Vol. 49, No. 10 November 2006
Barbara Pierce, editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
The National Federation
of the Blind
Marc Maurer, president
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 49, No. 10 November 2006
of Rehabilitation Why Federation Centers Work
by Pam Allen, Shawn Mayo, and Julie Deden
Capitol Tour Guide Shows
Visitors an Unexpected Thing or Two
by Sadia Latifi
At Boot Camp for Blind
Students, the Greatest Help Is the Help They Don't Get
by Frank Greve
Low Vision and Blindness:
Changing Perspective and Increasing Success
by Robert W. Massof
A Hard Road and a Thankful
by Bill Morgan
On the Art of Solicitation
by Barbara Pierce
An Iowa Pioneer Retires
by Elsie Hiebert Lamp
In the Spotlight: Affiliate Action
What Comes after Fifty?
by Tom Bickford
From the President's Email
The Target Case Raises Hackles
A Segway to Independence
by William Ackel
Copyright 2006 National Federation of the Blind
by Pam Allen, Shawn Mayo, and Julie Deden
From the Editor: One of the most stirring presentations of the 2006 NFB convention was a panel consisting of the directors of the three NFB adult training centers. They worked together to answer the question implicit in the title of their presentation. People across the blindness field have sought to explain away our success and dismiss our explanation for it. But the results speak for themselves: those who graduate from Federation centers are more confident, more capable, and more committed to contributing to their communities than the graduates of typical rehabilitation programs serving blind people. Some have asserted that our graduates are more successful because our centers take only the cream of the blindness crop, that their programs could do as well if they trained only the best and brightest. Certainly blind people bright and persistent enough to identify the best programs and insist on attending them often get to NFB centers, but a survey of center graduates quickly demonstrates that plenty of students with complex problems and poor prognoses also graduate from our centers.
of the success of our centers is not a deep secret--it is not sleepshades or
very long canes or whitewater rafting or preparing a meal for forty friends.
These are elements of effective training but not the underlying explanation.
In the series of presentations below, Pam Allen, director of the Louisiana Center
for the Blind; Shawn Mayo, director of Blindness: Learning In New Dimensions;
and Julie Deden, director of the Colorado Center for the Blind describe the
process and once again offer the explanation of our success:
Pam Allen: Good morning. In 1985 in Ruston, Louisiana, Joanne Wilson founded the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB). This was the realization of a dream for thousands of Federationists around the country. Joanne's tireless energy and unparalleled commitment to improving opportunities for blind people allowed her to develop a staff of gifted and dedicated men and women eager to change the meaning of blindness. The Louisiana Center for the Blind is a place where staff members and students work together to turn dreams into action, where students tap into the gifts they possess, a place where students learn the meaning of the saying, "Anything in life worth having is worth working for."
In 1991 I stood before you as the recipient of a national scholarship. You believed in me and in my capabilities. You helped me to realize the importance of this wonderful organization and to understand the power of our collective voice. At that time I planned to pursue a career in law or clinical psychology; I had no intention of working in the field of blindness. It is amazing how life takes us down unexpected paths, which lead us to discover something greater than we could ever have imagined. After working in the summer programs at LCB and seeing the life-changing work that occurred daily, I was hooked. I wanted to be a part of the excitement. I had the privilege of serving as the director of youth services for eight years before becoming the executive director in 2001.
I am grateful to Joanne Wilson for her dream, for her love, and for her support. She has served as a mentor for me and for hundreds of blind men and women around our country. Through her example I have learned the true meaning of giving back.
Each day at the Louisiana Center for the Blind I am inspired by the commitment of the staff, the desire of the students, and the power of positive thinking and high expectations. My belief in our movement is strengthened each time I see a student conquer a fear and break down a barrier to success. I am challenged by my students and staff always to strive for excellence.
As a 1992 graduate of LCB and its current executive director, I am honored and privileged to stand before you today. I am proud to say that LCB just celebrated our twentieth anniversary. The theme for the occasion was "Celebrate Our Yesterdays–Imagine Our Tomorrows." Thank you for your love and support during the last twenty years. I'm counting on you to help us continue to plan for a future bright with possibility.
It is now my pleasure to introduce Shawn Mayo; executive director of BLIND, Inc.
Shawn Mayo: In 1986 Joyce Scanlan and other dedicated Federationists undertook to expand adjustment to blindness training in the state of Minnesota to a new dimension. They wanted to give blind people the opportunity to learn the skills of blindness in a positive environment, surrounded by the philosophy and support of the National Federation of the Blind. In creating this new training center, they wanted to come up with a name that would encapsulate the mission of the organization. They decided that the center should be called Blindness: Learning In New Dimensions, Incorporated. Not only did this name sum up what the center was all about, it could be shortened to its acronym BLIND. Calling the center "BLIND, Incorporated," would re-emphasize both that the center is directed and operated by blind people and that the word "BLIND" is respectable and that it is respectable to be blind.
I lost my eyesight in 1990 from a combination of diabetes and leukemia. In 1993 I was awarded a scholarship from the NFB's Illinois affiliate. The real prize of this scholarship wasn't the money but the introduction to the National Federation of the Blind. In the Federation I found friends who encouraged me to get adjustment-to-blindness training at one of our Federation centers. I came to BLIND, Inc., in 1996, and that changed my life. I was able to go on to earn my master's in clinical psychology, and, like Pam, I had no intention of working in the blindness field. But when Joyce Scanlan offered me the chance to work for BLIND as an assistant director in 2000, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to give back to the organization that had helped me take control of my life. Joyce was a mentor and teacher--always giving her time and answering my questions. I became director in 2003 and have been privileged to work with a team of the most dedicated, talented, and enjoyable people I've ever known and hard-working students who teach as much as they learn.
I would now like to introduce
Julie Deden, executive director of the Colorado Center for the Blind.
Julie Deden: Good morning. I want to tell you all that it is an honor and a privilege for me to talk with you today. I have been the director of the Colorado Center for the Blind for the past seven years, and each day, when I walk up the hill to the center and see our students getting off of the light rail train, I am energized about what we are doing.
I have always been blind but never thought of myself as a blind person until I joined the NFB in 1978. Prior to that time I did not want to be associated with those blind people and was truly ashamed and embarrassed about my identity, my blindness.
I didn't use a cane, so when I was eighteen and went off to the University of Colorado in Boulder for my first year of college, I attempted to memorize the entire campus and use my limited vision to spot railings and stairs going up. I could not see stairs going down at all, so I just hoped that I would not fall. I expended so much energy getting from class to class without falling and then really embarrassing myself that I couldn't relax and be just another college student because, after all, I thought: I'm not blind; I'm just visually impaired, and I can do whatever I want.
Each month I would get
a call from Judy, who would say, "Hi, would you like to attend an NFB meeting?
We would love to have you!"
Each month I would say, "No, I'm not interested." I would hang up the phone and hope they wouldn't call again. Finally in May, after going through some very hard times on campus, like falling into a drainage ditch and serving myself a large bowl of tartar sauce for lunch, the call came again: "Julie, would you like to come to an NFB meeting?"
I said, "Yes," and my life changed forever after that first meeting. I met blind people who encouraged me and who were very kind. Diane and Ray McGeorge are like my parents. I love and respect them, and they taught me to feel good about myself as a blind person, proud of who I am. Diane has always had great confidence in me and high expectations of what I could do and become. She pushed me and challenged me and continues to teach me every day. Ray was instrumental in his gentle, encouraging way in getting me to use a cane.
But unfortunately I was slow to understand in my heart that it is respectable to be blind. Finally, two years after becoming involved in the NFB, I began using a cane all of the time and really moving forward within myself. If at that time I could have had the opportunity to attend an NFB training center, I like to think that my learning curve would have been much faster and that I would have figured things out without going through so much.
Most of the training centers at that time were run by sighted, degreed people who were certain that they knew best what blind people needed. We truly did not have control over our own training. Rather we spent time in centers being evaluated and analyzed and then received some training circumscribed with limitations because, of course, as blind people, we needed a lot of help in order to amount to anything.
Hence a revolution occurred.
In the early eighties the organized blind decided that we would take control
of adjustment-to-blindness training. With the NFB running training centers,
we could provide role-modeling and mentoring, high expectations and demanding,
effective skills training. Joanne Wilson, Diane McGeorge, and Joyce Scanlan
were the founders of our NFB centers. They had the necessary love, passion,
dedication, tenacity, and, most important, the NFB. I still remember sitting
in the convention in Chicago in 1988 and hearing our first batch of center students
talking about their experiences. Mostly they told us about the belief in themselves
as blind people that they were gaining.
Shawn Mayo: Many training centers teach skills. On paper it is often difficult, perhaps impossible, to tell these centers apart because many purport to teach the basic alternative techniques of blindness. At our NFB centers we teach Braille, assistive technology, home management, daily living skills, career exploration, and travel with the long white cane. In addition our NFB centers also conduct industrial arts classes; activities to build self-confidence; and seminar classes, in which we talk about the NFB and introduce students to a positive attitude about blindness. Quality instruction in the skills of blindness is vital, but what sets NFB training centers apart from others is the context and philosophy in which these skills are taught.
Today each director is going to talk about one of the three fundamental principles of NFB centers: control, peers, and empowerment. Following each section, the other two directors will provide an illustration of how the philosophy is implemented through our training. Traditional training centers have appropriated these terms, but they cannot or do not fully implement them.
Imagine a pecan tree. As the tree increases in height, the roots widen in circumference. As the years go by, the tree grows, the root system deepens, and more and more pecans are produced and sent into the world. Our roots in the National Federation of the Blind provide us with the strength of its membership and the philosophical nourishment throughout the organism that allow us to bear fruit or, in the case of our pecan tree, a lot of nuts.
Since traditional rehabilitation professionals have always maintained that we're nuts, we might as well appropriate the term for our own purposes. They've called us militant; they've called us radical. I am proud of these terms because we stand up for what we believe in. "Radical" means "root," and we go to the root of the problem and do something about it.
In the twenty-plus years since our first Federation center was established, we have produced a lot of pecans. Let me take a little survey; how many of you here have been to one of our NFB training centers? [substantial response] Well, sounds like our tree is certainly growing.
The first of the three
branches of our pecan tree I want to talk about is the branch of control. When
I talk about "control," I am not talking about controlling students. I am actually
talking about the opposite of this--the fact that instructors at NFB training
centers actively refuse to control students. Instructors at NFB training centers
are experts and professionals. However, their expertise doesn't lie in the possession
of stores of specialized knowledge, and their professionalism doesn't come from
amassing letters after their names.
NFB center instructors know that the skills they teach, while extremely important, are not complicated or difficult to master. They know that these techniques have been forged from common sense, refined through practical experience, and evolved to work in an ever-changing world.
When students walk through the door of an NFB center, they are viewed and treated as complete human beings. They aren't considered patients in need of healing or children in need of protection. Instead the staff view their students much as university professors see their graduate students--as future colleagues in need of direction and mentorship. NFB instructors don't put themselves on a different level from their students. They aren't above talking and socializing with their students in public at the end of business. NFB instructors are mentors, not mothers; guides, not guardians; advisors, not advocates. They teach students to be their own advocates.
Some things in life can never actually be given--they must be earned and owned by the people who want them. Independence and empowerment can't be handed from one person to another--if people seek empowerment, they must reach out and take the reins of their lives away from whoever or whatever is holding them.
Most of the people who come for training do so because blindness has taken control of their lives. Blindness is arranging their schedules, deciding what they can and can't do. They need to take back control and put blindness in its proper place. They need to gain the skills and self-confidence to make blindness a nuisance instead of a nightmare.
Sometimes this isn't easy. Sometimes students would rather their instructors take control of the situation so they do not have to risk making a mistake. But the expertise of NFB instructors lies in their ability to help students see that they are capable of making their own decisions. NFB instructors teach their students that they can become their own experts.
The job of instructors at an NFB training center is to make themselves unnecessary. They evaluate their performance based on how many times they hear statements like "I was playing around with Excel and figured out how to sort the data." In day-to-day application this plays out in the form of challenges that instructors present to their students. These challenges can be something as small as a page of new Braille characters or as big as a rock face. They can be as simple as cutting a board on a radial arm saw or as complex as a cane travel drop-off. Whatever the challenges are, they are carefully designed to build upon what has already been learned to create a ladder that students can climb to success.
But, most important, each challenge contains an element of risk. We don't give students the answers; we allow them to problem-solve. When they succeed, they know they have done it on their own; if they fail, they understand why they have failed. Life does not provide successes without the possibility of failure.
Many traditional, non-NFB instructors and agencies do not allow their students to get into any situation that isn't under the instructor's control. They don't allow their students the opportunity to learn how to get out of an intersection they've accidentally entered or what to do when a saw kicks back a board. Because students aren't allowed to make mistakes, they aren't taught how to correct them; they are only taught to be afraid of making a mistake.
At NFB training centers we encourage our students to work through their fear so that it will not stand in their way. Of course we value safety and would not deliberately put anyone in serious danger, but likewise we won't artificially shield our students from the world around them. We don't like to see students stumble, but we know that the greatest teachers of all are personal mistakes. Eventually those climbing the ladder to success will miss a rung or lose their footing, and as instructors we give suggestions on how to have more success the next time and encourage them to dust themselves off and keep on climbing.
We want our students to know that they reached the top of the ladder under their own power--no one boosted them up from below; no one hoisted them up from the top. The job of NFB center instructors is to show them the ladder and say, "I've been to the top, and it's great up there--I know you can climb it too."
All the staff members at NFB training centers are Federationists because at their very core they hold a solid belief in the capabilities of blind people. The Federation has taught them and continually strengthens their conviction that blind people can and do live happy, productive, and successful lives. They see it all around them, and they point it out to their students.
Instructors at NFB centers
have a genuine love for blind people and enough faith in them to support them
and be there for them, not just until the close of business, but whenever they
need it. Instructors at NFB training centers challenge their students because
they can see from those around them--the members of the National Federation
of the Blind--that their students are capable of meeting the challenges placed
before them. Thank you for anchoring our NFB centers with the roots of the Federation.
Julie Deden: Kaley had always lived with her family. Prior to her arrival at the center I had talked to her several times. She was very scared. On a beautiful spring day the Colorado Rockies were playing the St. Louis Cardinals. Eric, our travel instructor, said, "Let's all go to the game." This outing had not been planned, but our students learn that anything can happen at any time. Being flexible and ready for anything is part of the challenge of living life.
Shortly after this planning session, Kaley came to my office crying. She said, "I can't go to the game! I know that there will be escalators, and you'll make me use them."
I said, "Kaley, you'll be just fine. You can handle the escalator."
About half an hour later I overheard Kaley saying to Robert, "I don't want to go!"
Robert said, "Kaley, I know you can do it!"
So we all left for the game. Kaley again said, "No, I can't do this!"
Everyone, both students
and staff, said, "You'll do great, let's go!" When we arrived, Eric worked with
Kaley, and she did it. She went up and down so many escalators that it would
have made anyone dizzy. From that day on, Kaley took on challenge after challenge.
I spoke with her last week. She is moving to her own apartment, has just graduated
from college, and has several job prospects.
Pam Allen: "That's it," John said. "I'm leaving; I just can't deal with this program any longer!"
I could hear the frustration and defeat in his voice. "It's just too much!" How many times have we felt this way, when it seemed as though, no matter how hard we tried, things just weren't happening the way we'd hoped.
"My bags are packed, and
I'm leaving on the next bus." The story might have ended there, and we might
have lost a student. Like some centers we could have given in to John's requests
and allowed him to wallow in his negative feelings about blindness. However,
because of the passion and persistence of our staff, the hours of sharing during
and after 5:00, the pep talks, and the meals together, I'm proud to say that
John graduated from our program and made outstanding progress. The expectations
and encouragement of the staff allowed John to face his doubts with courage
and to realize the power within himself.
Julie Deden: Magical and memorable connections are formed forever at our NFB training centers. Role modeling, mentoring, and support for each other create students who develop full belief in themselves as blind people. This branch of the pecan tree is vital, for as it grows, the tree becomes stronger and more resilient.
We all see each other every day. Students live in apartments, where they share a lot with each other after the busy day. We share in the hard times and in the good times along the training path with our students. I often joke with everyone at the center, telling them that we are just like a big family. We love and care for each other though we may be a bit dysfunctional at times.
From the beginning students learn that they are not alone, not the only one. Most of our staff is blind, and the sighted staff members have had full training in blindness techniques. Even more important, everyone possesses full belief in blind people. We all understand what it is like to wait for a bus in the pouring rain or to be pushed and pulled by a well-meaning stranger. We work together. We are a team, and we expect that our students will meet challenges as they come up. Every time we go rock climbing, I see everyone at the bottom of the rock encouraging and cheering for the climber, saying, "You can do it. You're almost there!" I think to myself, this is what it's all about, encouraging each other and pushing each other to surpass any limitations that we think we may have.
We all believe that positive role modeling makes the difference. Our students see the staff doing everything that we tell them they can do themselves. They pick up on this, and the energy generated is contagious and powerful.
Time spent away from classes at the center often has the most impact on our students. Students and staff go out to dinner together, or students visit us in our homes. We ask our students to give tours to visitors, teach a new student the route to and from the center, or substitute teach at times. Usually we don't even have to ask; they just jump in and say, "I'll help; I can show her." This sharing and giving to others is really what life is all about.
Students who have any residual vision wear sleepshades during their training at our centers. At the beginning this can be upsetting and, of course, challenging. Often students listen to each other a bit more than they listen to us. They tell each other, "You'll get used to wearing your sleepshades. We all do it, and it makes a big difference in your learning and in your thinking about yourself."
Our blindness seminars and philosophy discussions provide much for everyone to think about. Should blind people go to the front of the line? Should we receive discounts? Can we really compete with others? This class allows us all to share our stories and to be well grounded in our philosophy.
Meaningful lifelong friendships
are formed between students. More often than I would prefer, a student says:
"I'm kind of tired today because we stayed up really late talking about everything."
They cry together, laugh together, and learn together; they have adventures
on travel routes and challenge each other to do just a bit more. The bonds formed
are tangible and everlasting for us all.
Pam Allen: Imagine a beautiful summer day. A group of people of all ages and backgrounds are gathered on a patio, laughing and talking. Delectable smells from the grill permeate the air.
"The chicken is ready," one person says.
Another chimes in, "Does anyone want to try some of my pasta salad?"
"No, thanks," someone replies. "I'm saving room for some of that German chocolate cake Laura made; I want that recipe." Over by the grill one person shows another under sleepshades how to tell when the meat is done, using nonvisual techniques.
This is just one example
of the gatherings that take place at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, informal
times when staff and students get together outside of class to share stories
and learn from each other, whether it is a student swapping a recipe for the
delicious cake or another friend helping a student conquer his or her fear of
grilling. These bonds are formed and continue to strengthen long after graduation.
It is part of the magic that happens every day at our three NFB centers.
Shawn Mayo: Earlier this summer one of the instructors at BLIND, Inc., was having a birthday party. He invited his family, coworkers, and students to a local restaurant to celebrate. At first no students showed up. Eventually a bunch of students came in and sat down at my table. They said one of the students had gone around knocking on doors telling people that it was Saturday night and they should get out of their apartments. As we were eating, drinking, talking, and laughing, one of the students turned to me and said, "I can't believe you guys are out with us students on a weekend."
Another student said, "I
was at another center, and the director there would never just hang out with
the students." The conversation continued, and the importance and impact
of the interaction between staff and students outside of the classroom became
Pam Allen: Empowerment is a word that is used in many settings in our society. In the field of rehabilitation and education of the blind, many agencies claim to empower consumers. However, we know that, although we may use the same words, our definitions are often not the same.
In the context of our NFB training centers, what do we mean when we say our graduates are "empowered"? James Omvig referred to our centers as "empowerment stations." We know that, in order for a student to become truly empowered, he or she must be immersed in an environment which will provide challenge, support, high expectations, and attitude change. On one level gaining proficiency in the skills of blindness--Braille, cane travel, daily living skills, computer literacy, and industrial arts--provides a level of freedom and empowerment. However, as we learned from Dr. Jernigan's example in Iowa, merely providing skills is not enough; assisting a student to secure employment or find an apartment is not enough. These skills are not truly empowering to a student.
True empowerment is demonstrated when a person manifests hope, self-awareness, personal choice, and a solid belief in the ability to shape his or her own destiny. This is our goal for our graduates.
Many training centers focus on the hows of blindness--teaching skills that will allow a person to function but missing the most important component--they fail to empower the person both as an individual and as a blind person who is part of the blindness community. Each day in our NFB training centers we focus on empowering our students, on showing by word and action that our students can truly shape their own destinies. Too many times our students come to us with little hope and many fears--fears about the future, fears about achieving their goals, fears about living a full and happy life. Too often our students come to us mistakenly believing that they cannot take responsibility for their actions or for things which happen to them, that they are merely passive victims to whom life's mischances happen. Our goal at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, Colorado Center for the Blind, and BLIND, Inc., is to help our graduates realize that they can be assertive and independent men and women. I am reminded of a quote by George Bernard Shaw: "The people who get on in this world are the people that get up and look for the circumstances that they want; and if they can't find them, they make them." We want our students to feel that they can make things happen.
Shawn and Julie have mentioned the importance of skills, role modeling, peer support, and positive attitude. Of course these are key components for empowerment. Additionally, in order to become empowered, our students must recreate their image of blindness, must replace the misconceptions of blindness with the truth about blindness, the truth that has been passed down through generations in our movement--that it is respectable to be blind; that blindness is not a debilitating tragedy; and that with proper training, opportunity, and a positive attitude, it can be reduced to a mere nuisance. By providing our students with experiences designed to challenge their fears and build their confidence, we slowly begin to demonstrate how the Federation philosophy can be a part of daily life. Whether it be traveling to the mall or grocery store for the first time, attending a concert, learning Braille, using sleepshades, participating in whitewater rafting, skiing, rock climbing, or Mardi Gras, our students are presented with activities designed to push them out of their comfort zones--to help them recognize the strength that lies within them. As blind people, too often we are surrounded by those who, although unknowingly and unintentionally, doubt us. We internalize this doubt and begin to let its negative influence creep into our daily lives. At our NFB training centers we face these doubts and replace this negativity with a positive outlook. This is not a simple task, but it is crucial for gaining true independence.
Because our NFB centers
are grounded in Federation philosophy, we give our students the ultimate tool.
That is, we connect them with the National Federation of the Blind. Through
the examples of the staff, through discussions of NFB speeches and literature
in seminar classes, through participation in local and state NFB activities,
our students are connected with our movement. They see, firsthand, blind people
advocating and speaking for themselves. They come to know through word and example
about the power of collective action. They learn about our history, and they
begin to see how they too can affect the future by becoming a part of our dynamic
organization. They attend national conventions and Washington Seminars. Additionally,
when our students graduate, they are connected to a nationwide mentoring and
support network, an invaluable resource. As we know, we all sometimes need to
be encouraged, to talk to someone who truly understands us and who can help
us put our problems in perspective. This is what the NFB is for our students.
Over the last twenty years our NFB centers have served thousands of people of all ages, birth through adulthood, from all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico in addition to some foreign countries. In turn these individuals have spread out across our nation and have become the leaders of tomorrow. Our NFB centers provide the fertile soil in which people can blossom, nourished by the love and support of this organization and its members. Our graduates have seen the examples of tireless dedication and commitment, have witnessed the power of collective action, and are eager to give back to the community to provide hope for other blind people and a vehicle for change. The field of education and rehabilitation of the blind has also been affected by our NFB centers. Countless center graduates have become rehabilitation professionals and leaders in this field and are bringing about significant change each day.
When the three Federation centers were founded, many questioned our motives. We heard from many critics who were confident that our programs would not produce positive outcomes. However, as a direct result of the success of our diverse graduates, numerous schools, vocational rehabilitation agencies, and training centers have sought our advice. Our NFB model has become the gold standard and the leading force in the rehabilitation revolution.
Without a strong root system, no matter how beautiful, a tree cannot stand and weather the storms, nor can it produce fruit. The NFB is the anchor; it is what makes our centers stand out from the rest. It is what keeps us grounded and also what challenges us to strive for the best.
A friend recently shared this quote with me, and I thought it expressed the power of our centers, the power of the National Federation of the Blind:
Our stories contain the answers to each other's questions. What I cannot find in searching through the riches and rubble of my own life may become apparent to me in the witnessing of yours. In the passing on of our stories, we gift each other with the power of possibility. When I watch you claim your life and go after your dream, I begin to believe I can do it too. When I see what you risk to achieve what you want, I think that I too could take that chance. When I hear what you have suffered while I see you trudging forward, I believe I can make it to the other side of my own darkness. What can save us, if it is not our stories, not the careful sharing of who we are and what we dream for a world whose future rests in our hands?
Shawn Mayo: One day I got a call from someone interested in coming to BLIND, Inc., for training. As I talked with him, I learned that he had been working at a sheltered workshop for twelve years, making mops. He wanted a better job, where he could earn more money, and he thought maybe he could find one if he learned blindness skills and gained self-confidence. When he told his rehab counselor and employer about his desire to get training, they talked to him for hours about the fact that he would fail. They told him that he would never make it through the training and that he should be happy with the job he had. Finally, after much argument, his counselor agreed to send him to BLIND.
At first he struggled and wondered if what they had been saying was right. He hated the sleepshades and wasn't used to being in classes. But he kept going and worked harder. He graduated from the program and fulfilled his dream. He found a job manufacturing furniture and is now happily employed. He is also an active member of the National Federation of the Blind.
Julie Deden: The three branches of the pecan tree come together. You will find full belief and love, role modeling, and empowerment for all of us through the National Federation of the Blind and our NFB training centers.
Pam Allen: The title of our panel is "The Secrets of Rehabilitation: Why Federation Centers Work." You are the secret; you are the reason for our success.
Shawn Mayo: The secret is the National Federation of the Blind.
by Sadia Latifi
From the Editor: On August 10, 2006, the following McClatchy News Service story appeared in the Kansas City Star, the Wichita Eagle, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the San Jose Mercury News, and undoubtedly a number of other papers. It is a lively and upbeat profile of a congressional intern working in Senator Sam Brownback's office. The intern is Federationist Stacy Cervenka, and the positive impact of the story is everything we could have wanted. Blindness is dealt with straightforwardly and without fuss. Best of all, it is clear from what Stacy's colleagues say about her that she is doing her job as well as or better than the interns around her. Here is the profile of a young blind woman who goes to work and does her job well, as measured by any yardstick:
Stacy Cervenka often leads tourists from Kansas through the crowded halls of the Capitol, pointing out presidential busts, historic paintings, and details in the huge dome that arches over their heads. Leading tours is typical duty for Senate aides such as Cervenka, twenty-six, a primly dressed blonde who works for Kansas Republican Sam Brownback. But she brings something extraordinary to the role: she's blind.
"My big fear was that I would point to a vending machine and be like, ‘And this is a picture of George Washington,'" she said in a recent interview. To train herself to give tours, Cervenka explained, she researched the architecture on the Capitol's Web site using software that reads text aloud, called JAWS. She also followed other interns around on their tours, asking lots of questions.
She's an expert now. When she's in the Capitol Rotunda, Cervenka, who uses a cane, determines where she is--and which painting her group is looking at--based on the grooves in the stone floor. In Statuary Hall she invites tourists to join her in discovering tactile details of the sculptured busts.
"When she first arrived as an intern, there were folks that questioned if she was blind," said Brian Hart, Brownback's spokesman. "There was no task she couldn't do. She makes sure she can do everything herself, almost beyond the threshold of what a sighted person would have done."
Brownback agreed, boasting recently that "Stacy gives the best tours of anyone on the Hill."
Cervenka first interned in his office in the summer of 2004, through a program offered by the American Association of People with Disabilities. Each year the program selects students to work in Congress, and Brownback seeks them out.
Cervenka wasn't always self-reliant enough to apply, however. At her high school in Chicago, she stuck to a group of friends and never crossed a busy street alone. She passed up study abroad because she didn't want to travel by herself. She resented the fact that she couldn't drive. She figured that she had no choice. She was born with optic nerve hypoplasia in her left eye, leaving her totally blind in that eye. In her right eye the optic nerve fibers were so deteriorated that she was well beyond legally blind.
After graduating, Cervenka attended Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, for two years. There she started making connections with other blind adults through the National Federation of the Blind. "We went dancing and took the subway, and that opened my eyes to the fact that I wasn't living my life the way I wanted to live it," she recalled.
So she went to the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, Louisiana, which she describes as "boot camp for the blind." She learned cane travel, home economics, shop, Braille, and technology. She also went on mettle-testing excursions with her blind peers. They tried whitewater rafting, rock climbing, even Mardi Gras in New Orleans, where they learned to cope with crowds.
She recalled the center as very demanding. It required her, for example, to prepare a small seven-course meal. "The scariest part for me was not the rafting or the climbing, but I was really afraid to grill a steak," she said. "I thought I'd light myself on fire." Fire still makes her a little nervous.
After eight months at the
center, Cervenka enrolled at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where
she lived off campus, tested herself with classes in judo and horseback riding,
and graduated with a double major in French and Italian. Coaches and professors
were sometimes reluctant to give her a chance to prove herself, she said. "You
have to have high expectations for yourself because sometimes people are willing
to let you slide with mediocrity." "It is so important to get the training and
skills you need," she added. "Reasonable accommodations (for physical
disabilities) aside, how can you possibly ask people to hire you if you can't
do what you need to do?"
Since interning, Cervenka has spoken out against accommodations that she thinks may stifle skills development. She's against audible traffic signals, which she considers a waste of money better spent on traffic-noise training. "It never fails to amaze me the things people try to do for me," she said. "A few days ago my shoe was untied, and this guy on the subway bent down as if he was going to tie it. People think that you're going to be childlike and that you don't live in the world or share the same interests as anybody else."
She's been impressed with her experiences on Capitol Hill, however. "When I started interning, the office manager said, ‘How are you going to give tours?' She didn't say, ‘We're not going to let you' or ‘Will you be able to?' She asked how." Cervenka isn't sure what's next. She's considering public policy or a law degree. Her short-term goal, she said, is to get together with a few blind friends and go skydiving.
For more information on the Louisiana Center for the Blind, visit <www.lcb-ruston.com>.
For information on the
American Association of People with Disabilities and its internship possibilities,
go to <www.aapd-dc.org>. The National Federation of the Blind site is
An Overview of Planned Giving
Making a charitable gift is one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Each year millions of people contribute their time, talent, and treasure to charitable organizations. When you plan for a gift to the National Federation of the Blind, you are not just making a donation; you are leaving a legacy that insures a future for blind people throughout the country. Here are some of the special giving programs available through the National Federation of the Blind.
The National Federation of the Blind is a service organization specializing in providing the help to blind people that is not readily available to them from government programs or other existing service systems. The services of the NFB are specially designed to meet the needs of all blind people. By maintaining a widespread campaign of public education, advocating for the rights of blind children and their families, administering scholarship and mentoring programs for blind youth, providing financial and other specialized assistance, conducting seminars on blindness, evaluating and developing accessible technology, and providing information and services to senior citizens so that they can adjust to vision loss and live more accessible and independent lives, the NFB is changing what it means to be blind.
We will be happy to provide you with further information about the National Federation of the Blind or any of these giving opportunities. Please call or write us at:
National Federation of
Department of Outreach Programs
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 659-9314, ext. 2406
by Frank GreveFrom the Editor: The reporter who wrote the preceding story was so impressed by what Stacey Cervenka had to say about her blindness training that she urged her editor at McClatchy Newspapers to assign someone to do a piece about the training centers that could turn out graduates like her. The following story, published in papers across the country, appeared on September 21, 2006:
"Yeah," the older
replied, "but if we drown, they'll call us dumb a---- who got what they
The older man is Jerrel Lambright, fifty-seven, a bass-voiced once-and-future undertaker. Like the other man, Harlon Cowsar, thirty-five, a once-and-future college student, Lambright attends the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, Louisiana. With most of its twenty enrollees, they recently bounced, bucked, and furiously paddled their way down five miles of the Ocoee's Class III and IV rapids, which they couldn't see.
"I think it's more exhilarating not to see what you're getting into," Cowsar, of Springfield, Louisiana, said afterward, showing precisely the pluck that the center promotes among its students.
The school's purpose is to build the skills and confidence that free graduates to regard blindness as "not a tragedy or a debilitating disease, but a characteristic or maybe a nuisance," director Pam Allen explained.
The approach, which draws students from across the country, is gaining favor for the best of reasons: its success. While nearly three-quarters of blind adults are unemployed, nine out of ten of the Louisiana center's graduates find work or enroll in college. Two other centers founded on the same eight- to nine-month boot camp approach--BLIND, Inc., in Minneapolis, and the Colorado Center for the Blind, in Littleton--enjoy similar success.
The private, federally subsidized schools train students to get around with canes, read Braille, shop, cook, clean, and master software that turns computer-screen words and some images into audible speech. Confidence-building is the essential spice in everything, which is why Allen's students spent three days in leafy eastern Tennessee riding rapids, hiking, teetering with arms outstretched across cables strung between tree trunks, and skimming 1,000 feet down a mountain on a zip line.
"You know how they tell you never to look down? Well we can't!" Luke Cassi, nineteen, a brush-cut former high school jock from Ravenna, Ohio, said after his zip-line adventure.
Being blind may make it better, Cowsar ventured: "It's less anticipation, more adrenaline."
All the derring-do "gives people bragging rights when they get back home--that and ammunition when people tell you you can't do something," said Jerry Darnell, the school's pony-tailed shop instructor.
In fact, virtually all the school's students bit on every excursion challenge. "If you start saying no to the little things, it makes it easy to say no to the big things," Darnell continued as, behind him, a young man dropped his cane in a memorable spot and started up eight flights of stairs to the top of a water slide.
All the risking and winning made for happy campers for the most part. Their success wasn't inevitable--a counselor dislocated a shoulder on the slide--but it was enough to give the group an intoxicating brimful of esprit de corps. At the same time, the fallibility of blind life--whether it was cigarettes being lit in the middle or a bowl of citrus raisin bran produced by mistaking a gallon of orange juice for a gallon of milk--was evident enough to require self-deprecating humor of anyone at the drop of a hat. Tact, too, was instinctive in a group where it was hard to be certain who was listening.
As for the challenges to courage, they drew whoops and screams but bore something of an amusement park's unreality, some students said. For a real adrenaline rush, Cowsar said, riding river rapids didn't hold a candle to the first time he heard the sound of oncoming traffic while crossing a major intersection in Ruston--just as he realized that he'd veered off course and missed the opposite curb.
The right response, he now knows, is a quick course correction based on the direction of the traffic noise. (Veer away if it's in the lane parallel to you; toward it if it's in a perpendicular lane.) Straight traffic crossings are a skill that everyone at the Louisiana center learns by navigating the university town and rail hub, which has a population of 20,000. Indeed, "cane travel" is the only way to cover the half-mile from the apartments, where students cook and clean on their own, to the center downtown.
Some orientation is duh-simple, such as determining the distinctive smells of shoe stores and pharmacies. Then it gets harder. How do you distinguish, for example, between streets and parking lot entrances and exits? (Answer: Parking lots typically have pavement seams where they intersect with streets.) How do you know when you're in an alley? (Answer: By the echo that a tapping cane tip makes when walls or fences are nearby.) The biggest challenge is hearing a nearly silent electric car. (Answer to date: Listen for tire sounds. The National Federation of the Blind is working with automakers to find a better one.)
Cane travel, home economics, and deftness with computer software for the blind are among the center's requirements of all students because they're liberating. And liberation is the heart of the matter. "My schedule depended on when people were available to take me somewhere, so I was always living on somebody else's time," said Deja Rolfe, twenty-three, of Salt Lake City. In her second week in Ruston, "I walked twelve blocks to the city market, something I'd never have done back home."
Her classmate and mentor, Terri Meas, from Sacramento, California, said she'd denied her virtual blindness for years by, for example, patronizing only familiar places and reading at home with a super-magnifier the books that were a blur in class. That didn't work so well at Sacramento State, said Meas, twenty-three, and she found herself depressed and housebound after friends moved to Davis and Berkeley and her boyfriend went to Las Vegas.
Meas now plans to join her boyfriend--now fiancé--and study social work at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Merrily she lists cities that she's navigated alone since enrolling at the center: Monroe, Louisiana; Oakland, California; Las Vegas; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Baltimore.
Cassi, blinded by a genetic disorder just as he graduated from high school, found another kind of liberation. He spent much of the year after graduation, he said, "partying, grieving, not working, and going nowhere fast." Now, "I've gotten on the right path. I've gotten serious. Everything in life that I want to happen is happening."
Lambright, blinded five years ago by glaucoma, said he quit his undertaker job because he couldn't do the paperwork. Then, he said, he found himself stuck at home in Field, Louisiana, near Lake Charles, "over-mothered" by a doting sister and daughter who poured his coffee, cut his meat, and "didn't want me to cook anything unless it was in the microwave." In a month or so he'll go back to his old job and life armed with new computer skills--plus new confidence in handling a skillet.
None of this is easy, and as in Marine boot camps, most recruits are raw. That was evident as one new student helped to prepare the group's dinner by mutilating a cucumber while another discovered the water-to-powder formula for Kool-Aid. Yet before they graduate, these apprentices will have to budget, buy, and prepare a five-course sit-down dinner for four to eight people, then clean up.
In shop class instructor Darnell trains students to use every power tool that a blind person is warned to shun: radial arm saw, table saw, drill press, lathe, router, and the like. The graduation requirement is to make something that uses most of them. Grandfather clocks and hope chests are common. One father built a jungle gym for his kids.
In cane travel the final exam is some kind of advanced scavenger hunt. The students are given a handful of addresses in, say, Shreveport, seventy-five miles west, and told to use only public transportation to bring back the occupants' business cards.
Students and faculty say there's nothing heroic in any of this. "Properly trained, I should be able to do whatever a sighted person can do, except maybe drive a car," Cowsar said. "My idea of a blind hero is a guy who lives next door to an elderly couple whose house catches fire who goes in and rescues them. I'm not a hero just ‘cause I can flip a pancake.'"
For more information on
the Louisiana Center for the Blind, visit <www.lcb-ruston.com>.
For Blind, Inc., visit <www.blindinc.org>.
For the Colorado Center for the Blind, visit <www.cocenter.org>.
The National Federation of the Blind site is <www.nfb.org>.
by Robert W. Massof
From the Editor: Dr. Robert Massof is professor of ophthalmology and neuroscience and director of the Lions Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center, Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. Thursday afternoon, July 6, he delivered the following remarks to the convention. Dr. Massof has addressed the convention before. He is remarkable for his accurate understanding of low vision and blindness and how best to help those losing sight.
Many of us find ourselves from time to time having to answer questions about low vision or advising about where to seek help. Dr. Massof here provides the primer we need in order to be of intelligent assistance to those with a bit of residual vision. This is what he said:
In this presentation I will talk about low vision and its relation to blindness. "Low vision" is a medical term that is defined as chronic disabling visual impairments that cannot be corrected with glasses, contact lenses, or medical or surgical treatment. Most people who consider themselves blind would be included in this broad-reaching definition of low vision. An estimated 3.5 million Americans have low vision. Out of that group approximately two million have mild low vision, which mainly affects driving and reading ability, and about one million meet the legal criteria for blindness. Eighty percent of the people with low vision are over age sixty-five, and most of these people developed low vision late in life. The prevalence of low vision in our population is about one in a hundred for people in their sixties and rapidly increases to one in five for people in their nineties. Across all age groups the incidence of more severe forms of low vision is about 250,000 new cases per year. For the older population the death rate almost matches the rate of new cases of low vision. Consequently the total number of cases of low vision would be expected to increase very slowly. But, because the population is aging, over the next twenty years both the total number of low vision cases and the number of new cases per year will double. Many of the services for the blind in this country target children and working-age adults. But, because of their huge numbers, there is an immediate and rapidly growing need for services that target the senior population.
Historically the term "low vision" comes from references to low visual acuity. Ophthalmologists and optometrists, the two health care professions concerned with the eye and vision, measure visual impairments by asking their patients to read letters on a vision chart. This single measure of vision is called visual acuity. Most people equate normal vision with a visual acuity of 20/20 or better. This number has made its way into our everyday speech with colloquialisms such as "20/20 hindsight"; ABC has a news show called 20/20; and 20/20 is commonly used in promotion and marketing to refer to a clear vision or goal. At the other extreme, a statutory definition of blindness is visual acuity of 20/200 or worse in the better eye. Although most people are familiar with the meaning of 20/20 and 20/200, it is probably safe to say that many do not know what the numbers represent. Visual acuity is reported as a ratio. The top number in the ratio is the distance at which the letters on the eye chart are read. For both 20/20 and 20/200, the 20 in the numerator denotes a test distance of twenty feet. The bottom number in the ratio refers to the size of the letters on a particular line of the vision chart. The denominator also is in units of distance; it denotes letter size as the farthest distance at which a person with 20/20 visual acuity can read the letters. Thus a visual acuity of 20/200 means that the smallest letter read at twenty feet can be read at two hundred feet by a person with normal visual acuity. An object at two hundred feet will appear one-tenth the size that it appears at twenty feet. Thus the 20/200 letters on the vision chart are ten times larger than the 20/20 letters.
Visual acuity can also be expressed as a single number: the ratio 20/20 is equal to one, and the ratio 20/200 is equal to 0.1. Thus low values of visual acuity mean that the letters must be larger in order for the person to read them--the larger the letter needs to be, the lower the visual acuity. Ophthalmologists and optometrists frequently use the word "vision" to mean visual acuity. So, if a person has low visual acuity in both eyes, we say that person has "low vision." Although we apply the term "blind" to people with visual acuity less than or equal to 20/200, approximately 80 percent of people who are blind have some vision that can be measured in terms of visual acuity. Technically they too could be and often are described as having low vision. But before we consider changing the name of this august organization to the National Federation of Low Vision, we must note that the term low vision has come to mean more than just low visual acuity--it also implies a strategy of functioning based on the use of remaining vision. Similarly the term "blind" has come to mean more than the lack of vision--in contrast to low vision, it implies a strategy of functioning based on alternatives to vision. From this perspective, the difference between blindness and low vision is not just one of degree of visual impairment; rather it is a difference in the methods and strategies used to function in everyday life.
Magnification is an obvious compensatory strategy for low vision. If the smallest letter a person can read is ten times larger than the smallest letter that can be read by a person with 20/20 vision, then 10X magnification should make everything that is resolvable to the person with 20/20 vision resolvable to the person with 20/200 vision. There are only three ways to magnify. The first is called "linear magnification," which is achieved by increasing the size of the object. Examples of linear magnification include large print, large-screen display, computer-text and image-enlarging software, and closed-circuit television magnifiers or projectors, which present larger versions of the object to view on a screen. The second type of magnification is called "distance magnification," which is achieved by moving closer to the object. To achieve 10X magnification, we would have to reduce the viewing distance by 90 percent. But, like the need for a macro lens on a camera, when you get very close to an object, you will need stronger optics to keep the image in focus. Children have the ability to change the eye's focus over a large range, so they can get extremely close to an object and still keep it in focus. But adults lose that ability because of hardening of the eye's lens with age. Consequently adults require strong glasses or hand-held lenses, called magnifiers, to focus on closely viewed objects.
The third type of magnification is "angular magnification," which is achieved with optical instruments like telescopes and telemicroscopes. In the case of angular magnification, the size of the image is enlarged without modifying the object or changing the viewing distance. The enlarged image is an optical illusion created by changing the convergence angle at the eye of the light coming from the object.
Magnification is an effective strategy for people with mild and even moderate low vision, that is, in cases where visual acuity is 20/100 or better. This level of visual acuity requires only 5X or less magnification. However, for lower visual acuity the required magnification is greater, which invokes diminishing returns that make magnification less effective. Magnification requires a trade-off between image size and field of view. Larger images take up more space; therefore less of the object can be seen when it is magnified. Also magnifying devices limit the field of view further because of the aperture or viewing window of the telescope, lens, or video display. Another trade-off, in addition to field of view limitations, is that magnifying devices also magnify image motion. At higher magnifications the image being viewed appears to move if the telescope or magnifier moves, and the object's motion is magnified by the same factor as the magnification of size. For example, if 30X magnification is achieved with a CCTV, a one-inch-per-second movement of the object translates to a thirty-inch-per-second movement of the image on the CCTV screen. Thus in the case of magnification more is not always better. Just because magnification works well for the person with 20/70 visual acuity, we cannot assume that magnification will work for the person with 20/400 visual acuity. At lower visual acuities magnification is less effective for many tasks because of greatly magnified image motion and a very limited field of view.
Most often magnification is used for reading. Normally the average reader has a reading speed of approximately two hundred words per minute, a little faster than the highest speed the average person can talk. The top speed that can be achieved with a magnifying device is about 120 words per minute. But that speed drops with increasing magnification, primarily because of field-of-view limitations and magnified-image motion. It is not uncommon for low vision readers to top out around twenty to fifty words per minute, and many, because of blind spots in their central vision, cannot exceed ten words per minute--that is an agonizingly slow pace of one word every six seconds. Studies have shown that these same people can achieve reading speeds in excess of 200 words per minute using speech-output reading machines.
In addition to the trade-offs required by magnification, we also must take into consideration the fact that people with low vision usually have other problems with their vision besides low visual acuity. Most eye diseases that cause low vision also cause a loss of contrast sensitivity, dimming of vision, and blind spots in the field of vision. None of these problems can be helped by magnification. To a limited extent compensations can be made for contrast-sensitivity loss by exaggerating contrast in the environment. For example, the side of the bathtub can be made more visible by simply hanging a contrasting towel over the edge. Also to a limited extent task illumination can be used to compensate for dim vision. But outside the home environmental adaptations such as these are not practical solutions.
Low visual acuity has its greatest impact on reading and seeing fine detail, but contrast-sensitivity losses, dimming of vision, and blind spots have their biggest impact on mobility. Many people who would describe themselves as having low vision need mobility training, and most are not getting it. Falls and hip fractures are significantly higher in the elderly low vision population than in the age-matched sighted population. Seniors with low vision tend to be home-bound. They decrease their physical and social activities, they become isolated, and more than one-third are clinically depressed, and ultimately they spiral into frailty and poor health.
Ophthalmologists and optometrists can be overheard saying that their visually impaired patients should not receive mobility training because they are not totally blind. Blindness has a stigma that doctors and their patients alike want to avoid. People with low vision often refuse to use a cane despite its many benefits because it identifies them as blind, and their service providers will reinforce that decision by concurring with their beliefs.
The major difference between low vision and blindness is the person's attitude toward his or her visual impairment. People who confidently identify themselves as blind have accepted blindness as a personal trait. People who identify themselves as having low vision tend to struggle with trying to function as if they were normally sighted. It is not unusual for people with low vision to try to conceal their visual impairments and avoid challenging situations in order to avoid appearing incompetent. They will avoid using technology and alternative methods in public that identify them as blind. Their service providers also continue to focus attention on the remaining vision and declare success when they solve the problems that can be solved with magnification. In such cases the unaddressed issues, which are usually much larger, are avoided.
We have interviewed over 1,500 patients entering our low vision clinic at Johns Hopkins using a questionnaire called the Activity Inventory. The Activity Inventory organizes everyday activities into a hierarchical framework. Within this structure tasks refer to very specific cognitive and motor activities. Examples of tasks include cutting food, reading recipes, setting stove and oven dials, and measuring ingredients. Goals refer to the reasons for performing tasks. For example, cutting food, reading recipes, measuring ingredients, etc. are all tasks that are performed with the goal of cooking daily meals. Goals, in turn, are organized under objectives. For example, activity goals such as cooking daily meals serve the objective of living independently. The Activity Inventory has three objectives: living independently, social interactions, and recreation. Fifty goals are listed under those three objectives, and 450 tasks are under the fifty goals.
Besides being listed under goals, tasks can be organized by required function. The four functions are reading, mobility, seeing (that is, acquiring and interpreting information through vision), and manipulation (that is, visually guided motor activities). Reading recipes is an example of a reading task, returning to your seat at a restaurant is an example of a mobility task, watching television is an example of a seeing task, and sewing a hem is an example of a manipulation task. If tasks are difficult or impossible to perform, we say the person has functional limitations. If goals cannot be achieved, we use the term disability, and if objectives cannot be achieved, we use the term handicap. Tasks can be made easier to perform by using assistive technology. Goals can be made easier to achieve by making subsidiary tasks easier to perform or by teaching the person alternative strategies for accomplishing the goal. Rehabilitation occurs at the task level, but the outcome of rehabilitation must be judged at the level of the goal.
We first ask the person to rate the importance of each of the fifty goals. If the goal is not important to the person, we ignore it. If the goal is of some importance to the person, we then ask him or her to rate the difficulty of achieving it. If the person says that the goal is not difficult to achieve, we again ignore that goal. In order for an activity goal to be the subject of rehabilitation, it must be both important to the person and difficult or impossible to achieve. If those conditions are satisfied, we then ask the person to rate the difficulty of performing each task that is listed under the goal, or indicate that the task is not applicable. Upon completion of the survey, we know what the person's disabilities are and what functional limitations cause those disabilities. Using these criteria, the goals most in need of rehabilitation by our low vision patients are shopping, correspondence, managing personal finances, traveling, attending spectator events, face-to-face communication, driving, and reading the newspaper. Reading function is included among tasks that serve these goals, but there are many more tasks that cannot be assisted by magnification only, and for many people magnification is not adequate. For example, if the top reading speed that can be achieved with magnification is twenty words per minute, then NFB-NEWSLINE® would be a better method of achieving the goal of reading the newspaper than trying to do it with a magnifier.
What is important to preventing disabilities is achieving activity goals, not the performance of tasks in a usual and customary manner. There are numerous paths to the same result. Efficiency and effectiveness of the methods employed should be the major consideration in choosing a strategy to achieve a goal, not the results of clinical tests of vision that are used to classify people. Low vision rehabilitation service providers need to be educated on methods employed successfully by the blind; the stigma attached to these methods must be overcome and eventually eliminated from society; and the reach of the NFB must be extended to embrace those who now identify themselves as having low vision.
by Bill Morgan
From the Editor: In the June 2006 issue of the Braille Monitor we reprinted material first published in the Oregonian in early March. These articles were part of a larger exposé on the excesses of facilities in the nation's sheltered workshop system. Bill Morgan, an Idaho Federationist and Randolph-Sheppard vendor with whom you will become better acquainted in the following pages, was moved by the Oregonian series to put down on paper his story because of the perspective his experience provides on the exploitation practiced by these workshops. In this season of thankfulness we might all benefit from looking back over our sometimes difficult personal histories and taking stock of our efforts to improve our own lot and that of our neighbors, blind and sighted. Here is Bill's story, edited somewhat for inclusion in the Monitor:
I am fifty-nine years old and have been blind for fifty years. I became legally blind from the hereditary eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, which can skip generations. It frequently begins with night blindness, can progress slowly or quickly, and can begin in early childhood or up into adulthood. Thousands of people have RP.
I lost 95 percent of my sight in my third grade school year. By the close of that school year, what a person with good vision could see at twenty feet, I could see at one foot, sorta. To complicate things further, my third grade teacher wouldn't believe that I was becoming blind. She believed that I was trying to get attention by pretending to be like my parents, both of whom were blind. My father was legally blind from RP (his mother and five of his six brothers had it as well), and my mother became blind by contracting spinal meningitis at fourteen months from a dying baby who was brought into her cabin in North Dakota in 1921.
That third-grade year I thought I was going crazy. I wondered if I really was imagining that I could not see just to get attention. I would slip from the back row to the front of the room to try to see the board. If it has not happened to you, you can't conceive the doubts a young child can have in such a situation.
But in April my teacher committed suicide, and another teacher was brought in to finish the year. Within two weeks I was in an eye doctor's office, where he discovered that indeed I was almost totally blind. I had only 5 percent of my sight left. The next thing I knew, I was enrolled in the Oregon State School for the Blind in Salem, Oregon, where I attended third through eighth grade.
After my parents were divorced when I was about five years old, my mother started playing her cello and an accordion on street corners. She had learned to play at the Washington State School for the Blind and Deaf. I led her from corner to corner and block to block in the downtown areas of several cities in the Northwest, where she would play. But we kept getting kicked out for begging. This was my first experience of blind people's determination to work, no matter what the conditions.
I guided my mother from age five to ten and held the basket or bowl for collecting the coins that were thrown to us. Before I lost most of my sight, I could see the looks of pity and disgust on the faces of the passersby. I heard their comments and could see them pointing at us. My mother, God bless her, was doing everything in her power to earn a living for us.
In the 1950's we received a welfare check called "Blind Aid." It was $90 a month, I believe. We had very little and lived in the ghetto of each new city. We had so little food that at the school for the blind I was caught stealing and hoarding canned food from the kitchen in my room. After this discovery school officials made arrangements for me to go home with other students on the weekends.
At the age of ten I started looking for jobs. I would cut lawns, rake leaves, clean up yards, and pick up after dogs even though it meant bending far over to see the ground. I collected soft drink and beer bottles for the deposits, cleaned out basements and garages, and picked beans and berries with my face almost inside the plants to try to see what I was picking; and I did anything else I could come up with to make money. I was willing to work. I was known as "Billy, the kid who could hardly see, with the blind parents."
Work was very important to me. Mother had shown me that you should do whatever is possible, no matter what. When I was fifteen, I got a job in the Javits-Wagner-O'Day (JWOD) sheltered workshop for the blind on 12th and S.E. Washington in Portland, Oregon. It was called the Oregon Industries for the Blind with fifty to seventy-five people working there when I started. I earned the state minimum wage of 50 cents an hour and thought I had died and gone to heaven. This place was filled with people just like me, blind or unable to see very well. The work was broom- and mop-making and all kinds of assembly jobs from the simple, like putting cardboard dividers together, to the complicated, like assembling fireplace glass doors systems.
I was overjoyed to have a job that paid more than I had ever dreamed of, to have a place to work every day, to be one of the crowd, and to have something to look forward to besides getting up each day with people saying, "No you can't because you can hardly see." We hated to see each project end with the inevitable lay-offs. We worked our guts out to out-perform each other, so it would be the other person who was laid off. I asked the men I ate lunch with how they could make brooms and mops for twenty or thirty years, standing at those machines all day, every day. The answer was simple: "Kid, the alternative is absolutely nothing, but nothing to look forward to the next day, and that's the real Hell!"
At the time I had no idea that I should have been paid more. When I married in 1967, I was earning 85 cents an hour, and when my first child was born in 1968, I was earning $1.15 an hour and glad to get it.
I worked in and outside the sheltered workshop from age fifteen to thirty, finally making foreman of the assembly section of the workshop. I was desperate to work, as all of us were. Work was everything. Without it what do people do? I believe it's especially important to the blind and disabled. Without being able to work, many of us have nothing to look forward to except a day of existence with little or no meaning. I think this is the same for most Americans. People say that we are not defined by our work. However I don't know very many people, disabled or not, who really believe that.
As bad as the workshops are and as little as they pay, in my opinion they are a godsend for those who cannot get work any other way. We keep hearing that 70 to 80 percent of blind people are unemployed, and many of the 20 to 30 percent who are working are earning very little. As Dr. Kenneth Jernigan frequently said, if this were the employment statistic for any ethnic population in America, we would face revolution in the streets. However, no one has ever questioned whether minorities had the ability to work; that has always been a given and then some. In the early days of our country we tried our best to work the ethnic populations into the ground. But if you're blind or disabled, the frustration is that for the most part you are automatically dismissed as unable to do the job. Blind and disabled people are mostly treated as large, slow, fragile children. Most of us live one day at a time, hoping against hope that someday the world will give us a chance to prove we can perform too.
These workshop managers and directors do a terrible, even criminal thing when they collect the salaries and perks they award themselves on the backs of the disabled employees who work hard every day for very little. I couldn't have made it on my minimum wage job if it hadn't been for food stamps, subsidized medical care, and low-income housing. My last Social Security income report, when I was forty-two, said that the most I had ever earned in the workshop was $6,400 in one year. My wife and I raised three children on this amount or less. I heard an instructor at the Oregon workshop yell at the top of his lungs in an argument with staff, "These guys don't need our pity or some damn head doctor! They need a lunch bucket and a place to take it every day!"
I have now made it out of the workshop. Beginning at forty-two until today at fifty-nine, my workaday world has totally turned around. Three things had to take place for me to become the business operator and middle-class citizen I am today. First, in the rehab training centers for the blind in Oregon and Idaho I learned the alternative skills of blindness: cane travel, Braille, home management, woodshop, and computer skills. Second, National Federation of the Blind members have taught me that it is respectable to be blind. This meant I could develop the confidence to become the man I always wanted to be. From 1940 till today other blind people who have gone from shame to self-respect have led the way one day at a time to full participation.
I drank from age twelve until age thirty. By the time I was fifteen, I was a maintenance beer drinker. By thirty I weighed 265. My liver was enlarging and turning yellow orange, and I was smoking two packs of Camels a day. Though my drinking had dropped from a case of beer a day to a six-pack or less (because of reduced liver function), I was hammered most of the time. The doctor told me that, if I did not stop smoking and drinking, I would be gone in six months or less, but that news didn't stop me or even slow me down.
However, sitting in a bar in Bend, Oregon, on New Year's Eve of 1976 I prayed the prayer of all drunks, "God, if you are real, please help me." I haven't had a drink since. It took five years to get sober, regain my health, get my weight back down to 185, and establish the habit of exercising regularly. But in the end I felt great. One day I asked God what I could do to give back. The message I received was to educate everyone about what I had been taught by other blind people and to share my story of alcoholism when I could to help other drunks. So I decided in 1982 to walk across America and educate the world that it is respectable to be blind. I set a world record that still stands today. I walked on behalf of Christian Record Braille Foundation and as a member of the NFB, one step, one day at a time. My wife and three children accompanied me, living in a small motor home. The sign on its side read: "Stepping out for life and the NFB. I believe in life. I believe in challenges. I believe in God. Come walk with me, Bill Morgan." I walked 3,615 miles in 318 days, educating the world about blindness and the abilities of blind people.
On September 30, 1983, I met President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office. Standing there in the White House presenting my wonderful wife Lynda and the leaders of the blind to President Reagan, I found it hard to believe that I was the same person who had stood on city streets holding the basket that passersby threw their coins into while my blind mother played music on the corner so we could survive. This was what it meant to say that it is respectable to be blind.
The third and final step in my turnaround involves a federal and state program to train blind and visually impaired people to operate food service businesses, usually cafeterias, snack bars, and vending machine routes. Established in the 1930's, mostly to help veterans, the program was created by the Randolph-Sheppard Act, named for the senators who introduced it. In Idaho we have about twenty-five operators. Our combined sales for 2005 were $1.3 million. In this program the blind train the blind to become successful businessmen and women. What could be better? The Randolph-Shepherd program is one of the best, if not the best, rehabilitation programs in the United States. More than 2,500 blind business operators are working across the U.S. Moreover, we all pay taxes as well.
After being trained by legally blind food service operators, I was able to enter the BE Program and run a vending machine route. I have been at this now since 1987. By the time I retire in 2016, I will have paid an estimated $750,000 in taxes and related fees. I will have worked twenty-nine years in this program, earning my own living. How is that for a healthy return on investment! Moreover, here in Idaho vendors pay 10 percent of our gross profit back in to the BE Program for repairs and maintenance on the equipment at our locations. My vending route covers 825 miles in the rest areas on I-84, from the Idaho-Oregon border to the Idaho-Utah border, and a couple of other highway stops.
This wonderful program has given me the opportunity to become a middle-class citizen, a dream of a lifetime. I have truly experienced and lived the American dream. As they say, "You have come a long way, baby."
Note: Bill Morgan is looking for a published author who would be interested in writing his biography or ghost writing his story. He also wants readers to know that he is an inspirational public speaker. His email address is <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
by Barbara Pierce
From Daniel Frye: As Federationists know, the 2007 NFB national convention will feature the first-ever National Federation of the Blind March for Independence, a five-kilometer public education and fundraising walk through downtown Atlanta. Early on the morning of Tuesday, July 3, 2007, eligible Federationists, who have raised at least $250 in pledges for this charitable marathon, will assemble in the lobby of our headquarters hotel, walk to an NFB rally site, and then stream back to the hotel ballroom for the start of our first general session. Further details of this event were published in the October 2006 Braille Monitor, have been discussed on Presidential Releases, and will be regularly featured in a variety of Federation-sponsored forums during the next several months.
In the interim
we reprint here "From the President's Desk," published in the Fall 2006 edition
of the Buckeye Bulletin, the publication of the National Federation
of the Blind of Ohio. In it Barbara Pierce, president of our Ohio affiliate,
offers useful insights on increasing our eagerness to solicit funds on behalf
of the NFB. As we prepare to tackle this ambitious fundraiser, consideration
of Barbara's experience and reflections on this topic seem appropriate. Get
ready to do your part to help make the National Federation of the Blind March
for Independence a phenomenal success. Her column follows:
From the President's Desk
I had been a member of the Federation for about a year and a half when I sat in shocked silence as our then-president and beloved leader, Kenneth Jernigan, made a short speech to a group of us that went something like this:
All of us in this organization
hate to the very core of our beings the concept of the blind beggar with his
tin cup and pencils. Our reaction is violent and visceral because we know full
well that this image is fixed in the public mind as the ultimate representation
of blindness. We are frequently intolerant of blind people who make their livings--sometimes
a very good living indeed--by this shameless appeal to pity and primal fear.
We know that we all pay a price every time this stereotype is reinforced by
a blind person begging on the corner.
So it is a given that I hate begging and everything it stands for and that I struggle not to despise those who believe they have no choice but begging if they wish to survive. Yet I tell you that, if I could find no other way to raise the money we need to fund the programs of this organization, even feeling as I do about begging, I would take to the streets and beg to raise money to fund our work. That is how important I think this work is.
I found those words stunning
and profoundly disturbing, but I have now lived with them for a number of years,
and I have reflected on the truth they conveyed. They have forced me to examine
my own personal reactions to the Federation's efforts at fundraising.
I have noticed that I am far more willing to sell drawing tickets or small items if the cause to which the funds are going is not connected to blindness. This tells me that, when I sell chances or small items for the NFB, I have the niggling feeling that people will presume that I somehow benefit personally from their purchases. I suspect that subconsciously, at least, I feel a bit like a beggar capitalizing on the buyer's pity for a poor blind person.
I know I am not alone in this reaction. Other blind people have told me as much when I have asked them to join me in doing such fundraising. I have gradually come to the conclusion that this reaction is misguided. I do not believe that friends and strangers see us as a sort of institutional beggar when we sell raffle tickets or Krispy Kreme doughnuts or wrapping paper. In fact I have come to suspect that the expressed fear that such sales will be misunderstood is nothing more than a way of excusing myself for not trying harder at fundraising. That is one reason why Dr. Jernigan's statement that he would be willing to engage in outright begging if he could find no other way to fund our movement is so disquieting to me.
Of course the Federation is in a new era. With the opening of the NFB Jernigan Institute, we are faced with the need to engage in fundraising on a scale that Dr. Jernigan could not have conceived of when he made his statement. But I do not believe that his view would be any different today. If anything, he would hold it even more passionately, because the range of projects in which we are engaged is even more ground-breaking and absolutely unique than it was in the seventies.
I am beginning to hear Federationists offer even stronger objections to the fundraising we are now doing, but I have come to the conclusion that their objections are nothing more than a twenty-first-century version of the old I-don't-want-to-be-seen-as-a-beggar argument. The concern articulated by these folks is usually that we have lost our commitment to what the NFB has always stood for: helping individual blind people, doing Social Security cases, fighting court cases for individual blind people in trouble, assisting the newly blind. Of course we must continue to engage on all these fronts. The difference, as I see it, is that we used to be able to count on the good old national office to do the heavy lifting in these areas. Now that the programs conducted at the National Center for the Blind are so much more wide-reaching and innovative, now that we are leading the way in helping blind students to do math and science effectively, devising programs to help seniors adjust to blindness, providing the only truly objective place where people can learn about access technology, training professionals in consumer-based rehabilitation, and even helping to invent the first portable reader--now that we are engaged in projects like these--the state affiliates and local chapters are the parts of the Federation people turn to for personal help. We are closer to them anyway, so we actually are the folks who should be helping.
These changes take some getting used to. The world today is a different place. It used to be that a bunch of moderately articulate, well-informed blind volunteers could make a favorable impression on the powers that be locally or even nationally. After all, we were the only blind people articulating our views, and even if our materials sometimes looked as if they had been assembled by--well, a bunch of blind people, they were acceptable because…. Today, if we are to be taken seriously on the national scene, we have to be professional, and our documents and literature have to look professional.
All these factors work together, requiring us to find new ways to raise the funds we need to do the work we have taken on and to prepare materials that will not be dismissed as unprofessional or second rate. We cannot assume that someone else in the organization will raise the big bucks for us. Our old patterns of selling things to each other will no longer do. We have to find new ways of reaching beyond our membership to all the friends, family members, and business and professional acquaintances that our nationwide network of member volunteers have as a reservoir of potential contributors.
Enter the Imagination Fund. Though grant writers at every level of the Federation are attempting to identify foundations that we can approach to fund projects and programs and our members are invited with ever greater eagerness to contribute to cover the costs of our activities, we have come to recognize that something more is needed. Two years ago we created the Imagination Fund, a fundraising program designed to tap funding sources beyond our membership. NFB members who raise a significant amount from friends and family become Imaginators, as do those who actually make the gifts. A member can become an Imaginator by making a significant personal gift, but that misses the point. All of us know at least a few people who could make a significant gift to the NFB if we were to invite them to do so. The question is whether or not we will bother to ask them.
The Imagination Fund does not raise funds exclusively for the programs of the Jernigan Institute or even for all national programs. One quarter of the money raised in this effort is divided evenly among all the affiliates; another quarter is available to fund grant requests from affiliates and chapters; and the rest is allocated to fund national programs. Imagination Fund brochures and envelopes are available from Kristi Bowman at the National Office. I hope that you will search your heart and conscience and join me as an Imaginator. People lose sight every day. Every day babies are born with little or no vision. Every hour someone reaches the point of deciding to do something about poor vision or functional blindness. All these people need our help and can benefit from our expertise. You know about blindness. You can help if you will.
If push comes to shove, I hope I have the courage and commitment to stand on the corner and beg in order to fund our movement. I have decided to do everything I can to make certain that we never come to that extremity. I hope that you will think about these matters and join me as an Imaginator. I will be walking in the Independence March at the convention in Atlanta next July. To do so, one must have raised at least $250. I hope that you will pledge yourself to raise that much as well. If enough of us do so, no one will have to stand on the street corner selling pencils.
by Elsie Hiebert Lamp
From the Editor: Elsie Lamp is one of the leaders of the NFB of Idaho and president of its Gateway Chapter. She has also served as a commissioner for the Idaho Commission for the Blind and was the recipient of the nationally renowned Jefferson Award for Outstanding Public and Community Service, established by Mrs. John F. Kennedy. Recently she planned and hosted a retirement party for Jan Omvig Gawith in Boise. She wrote the following tribute to this quiet leader and role model as an inspiration to those who will guide coming generations of NFB leaders.
Jan Omvig Gawith (age seventy-four) has been my teacher, mentor, and friend ever since I joined the National Federation of the Blind in 1999. We held a retirement reception for her in Boise on Friday, April 21, 2006, one week before her last day as manager of Jan's Cafeteria in Boise. In remarks at her retirement celebration this longtime NFB mentor said, "Although I'll be seventy-four, I'm not finished yet. I'm looking for a job; is anyone looking for a teacher?"
Because Jan has had such a profound impact on my life (and the lives of many other blind and sighted people), I decided to do a little investigation to learn just how she got to be the Jan Omvig Gawith that we all know and love. Her earliest and enduring influences, of course, were from her wonderful family. It did not take much digging to learn that the first time a true NFB orientation and adjustment training center was established, it was in Des Moines, Iowa, by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan in July of 1960. Jan had the opportunity to be one of the very first Jernigan students. Her timing and location and position could not have been more central. Dr. Jernigan had gone to Iowa in 1958 to direct the poorly performing Iowa Commission for the Blind and to prove that the NFB philosophy would work in a state rehabilitation program for the blind. The adjustment center he built and made famous opened its doors officially on July 1 of 1960.
I also learned that Dr. Jernigan had such a deep and abiding faith in the NFB philosophy that he did not wait for an imposing building in which to teach. His goal was to instruct blind people so that they would believe in themselves and understand that they are normal people who, given proper training and opportunity, can do what other people do. He even started an orientation class in November of 1959--before he had a Commission building. When this class began, female students lived with a Commission staff member, and male students stayed at the Des Moines YMCA.
Dr. Jernigan moved the Commission for the Blind offices and programs to the newly designated building on February 1 of 1960, and Jan (she was Jan Omvig then) joined the fledgling orientation class just one month later. Since the new residential center did not yet have housing for the students, Jan continued to live in her own apartment and come to the Commission for training each day. Therefore she was one of those very fortunate early Iowa students who proved the truth of the NFB philosophy and benefited in their own lives because of that philosophy.
During Jan's year as an orientation student at the new Iowa center she joined and then became a leader in the Des Moines Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, and her lifetime career of mentoring began in earnest. Also at the end of that year of training she landed her first paid job as a blind person. She was hired as a medical secretary at a veterans hospital in Des Moines. Reliable authority has it that she was so successful and performed so well on that job that before long the VA hired another blind center graduate, JoAnn Jones Slayton, sight unseen. That's what mentoring and good role modeling is all about.
By 1963 she began another phase of her activities, which continues to this day--educating politicians. While she was vice president of the Des Moines Chapter, she worked for months and eventually got Iowa Governor Harold Hughes to come to dinner with the Jernigans, tour the Iowa Commission building, and speak to the Des Moines Chapter. Governor Hughes became a staunch supporter of the Iowa Commission's programs. Throughout her NFB career Jan has been a master at educating politicians about the blind, the NFB, and agencies training blind people.
In 1965, working with Dr. Kenneth Jernigan and a newly-elected state legislator, she took a leave of absence from the VA and worked for one legislative session as a secretary in the Iowa House of Representatives. This is not as easy as it appears on the surface. The VA first turned down Jan's request for a leave, maintaining that she was too valuable and could not be spared. Not to be deterred, Dr. Jernigan and the legislator contacted Iowa U.S. Congressman Neil Smith in Washington, D.C., and got him to use his connections at the VA to arrange for Jan's leave of absence. What do you know? Almost overnight her leave was approved.
As she was receiving training along with other new legislative secretaries, her first day on the job she was admonished sternly that she would be fired if she tried to lobby Iowa legislators. Of course she did not lobby, but she did do quite a bit of educating during that session. Imagine the impact a beautiful, competent woman gracefully using a long white cane could have moving quietly in and out of the House chamber every day for an entire legislative session.
Of course, though she could
not lobby, she could answer questions when addressed directly by Iowa legislators.
In addition to his annual operating budget, Dr. Jernigan had two capital appropriation
bills in the legislature that session. Almost every day legislators stopped
Jan and asked her about the bills, what they were all about, and what she thought
about their value to the blind. Both capital appropriations passed the legislature
that year, and thus began a pattern of legislative success, which continued
until Kenneth Jernigan left in 1978.
In the mid-1960's Jan decided to further her education by obtaining her teaching credential. During her entire college experience she never received lower than a B except one C when she was sick during the final exam and couldn't concentrate. Once, after completing the first of a two-part exam, Jan's instructor told her that she would be getting an A for the course. What happened next is the kind of integrity that is vital for all Federationists to maintain. Jan was busy packing to move and basically blew the second part of her exam. Her instructor told her that because Jan had been promised an A she would get it. Jan asked what her real grade should be. It should be a B, was the reply. She said, "I'll take it."
During this same time Jan was serving as president of the Des Moines Chapter. Then her life took a major turn to the west. The NFB of Idaho (with help from Dr. Jernigan and the Iowa Commission for the Blind) had worked hard to get the Idaho Legislature to create an Idaho Commission for the Blind patterned on the Iowa model. The new Idaho Commission director, Kenneth Hopkins, a former Iowa center student, asked Jan to come to Idaho and help him establish orientation and adjustment programs here. She moved to Boise in February of 1968. At first she was the orientation center. She taught Braille, travel, typing, home economics, and other things to the first students who were gathered together. Eventually, of course, the Idaho Commission got its own building and inaugurated a full residential program.
In the 1970's Harry Gawith entered the picture as the new shop teacher in the Idaho center. Harry needed someone to confide in, and he and Jan became close friends. Thirty years ago Jan and Harry were married May 9, 1976, and they have worked closely together as a team ever since.
In 1983 Jan decided to leave her employment with the Idaho Commission and enter the Business Enterprise Program (BEP). She became the operator of the cafeteria in the Idaho Commission building. This gave her time to continue her mentoring, her work with center students, her education of Idaho politicians, and her general NFB work. She has become close friends with many of Idaho's leading politicians and has been key for many years in planning and carrying out the Idaho affiliate's annual legislative dinners. Also she can always be counted on to help with community recognition dinners, state fair displays, and bike-a-thons; selling raffle tickets; and obtaining auction items, door prizes, and the like.
In 1993 she left the Commission cafeteria and became BEP operator of Idaho's largest and most lucrative vending operation, located in the LBJ (Lynn B. Jordan) State Office Building, next to the Idaho State Capitol building. Her education of politicians has never slackened, and she can count many current and former state legislators, U.S. congressional representatives, and governors among her many close friends.
Jan will have no trouble finding things to do. Harry reached early retirement age, and they have moved on together. Harry has served as the Idaho affiliate treasurer for several decades and is a reliable sighted worker in the NFB. One of his many responsibilities is helping Diane McGeorge with door prizes at national convention. Harry is an avid golfer, and Jan wrote a Kernel Book story about choosing to golf with him rather than becoming a golf widow. She has taught others that they too can participate in golf or any other activity that interests them. At least one of her blind golfer friends has become quite successful at his game. Jan and Harry bowled on a team called the White Canes. They were a visible force in the sport. Jan graduated from Boise State University. The Gawiths are devoted Bronco fans who rarely miss a football or basketball home game of her Alma Mater.
So Jan has decided to retire from her BEP position but not from her many NFB activities. An estimated three hundred people attended her retirement party on April 21. The governor of Idaho, Dirk Kempthorne, had a framed certificate presented which reads in part: "The Office of the Governor presents this Commendation for Distinguished Public Service to Jan Gawith for twenty-three years at Jan's Cafeteria. As the Governor of the State of Idaho, I extend to you the thanks and deep appreciation of a grateful state."
The Boise NBC television channel, KTVB, sent a team to cover the retirement event, and on the evening news they aired a delightfully accurate story about Jan, the blind, and the NFB. Perhaps most treasured of all, however, was a letter to her from NFB President Marc Maurer, which was read at the retirement ceremony on Friday and again Saturday at the meeting of the Treasure Valley (Boise) Chapter. Dr. Maurer's letter reads in part:
"When I came to Idaho during the troubled time in the mid-1980's, you were gracious. Among other things you offered me canned elk. I had never had canned elk, and I have only had it three times to date. Each of the three has been at your bestowing. I am sorry that the elk had to sacrifice, but I would have been sorrier if it had not done so.
"You have provided a measure of observation, a constant measure of support, a measure of reality, and a kind of sanity to the Federation wherever you have been. Only this year we shared our first New Year's Eve. May there be many more of them, and may the joy of the good spirit run as deep and as wide as they do in your heart."
More frosting was added to the cake for Jan when her brother, Jim Omvig, and his wife Sharon from Baltimore and Jan's sister-in-law, JoAnn Omvig from Lexington, Kentucky, came to attend the retirement activities. Also Jan's cousin Becca Williamson and her children Michaila and Morgan from Paris, Idaho, joined the weekend activities.
Jan's influence factored into my joining the Federation. Jan and Harry have opened their hearts and their home to me. Their assistance with my new business and their support and concern through my life-threatening illness have been heart-warming. The generosity they have shown to me, to many others, and to the Federation is inspiring.
Dr. Jernigan's early students in Iowa who helped to prove the soundness and value of the Federation's philosophy came to be known as the "pioneers," and Jan has made a great pioneer. She has worked steadily and quietly, usually behind the scenes, but what a difference she has made. Jan, your grateful friends are proud of you and what you have done for blind people, and we thank you.
In the Spotlight: Affiliate Action
From the Editor:
This month's Spotlight focuses on chapter building. South Carolina takes the
prize for the number of chapters in an affiliate. So its president, Parnell
Diggs, knows whereof he speaks when he talks about organizing chapters. Therefore
we begin with pointers from an expert and conclude with some suggestions for
finding new members drawn from the TOPS handbook.
On the Art of Chapter Organizing
by Parnell Diggs
The National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina has sixty local NFB chapters, three of which are statewide divisions. South Carolina takes pride in our many chapters and high membership numbers, and we would like to share with other affiliate leaders some of the lessons we have learned about the art of chapter organizing.
South Carolina is a rural state, but we have never let that discourage us. A prolific chapter organizer is capable of clearing the mind of any preconceived notions about a given locality, such as how densely or sparsely populated it is or whether a good transit system exists in the area. If you think hard enough, you can always find an abundance of reasons not to organize and thereby deny a potential superstar a chance to learn of the National Federation of the Blind. In short, anywhere can be a good place to start a chapter.
Not all of our chapters have a hundred members, but they all have a president. The president is the most important component of a successful chapter. A supporting cast is helpful, but a chapter without a good president will soon die on the vine.
From time to time I receive phone calls from those seeking assistance or information about services or employment opportunities or from someone new in the area who just wants to get involved. Blind people in the state contact me about scholarships, discrimination, or custody issues based on blindness. I consider all of these people potential chapter presidents. This is so whether I am talking with someone in an area with a thriving chapter or no chapter at all.
If a chapter is in the area, you should put that person in touch with the chapter president. When no chapter is in the area, you should keep in touch with that person and begin cultivating his or her interest in the NFB. Even if the caller is not presidential material, he or she is still a potential member. I have never met a blind person who could not benefit from membership in the National Federation of the Blind. But don't be quick to write anyone off as a potential leader.
You are looking for a chapter president, not a national leader. Some chapter presidents will ultimately become national leaders, but you do not have to make this determination during the first contact. When you set up an organizing meeting in the caller's area, invite him or her to it. Do not discuss the chapter presidency until and unless you and that person have reached a threshold level of comfort; this may not occur until the first organizing meeting.
As for planning the organizing meeting, you should pick a time and place and send invitations to as many blind people in the area as possible. How do you find people? First and foremost, rely on the blind people you already know in the area to spread the word and encourage others to come. A personal invitation is the most effective way to get people to show up. Prepare a letter inviting local people to the meeting. In the letter discuss the NFB's mission and accomplishments. Enclose a reply card and keep track of responses.
It is usually good to have food at an organizing meeting; it is not required, but people will usually show up for free food. In your letter you can say that you are sponsoring a dinner for blind residents of the area. We recently had sixty-three turn out for a dinner at a popular restaurant.
You might want to give the letter (ready to mail) to your state rehabilitation agency or your state library for the blind and ask them to distribute it for you. Occasionally they will give you names confidentially. Do not breach this confidence. Begin a database of contacts in the area from the responses you receive. This is your information, and from then on you will not have to rely on others to put you in touch with blind people in the community.
In rural areas it is particularly easy to talk with the postmaster about who receives Free Matter for the Blind in the area served by that post office. Postal officials will usually be glad to help if you tell them about the programs and services we offer. Give them a Kernel Book or another publication of the National Federation of the Blind. Local Lions Clubs, churches, cab companies, and other transportation services may also be good referral sources. Remember, maintain your own file for later reference.
The state president or designated affiliate officers should conduct the organizing meeting. Be sure to encourage discussion and take note of those who ask good questions and appear genuinely interested in the proceedings. These people are your potential officers. I presided at a meeting a few years ago and noticed one woman sitting at the front of the room who responded to questions put to the audience, asked questions of her own, and offered solutions to the issues raised throughout the discussion. I had never met this woman before, and we had not talked on the phone. I did not know of her before she started speaking up at the meeting. I asked what her name was and made a mental note of it. She continued to contribute positively throughout the meeting. When the meeting was about to conclude, I recommended that she be elected president. She was shocked and unprepared, but she accepted. She is now a state leader and one of our best chapter presidents.
You must prepare for one other thing in organizing a chapter if you want your efforts to pay off; you need to plan for the second meeting. If you do not, it may not happen. While you are presiding at the organizing meeting, discuss a second meeting time and place with the new members. Food does not have to be involved at the second gathering, but snacks might be helpful. Keep in touch with the new president about the second meeting. When it is over, call the new president and ask how it went. Even thriving chapters are an illness or a re-location away from falling apart. You need to stay in touch with the president and help in any way you can. A good chapter is defined, not by its size, but by whether it meets regularly, conducts activities that educate the public and raise money for the organization, and sends representatives to national and state meetings.
Once the chapter has been organized, the real work begins. It is impossible just to start a chapter and forget about it. Keeping the chapter strong and active is an ongoing business that requires a continuous commitment from chapter and affiliate leaders. Geography and population do not a good chapter make. It all comes down to the chapter leaders and the support they receive from the state affiliate.
Tips for Finding Future Federationists
One of the challenges we face as we try to organize new chapters and increase membership in the National Federation of the Blind is locating blind people. The following suggestions have proven effective for chapters across the country. We hope that they will help you begin to think creatively about how to find future Federationists.
When looking for future NFB members, one of your best resources is personal contact with others.
You may be able to obtain lists or have NFB mailings sent through the following blindness-related organizations:
Other Organizational Contacts
You might also have some success locating individual blind people through the following organizations. It probably works best to make an appearance rather than a phone call. People will be more likely to share information with you in person:
by Tom Bickford
From the Editor: Before I attended my first national convention in 1975, I listened spellbound to the long-playing recordings of recent convention banquets. We no longer prepare such recordings. They included everything significant that occurred during the banquet, from presentation of affiliate charters, scholarships (just one in those days), and awards, to the breathlessly awaited banquet address. The festivities included the singing of Federation songs, and leading those songs in those days was Tom Bickford. I did not know who he was, but I knew he could sing and he could lead a huge crowd in singing. He taught me my first Federation songs, long before I met him in person.
Through all these years Tom has been one of the quiet NFB leaders whom he extols in the following reflection. When we needed someone to lead the singing, he sang, and when he realized that we needed a clear manual to teach people the fundamentals of using a long white cane, he wrote it (Care and Feeding of the Long White Cane). For many years Tom worked at the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, where he demonstrated every day that blind people can and do work competitively. Now he has retired. These transition moments in life invite reflection and rededication to what is important. Here are Tom Bickford's personal conclusions:
When I was helping my granddaughter learn to count, the next number was fifty-one. But I am talking now about years in the Federation. I suppose the answer is still fifty-one, but there is much more to it than arithmetic.
It was in October of 1956 that I said, "Mr. Chairman, I would like to join this chapter." Kenneth Jernigan was president of the local chapter in Oakland, California, then, and I was a student at the California Orientation Center for the Blind. I have learned many things by being a member of the Federation and many more by participating in and contributing to the activities of the Federation. Traveling to conventions helped polish my travel skills. Being a guest in the homes of other Federationists and hosting them in my own home polished my social skills. Receiving encouragement on job applications helped me become more willing to assert myself on the job. Acting as an officer in local chapters developed my organizational aptitudes. The list goes on, but it would get too long.
I know that I am not at all the longest-term member, but there aren't very many of us left at national conventions who respond when Dr. Maurer asks, "Who attended their first convention in the 1950's?" I have kept the faith with Federation philosophy. I have worked for opportunities for my fellow blind people and myself. I have plugged away at jobs I didn't always like when they were assigned to me or even when I was the one doing the assigning. That, however, is the way of the world. All jobs have aspects of drudgery.
My father, who lived on three continents through a little more than the first half of the twentieth century and saw good times and bad wherever he was, told me that the thing that makes any organization work properly is the corps of hard workers in the middle ranks. I have heard the same thing about the army, any army. Generals provide the long-term goals, and privates do the work. But the most critical leadership is at the rank of top sergeant. They are the ones who keep the whole organization going. In the Federation those people are the local chapter officers and those who chair committees and special interest groups. I have seen chapters grow or fade because of the quality of their local leadership. I have participated at that level some of the time even though I would often have preferred to be below that level of responsibility. The Federation gave me the opportunity to use whatever talents I have and some I didn't know I had, so I will continue to contribute my efforts to the cause that gave me my life, and I mean it.
What would I have been without the Federation? I would have ended up as a poor (and I mean financially as well as spiritually), helpless blind man living out my life not knowing what opportunities I had missed. Because of the Federation I have received many educational opportunities, found and held employment, married and had a family, (and without the Federation's influence in my life my wife wouldn't have thought me worth a second glance), taken part in my community, and generally led a full and rewarding life. Of course there is more. After fifty-one comes fifty-two, and on it goes. Unfinished projects linger from the past and new ones show up every now and again. I will stay with the Federation because it has been good to me, and I will do what I can to be good to the NFB.
From the Editor: In early September 2006 the United States District Court for the Northern District of California rejected the defendant's motion for summary judgment in the National Federation of the Blind's lawsuit against the Target Corporation. The Federation had brought suit to require Target to make its Web site accessible to blind shoppers, arguing that it is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Target maintained that the ADA covers only three-dimensional locations, not cyberspace. As you can imagine, the case is complex and the arguments complicated. But the bottom line is that the judge rejected Target's motion that the case be thrown out, saying that the Web site is covered by the ADA. In 1990, when the ADA became law, Web sites did not exist at all, so Congress could not possibly have specifically included them in the legislation. The resulting debate over Web-site accessibility has raged for a decade, so this decision is significant. The case will now go to trial, and the merits of the opposing positions will actually be heard.
The very fact of the lawsuit seems to have angered at least one member of the general public who emailed his views to President Maurer. For the sake of clarity we have corrected most of his typographical and spelling errors, but it seems salutary to remind ourselves that some people still believe that blind people should be satisfied with second-class treatment, that organizations that are generous to their communities should be excused from behaving with fairness to everyone, and that standing up for the rights of blind people is reason enough to receive threats. Here is the message that President Maurer received followed by his response:
To Whom It May Concern:
I was extremely disappointed reading the story today that your organization is suing Target Corp. because of the accessibility of their Web site. Target is a corporation with a conscience and is so involved in the community. The corporation and its team members yearly give millions of dollars to charities and thousands of service hours in the community.
Target has said they are working to make their Web site more accessible. Is this not good enough?
The fact that your organization will not drop the lawsuit will not generate any sentiment from the community. I have worked with organizations internally that help blind people. Nothing your group is doing right now makes me ever want to help your organization based on this frivolous lawsuit.
Basically, I will work to spread the work [word] that your organization is not legitimately trying to move your organization's goals forward. If you view their Web site as discrimination, then I will be discriminating against your organization by writing many letters to newspapers about my views.
Be an upstanding member of the community and consider how this makes you look to others.
September 13, 2006
Dear Mr. Farnsworth:
I have read your email of September 8, 2006, I thoroughly disagree with your point of view, and I am mystified by your apparent annoyance or downright anger. To begin with, you are not discriminating against me. Although I am blind, I can read your email with ease. Even if you were discriminating against me, you are not covered by the laws that prohibit such activity. You are an individual, not a government or a business. You may do as you please with respect to making your thoughts accessible to me. In my capacity as president of the National Federation of the Blind, I do not have the same freedom with respect to you. I am prohibited from practicing discrimination against you.
The Target Corporation does not offer to make its Web site accessible to the blind. On behalf of blind Americans, I have asked Target to do it. Target officials declined. I cannot spend my money with Target using its Web site. Target may not want my money, but it holds itself out to the public as a store that sells through the Web site. It prohibits me, and those that are like me, from purchasing products using its Web site.
When I asked Target to
change this, I told their managers and lawyers that I thought their actions
violated the law. They said they didn't care what I thought. We were all very
polite about it. In the meeting that we held, my colleagues and I pointed out
that they were losing money, that they were not behaving as socially responsible
people, and that their behavior was likely to tarnish their good image. They
responded by saying that they did not plan to change--at least that they did
not plan to change at any time in the foreseeable future. Target officials would
not even discuss whether they would consider adopting a plan for change at any
time in the foreseeable future.
I have been blind all of my life. I have been told by thousands of people that they thought highly of me. A good many of these thousands of people told me that they did not plan to do business with me because I am blind. Sometimes they said they wouldn't hire me. Sometimes they said they wouldn't let me into their places of business. Sometimes they said they wouldn't feed me the food that they offered to sell to others. I regarded these actions as discriminatory, and I have made up my mind to change them if I can. I intend to be courteous about it, but I do not intend to wait until somebody's charitable feeling induces them to treat me with the respect that everybody else takes for granted.
You think I should wait. I remember an act of discrimination that occurred to me when I was fourteen. Now I am fifty-five. Forty-one years have passed. The discriminations against the blind still occur, and I don't think I have enough time to wait for them to disappear. There are fewer of them today than occurred forty-one years ago, but there are still too many. I believe that the number of acts of discrimination has declined because the members of the National Federation of the Blind have consistently tried to stop them. This has raised the consciousness of the public to the reality that discrimination on the basis of blindness (and for that matter, discrimination on the basis of disability) is destructive.
If Target were to build its Web site to permit everybody to use it, this would be a benefit to Target as well as to the blind. The cost of building a Web site in this manner, if accessibility is considered from the beginning, is almost zero. The cost of reconfiguring a Web site is not exorbitant. What we are asking Target to do is reasonable and valuable. It is also required by American law.
From your letter I suspect that you are not a blind person. However, if you should become blind, you will want to have available to you the broad range of opportunities that are available to everybody else. I will do my best to ensure that you get them.
Marc Maurer, President
National Federation of the Blind
by William Ackel
From the Editor: The NFB promotes access to independence for blind people in every way. Traditionally our organization is best known for espousing the value of mastering nonvisual techniques so that blind people, no matter what their degree of remaining vision, can competitively function--totally blind people relying exclusively on nonvisual methods and those with limited sight using nonvisual techniques to supplement their existing vision efficiently. Put another way, the underlying principle we advocate is that blind people should be as independent as possible using whatever means will safely and efficiently let us achieve this goal. Contrary to the beliefs of some, a mature understanding of Federation philosophy does not preclude the use of one's remaining vision when it can be helpful.
William Ackel, a fifty-year-old computer programmer and property manager living in Lodi, California, with a visual acuity of 20/200, offers an enthusiastic endorsement of the Segway Human Transporter as a tool for realizing independence. Obviously this transportation alternative will not work for totally blind people, and it is prudent to caution that blind people with some residual vision should carefully consider whether they are appropriate candidates to use the Segway safely, but it appears to be a successful and empowering strategy for William. His account follows:
I have been legally blind since birth, but through experience I have learned to make effective use of my remaining vision. I got my first bike in my college days when I moved from the dorm to an apartment that was about two miles off campus, and for the next twelve years I only used the bike for short trips. One day I saw a pamphlet for a one-hundred-fifty-mile charity bike ride. Since it was just unsolicited junk mail, I tossed it in the trash. The distance noted on the pamphlet though kept nagging at me. One hundred and fifty miles on a bike? In one day? Could I do that? Finally I dug the flyer out of the trash, and that was the beginning of cycling as a serious hobby for me.
The next eight years were something of a golden age. As trips of twenty or thirty miles became routine, I found that I could get just about anyplace on my bike that a car could go and that I could do it in less time than it would have taken on a bus. I was in the best physical condition of my life and getting around more efficiently than ever before.
People would sometimes
ask me if it wasn't scary riding in traffic, but cars weren't really the problem
for me. Vehicles were always big enough that I could clearly see them. The problem
was always small hazards: pot holes, rocks, sand, oil slicks, scraps of wire,
pieces of wood, and other debris. As my vision deteriorated (and after a couple
of crashes), I finally decided that my cycling days were over.
Fast-forward to December 2001 and the debut of the Segway. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the Segway Human Transporter is a personal electric transportation vehicle. It consists of a small riding platform with large wheels on the left and right and a control shaft extending upward to a handlebar. Inside it's quite complicated, with several computers, five gyroscopes, two tilt sensors, and two two-and-a-half horsepower servomotors. Operating it, however, is the picture of simplicity. To go forward, you lean forward. To go backward, you lean back. To turn, you twist the left hand grip. That's basically all there is to it. I like to tell people that the Segway doesn't know it's a transportation device; it's just trying to stay upright.
As a technophile, I was naturally smitten. My first opportunity to get on a Segway was at the Innoventions Pavilion at Disneyland. My friends and I all agreed that we felt that with just a few hours practice we could master the thing. I wasn't sure, however, how useful it would be in practice, and I was put off by the $5,000 price tag. I decided to wait a few years to see if the price would come down. Well, a few years passed, and the price did not fall. A few extra-cost options, such as wheel inserts, splashguards, and higher performance lithium-ion batteries, are now standard.
I had come to the point where I simply had to find a better way of getting around, so I took the plunge. The first thing that I noticed is that, as cool as the concept is, the execution is even better. Although it's still a relatively new product, the design is highly evolved. Many safety features distinguish the Segway from a mere motor scooter. The operation is nearly silent, and the range is sufficient (at least twenty-five miles) to get me anywhere in Lodi and back on a single charge. The top speed is around twelve miles per hour--about three-times walking speed--but what is perhaps more significant is that it essentially has no minimum speed. You can easily travel at much less than normal walking speed. It's so maneuverable that it can turn in place, and in fact I routinely ride it into the supermarket or drugstore without any objection from the management. The engineering is meticulous, and the construction impeccable. The main thing I was looking for was less sensitivity to road debris, and I got it. I've run over small potholes, rocks, pinecones, and seedpods, all without incident.
When riding in certain places, you have to be prepared to turn some heads. I have had many interesting comments from onlookers like "That looks like fun," "Cool," "Everyone should have one of those," or just "Wow." My favorite was from a teenage boy who said, "Those are real? I thought that was just something on TV."
For those who can handle one, a bike may still be a better choice. One perennial problem with riding a bike is that you are invisible to motorists. It's not that they can't see you; it's just that they aren't looking for bikes. The experience on the Segway is just the opposite. You are quite conspicuous, and I find that drivers are more inclined to treat me as an equal. Another traditional problem with bicycles is that you sweat, so, if you wear a suit to work, you may find that a Segway fits your lifestyle better. It's also not as fast as a bicycle, and for me that's a good thing. It increases the likelihood that I will see an obstacle in time to avoid it. If at any time I can't see what's going on, I can just step off and become a pedestrian. Safety is always uppermost in my mind. The Segway's responsive architecture allows me to react quickly to any situation, and I make it a policy never to pass pedestrians. Generally I ride in a bike lane when it's available, on the side of the road as a second choice, or on the sidewalk if traffic dictates.
While I am raving about the Segway, it's important to remember that it can be dangerous. It's not impossible to crash, though I haven't managed it yet, and in any collision with a motor vehicle, you would be at a serious disadvantage. Three states require the company to advise riders to wear knee guards, elbow guards, and wrist guards. While it might be unnecessary for most people, I have been wearing knee guards and elbow guards. You should also know that the Segway is not good at carrying a lot of cargo. I have not, for example, found a way to get a cake home from the bakery without turning it on its side, and in a full rain you get soaked.
My spouse Leslie and I
are both busy professionals. Relying on the Segway, I am able to attend to emergency
calls to visit properties across town that I manage or to bring home several
gallons of water in my backpack without having Leslie drive me to perform these
routine tasks. I recently hopped on my midnight blue Segway to go to a local
sausage and wine festival, an event that was of no interest to Leslie. In short,
my Segway is one convenient and efficient tool that allows me to preserve my
independence within my community.
Despite its limitations, I have found Segway's Human Transporter to be solid, practical transportation that perfectly matches my needs and abilities. The Segway gives me added flexibility in my life and is just one more means of remaining self-sufficient. I enjoy it so much that I actually find myself looking for excuses to run errands. A big spike in gas prices could cause a run on Segways, so I figure that having it is a kind of insurance. My only regret is that I waited so long to buy one. And did I mention that it's incredibly fun to ride?
This month's recipes come from members of the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky.
by Joan Balot
Joan Balot has been a member of the NFB of Kentucky for fifty years. She served as president of the Frankfort Chapter in the early to mid 1970's. Joan's claim to fame is planning social events and true Southern hospitality.
Enough graham crackers
to line a 9-by-13-inch glass dish twice
1 4-ounce package instant vanilla pudding (any other flavor will do)
2 cups milk
1 8-ounce container Cool Whip
6 ounces (1 cup) semi-sweet chocolate pieces
Method: Line bottom of greased dish with whole graham crackers. (As you get near the edge, you will have to break the crackers to fit, but keep the pieces as large as possible.) Combine pudding mix and milk as package directs. Beat until smooth and thickened. Gently but thoroughly fold in Cool Whip. Pour over graham crackers. Add another layer of graham crackers. Melt chocolate chips in microwave and drizzle over graham crackers. Chill until firm, at least two hours. Keep refrigerated.
by Joan Balot
2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup margarine or butter, softened
8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 cup powdered sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice
Method: Preheat oven to
350 degrees. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup. Level off. In large bowl
combine flour and sugar for crust and cut in butter. Press mixture into bottom
of 9-by-13-inch pan. Bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes until lightly brown.
Meanwhile combine filling ingredients. Mix until well blended. Remove crust from oven and pour filling over it. Return pan to oven for another twenty to twenty-five minutes or until bars are lightly set. Remove from oven. When pan is cool, combine glaze ingredients and pour over top.
by Joan Balot
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3/4 to 1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
2/3 cup pecans, chopped (optional)
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla
Method: Cream shortening
and sugar. Add eggs. Beat well. Then add dry ingredients. Fold in bananas and
nuts. Pour into lightly greased 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Place in cold oven, then
bake at 300 degrees for one hour.
by Pamela Roark-Glisson
Pamela Roark-Glisson currently serves as first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky, NFB-NEWSLINE® coordinator, chair of the affiliate Legislative Committee, and president of the Lexington Chapter. Pamela was the author of the legislation to fund Kentucky NFB-NEWSLINE, which was passed by the Kentucky Legislature in 2004. She and her husband John have three sons, one daughter, and five grandchildren. She invites you to try these favorite recipes.
1 pound ground beef
5 cups water
2 10.5-ounce cans condensed beef broth
1 16-ounce package frozen diced potatoes
1 16-ounce package frozen mixed vegetables
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups instant potato flakes
Method: In a soup pot cook the ground beef over medium-high heat for eight to ten minutes, until browned and no pink remains. Add the remaining ingredients except the potato flakes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for fifteen minutes. Stir in the potato flakes and cook for five to seven minutes, or until thickened. Serve immediately. Serves four.
by Pamela Roark-Glisson
1 eggplant, unpeeled, cut in strips
1 onion, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1/2 cup oil
1 10.75-ounce can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
3/4 cup parmesan cheese, separated
1/4 cup romano cheese, grated
4 tomatoes, diced
1 cup cracker crumbs
1 cup cooked shrimp or ham
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon anise seed
3 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
1 teaspoon pepper
Method: Cook eggplant in small amount of water until slightly tender. Drain, cover to keep warm, and set aside. Sauté onion, celery, and pepper in oil until tender. Add soup, cheeses (reserving 1/4 cup parmesan), tomatoes, crumbs, and shrimp or ham. Add to eggplant and mix well; pour into large casserole and sprinkle with reserved parmesan. Bake at 400 degrees until bubbly.
by Pamela Roark-Glisson
3 cups granny smith apples, diced
2 cans whole cranberry sauce
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup quick oats
1/2 cup margarine, melted
Method: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix first three ingredients together and place in a 9-by-13-inch glass casserole dish. Mix remaining ingredients together to create topping. Sprinkle over fruit mixture and bake for thirty to forty-five minutes. Serve hot or cold. You can double the topping if you like--it's wonderful.
News from the Federation Family
The following people were elected to office at the 2006 convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa: president, Michael D. Barber; first vice president, Deb Smith; second vice president, Richard Crawford; secretary, Joy Harris; treasurer, Curtis Chong; and board members, Darrel Kirby, Roger Erpelding, Rachel Becker, and Bob Ray.
On Saturday, September 16, 2006, the Arizona Association of Blind Students held its annual business meeting and elected the following officers: president, Arielle Silverman; first vice president, Ryan Thomas; second vice president, Kristen Johnson; secretary, Tony Sohl; acting secretary, Ben Bloomgren; treasurer, Melissa Cordeblind; and board members, Arlen Keen and Jay Smith.
Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety Report:
Here from Debbie Stein, who chairs the NFB Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety (CAPS), is a brief account of the CAPS meeting at the 2006 NFB Convention:
The Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety met on Monday, July 3. Altogether between thirty and forty people attended, including several staff members and administrators from the Seeing Eye, Inc.
We spent the first hour of our two-hour session in discussion of quiet cars and their implications for the blind population. Some attendees felt strongly that we should work toward legislation requiring the auto industry to build in a device that will signal the vehicle's whereabouts to a device carried by the blind pedestrian. One man warned that a greatly increased number of quiet cars on the road could lead to the legal revocation of our right to travel independently. He said that one must be competent as a driver in order to drive, and likewise it could be argued that one must be competent as a pedestrian to walk the streets. Quiet cars can deprive us of our competence as pedestrians and thus of our right to travel.
Following the discussion we convened at the parking lot in front of the Hilton Anatole to try listening to a Toyota Prius. Jeff Witt, an NFB staff member and member of the committee, had managed to obtain the car for an hour through heroic persistence and creative problem-solving. Nearly all of us agreed that we could not hear the Prius as it drove laps around the parking lot. We then moved to an intersection and tried listening for it as it approached at a faster speed. With intent listening, most of us were able to hear its approach, but only when it was very close. We also experimented with listening for the Prius to start up at the intersection. The start-up was harder to hear than the slow-down.
As a postscript, I had
discussions outside the meeting with Doug Roberts and Lucas Franck from the
Seeing Eye. The dog guide schools are very aware of and concerned about the
quiet-car situation. Seeing Eye has purchased a Segway, which it uses to train
the dogs, and also makes sure to train them with hybrid cars. Roberts and Franck
are pretty confident that dog guides can be trained to cope with an environment
in which quiet cars are more prevalent but admitted that there may be a threshold
above which too much responsibility is being placed on the dogs. Lucas Franck
suggested that a whole new approach to training may become necessary.
Book for Seniors Losing Vision Now Available:
Judy Sanders, president of the National Organization of the Senior Blind, writes: One of the most effective ways the NFB has of demonstrating the fortitude and ingenuity of blind people is through our extensive literature. I am pleased to announce the newest publication in our collection, written especially for seniors and their families. Entitled So You Don't See as Well as You Used to, it is ninety-three pages filled with information and inspiration. Sixteen short stories are written by or about blind seniors who have let neither age nor blindness stop them from leading full lives. Read how Ray built a waterfall in his backyard and about George and his bicycle repair shop. The book also includes a resource list that should prove useful. Printed in sixteen-point type, it is an easy read for those who can see large print. The book is available for five dollars and can be purchased from the Independence Market, formerly the Materials Center. Send orders to the Independence Market, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230. You can order by credit card at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2216.
Attention Blind Veterans:
Some Federationists have expressed interest in establishing a blind veterans division that would welcome veterans of any of America's branches of the military. Members would not need to have lost their vision as a result of their military service. The purpose of a blind veterans division would be to pursue issues of interest to blind veterans, including blindness-specific training through the VA and advocacy in dealing with the Veterans Administration. Generally, though, this division would serve as a vehicle for outreach to a large and definable population among the broader blind community who may share common interests and issues. If you are a blind veteran and are interested in developing a blind veterans division of the NFB, please contact Joanne Wilson, executive director of affiliate action, at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2335, or by email 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.
KELVIN--the Talking Thermostat:
About a year ago KELVIN, a voice-interactive talking thermostat, was introduced into the marketplace by a newly formed company named Action Talking Products, a partnership venture between the National Federation of the Blind and Independent Living Aids, a company well known in the industry and recognized by readers of the Braille Monitor. This partnership between the NFB and a for-profit company was the first of several such relationships designed to bring products to market that would enhance the lives of blind people, the most recent being with Ray Kurzweil to develop and bring to market the Kurzweil-NFB Reader. These partnerships have been so beneficial to blind people that more joint ventures will undoubtedly follow.
KELVIN has been built with patented technology that enables the user to program the thermostat to adjust the temperature for specific periods, such as morning, daytime, evening, and nighttime and to program each day separately. This gives the user the ability to adjust the temperature separately for weekends or vacations when the home is not occupied, which results in a considerable saving in energy use and a reduction in the homeowner's costs for fuel and electricity. All programming for heating and air conditioning is done with buttons that speak, and temperature can be raised or lowered by simply speaking to the thermostat and saying "raise" or "lower." To see KELVIN in action, go to <www.actiontalkingproducts.com>, where you can see a video of KELVIN in operation.
Now that we are moving into the winter heating season in the northern states and snowbirds will soon be heading down to warmer climes that need air conditioning, we want to remind our readers of the availability of KELVIN, which, at $129.95, is not much higher in price than a standard nonspeaking, programmable thermostat. The National Federation of the Blind Independence Market and Independent Living Aids both stock KELVIN for immediate shipment.
In the June issue we published a plea for equipment from Wendy Olsen, who was traveling to Ghana to help train teachers of the blind. Here is the thank you she sent this summer to all those who helped her:
I want to send out a big thank you to each individual, organization, and company that has donated money or items for the twelve students at the teacher-training college in Ghana. So far I have shipped a CCTV, thirteen Braillewriters, a Braille embosser, Braille books, tape recorders, talking calculators, assistive technology, and other miscellaneous items.
After arriving in September,
I plan to unload the boxes and set up the resource center or distribute the
equipment to the students. The generous support of the blindness/VI community
here in the U.S. will make a huge difference to the blind students in Ghana.
Ski for Light 2007 Invites Applications:
Are you a visually impaired adult who cross-country skis or is interested in learning the sport? If your answer is yes, then join 300+ active adults from across the U.S. and around the world for our thirty-second annual Ski for Light International Week. While primarily recreational, Ski for Light attracts cross-country skiers from beginners to advanced competitors. Skiers and guides come from every adult age group and occupation. You will be paired with a sighted instructor/guide who will assist with skills, technique, and endurance or simply enjoying the outdoors. After a day of skiing join any number of organized activities or simply relax and enjoy the facilities and the company of fellow participants.
The 2007 Ski for Light event will be held from Sunday, January 21, through Sunday, January 28, 2007, in the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire. We will stay at the North Conway Grand Hotel in North Conway and ski at Great Glen Trails in the Pinkham Notch section of the town of Gorham. More information about the event and online applications are available now at <www.sfl.org>. The total cost for the week, which includes all meals and ground transportation, is $975, U.S., single-occupancy, $725 per person double-occupancy; the hotel this year has no triples.
For additional information please call Dave Thomas, visually-impaired participant recruitment committee chair, (303) 298-0672 or <firstname.lastname@example.org>, or Lynda Boose, visually impaired applications coordinator, <email@example.com> or (906) 370-7541.
Guidance Device Testers Needed:
Would you like to try out an interesting device that may lead to new guiding technology for the blind? If so, enroll in the ZigZag evaluation program run by UC San Diego. The University has designed a guidance system that allows a blind person to receive travel information such as turn left, turn right, go, and stop, through the sense of touch. A remote guide provides instructions, provided the user is in line of sight. Some suggested uses for the device are running in an outdoor open area, quickly finding an object such as a left-behind backpack in an open grass field, and finding a parked car in a shopping mall parking lot.
UC San Diego is looking for fifteen blind volunteers to evaluate the device. These testers must have a sighted person willing to give guiding instructions in order to participate in the device trials. They would spend two to three hours trying the device and would complete a fifteen-minute survey. An evaluation unit would be shipped to testers for an evaluation period of three weeks, and return shipping of the unit would be prepaid. As part of the evaluation testers would try out the device in a park and several other locations. If you would like to try the device or learn more about the program, please contact John Miller by email at <firstname.lastname@example.org> or by phone at (858) 527-1727.
New Resource Guide for Blind Parents:
We recently received the press release which is excerpted below:
Through the Looking Glass
and its National Resource Center for Parents with Disabilities are proud to
announce the release of the first comprehensive resource guide for parents who
are blind or partially sighted. The new 212-page Hands-On Parenting: A Resource
Guide for Parents who are Blind or Partially Sighted provides a wide range
of practical information, adaptations, and resources for parents.
The Resource Guide addresses many questions faced by blind parents, such as how do you diaper, feed, or give medications to your baby? How will you know where your toddler is? How do you choose the colors for your child's clothes? How can you help your children with homework? What types of toys or games are available for blind parents to use with their children? How can blind parents educate the general public about how they manage parenting tasks?
This guide is one of several projects of the National Resource Center for Parents with Disabilities, which is funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), U.S. Department of Education. The Resource Guide was developed by blind parent specialist Debbie Bacon, who is also a blind mother of three adult children. Ms. Bacon compiled the resources and suggestions from discussions with blind and partially sighted parents across the U.S. as well as in several other countries.
Parents of a wide age-range of children describe their parenting experiences--especially noting any barriers, strengths, adaptations, or suggestions for other blind or partially sighted parents. Because these parents are often geographically isolated from each other, many parents explained how they had to figure out a variety of routine parenting tasks on their own. This Resource Guide is intended to pass along successful adaptations and strategies so that new parents don't have to keep re-inventing the wheel. The topics covered include such issues as newborns, sick children, feeding, toilet training, transportation, monitoring children, child safety, toys and games, and working with professionals. Each of the fourteen chapters includes parent discussions as well as contact information for a wide variety of resources (many of which are available on the Internet).
The guide is currently available in regular print, in large print, and on CD-ROM. It can be ordered directly from Through the Looking Glass for $40 (includes shipping and handling for orders within the U.S.). To order this or other publications about parenting with a disability, call (800) 644-2666, or go to Through the Looking Glass's Web site <www.lookingglass.org>, where this information will be posted shortly.
Congratulations to James Fruchterman:
We are pleased to report that Jim Fruchterman has been named one of the 2006 winners of the five-hundred-thousand-dollar genius grant presented by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. According to the foundation's Web site, he was founder, president, CEO, and chairman of Arkenstone, Inc., and founder and chairman of the Benetech Initiative. He "is an electrical engineer-turned-entrepreneur who adapts cutting-edge technologies into affordable devices for the visually impaired and others underserved by traditional commerce. As a student Fruchterman designed a reading machine for the blind using optical-character-recognition technology originally intended for military defense purposes. Determined to keep the cost of his reading machine within reach of the largest number of users, Fruchterman founded the nonprofit company, Arkenstone, to develop and manufacture the system. He has since delivered this reading tool in a dozen languages to people in sixty countries and created a stream of other inventions for the visually impaired, including an Open Book, a PC software program that reads scanned texts ranging from school books to utility bills; Atlas Speaks map software; and Strider, a talking GPS locator.
"In 2000 Fruchterman founded another nonprofit, Benetech, as an incubator for socially oriented technology applications. With Bookshare.org, Benetech has created a Web-based library of scanned books and provided downloadable access to a dramatically increased volume of printed materials to people with visual or learning disabilities. Other initiatives include Martus, a secure, computer-based reporting system to assist the human rights sector in collecting, safeguarding, and disseminating information about human rights violations, and a Landmine Detector Project with the goal of placing state-of-the-art detection devices in the hands of humanitarian deminers in war-torn countries. Fruchterman puts existing technologies to use in innovative ways to make life-changing machines for those who need them most.
"James Fruchterman received a B.S. (1980) in engineering and an M.S. (1980) in applied physics from the California Institute of Technology and pursued doctoral studies at Stanford University (1980-1981)."
We are grateful for Jim Fruchterman's twenty-five years of innovative work on behalf of blind people, and we are delighted that the MacArthur Foundation has honored him with this recognition.
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.