot-tappin' music by the Cornell Hurd Band playing traditional western swing and country.
Parents of and advocates for blind children had a choice of three different workshops Tuesday evening, and music lovers could attend the showcase of talent. The exhibit hall opened that evening for shoppers to spend more leisurely time with convention sponsors. About four hundred Federationists took advantage of this opportunity. The tenBroek auction was also Tuesday evening, and the Classics, Antiques, and Rods (CAR) Division conducted its first business meeting, planning for its spectacular show the following afternoon.
The Wednesday morning general
session began with the election of officers and six at-large board members.
Sharon Maneki chaired the Nominating Committee and made its report. Those whose
names were placed in nomination as officers and who were subsequently elected
by acclamation were president, Marc Maurer (Maryland); first vice president,
Fred Schroeder (Virginia); second vice president, Peggy Elliott (Iowa); secretary,
Gary Wunder (Missouri); and treasurer, Pam Allen (Louisiana).
Those nominated and elected by acclamation to fill two-year, at-large positions were Amy Buresh (Nebraska); Sam Gleese (Mississippi); Carl Jacobsen (New York); Chris McKenzie (Arkansas); Alpidio Rolón (Puerto Rico); Dan Wenzel (Wisconsin); and, to complete Fred Schroeder's vacated one-year term, Dan Burke (Montana).
Following the election, Dr. William Rowland, president of the World Blind Union and executive director of the South African National Council for the Blind, delivered a fascinating address in which he briefly sketched the impressive actions the new South Africa is taking to ensure that people with disabilities are included in the workings of government and working life. He contrasted this hopeful progress with the situation in South Africa's neighbor, Swaziland, where only four blind people have jobs and only one has ever been educated at university. Dr. Rowland has offered to try to advocate for disabled people in Swaziland, but he admits that this will be difficult since the king is not permitted ever to look upon a person with a disability. Dr. Rowland acknowledged the role the NFB has played in shaping the philosophy of the World Blind Union and in helping to guide its course in the years to come.
One of the truly outstanding presentations of this year's convention was "The Secrets of Rehabilitation: Why Federation Centers Work." The presenters were Pam Allen, director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind; Shawn Mayo, director of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions, Incorporated; and Julie Deden, director of the Colorado Center for the Blind, and their title was self-explanatory. The substance of the presentation was so clear and powerful that the entire text will be printed in a later issue of the Monitor.
The next speaker was Dr. Fred Schroeder, research professor at San Diego State University. His title was "Save the Fire," and the text of his address appears elsewhere in this issue.
Bob Phillips, president and chief executive officer of Guide Dogs for the Blind, spoke about "Partnerships" between his organization and the NFB, between dog guide schools and researchers, and many other pairings that have the potential to change the quality of life for all of society.
The final presentation of the morning was by Dr. Lee Hamilton, president and chief executive officer of Freedom Scientific. He described recent and upcoming developments in his company's technology for the blind and reviewed many improvements in Freedom Scientific's service delivery and reductions in product costs at a time when other companies' equipment costs are increasing. He then asked Glen Gordon, chief technical officer for Freedom Scientific, to demonstrate some exciting new products.
Wednesday afternoon is billed as free time, when delegates can enjoy personal or group tours or just relax around the pool. Many interesting tours did take place during the afternoon and evening, and some folks undoubtedly went off on their own to get acquainted with Dallas, but here is a sample of what other people found to do:
Twenty-one blind cyclists went tandem riding at White Rock Lake with members of area cycling organizations. This event will occur again in 2008. Twelve lucky journalists and journalism students got a personalized behind-the-scenes tour of the Dallas Morning News. The New CAR Division hosted a show of classic and antique cars in the parking lot of the hotel, and a number of kids from NFB Camp, as well as interested adults, examined the vehicles. Interested convention attendees tried out the prototype of a sonar cane that detects over-hanging objects and can identify empty seats in a room, among other accomplishments. Teachers of blind students strategized about how to attack the multitude of problems in their field. Families with blind children could drop in to talk with an expert about cane travel or attend a hands-on workshop on medical emergencies for younger children or CPR for teens. Federationists learned about grant-writing, Social Security, planning Meet the Blind Month activities, and advocacy. And of course several committees and divisions conducted important meetings. Those who had any energy left by the end of the day could socialize and play games at Monte Carlo Night, sponsored by the National Association of Blind Students.
The Thursday morning general session began punctually at 9:00, and the first presentation was a wise and delightful talk by George Wurtzel of Michigan, who is a carpenter and who offered sound advice about how to get and keep an unusual job. He was followed by our longtime friend Frank Kurt Cylke, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and Alice Baker, NLS digital program contract specialist, who reported good progress on the enormous job of converting the Talking Book Program from cassette to digital format.
Dr. Richard Mander, chief executive officer of HumanWare, Ltd., introduced himself to the audience and explained how it comes that a psychologist now heads a worldwide technology company. He reiterated HumanWare's commitment to Braille and access technology. He undertook to see everyone in Atlanta at next year's convention and announced that HumanWare will be a title sponsor of the convention for at least three years.
The next item was titled "Change in Rehabilitation: Federation Experience Leads the Way." It was delivered by Craig Kiser, director of the Florida Division of Blind Services. Mr. Kiser was a student at the Iowa Commission for the Blind during the Jernigan years, and he described how well that training had prepared him for dealing with the difficult and demanding challenge of bringing rehabilitation for the blind in Florida into the twenty-first century.
John Paré, director of sponsored technology programs for the National Federation of the Blind, James Gashel, NFB executive director for strategic initiatives, and John Lumpkin, vice president for business operations, U.S. newspaper markets at Associated Press, then reviewed recent NFB-NEWSLINE® successes. Many NEWSLINE papers are now available by email for portable reading on notetakers, Book Ports, or BookCouriers.Those interested in automatically receiving their favorite papers by email should go to <www.nfbnewsline.org>. There you will find a link for newspapers by email. Fill out an online form or download, complete, and return it to the National Center. If you have questions, call (866) 504-7300. Mr. Lumpkin described the state and national Associated Press services now available on NEWSLINE and expressed AP's satisfaction in being part of this marvelous program.
Bill Stevenson, business development manager for Home Automated Living (HAL), and Anne Taylor, director of access technology, NFB Jernigan Institute, made an exciting presentation titled "The Accessible Home." Mr. Stevenson demonstrated the way HAL-controlled appliances can work by voice command when cabled to a home computer loaded with the HAL software. Today HAL cannot work with speech access, but through the Jernigan Institute the company is working with screen-reader companies to make HAL fully accessible. Anne Taylor then demonstrated what might be possible in the future. With a specially configured microwave, she issued aural commands and controlled the microwave as easily as Mr. Stevenson had controlled a lamp and television with VCR. Our hope is to persuade manufacturers to work with the creators of HAL to build appliances that will allow all users to control them by voice command.
The final item of the morning was presented by Cari M. Dominguez, chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Her title was "Equal Employment Opportunity for the Blind: The Promise and the Partnership." She mentioned the EEOC's published guidance on disability issues, which is intended to prevent discrimination in the workplace before it happens. Recently the EEOC has published "Questions and Answers about Blindness in the Workplace," which was reviewed by National Association of Blind Lawyers President Scott LaBarre. She then reviewed recent cases involving blind people in which the EEOC has helped to see that justice was done and employers were taught what constitutes discrimination. She then described several EEOC programs that encourage best practice, including the Freedom to Compete Award for states and the first ever conference on the employment of lawyers with disabilities, which was conducted in consultation with Scott LaBarre. As she draws toward the end of her term as chair of EEOC, Ms. Dominguez said that one of the things she has cherished most has been her close association with the National Federation of the Blind. It has been productive, and she hopes that it continues.
The afternoon session began with an inspiring speech by NFB Board Member and President of the NFB of Georgia Anil Lewis titled, "Client to Consumer to Lawyer." It was a moving tale of his evolution from helpless client through becoming a consumer of services for the blind to embracing his dream to become an attorney. He will now soon enter law school.
We then had the chance to learn in detail about the NFB's part in assisting a young mother to regain her independence. November 3, 2005, NBC broadcast an episode of the program Three Wishes in which Utah Federationists undertook to give Nicole Rasmussen a crash course in mastering the skills of blindness while the cameras rolled. We watched the program segment and then listened to Nicole Rasmussen, Ron Gardner, Nick Schmittroth, and Karl Smith, who had offered Nicole their expertise and their friendship.
Then it was time to talk seriously about the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader. NFB executive director of strategic initiatives Jim Gashel described how freeing it is to be able to read or refer to printed material independently. Several of the Federationists who have been testing the Reader this spring told stories about checking out of hotels and reading signs while shopping, and they all agreed that they never wanted to return to dependency on others to manage their print. Then Ray Kurzweil reminded his listeners that he had been saying for years that 2006 would be the year when technology would make a portable reader possible. He then went on to forecast the future of reader technology. He has learned that accurate timing of inventions is essential, and he repeated that working closely with NFB leaders and members has made his inventions in reading for the blind the most memorable part of his distinguished career as an inventor. It was fitting that, while he was on stage, he was presented with his badge and ribbon that said "Ask me about the Reader; I'm an inventor."
President Maurer then read the following statement:
We say that the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader is a revolutionary technology. What characteristics of this device will bring about a substantial alteration in thought or behavior? The handheld reader provides a portable way to examine visually one of the elements of our environment--the printed word. However, the Reader is more than a mechanism to read print; it is the precursor of portable, universal, machine-based vision.
In years to come future technologies based on this handheld machine will recognize images, decipher patterns, and interpret scenes. The devices this technology will engender will have the capacity to recognize a face; to perceive the difference between the face and a picture of the face; to observe a room, interpreting the meaning of what is visible; to examine an intersection, determining whether the walk sign is being displayed; to look down a street, estimating the time before the oncoming traffic will arrive; and to select from among the crowded imagery of a public thoroughfare those elements that are important for a pedestrian or a motorist to understand. In the beginning the technology will recognize only still images. However, later perspective, motion, and the information from the intricate pattern of light and shadow will be interpretable.
Today the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader can detect what is visible to the eye. However, in the future it will be able to discern images created with light waves outside the visible spectrum. Thus machine-based vision will be able to see in the dark. Furthermore, the range of vision will be 360 degrees. The handheld reader will have eyes in the back of its head. When these characteristics have been perfected, sighted people will want our device as much as blind people.
We will build the technology
into other machines--automobiles and airplanes--and we will be able to use our
invention with remote sensing devices such as the medical instruments employed
for exploring the internal portions of the body. Our portable machine-based
vision will enhance capacity for us and for all others in the world. It will
bring about possibilities that have never previously existed.
When I came to be a part of the National Federation of the Blind decades ago, we proclaimed that blind people could do virtually anything that the sighted could. Usually we listed the exceptions: drive a car or fly a plane. The time is coming when these exceptions will no longer apply.
This is the beginning of
the revolution, but it must be understood in perspective. An essential element
of the change began more than six decades ago with the formation of the National
Federation of the Blind and the assertion that blind people can and must be
a part of the future of programming for the blind and of our society as a whole.
Part of the alteration is technological, but at least as important is the change
in attitude that alters thought and changes behavior along with it. Before the
technology can be implemented fully, there must be an acceptance that the people
who use it have the right to full participation. In other words, we have accomplished
much, but an enormous amount yet remains to be done before we shall have reached
the climax of our progress. Nevertheless, the invention of today, the Kurzweil–National
Federation of the Blind Reader, is a revolutionary advance in the integration
of the blind, and we are a part of the creation of this revolution.
Dr. Zaborowski moderated the next section of the agenda. She explained that the Jernigan Institute has partnered with the International Association of Lions Clubs Multiple District 22 and the Lions Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center of the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute, the Department of Health Policy and Management, and the Department of Health Behavior and Society in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to conduct a pilot project using a video and study guide on blindness and low vision that have been specially developed. The intent has been to educate Lions Club members about blindness and low vision and how to more effectively help people losing vision. The program will be used in Multiple District 22. If it is successful, we hope to offer it to clubs across the country. Delegates then watched part of the video, which was very fine and provides much constructive information on dealing with vision loss.
Dr. Bob Massof, professor of ophthalmology and neuroscience and director of the Lions Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center, the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, then delivered an excellent address on low vision, which was so crammed with facts and useful explanations that it will be reprinted in full in a later issue. This segment closed with a description of Lions International programs to eradicate blindness delivered by Clement Kusiak, past international president of Lions Clubs International.
The final presentation of the afternoon was a moving testimonial titled "What a Father Has Learned from His Blind Son." The speaker was Dr. John Wai, director of medicinal chemistry at Merck & Co., Inc. It was another very personal tale of learning about blindness through helping and observing a blind child living a normal life. This was a truly high note on which to close the afternoon. When the gavel fell indicating the afternoon recess, delegates emptied the room in under three minutes so that the ballroom could be turned for the banquet which began in under two hours.
When we reassembled at seven, the first order of business was a tribute and memorial for Hazel tenBroek, the first First Lady of the Federation, who died last October. The full text of that tribute appears elsewhere in this issue. The photograph of Mrs. tenBroek that was projected on a giant screen so that it could be seen across the ballroom appears at the top of that tribute.
The title of this year's banquet address was "An Element of Justice," and as usual it was by turns thought-provoking, inspiring, and amusing. It appears in full elsewhere in this issue.
Following President Maurer's
stirring address, Peggy Elliott presented thirty scholarships to the class of
2006, and Ray Kurzweil left everyone speechless when he presented each winner
with a Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader. Chris Booher of Texas
was awarded the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship. A full report of the scholarship
program appears elsewhere in this issue.
Two awards were presented during the banquet: distinguished service to Associated Press, and the Jacobus tenBroek Award to Charlie Brown. A full account of these presentations appears elsewhere in this issue. Master of ceremonies Fred Schroeder did a masterly job of executing the agenda of the banquet. A memorable evening concluded with a door prize of 2,006 dollars from the host affiliate, which was won by Lucille Fair, one of the scholarship winners. It was truly a memorable evening.
No matter how late Federationists celebrated at the after-banquet party, the navy rule was in force in the morning. The general session began spot on time. President Maurer read the financial report as the first order of business. Following the honor roll call of states and divisions, in which these organizations announced their contributions to various Federation-connected funds, Jim McCarthy, Jim Gashel, and Jesse Hartle together presented the report from Washington. In the afternoon the Convention debated and voted on twelve resolutions and listened to the final reports on the SUN and Imagination Funds and the Preauthorized Check (PAC) program.
By the time we left Dallas,
the convention magic had taken hold. Never have we returned home with the entire
country as aware of the National Federation of the Blind as it was this year.
During the convention and in the weeks since, more than five hundred newspaper
stories and better than a hundred TV reports about the Reader and passage of
the Louis Braille Commemorative Coin Act have spread our name
across the country. We returned home conscious of our responsibility to spread
the hope implicit in the name "National Federation of the Blind." Barriers and
challenges undoubtedly await each of us, but we are united, and we understand
that our philosophy and our drive are what blind people in the United States
need in order to embrace life and join with us to change what it means to be