Braille Monitor

Vol. 50, No. 6                                                                   June 2007

Barbara Pierce, editor

Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by

The National Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, president


National Office
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
telephone: (410) 659-9314
email address: nfb@nfb.org
Web site address: http://www.nfb.org
NFBnet.org: http://www.nfbnet.org
NFB-NEWSLINE® information: (866) 504-7300


Letters to the president, address changes,
subscription requests, and orders for NFB literature
should be sent to the National Office.
Articles for the Monitor and letters to the editor may also
be sent to the National Office or may be emailed to bpierce@nfb.org.


Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about twenty-five dollars per year.
Members are invited, and nonmembers are requested, to cover
the subscription cost. Donations should be made payable to
National Federation of the Blind and sent to:

National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998


        ISSN 0006-8829



Vol. 50, No. 6                                                                     June 2007


Convention Announcement

What Congress Doesn’t Know Could Damage the Talking Book Program
by Chris Danielsen

Walking the Federation Walk
by John Bailey

Blind and a Carpenter: We’re Here to Tell You
by George Wurtzel

Learning Braille as a Mature Adult
by Mike Jolls

Setting High Expectations for the Blind:
A Duty for Blindness Professionals
by James H. Omvig

St. Louis to Japan: An Experience with Study Abroad
by Rachel Sommerer

Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007
by the IBTC Accessibility Team

Watch Out, He’s Blind!
by Kevan Worley

Comments from Miss Whozit’s Mail Basket


Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2007 National Federation of the Blind


Atlanta Site of 2007 NFB Convention

The 2007 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Atlanta, Georgia, June 30 through July 6, at the Marriott Marquis Hotel at 265 Peachtree Center Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia 30303.

The Marriott is now full. Rooms are available at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel. The hotel is located at 165 Courtland Street, Atlanta, Georgia 30303. Call (800) 833-8624 for reservations. The hotel rates are the same: singles, doubles, and twins, $61; and triples and quads, $66. A $60-per-room deposit or a credit card number is required to make a reservation. The deposit is not refundable. The Sheraton Atlanta Hotel phone number is (404) 586-3378. Only a limited number of rooms remain.

The 2007 convention will follow what many think of as our usual schedule:

Saturday, June 30 Seminar Day
Sunday, July 1 Registration Day
Monday, July 2 Board Meeting and Division Day
Tuesday, July 3 March for Independence and Opening Session
Wednesday, July 4 Tour Day
Thursday, July 5 Banquet Day
Friday, July 6 Business Session


What Congress Doesn’t Know Could Damage the Talking Book Program

by Chris Danielsen

From the Editor: Chris Danielsen is editor of Voice of the Nation’s Blind, the official blog of the National Federation of the Blind, and works in public relations at the National Center for the Blind. If you use the Talking Book program conducted by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress or know people who depend upon it, you need to read the following article and then contact your senators and members of Congress to be sure that they understand how important it is and how great the catastrophe would be if our lawmakers pulled the plug on NLS’s carefully planned and long-awaited conversion to digital books and equipment. Here is the latest report on the struggle to educate members of Congress:

To the benefit of hundreds of thousands of blind Americans, Congress has always provided broad, bipartisan support for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress (NLS). Although the National Federation of the Blind has occasionally felt the need to press for adequate funding for the program or to protect that funding from raids by other programs within the Library of Congress, until now our elected representatives and senators have displayed unwavering support for the continuation of this important and popular service to blind Americans. For reasons which are not entirely clear, however, the NLS plan to convert the Talking Book component of its program from analog to digital technology has apparently garnered criticism from powerful Republicans and Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee and from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the entity that serves members of Congress by researching the effect of requests for appropriations. Although the NLS has been planning the conversion from audio cassettes to digital technology since 1990 and has documented the process of designing digital Talking Books and players in excruciating detail in newsletters and publications, only recently has Congress expressed any interest in the details of that conversion. The sudden scrutiny being brought to bear on the Talking Book program, however, comes late in the game, causing one to wonder why such logistically complex and demanding projects are not examined by Congress as they are being implemented rather than at the very point where funding to complete them is critical.

From what we have been able to gather, the GAO has raised the question of whether off-the-shelf technology could meet the needs of NLS patrons who use Talking Books, as opposed to the proprietary system designed by the service’s technical staff, and has even suggested that NLS cease the implementation of the planned conversion to digital Talking Books to study that question further. This sudden interest in the NLS program by the GAO is an extraordinary case of Monday morning quarterbacking. The NLS has spent years considering all of the technological options available for the next generation of Talking Books; has conducted nationwide usability testing among patrons of all ages, physical abilities, and degrees of technological sophistication; and has solicited endless input from network librarians, technical staff, and, most important, users of Talking Books. How much more study can the GAO believe is needed this late in the game?

Because the GAO and Congress are raising questions at a moment when the manufacture of the cassette players that have been used by Talking Book readers for years has ceased and parts for them are no longer available, putting the brakes on the digital conversion will almost certainly cause prolonged interruptions of service for many library patrons. For this reason it is incumbent upon the National Federation of the Blind to set the record straight and explain the very good reasons why NLS has pursued its current course of action.
It is unclear at this point whether the criticisms raised by the GAO come from a fundamental misunderstanding of how the NLS Talking Book program functions and the patrons it serves, or from malicious misrepresentation of the program because of some political agenda as yet unrevealed. To date the GAO report has received only limited circulation and has not been published, although an article in the May 3 issue of the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call indicated that the report will be published in full in four to six weeks. It appears, however, that the report is having an effect on the deliberations of the members of Congress who will ultimately determine whether the planned conversion to digital Talking Books is funded.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), the chairperson of the Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch of the House Appropriations Committee, which controls funding for NLS and other Library of Congress programs, first raised this question publicly at a hearing of that subcommittee held on March 22, 2007. As noted in the May issue of the Braille Monitor, fifty blind people stood in the hallway outside the tiny room allotted for this hearing, and only officials of the Library of Congress were permitted to speak to the questions posed by the three members of the subcommittee present. When one of those members, Congressman Ray Lahood (R-IL), asked if NFB President Marc Maurer could address the subcommittee, Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz informed the gathering that the National Federation of the Blind would have an opportunity to give public testimony at a later hearing.

As soon as we learned of the date of the public hearing promised by Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz, John Paré, the incoming executive director for strategic initiatives of the National Federation of the Blind, submitted written testimony. Mr. Paré summarized that written testimony at the actual hearing, which was held on Tuesday, May 1. The written testimony, which also supports our request from the same appropriations subcommittee for funding to continue NFB-NEWSLINE®, is reprinted here in full.

Statement of the National Federation of the Blind
Before the Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch
Committee on Appropriations
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C.
May 1, 2007

Madam Chair, my name is John G. Paré, Jr. I am the executive director for strategic initiatives at the National Federation of the Blind. My address is 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; my telephone number is (410) 659-9314, extension 2371.

I am testifying here today on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before this committee and to comment on the programs of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress (NLS). We strongly support the request of the Library for its annual appropriation to fund the Books for the Blind and Physically Handicapped program. We also support the Library’s request for funds to convert the analog audio playback technology to the more modern and flexible digital system. Finally, consistent with delivery of content through digital media, we are requesting that $650,000 be allocated to the National Federation of the Blind for telecommunications costs resulting from rapid dissemination of daily newspapers and magazines to blind and physically handicapped readers during fiscal year 2008.

The National Federation of the Blind is the largest organization of blind people in the United States. Founded in 1940, the Federation has over 50,000 members, representing a cross-section of the blind of America from all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. All of our leaders and the vast majority of our members are blind. We are consumers of the NLS program.

NLS is the only public library that serves the blind in the United States. In fact, it is more than a public library. If a public library in a given city closes down or cuts back on services due to funding concerns, sighted readers can visit another library, go online, or go to Barnes and Noble, Borders, or other booksellers. These are not realistic options for most blind people.

In 2006 731,460 blind and physically handicapped Americans relied on NLS as their primary source of reading materials. However, the program is at a point where the traditional medium by which books are delivered—audiocassette—is obsolete. In order to continue the service while protecting the rights of copyright holders and meeting the needs of a demographically diverse group of patrons, the library must update its technology so that books can be delivered and played in a digital format. Otherwise the service will cease to exist. The critical need for this conversion to digital Talking Books has driven the program’s budget request for fiscal year 2008.

NLS has a unique responsibility in serving the reading needs of blind people throughout the United States; it is our bookstore, our magazine stand, and much more. Imagine the situation you would face if you were blind. When blind people visit an ordinary bookstore or public library full of printed material, they can access only a few commercial audio books.

While commercial audio books have achieved popularity among sighted readers for reading while driving, purchasing these books is beyond the means of many unemployed or elderly blind people. Also many of these books are abridged and present only a portion of the original book. Finally, only a small fraction of all print books is available on audiocassette. For all of these reasons commercial audio books are simply not a suitable source of reading material for the blind. Therefore the funds provided by the United States Congress to support and maintain this vital service for the blind cannot be replaced by any bookstore or public library.

Thus 731,460 blind and physically handicapped people rely on the NLS program. These people include the blind student looking for course material, the blind mechanic seeking background documentation on the modern mechanisms in automobiles, the blind physicist trying to learn of recent scientific developments, the blind homemaker searching for recipes, and of course the newly blinded elderly person accessing information and entertainment that may no longer be accessed visually. These thousands of people, and more added each year, need the services of their National Library Service.

As you would expect, the realization that one will lose sight can be frightening and depressing at first. But blindness need not be a tragedy as long as the tools for full participation in society are available. Access to information is one of those tools, and as long as it remains available to us, blind people can be productive, educated, and informed citizens.

In the late nineties the National Library Service realized that eventually cassette tapes would become obsolete, and a new medium for delivery of Talking Books would be needed that would last for at least a generation. For this reason NLS began a deliberate, detailed, and painstaking process to identify the form that Talking Books would take in the twenty-first century.

NLS considered all potential digital technologies for the delivery of Talking Books. Wisely the service looked beyond the audio CD, which, as we speak, is becoming an outdated medium for digital audio. CD players have moving parts, which means that if distributed free to NLS readers, they would require considerably more maintenance than other technologies, thereby increasing the cost. Flash memory, which was a new technology at the time the National Library Service began the process of designing the next generation of Talking Books and players, is now ubiquitous and inexpensive, has more storage capacity than CDs, and requires no moving parts.

While there are off-the-shelf audio players that rely on flash memory, these devices are not designed with blind people in mind. A blind person, in fact, cannot use most of them independently, because they rely on the navigation of complex visual menus to issue commands and have tiny controls that cannot be manipulated by someone with a physical handicap. For this reason NLS spent approximately two years conducting usability tests across the United States with blind and physically handicapped consumers of all ages and varying degrees of technological prowess in order to design a Talking Book player that would meet the needs of all of the people that use its services.

The National Library Service solicited the input of consumers at every stage of the development of the new Talking Book players and the special flash memory cartridges that will store the Talking Books. NLS kept readers informed of developments at each stage of the process through a quarterly newsletter and updates in its regular publications. Representatives of NLS attended gatherings of consumer organizations and accessible technology trade shows and conducted extensive question-and-answer sessions at all of these gatherings. In short, every decision made by NLS about the design of new Talking Books and their players has been made with an extraordinary level of input from the people who will actually use the service and with careful attention to detail. The result of all of this diligence is that, once this conversion is completed, the service will be on a sound technological footing for decades to come.

It is incumbent upon NLS to protect the copyright of all distributed material. In order to accomplish this task, the National Library Service has always distributed material in a specialized format. With audiotapes that meant producing the cassettes at half normal speed. In the next generation of equipment, NLS will meet this goal with a proprietary flash memory cartridge developed especially for its digital Talking Books. In addition to storing the books on this special cartridge, the digital files themselves will be encrypted in such a manner as to be unavailable to other digital devices. Blind readers of books provided under this program support these efforts to give assurance to publishers and copyright holders that their intellectual property will be protected so that publishers will continue to support making their materials readily available to blind patrons of this service.

Consideration of the blind and physically handicapped children and adults who use the services provided by NLS was critical to the development of the new machines and book cartridges. The vast majority of those eligible for this service are elderly people, losing their sight as a part of the aging process. Of the estimated 1.3 million blind people in the United States eligible for the NLS program, one million are elderly. That number is predicted to increase as the baby-boom generation nears retirement. In recognition of this fact, NLS avoided use of a screen in the design of the new Talking Book machine, because these displays are often difficult for individuals with limited vision to read. Also several large buttons that can be easily identified both visually by their color and tactually by their shape and size are built into the new playback machine. Each of these buttons has a defined task. This interface is far simpler for elderly or newly blind individuals to access than the complex command structures common in off-the-shelf devices, which require visually navigating menus and switching between different modes of operation, all by the manipulation of tiny click wheels and buttons that cannot be identified by touch.

The players and cartridges designed for this program are extremely durable. Individuals qualified to receive materials under this program pay nothing for the books and their players. Therefore the library has sought to control the cost of replacement and repair of machines by making a solidly constructed Talking Book player intended to last for many years. As mentioned earlier, the player has virtually no moving parts, resulting in drastically reduced wear and tear on the player and consequently little need for continued repair and maintenance.

Products developed in the commercial electronics market are designed for planned obsolescence. In other words, manufacturers develop devices with limited durability and continually update available features, as with cell phones and PDAs. We are all familiar with the experience of purchasing a contract for a cell phone and discovering before the contract period ends that the phone is obsolete. These designs are meant to create the incentive for consumers to upgrade their technology regularly, thereby continuing a steady stream of profit and relevance for the company responsible for the particular product.

In contrast, players and cartridges designed for the NLS program are meant to last for years, and there is no expectation of new features for the playback machines and cartridges developed for this program. Features now offered are all that are necessary to navigate through the digital Talking Books. The National Library Service made a conscious and thoughtful decision to design a product customized to meet the needs of its community of users over a long period of time and did so with an unprecedented level of consumer input.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has recently criticized NLS for failing to consider alternatives for the delivery of Talking Books. NLS has responded to the GAO concerns in detail, and for your convenience that response is attached as an exhibit to this written testimony. In light of the detailed response of NLS to the concerns expressed by the GAO and the very specific reasons for the design of the Talking Book players and storage medium chosen by NLS that we have set forth in this testimony, it is clear that the GAO concerns are unfounded and that the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has proceeded wisely and thoughtfully in preparing to deliver Talking Books in the twenty-first century.

The NLS program is regarded as a model of effective and efficient service to its consumers; however, unless Congress agrees to fund the request for purchase of next-generation machines and cartridges containing the digital Talking Books, this service cannot continue. The requested appropriation for 2008 is $19.1 million in addition to the usual NLS budget request of $55 million, a relatively small amount when the technology involved and the value of this service to consumers are considered.

The service provided by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped to its consumers is indispensable. NLS supplies readers with books ranging from nonfiction titles on specialized areas of knowledge to the latest bestsellers along with many popular magazines. Despite this exemplary record of service, however, the National Library Service, unlike other public libraries, has never been able to provide blind and physically handicapped readers with access to their local daily newspaper. Until recently there simply was not a technically feasible way for newspapers to be produced in an accessible format suitable for blind and physically handicapped readers in time for them still to be relevant when the reader received them. For this reason in 2001 Congress provided funds to the National Federation of the Blind to create an audio newspaper service for blind and physically handicapped Americans. The service, known as NFB-NEWSLINE®, currently delivers 250 newspapers to blind and physically handicapped Americans on the day of publication via touch-tone telephone. Readers can access the newspapers at the same time the print editions are being dropped on the doorsteps of homes and offices. Titles include national publications such as USA Today, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Wall Street Journal and publications of local interest such as the Miami Herald and the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

At the time NFB-NEWSLINE® was created, the telephone was the most effective method of delivery because virtually everyone had one. However, the future of this service depends on a new method of delivery. Currently the new NLS Talking Book player has a USB port through which material that has been downloaded to a computer can be transferred to the unit. In the future library patrons may be able to load their local daily newspaper to read on their Talking Book player, just as they read their selection of titles from the NLS collection. While we are designing and implementing this new delivery method, the telephone service must continue. Part of the costs of the NFB-NEWSLINE® service is paid by our partners, such as state libraries for the blind that are also part of the NLS network, rehabilitation agencies, and private companies or foundations. We are requesting an appropriation of $650,000 in order to pay the remaining telecommunications costs associated with this critical digital newspaper service for blind and physically handicapped Americans.

In summation, Madam Chair, access to information is critical to success and productivity in today’s information economy. The requests I am making of you today speak directly to the need for blind people to have that critical access to information. If this committee denies the NLS request to fund the conversion to digital Talking Books, blind people will have access to virtually no reading material. Present content delivery methods simply cannot continue because the parts for playback machines and the cassette tapes used to store the books are no longer available. If this committee denies our request to continue funding for the telecommunications costs of providing digital newspapers to the blind and physically handicapped, blind Americans will no longer have access to critical information on current events, business news and trends, and other time-sensitive information. On behalf of all blind Americans, I urge this committee to support these critically important programs to ensure that the blind and physically handicapped continue to have the opportunities created by broad and timely access to information. Thank you.

Despite this extensive written testimony, Representative Wasserman Schultz raised the same question of commercial technology at the public witness hearing after Mr. Paré had given his oral summary of the contents of his written testimony. Representative Zach Wamp (R.-TN), the ranking minority member of the subcommittee, also asked a question, wondering whether the full $19.1 million requested by NLS for fiscal 2008 was necessary to begin the conversion to digital Talking Books, or whether the funding could be stretched out over a longer period of time. John Paré answered these questions and submitted a letter to these members of Congress following the hearing to expand further upon his answers. Here is the letter:

May 4, 2007

The Honorable Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chair
The Honorable Zach Wamp, Ranking Minority Member
Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Legislative Branch
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C.

Dear Representative Wasserman Schultz and Representative Wamp:

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify before the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee regarding the programs of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) of the Library of Congress at the hearing held on May 1, 2007.

I want to elaborate briefly on questions you posed at the hearing, and I respectfully request that this correspondence be added to the record.

Representative Wasserman Schultz posed a question following my testimony on Tuesday, essentially as follows: “In light of the availability of a commercial Talking Book product, is it necessary for funds to be appropriated for a proprietary solution created by NLS?” This is a fair question, and one that I would ask if I were the member of Congress chairing this subcommittee. The question can be interpreted in two different ways. My answer at the hearing reflected one interpretation, which I will explain in further detail later in this letter.

The interpretation of the question that I did not address at the hearing is perhaps the most obvious, and runs something like this: “In light of the many commercial audio technologies available, such as compact disc players and iPods, why should Congress fund a proprietary digital Talking Book player and special digital Talking Book cartridges as requested by NLS?” The answer to this question lies in the provisions of 17 U.S.C. §121, as amended by this subcommittee in 1996. This provision of the U.S. Copyright Act authorizes NLS to reproduce any printed book or magazine without seeking the specific permission of the copyright holder, provided that the printed material is reproduced in a specialized format and distributed only to NLS patrons who are blind or physically handicapped. The “specialized format” language means that Talking Books produced by NLS cannot be produced in a format that makes them playable by commercially available audio devices. The cassette books currently being produced by NLS are recorded at half normal speed; they are unintelligible if played on a cassette player purchased from a commercial electronics supplier. They can be played only on the special cassette players that are loaned to patrons of the network of libraries affiliated with NLS or on similar players sold by vendors specializing in products for the blind. If NLS uses commercial technology to produce Talking Books, it will quickly find itself swamped with claims of copyright violation by angry authors and publishers, resulting in costly litigation and probably in the ultimate loss of the exception to the copyright laws that make the production of these Talking Books possible. In other words, compliance with the letter and spirit of the Copyright Act makes it absolutely necessary for the NLS program to use proprietary rather than open-source media and technology.

It is also important to note that the range of subjects and literary genres provided by NLS Talking Books is unmatched in the selection of commercially available audio books. NLS Talking Books are audio recordings, but they are not like commercial audio books, most of which are abridged and intended primarily for busy commuters. The NLS Talking Book program provides unabridged books that range from popular bestsellers to nonfiction works on specialized subjects and works of fiction that are critically acclaimed but not necessarily aimed at mass markets.

The second possible interpretation of the question posed above, and the version which I attempted to answer at the hearing, runs this way: “Why should money be appropriated for NLS to have special Talking Book players and cartridges manufactured, instead of the service simply purchasing technology from a third party that is already making it?” This question contemplates the production of devices that can play Talking Books by third parties engaged in the manufacture and sale of products for the blind. It is true that companies that sell their products directly to blind consumers carry devices that can play NLS cassette books, and this will probably continue to be the case when the service rolls out digital Talking Books next year. These after-market devices are richer in features than the basic NLS Talking Book player that is loaned for free to library patrons, and they tend to be more portable. Because they have more features, such as AM/FM radio tuners and the ability to record as well as play back audio, these devices tend to be more expensive, so the federal government would not save money by purchasing them. The devices go beyond the scope of the purpose of the NLS program, which is to provide devices for its patrons to borrow for the sole purpose of playing its books. Furthermore, most of these after-market devices are not physically configured for the needs of many NLS patrons who have physical limitations that prevent them from operating the types of controls found on most consumer electronic devices and who are not used to operating feature-rich consumer technology. As I indicated at the hearing, it is likely that after-market players capable of playing NLS digital Talking Books will be aimed at and used only by approximately 5 percent of the blind consumers eligible to receive the books. Finally, because they are intended for loan to multiple users, NLS Talking Book players are built to last for many years so that their life cycle cost is substantially less than that of other consumer products. For this reason they are the best investment of federal dollars.

Representative Wamp also posed a question at the hearing: “Is the full appropriation of $19.1 million for digital Talking Books requested by NLS absolutely essential to the continuity of the program?” The answer to this question is yes. The manufacture of the cassette machines currently used by NLS has ended, and parts for these players are no longer available. If this subcommittee declines to provide the NLS with the full $19.1 million requested, thereby stretching out the distribution of digital Talking Books and players over a longer period of time than currently contemplated in the NLS strategic plan, then patrons will experience long waiting periods when no books or players are available to them. The vast majority of NLS patrons will be cut off from their only source of information and leisure reading.
Thank you again for the opportunity to be heard before the subcommittee. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have further questions or concerns.

John G. Paré Jr.
Executive Director for Strategic Initiatives

If the arguments set forth in the above statements seem tediously repetitive, bear in mind that over several months and two hearings the same questions continue to be raised despite our repeated reiteration of our support for the conversion to digital Talking Books as planned by NLS. It is imperative that members of Congress understand why NLS has designed the new digital Talking Book program in the way that it has if the conversion to digital Talking Books is to be funded. Making sure federal funds are not spent wastefully is a legitimate function of government, but the zeal to save tax dollars must not put a critical program serving the blind population in jeopardy. Over the next few months members of the National Federation of the Blind should take every opportunity to contact our members of Congress and make sure they understand the critical importance of fully funding the NLS appropriation request for fiscal 2008. The continuation of the Talking Book program and that program’s viability in the twenty-first century depend on our vigilance.


Walking the Federation Walk

by John Bailey

John Bailey edits the Vigilant, the publication of the NFB of Virginia. He is also president of the Fairfax Area Chapter in Virginia. The following article actually appeared in the March issue of the chapter’s newsletter. John counts as one of our newer leaders, but he has certainly absorbed the message that we must all test our limits and make opportunities to grow into the NFB’s energizing philosophy. Here is his article:

As part of my job as Fairfax Area Chapter president, I need to keep in touch with everyone who attends a meeting or has at sometime shown interest in coming to one. The truth is that most people don’t just decide one day to come to an NFB meeting. Potential members tend to think about coming to meetings awhile before they actually arrive. My job as president is to make sure that we keep in touch with those who are thinking about joining and to answer their questions.

I actually enjoy this task because I get to talk one-on-one with people and find out about them, their lives, and most important, what attracts them to membership in our organization. This essay was inspired by several of those conversations.

In conversations I have had over the last few months, members and potential members have admitted that they did not feel comfortable attending meetings with current members because they seemed so very capable. The new members have told me that they felt that they could never hope to reach that level of competence and confidence, and this feeling made them hesitate to participate.

Hearing these comments from newcomers surprised me until I really thought about it. I have been a member of the National Federation of the Blind for nearly ten years. When I think back, I too can remember meeting people who seemed to have it all together. They could go anywhere they wanted. They could read and write at amazing speeds, and they seemed completely confident. I can remember meeting them in my early days and thinking to myself, “How can I ever be as good as they are at being blind?”

I was very fortunate that several NFB members took it upon themselves to befriend me and explain how all these seeming miracles of adaptive techniques work. Those whom I considered the super blind told me about the months and years of effort they logged to reach their current skill levels. The most surprising thing they told me was that they were still sharpening their skills and that they knew they still had much room for improvement. It seems that the secret to becoming one of the super-blind elite is to know the adaptive skills of blindness and to use them. The confidence comes with practicing these skills.

As I said earlier, conversations with potential members who felt a bit put off by the confidence of the chapter’s current members started me thinking. Could I find a way dramatically to illustrate the fact that what may seem impossible may become possible with the use of special techniques? Could it be done in a few hours? Could I do it without hurting myself?

After a bit of thought I came up with an idea. I remember watching a Public Television program several years ago in which a scientist was explaining the physics of fire-walking and that it could be safe when done the right way. I had my project; find a fire-walking class and learn how to take a stroll across burning logs.

I love the Internet. It can help find things in just a few minutes that might have taken hours or days previously. I Googled (it is a verb now) for the term fire-walk and got several hits. Most of these referred to fire-walking seminars for corporations. It appears that fire-walking classes can be an important part of team-building exercises. It is now possible to find the answer to the question: “Do you really trust the coworker with whom you don’t get along to douse you with water if you catch fire?”

It was a combination of the Internet, phone messages, and good luck that found me a fire-walking class in South Carolina on February 17, 2007. The class would take three hours and cost $100. Not only would it cover fire-walking, but it would include breaking a board with your palm, breaking an arrow with your throat, and walking across a short path of broken glass. Then the class would conclude with a ten-foot walk across a 1,200-degree trail of burning logs. The date was right. The fee was right. The agenda was right. I decided to fly down and attend.

Let me digress for a moment. When I first joined the Federation, I did not like to travel in any way whatsoever. I made excuses for not going places because taking public transportation or even planning to use public transportation caused me a great deal of anxiety. The only reason I traveled to my first NFB meeting nearly ten years ago was that it was literally across the street from my home. If the meeting had been anywhere else, I would probably not have gone. I would have found an excuse.

Now skip to today. I live in Northern Virginia. I needed to get to Charlotte, North Carolina. After making all my travel arrangements on the Web (did I mention how great the Internet is?), I left my house early Saturday morning on a journey during which I would be in four states, stay in a hotel overnight, fly in three planes, take five cabs, and be home Sunday afternoon in time to start getting ready for work Monday morning.

The trip to Charlotte took several hours and almost didn’t happen because at the airport gate the agent announced a mechanical change to the airplane. In this case a mechanical change must have meant that the pilot had forgotten to bring all the seats with him on the flight and that several passengers with tickets wouldn’t be flying that morning. Because I had bought my ticket on the Internet, I was one of the fortunate ones whose seat was not left at the hangar. So I was able to begin my journey to North Carolina.

The rest of the trip went as expected. I landed, checked into my hotel, and hooked up with a cabdriver whom I would use for all my transportation needs while I was in the area.

The class was being led by Dr. Karen Frank and her co-instructor husband, Mr. Alan Broadman, at their weekend home just over the North Carolina border in Clover, South Carolina. Since the Charlotte airport is close to the South Carolina border, it was just a thirty-minute cab ride to the instructor’s home in the woods. Eighteen people had signed up for the seminar. Karen and Alan took turns leading the group in the exercises.

Before the class began, Alan handed me a puzzle composed of two horseshoes welded together at the pointed ends by two very short lengths of chain. A solid ring circled both lengths of chain. Alan asked me if it was possible to remove the ring from the puzzle. I told him that I could not think of a way. After a few seconds of manipulation Alan had the ring separated from the puzzle. He must have shown me the secret of removing the ring about a dozen times, but I was never able to master the technique. However, I knew that this was the right class for me because my goal for this exercise was to show that the seemingly impossible was possible when using the right techniques.

When the class began, our first task was to break a board with our palms. Each student was given a board that measures several inches on a side and an inch thick. Alan explained to us how we should strike the boards with our palms. The fast rotation of our upper bodies driving the palms forward would achieve the necessary force to break the boards.

All but one of the students was able to break the board on the first try. Those who had done this exercise before were able to break two or three boards held together. The one person who did not break the board at that time tried again after the class, and she was eventually successful, once she began to believe she could do it.

The next class activity was to break an arrow using only the weight of our bodies on an arrow whose point was pressed against our throats. Again, if done properly, this exercise was safe. After a bit of preliminary discussion about how the process worked, each student took a turn.

Students were to place the tip of the arrow against their throats, a finger’s width or two above the V cleft in the sternum. The other end of the arrow was to be placed against the wall parallel to the floor. Each student was to lean against the arrow just hard enough to hold it in place between neck and wall.

When the students were ready, they were to tighten the muscles in their necks and very slowly move forward against the arrow. As soon as the shaft of the arrow began to bend, the student was to continue slowly applying more pressure until the arrow broke with a snap. Alan said that the hardest part was getting the arrow to bend. Once that was accomplished, the rest would be easy.

One by one, as each student’s turn came, we stood facing the wall while Alan stood nearby making sure that the techniques were followed. When my turn came, I was nervous. For some reason I thought fire-walking was much safer than using my throat to break arrows. Following the directions, I tightened the muscles of my neck and slowly applied my body weight against the arrow. To my relief the arrow shaft bowed and then quickly broke. I felt that I had truly challenged myself and succeeded.

The next challenge for the class was to walk across broken glass laid out in a two-by-three-foot area on the floor. Karen explained the rules for safely walking across the glass. We were to walk very slowly, making sure each foot felt comfortable on the path before beginning to take the next step. When we had finished walking on the glass, we were to make sure to give our feet a quick brush to insure that no shards were still clinging to our feet. If we decided not to complete the walk before we reached the end, we were to step to the side. Under no circumstances were we to step backwards!

Karen told us that the glass trail consisted of fifty pounds of broken liquor bottles donated by a friend who was a guidance counselor at a local high school. Our instructors had cleaned and prepared the broken bottles for this exercise.

Karen laid out a cloth and spread a layer of glass on it, which she then leveled with a two-by-four wooden board. She demonstrated how to walk across broken glass by taking the first pass across it herself. As she walked slowly across the glass, she explained her technique. We could hear the crunch of glass breaking under her feet as she took each step. When she finished, she brushed off the few shards of broken bottles which were still clinging to her feet. She was apparently unharmed.

A line of students formed in front of the glass-covered cloth. Each followed the instructor’s instructions and cruised through the task without any ill effects. By now I was really getting into the spirit of the thing. I was pumped and making jokes as the glass crunched beneath my feet. It did not hurt at all. It felt quite comfortable in fact. At one point I stopped walking so that a good picture could be taken of me crossing the glass. I had no problems just standing there. I finished the walk and brushed off my feet. I had overcome my third challenge.

It was time for the final challenge. Fire-walking is a bit of a misnomer. Actually, one is not walking on fire but on a 1,200-degree layer of ash over a base of burning wood. The bed we were going to walk was about three feet wide and ten feet long. If you measure the temperature of the ash, it is a full 1,200 degrees. However, ash is not as dense as wood and therefore does not contain as much heat energy. It is like touching aluminum foil that has been baking in the oven. If you are careful, touching the foil will not burn you.

It is crucial that the fire-walk path be prepared properly. In fact, there are classes for learning just how to prepare fire-walks so that no one gets hurt. The fire-walk I did was properly prepared, and the students were given instructions on how to cross it safely. We were to start several feet before the path, walking at a normal speed. We were to continue walking until we reached the end, where Alan would wash down our feet with water from a hose to make sure no hot embers had stuck to our skin.

The instructors and I had had some discussion about my blindness and how I could fully participate in the activities. Alan wanted to help me find a nonvisual method for knowing when I had finished crossing. I suggested that I start walking and stop only when I heard people clapping. That seemed a simple solution, and we both liked it.

The students lined up to take turns walking across the burning wood on the path. As each person began his or her walk, everyone would chant, “You can do it.” When they had finished walking and were on the other side having their feet washed, we changed to chanting, “You did it.”

When my turn came, I just began to walk. I started off fine, feeling no heat or pain on my feet. However, as I came to the end of the ten-foot path, I began to veer towards the right a bit. Unfortunately, this area had less ash, and my feet began to feel the heat of the burning wood below. Alan doused my feet with cold water until the discomfort had gone away. After several applications of aloe cream to the bottoms of my feet, they felt fine. I had done it!

I had set a goal for myself, and I achieved it. I demonstrated to myself that many things that seem impossible are actually very possible given the right attitude and techniques. I wish to thank Dr. Karen Frank and her husband Alan Broadman for their enthusiastic support and their desire to teach me the fact that believing in oneself is the greatest force in achieving personal goals.

Several times before my trip and during my adventure, I had second thoughts. At times I asked myself, “What are you doing? Is this really necessary?” When I began to doubt myself, I would think of several of the really capable blind people I had met in the Federation over the years. Rather than using those people to highlight my inadequacies, I used them and their stories as examples demonstrating what is possible to achieve when you really want something and are willing to work towards it.

Come join the Fairfax Area Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind because we are the movement for improvement--the movement for change.


Blind and a Carpenter: We're Here to Tell You

by George Wurtzel

From the Editor: George Wurtzel is a blind carpenter who lives in Michigan. His brother Fred is president of the Michigan affiliate. On Thursday morning, July 6, George Wurtzel addressed the 2006 NFB convention. He was the first speaker on that day’s memorable agenda, and he captivated his audience. This is what he said:

I was sitting in the back row in the makeup department--that’s where you make up what you are going to say--thinking about the difference in my life that this organization has made. The very first line of information that I have in my little note card to talk about is “confidence,” how you gain enough confidence to be good at whatever you choose to do. For me to be confident enough to go into a lady’s home and say to her, “We’re going to tear out all your kitchen cabinets, and we’re going to expand the back of your house out twelve feet, and we’re going to put it all back together, and you are going to like it when we are all done.” The fact that she looks at me holding a white cane in one hand and a Sawzall in the other builds confidence in the carpenter as well as demonstrating the confidence of the homeowner.

A few of the things I am going to tell you apply to absolutely everything that everybody does in this world, and they apply to me in the construction business and construction trade. The very first thing you have to do is learn about your industry. Whatever it is you decide you want to be, whether it’s a lawyer, a doctor, or a NASA scientist, you need to learn about your industry by going to the trade magazine. Every industry in the world--picture framers, cabinet builders, countertop makers, or massage therapists--they all have a trade magazine, and they all have some sort of convention just like we hold. If you want to learn about blindness, you go to NFB conventions. If you want to learn how to be a carpenter, you go to the building trade conventions. You have to learn about your industry. Every one of them has some sort of magazine that comes out monthly. Everybody has online Web sites. You have to learn, you have to look, you have to listen, you have to pay attention and find out everything you can. You have to be the best at whatever you are going to do.

You need to build alliances and find the people around the edges of your industry. I have been in the construction business all my life. I occasionally need a good plumber. Good plumbers are not easy to find. A plumber who will show up on Tuesday when you want him there is hard to find. If you find the guys that will show up at 10 o’clock on Tuesday when you need them, whether it’s a plumber, a drywaller, a roofer, or a subcontractor to do concrete work, you have to build alliances. And you build alliances by trading with them. In my business I go to the local plumbing showroom and say to them, “I would like to build a couple of displays to put in your showroom.” Then I am in and out of the showroom regularly, maintaining and changing the displays. Those people get to know who you are and what you do. You walk in with your cane in one hand and a pile of samples in the other and introduce yourself to the sales people. That’s how you build alliances.

What are you good at? In my case and what I’ve done for at least the last ten years, I’m a Corian fabricator. Corian is a type of countertop material that goes in people’s kitchens. It’s not on the low end of the spectrum as far as price goes, but it’s also not the most expensive thing you can put in your kitchen. I went to school to learn how to do it. When I went to the school to learn how to install it (you have to be certified in the product), I filled out the paperwork, sent it in, and took another employee with me when I went to get the certification. When we walked in, the people immediately started talking to my employee because I’m the guy with the white cane, and he is walking along with me. The guy with me turned to the person asking all the questions and said, “I don’t know; I work for him,” pointing his finger at me.

The man’s immediate response was, “How are you going to do this with dangerous tools?”

The guy points at me again and says, “He taught me how to do it.” You have to learn to be good at it. It goes back to the same thing—learn every aspect you can. I took the time to go back to the community college in my town and take classes in my industry. If you do that enough, you start to build a relationship at the school. Now the people at the school call me to come in and teach classes or segments of classes that have to do with my industry.

A lot of industries require licensing to participate in the industry. If you are a plumber, you have to become a licensed plumber. If you are an electrician, you have to become a licensed electrician. If you work in the state of Michigan and you are going to take out crucial construction elements of a house--that is, if you take out a weight-bearing wall and the house falls down--you are responsible. You have to be a licensed builder to do that. I was the first blind person in the state of Michigan to take the licensed builder’s test and pass it. An interesting story goes with that. I went to take the test, which is two parts. A large written test asks you questions like, if the basement is X big and you take out how much dirt and the foundation is X big, how many blocks do you need? How much concrete will you have to pour, and those kinds of common things that everybody knows [laughter]: how many cubic feet are in a yard, how much fill you need.

Then there is a large practical part of the test where they give you a blueprint and a list of questions, and you have to go retrieve the information off the blueprint and answer their questions. The first time I took the test (it took two tries to pass it), they were very accommodating. They did supply a person to read the blueprint to me. The problem was that she didn’t know how to read the blueprint. I spent the first half of the timed test teaching her how to read a blueprint. She went to the person who was giving the test and said, “I am totally inadequate in helping this man with the test.” I asked if I could retake the test with somebody who could read the blueprint. The man in Michigan who was in charge of the whole testing for building licensure found out that a blind person was trying to take the test. He was convinced that it wasn’t possible for a blind person to do this, so he agreed to come and give me the practical part of the test.

Within the first three minutes of the half hour allotted, we had gone through the first ten questions of the twenty-five. Every question that I knew the answer to instantly and could direct him to the blueprint to find, I answered; then we went back to fill in the answers that were more difficult and required more thought and more calculation. In college I had learned to go through and answer all the questions you know first and then go back to do the hard ones afterward. There were twenty-five or thirty questions on the test. I missed only one question on the whole test, which was pretty amazing. I had taken a class on how to take the test, but they don’t know what’s going to be on it the next time. They quiz people about the test questions as they come out. There are a hundred different copies of this test, so they put together a list of questions they think the testers are going to ask. I was lucky because they asked questions I knew the answers to. There were definitely some they could have asked that I didn’t know.

I’ll go back to the same thing that I had on my card in the beginning: what are you good at? You have to figure out what you are good at, and you have to get passionate about that. I am extremely passionate about what I am good at. I read every trade journal that comes out; I pay someone to read articles to me. I go to every trade show. I belong to a home builders’ association. I go to every single meeting, and I walk around and say, “Hello. My name is George Wurtzel.” I contribute to their newsletter, not as regularly as I should, but you have to find ways for people to get to know who you are and what you do. People have to recognize you for what you do, not who you are. When someone is looking for somebody who can do the really oddball things in the Corian business in Lansing, Michigan, people call me up.

I’ve recently changed the direction of my life somewhat. I got hit by a car three years ago walking down the sidewalk going home for lunch. It was raining out. A truck was backing out of its driveway. There was a lot of street noise, and rain falling on the leaves. The man was talking on his cell phone. The back of the vehicle and I became very well acquainted. It did serious damage to both knees and my back, so my construction business has wound down to a very small business where I do a little bit of subcontract work out to other people. I am a licensed Corian fabricator, which is something that is hard to get, so I just do enough to maintain that licensing.

Now I am running a camp for blind kids in Michigan called Camp Tuhsmeheta. We are making a difference in what it means to be blind in the state of Michigan for kids. We bring them there and teach them different things. We are working on putting together a project that I have been talking to President Maurer about. It’s going to be a house-building project for blind people. We are going to bring in people from all over the United States to build a house. You may be thinking that you are not interested in house building at all. But there are a thousand unrelated jobs associated with building a house. Real estate people, community planners, people in distribution, people in the trucking business, interior designers, people in sales—pretty much anything you can think of is related to the construction of a house. The nice thing about the construction business and whatever you are looking at as a life vocation is the fact that it’s going to be a long time before the construction of a house over here on Second Street goes to China. You need local people who know how to work in the industry and people who know how to mount the kitchen cabinets that came from China on the wall, because they won’t get up there themselves.

So we are building an alliance with the National Federation of the Blind and with the National Home Builders Association, which I am a member of, and with Habitat for Humanity. Opportunities Unlimited for the Blind, which is the nonprofit spearheading the project, is putting it together. The place where it’s going to happen is Camp Tuhsmeheta, near Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is where we are going to house the people and build a house.

In conclusion, whatever you decide you really want to do is the very first thing you need to become confident about yourself in. The next thing is asking what you are good at. Then ask what you can do to get out in the marketplace and tell people about who you are and what you do. P. T. Barnum said that he didn’t care what was in the newspaper about him as long as they got his name right. If you can get your name out there, you are ahead. You would prefer to have the story be about the confident blind person who is capable and can do marvelous and magnificent things, but if it is a sappy story about the inspiring blind guy who installs kitchen cabinets, put that article up on the wall in your office. It costs a lot of money to get on the front page of the newspaper. Reprint those articles and hand them out. Then go out and seek the people who write the articles in your trade magazines and dictate what the next article will be. This time you give them the information and make the article into what you want it to be.


Learning Braille as a Mature Adult

by Mike Jolls

From the Editor: Mike Jolls has been a student at the adult training center at the Nebraska Commission for the Blind. As you will see, he clearly benefited from the training he received while a student there. This is his story:

I've learned at least three things in my life: not to judge a book by its cover, to give things an honest chance before making a decision, and to remember that nothing worth doing or having comes without hard work and perseverance. Internalizing those ideas has helped me to grow, learn new things, and expand my knowledge and ability to cope with life. Without them I would not be here to tell you about my experience learning Braille.

I'll start by encouraging everyone who struggles to continue reading print as an adult to learn Braille. Some of you may only be starting to consider Braille. Some may actually be learning it and getting frustrated. Still others may be clinging to print reading even though it's a real struggle because you refuse to touch Braille with a ten-foot pole. When I began learning Braille, I was a bit skeptical, but I'm here to tell you that Braille works. When reading print is a struggle because you can't see it easily, Braille is the way to regain your independence. I know, because that's exactly what I have done.

I want you to know how I came to learn Braille and how much it has benefited me. I hope my story will encourage you to learn it also. I truly believe that if you'll take the time to learn it, you'll see benefits that you never thought possible.

With such a positive introduction, you may be surprised to learn that I wasn't so enthusiastic when faced with the prospect of learning Braille as an older adult. In fact I was hesitant and did what I could to hold onto reading print. This resistance was a result of attitudes learned over many years from many people. My mother was the first person I learned them from. Although I was born legally blind and couldn't do (or had difficulty doing) quite a few of the things that normal children take for granted, my mother insisted that I function in the sighted world using sighted methods. If I had difficulty using those skills, as I often did, her reply was, "Do your best; what else can you do?" She always said, "You want to look normal, and you don't want to be perceived as blind." Yet what was I? I could not see like normally sighted children? I was extremely nearsighted, which put limitations on what I could do. I wasn't totally blind, but I also couldn't compete on the same playing field as normally sighted children. What I carried away of this experience was that, in order to be accepted by normally sighted people, you had to use their methods. In my case this meant reading print.

If you took my mother's attitude to its logical conclusion, using Braille would automatically label you as blind, which would result in people treating you like a second class citizen. Many years later I asked her why she had been so adamant about avoiding the use of blindness skills. Her response was simple, "I wanted to train you to do things normally so that people wouldn't treat you differently, like a blind person; feel sorry for you; or exclude you from things. People can be cruel, and I didn't want them to label you and treat you differently." One thing that's ironic about all of this is that my mother also said, "Do things the easy way. Why make it hard on yourself by doing things the hard way?" But by instilling the avoidance of blindness skills like Braille in me, she ultimately made it harder for me to keep up with my sighted peers.

A byproduct of my training was that I was proud that I could read print and that I didn't have to use Braille, a skill that only totally blind people use. After all, I had vision. Therefore the thought never crossed my mind that learning Braille might help me. Braille was for totally blind people, not for people who had sight and could read print. Why did I need Braille? I could read print. It didn't matter that for me personally reading print was difficult and slow or that choosing to read print might ultimately affect my performance in school or on the job. Rather it was a simple decision. I could read print, and subconsciously I was proud that I didn't have to read Braille. If you could see at all, no matter how poorly, print was the method you learned. Unfortunately, although I wasn't aware of it, that prejudice meant that I was always behind everyone else in school and in my professional career. In high school I couldn't read as fast as the other students. In college I had to withdraw from a short story literature course because I couldn't keep up. But my professional career suffered the most. People were always moving ahead of me, and I couldn't understand why because I did a good job and produced quality work. I had been on the job for twenty years before I finally found out how much slower I was than normally sighted print readers.

I timed one of my children reading a book. I was horrified when I found out that I was 85 percent slower. I could get only one-sixth as much read in the same time as my child. I immediately recognized the impact on my personal life and career that choosing to continue using print to acquire information was having.

Another thing that insisting on using insufficient vision had taught me was that the solution to my problems was to seek out an eye doctor who would prescribe a strong enough pair of glasses to allow me to see and function like other people. For a short time in my midthirties I began to see a specialist who did help me. But even with the glasses that were prescribed, reading print was still slow. While the glasses’ very strong magnification allowed me to read small print once again, they only made things larger. They didn't correct the physical problem so that I could read print faster. Yet I thought I was seeking the correct solution because visual problems required visual solutions. This conditioning over the years meant that learning Braille never occurred to me.

You would have thought that as a computer software designer who solves problems every day at work I would have been seeking a solution. In fact, ever since I had discovered how much slower my reading was, I had been hunting for a solution that would help me be more competitive at work. However, with all the attitudes I have already mentioned, the solutions I sought were always ones that made the print larger. It took me many years to finally realize that, if I couldn't improve the poor vision that was holding me back, I might have to seek a solution that eliminated it. Eventually when I passed my forty-sixth birthday, it was my mother who suggested that I learn Braille. She had noticed that, as the years progressed, I was having more difficulty reading print, and that my glasses kept getting stronger and stronger. Finally one day she suggested that perhaps I should explore Braille, just in case things got to the point where I couldn't read print at all.

I didn't do anything with her suggestion at first, but I realized that the methods I was using weren't working. Eventually things got to the point where I couldn't read a newspaper with my unassisted vision. Moreover, I couldn't read technical material at work without using a machine to magnify the print. I was also having problems reading the computer monitor at work. After a while the text on the screen just seemed to wash out. At home my wife was having to read things to me. As I passed my forty-eighth birthday I realized that I was for all practical purposes illiterate. That is, I could no longer read what I needed to.

As a college graduate I didn't like being helpless and illiterate. I needed something that would give me back my independence, so I sought help from the Nebraska Commission for the Blind to explore learning Braille. You would have thought that, with all the problems I had encountered, I would have eagerly embraced Braille when I began my instruction. However, I was not completely convinced that this method of reading and writing would be useful. I suppose that I was still holding onto the past. However, I had enough experience to know that, if I was going to determine whether Braille was useful, I had to give it an honest effort. I recognized that in some ways learning Braille would be like learning a new language. Like any new subject in school, getting acclimated to the subject material takes time and attention, and that means daily practice.

Therefore, despite my preconceived ideas and attitudes, I decided that I was going to devote myself fully to the task of learning this new code. I began studying it and applied myself as I had done when I went back to school many years before. This meant studying every single night, even if only for a half hour. It meant learning how to feel the dots, get used to the patterns, and write all over again using a new method.

It wasn't until after I had finished the course, some ten months after I began, that I started to see the benefits of learning Braille. Throughout the course my counselor at the Nebraska Commission for the Blind praised me for my work. Jane Lansaw was my counselor, and she told me that most older adults fight Braille, and many take three times longer to learn it, assuming they ever do. She told me that most get discouraged or don't spend enough time practicing or simply try to hang onto the world of print they've known their entire lives. They never find any relief from the problems they face. She told me that I had made spectacular progress and that it was unbelievable that I had completed the course in ten months. This was somewhat motivating, but the real payoff was when I completed the course and began using Braille in my daily life.

The first place I noticed benefits from knowing Braille occurred when I started reading a novel. At first this was slow and frustrating, but I found two big benefits. I didn't have to depend on my wife to read to me. Granted, at first it took me twenty-five minutes to read a Braille page, but it was better than not being able to read at all. The people at the Nebraska Commission told me things would improve if I kept it up, so I did. The other benefit was that I could read to my wife, and the unexpected benefit was that we found something that we liked to do together. As I write this, I have been reading Braille for two years, and I'm on my fourth Braille novel. Not too many days go by that we don't sit down to read together. And my reading speed? Well, I remember when my reading time suddenly dropped from twenty-five minutes a page to ten, and then again from ten minutes to five. I suppose the old adage of "practice makes perfect" is true.

Another benefit was that I could read without worrying about the lighting. In fact, I could read in the dark. This really came in handy once when I was traveling on business. I had to fly from California to Omaha, Nebraska, with a connection in Dallas, Texas. Because of bad weather I was stranded in the Dallas airport overnight. It wasn't pleasant, and I was awake all night with nothing to do. Luckily, I had brought my Braille novel along, and to pass the time I read all night long with the lights turned off. I can't tell you how thankful I was that I had a skill that allowed me to read regardless of the lighting conditions.

A third benefit was an improvement in reading things at work. After I had learned to read Braille, I approached my employer about purchasing a system that provided the contents of the computer screen on a Braille display. At first I was a bit reluctant to raise this question with my employer since the device cost $6,000, but it is now obvious that it's easier to read the Braille than it is to read the text on my computer monitor. Although I have a very large monitor hooked up to my computer, more and more often I use the Braille device to read or edit text and don't even look at it. I remember, the first few times I used it I was totally amazed that it was possible to do this without looking at the monitor. The only real difference is that I think I use my memory a bit more to recall what I have read (rather than glancing back at it) so that I know what changes I want to make. But who would argue with having a better memory? At this point I'm just as fast reading the Braille display as I ever was reading the print one, and reading Braille causes no eyestrain. I hope that, as with pleasure reading, using Braille at work daily and in my home life will just improve my speed and that I'll see even more benefits.

The last two benefits I'll discuss came as a result of learning to write Braille using a slate and stylus, but they didn't become apparent until much later than the reading advantages. In fact, at first I wasn't convinced of the usefulness of writing Braille with the slate and stylus because I had learned to write with a pen and paper by placing them underneath a closed circuit television (CCTV). I assumed that, since I had developed this skill, I didn't have any practical use for the slate and stylus.

The fourth benefit came when my CCTV at work failed. As I was learning Braille, my instructor told me that the slate and stylus is the blind person’s pen and paper. When I asked her why it was so useful if you could use a CCTV to write print, she replied that eventually technology fails, and you need a backup. One day her words came true. Things I had written the previous day large enough to be read under the CCTV were simply not large enough. I could see that print was there, but I couldn't read it with my naked eye. I remember thinking to myself, "Good grief! You really are blind." The machine would eventually be out of commission for about four days, and I had to survive on the job in the meantime. So I thought, "What the heck," and got out the slate and stylus I carried with me. I was amazed that I could even still use the skill since I hadn't used it regularly for quite some time. I was shocked to discover that it was actually easier to read my notes from the Braille page than putting a printed page under the machine and using my vision, and I didn't experience the eyestrain and fatigue I put up with when reading print.

The fifth benefit occurred a couple of days after this and before the CCTV was fixed. I had to attend a meeting, and I wanted to share some ideas with our team. I knew that lighting in the conference room was a real issue and that, if it wasn't right, I'd have a difficult time reading my print notes. Therefore I composed my notes using my slate and stylus and prayed that my ability to use this skill wasn't so stale that I wouldn't be able to read the Braille when it came time to present my ideas. As I had feared, one of the lights was out in the conference room, so the lighting was bad enough that I wouldn't have been able to read anything written with pen and paper. But that didn't matter. I got the Braille notes out and proceeded to read them back. I think my coworkers were as amazed as I was. I had somehow remembered how to write using my slate and stylus, and the Braille was perfect. I was able to read my notes confidently and share my ideas. I didn't have to hold the piece of paper two inches from my face, and I also wasn't dependent on the CCTV, which I couldn't take with me everywhere I went. I just sat there and read my notes while looking at my colleagues and discussing the ideas. As I did that, I realized how much superior this was, and how much more normal (according to my mother) this looked. Moreover, it gave me the freedom to produce the Braille so that I could read it anywhere. And, finally, it was much easier than reading print.

After I had these last two experiences, I said to myself, "I guess I give up. No sense in fighting it when I see these benefits. Reading and writing Braille really is superior not only for the totally blind person, but also for the visually impaired one." As I said at the beginning, I encourage you who are having difficulty reading print to explore and learn Braille. If you know there's no correcting your vision, I'd highly recommend learning this skill. It will take a few years to completely integrate it and make it automatic, but I think you'll see the same benefits as I have and in the end wonder why you didn't do it years ago.


Setting High Expectations for the Blind: A Duty for Blindness Professionals

by James H. Omvig

From the Editor: The following paper is a somewhat expanded version of a speech that was presented at the spring training conference of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind (NCSAB) in Bethesda, Maryland, on April 26, 2007. James Omvig is a nationally recognized expert on the rehabilitation of blind people. He is the author of Freedom for the Blind: The Secret Is Empowerment; The Blindness Revolution, Jernigan in His Own Words; and with C. Edwin Vaughan, Education and Rehabilitation for Empowerment for the Blind. This is what he says:

I am delighted to be here today to speak with you--the leaders of the state vocational rehabilitation agencies for the blind in America--about orientation and mobility (O&M) and your theme, "Stepping up to Independence." While I'm not going to speak directly about O&M in particular, I am going to speak at length about real independence and high expectations--the essential foundation which makes for good blind travelers and empowered blind people. I'm also going to touch briefly on duty.

On the very day I saw your call for papers for this conference, I had experienced two distressing incidents concerning low expectations, and it was these two incidents that moved me to ask Vito DeSantis if I could have the opportunity to be one of your presenters. He agreed, so here I am to talk with you about the duty blindness professionals, including travel teachers, have to help their customers learn to set high expectations for themselves.

Let me begin by threading six incidents concerning expectations into my early remarks, and then I'll get into a new concept—the hierarchy of truth. First I would like to read you a touching email message I received this spring on the day your call for papers was circulated. It is from a blind Texas high school student named Chelsea Muñoz:

Dear Mr. Omvig,

Thank you for sharing the article with me: I loved it! [I had sent Chelsea an article of mine concerning low expectations earlier in the spring.] It's saved on my computer so that I can share it with others.

Speaking of low expectations, I have a story to share with you. (Actually, I could probably think of quite a few, but I should save some for when we're talking in person.) Last semester I had to do a PowerPoint presentation for my economics class. Our dialogue (between the economics teacher and me) went something like this:

Mr. Baxa: Chelsea, instead of doing the Power Point presentation like the others, you can just write up an outline of your speech, remain in your seat, and present it to the class that way.

Me: Actually, Mr. Baxa, I can do the presentation just like everyone else. The only thing I'd need help with is knowing which slide I'm on, but other than that, I'm all set. I've got my notes like the rest of my classmates, and I'll just stand at the front of the room like them too. We're talking about equal rights here, and I wanna be treated equally.

Mr. Baxa: Ok ma'am, if that's what you'd like, then go for it!

[Chelsea's email wraps up by saying], My economics teacher said I had set a new standard for blind students. I can only hope he sticks to his guns.


Now this is a cute story about a blind high school girl, but there's something terribly wrong with this picture. It should not have been either the necessity or the duty of the blind student to teach her teacher--the professional--about high expectations for the blind. The teacher should have known and had proper expectations for the student and should have been able to teach the student about the subject if indeed she had needed any teaching. In this case of course she didn't.

"So," you directors and rehabilitation professionals of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind may ask, "this cute but troubling story had to do with education, not rehabilitation, so why are you telling it to us?"

Fair enough. So let me tell you another story. This story does have to do with adult rehabilitation and O&M, and it didn't happen fifty years ago (when the instructors in orientation and mobility were beginning to be trained); it happened less than two months ago--on the very day I saw the call for papers for this conference.

One of the state agencies for the blind (it shall remain nameless in order to protect the guilty) sends a group of blind teenagers to the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore each spring to introduce them to successful adult blind role models, to see the latest technology for the blind, and to give them at least a glimpse of the National Federation of the Blind’s notion of proper training. Those students who wish may be introduced to a bit of hands-on Federation travel training.

I was walking down the hall one day this spring during the latest such visit as one of our outstanding teachers, Amy Phelps, was giving a travel lesson to a young, blind female visitor. We were introduced, and then Amy said to the teen, "Tell Mr. Omvig what your mobility instructor said to you the other day." The student replied, displaying what can only be described as sheer defeatism, "My O&M instructor said I can never be independent!"

This is wrong, it is outrageous, and it sickens me! And, as I say, this story does concern the adult VR system. It explains why some of us who are rocketing rapidly into the ranks of old timers in this field keep working and writing and talking and pleading.

Very recently I learned of a state agency for the blind that had a kind of laundry list of items VR counselors were expected to purchase routinely for new blind clients. Among other things the list included such items as Crock-Pots and microwaves so the blind wouldn't run the risk of burning themselves on stoves; black-and-white cutting boards so that the blind could operate visually using contrasting colors; knives with special safety guards so the blind wouldn't cut themselves; and flashlights blind travelers could use at night. I suggest strongly that what new blind customers need is proper adjustment-to-blindness training, not gadgets and gimmicks.

The fact is that the knowledge exists right now--we don't have to wait until some never-to-be achieved future--as to how properly to train and empower people who are blind. The knowledge also exists how properly to establish appropriate levels of expectations for those blind individuals with whom we work. It should not matter one iota where the knowledge has come from. Nor should it matter whether we as individual workers have come out of the ranks of the system which has trained traditional blindness professionals or from the organized blind movement itself. What does matter is that we come together, study together, learn the truth about blindness together, dream together, and then work together so that we can empower rank-and-file blind people together.

As an aside, when people first began offering some kind of help to the blind, they were volunteers. Then in time paid workers, professionals, joined the work of the volunteer helpers. Now of course these professional workers receive state and federal funds to provide the services to the blind the public expects. In these circumstances I believe responsibilities have shifted from simply being nice to blind people to what should now be characterized as a duty for blindness professionals.

Just for fun I looked up the meaning of "duty" in the latest version of Dictionary.com, the most convenient tool available at the time. It points out that duty means: "Something that one is expected or required to do by moral or legal obligation."

If we accept this definition, and I do, then blindness professionals of today have a moral if not a legal obligation to learn the truth about blindness and then to pass it on routinely to the blind people with whom they are paid to work. This is the only way expectation levels can be set accurately.

One of the most devastating things that can happen to any human being is to be trapped in the prison of low expectations, but for the vast majority of blind people, this condition has been the norm rather than the exception throughout recorded history. In President Bush's First Inaugural, he referred to low expectations as "soft bigotry," and I think he is right. As we begin the discussion of lowered expectations concerning blind people, just whose expectations are we talking about? Is it the blind themselves? How about parents and other family members? Perhaps we are talking about educators? Or could we also be talking about blindness professionals employed in the VR system? Is it members of the general public, or might it actually be all of the above?

The fact is of course that it is all of the above. While there are exceptions to every rule, it is commonly understood among the well informed that throughout history blind people have been regarded as inferiors who are incompetent, inept, and virtually immaterial, if not irrelevant. We have been thought of as wards and as people who need to be taken care of rather than as employable citizens. We have not been expected to do for ourselves or even care for ourselves, and we certainly have not been expected to participate fully in or contribute markedly to society. This problem is then compounded, because tragically most blindness professionals themselves have succumbed to the same social conditioning--the erroneous myths, the misconceptions, and the superstitions--about blindness.

Just think about it. We have been educating blind children in America for nearly 180 years now—the first school for the blind in America, the New England Asylum for the Blind, was established in 1829. We have provided employment for blind adults in the sheltered shop system for more than 150 years—the first sheltered workshop was established in 1850 in New York City. And we have been providing VR services to blind adults in one form or another for eighty-seven years—the original VR Act was adopted by Congress in 1920. America has devised a truly elaborate blindness system.

Yet studies show that, even after all of these blindness services, more than 70 percent of all blind people of working age are unemployed. Further, of those who are working, far too many are significantly underemployed. Clearly we have provided training, lots of it, but sadly very little of it has been effective training based on the truth about blindness.

We can blame employers who are reluctant to hire the blind for a small part of it, but the fact remains that the blindness system has failed in its duty. It has not been operated properly, and traditional blindness professionals must share much of the blame for the failure.
Recently I was asked to devise some method for measuring expectations--a daunting task. However, I have thought of at least one possibility: I call it the hierarchy of truth. Before turning to a discussion of this hierarchical approach, however, let's examine two additional cases of low expectations--of soft bigotry. Dr. Ronald J. Ferguson was formerly a senior research fellow at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana. In his recent book, We Know Who We Are,1 Dr. Ferguson tells the following disturbing true story about a young, totally blind teenager:

When Jessica [fictitious name] was in ninth grade, she underwent two weeks of vocational and academic assessment in conjunction with the writing of her rehabilitation plan. A number of tests were administered to determine her vocational interests as well as academic achievement and potential for college. The results on all of the academic assessments showed that Jessica, although only in ninth grade, had scored in the ninetieth percentile or higher on tests normed for high school seniors as well as those normed for first-year college students.


Jessica's parents permitted an informal survey to be conducted in several classrooms at three different universities. Jessica's test scores were shown to upper level undergraduates majoring in education or graduate classes of rehabilitation students. The professor asked the students to give their impression of the young woman's academic potential (a fictitious name was used). In addition, class members were asked to suggest possible careers that this person could pursue based on the test results. Overwhelmingly, class members noted the student had outstanding academic potential. Some of the suggestions for a career included engineer, medical doctor, scientist, and lawyer.
Jessica's parents had not told the university students who participated in the informal survey that she was blind. Even so, these university students were mystified when they learned that, reviewing these same test results, Jessica's rehabilitation counselor--the blindness professional assigned to help her--had suggested that she consider careers, not as an engineer, but as a secretary, not as a medical doctor, but as a receptionist, not as a scientist, but as a customer service representative, and not as a lawyer, but as a computer operator.

Just consider: the blindness professional, who had been trained to serve and supposedly help the blind, expected about what the average person on the street might have expected of this bright blind teenager. Now, no one would suggest for one minute that this professional intentionally tried to hurt the young blind woman or do her wrong in any way. Far from it! The motive would have been the exact opposite--to help. It was the counselor's understanding of blindness--or lack of understanding--that led to the grievous error and the soft bigotry. How could the VR counselor's expectations vary so markedly from those of the college students who looked at the same test scores? Obviously the counselor knew nothing whatever of the truth about blindness. He failed in his duty.

Consider another case. A student working on a master's degree in orientation and mobility--an aspiring blindness professional--tells her classmates that she has just met the best blind traveler she has ever encountered. She is working with him in the San Francisco area to teach him how to manage the new BART (the Bay Area Rapid Transit system). A blind classmate, the young (and perhaps impertinent) Fred Schroeder, asks innocently, "If your student is such a great traveler, why does he need you to help him?" The young O&M student responds, completely oblivious to the implications concerning lowered expectations of her reply, "He needs me because a blind person cannot possibly learn to manage BART without help." The brash young Fred Schroeder asks, "Who do you believe taught me to handle the BART?"

Again, without thought about the implications, the sighted student replies, "I don't know. Who did?" This young woman was in a master's class to learn to teach blind people, and I am certain she believed she held high expectations for the capabilities of the blind in general and her students in particular. But she didn't. The fact is that Schroeder had taught himself. The problem was that the sighted student did not understand the true nature of blindness and therefore did not understand the true capabilities of blind people.

The question of lowered expectations is complex. Blindness professionals of today all discuss the need for raising expectations, and they give the impression that this is routinely happening. I am sure they believe that the issue has been addressed and, since it is so prominently discussed, that the historic problem has been fixed. It hasn't.

When we are talking about the problem of lowered expectations, we are not implying that an intentional wrong has occurred. In work with the blind, people universally intend to do right. However, even though we are dealing with good intentions, expectations remain far too low, and therefore the problem for blind people continues to be soft bigotry.

Here is a true story concerning a different kind and level of expectations. The outcome for the blind customer is also completely different. When Joanne Wilson was directing the Louisiana Center for the Blind, she knew the truth about blindness and had high expectations--expectations of normality--for her students. When one young male student left the center, he went on to college at a major university. Five or six other blind young men were in his dormitory. They had not experienced National Federation of the Blind training and empowerment. A couple of years later Joanne encountered this young man at a meeting. He thanked her profusely for "making me different." Joanne asked him what he meant, and he recounted the following story:

On a Sunday afternoon, when he had some extra cash, he grabbed his cane, left his dorm room, went to the bus stop, and took a bus to the local K-Mart, purchased a TV, rode the bus back home, and connected his new treasure. That evening he invited his blind friends in to watch his new TV.

To a person, they were flabbergasted. "How did you do that?" "You mean you took a bus and went to the store by yourself?" "How did you know what bus to take?" "How could you find the store?" "How could you find the TVs and decide which one to buy?" "How could you hook it up by yourself?"

Joanne Wilson knows the truth about blindness, and she believes it. When she ran the Louisiana Center for the Blind, she set expectation levels in accordance with this truth. Then she routinely passed her knowledge on to those around her. As a result they have normal expectations for themselves and are not prisoners of the very system that was intended to set them free.

The Interpersonal Expectancy Effect2

A Harvard researcher, Robert Rosenthal, showed the remarkable effects of lowered expectations in a study conducted in 1964 and 1965. Rosenthal was concerned that, "one person's expectation for another's behavior could come to serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy."3 He conducted his study in a California school that operated under an ability-tracking system in which each of the school's six grades was divided into three groups: fast, medium, and slow.

After the principal of this California school had read a Rosenthal article on "investigator expectancy effect," which discussed the fact that the bias of the researcher was reflected in the outcome of certain studies, she wondered if the expectations her teachers had for their students had anything to do with the level at which they performed and their resulting placement in one of the three tracks. Because of this concern the principal had invited Rosenthal to conduct the study at her school.

Rosenthal began his study by administering IQ tests to selected students. He then lumped students into two groupings--those who were expected to improve at an average rate and those who would be expected to improve at a superior rate. He told the teachers who would be working with the youngsters which of the students were expected to be average and which were likely to be superior.

Rosenthal returned to the school several times over a two-year period, retesting the students on each visit. His findings confirmed his worst fear: the self-fulfilling prophecy had come true. The students the teachers expected to be average functioned at an average rate, and the so-called superior students--those the teachers expected to be superior--improved at a superior rate. In fact the tests showed that IQ increases actually tracked with teacher expectations for each group.

After the study was completed, Rosenthal revealed the startling truth--the dirty little secret. When he split the students into the two groups, he had done so randomly. This meant that the average group included superior students, and the superior group included average students. However, he had led the teachers to believe that those in the average group were students who had tested at an average level and the ones in the superior group had tested superior. The teachers' expectations for the members of each group correlated precisely with the students' achievement. No doubt the teachers who were involved in this study believed that they held not only fair but also high expectations for all of their students in both groups--no doubt they were people with good intentions.

Since this problem of soft bigotry could arise so easily and naturally among teachers who believed they were teaching what they would call normal children, just imagine the impact of lowered expectations on an entire group of people already perceived by society as something less than normal. Among other things this study also shows all too clearly that people who believe they have high expectations for those with whom they are working often really don't and that good intentions alone don't cut it.

The Hierarchy of Truth

My own colleagues in the National Federation of the Blind may express some skepticism when I introduce a hierarchical approach to the issue of setting proper expectations for blind people. We are quite aware that in the past the hierarchical approach has failed the blind miserably when we examine what some call "the hierarchy of sight." Those who adhere to this hierarchical approach--that includes almost everybody in America--believe that the degree to which a blind person can be competent, successful, and happy rises or falls in direct proportion to the amount of vision he or she has. Great emphasis is placed on functioning visually if one has the slightest amount of vision. (By way of personal confession, I was convinced before I encountered the National Federation of the Blind that I absolutely had to have vision in order to be successful and happy.) Those who hold this view are dead wrong. The fact is that the amount of vision—if any—a blind person possesses has nothing whatever to do with competence, happiness, or success. It has only to do with the kind of training the blind person should be provided.

But I believe that the hierarchy of truth is another matter altogether: that is, the level of expectation an individual has concerning maximum achievement for the blind as a group--or for a particular blind individual--rises or falls in direct proportion to the level of emotional understanding and acceptance he or she has concerning the truth about blindness. This is true regardless of whose expectations are being examined--those of the family, society in general, the particular blind individual in question, or most especially the blindness professional involved.

And what is this truth about blindness? It has been developed and fine-tuned by the National Federation of the Blind over the past sixty-seven years and may be stated quite simply in a few sentences:

(1) First (as Dr. Jacobus tenBroek (the founder of the National Federation of the Blind was fond of saying), blind people are simply normal human beings or, at least as normal as human beings are. That is, we are no more or no less than ordinary people who just happen to be blind.

(2) The blind are a cross section of society as a whole, and individually we are as different as sighted people are. Therefore, contrary to popular myth, misconception, and stereotype, we are not all alike.

(3) The physical condition of blindness is nothing more than a normal human characteristic. The characteristic of blindness is no different from all of the others which, taken together, mold each of us into a unique person. Blindness is not what defines each of us.

(4) The trained blind person uses alternative (nonvisual) techniques to perform efficiently without sight those tasks and functions that would be performed visually if he or she had ordinary sight.

(5) Given proper training and opportunity, the average blind person--not those perceived as the super-blind--can participate fully in society and can compete on terms of absolute equality with his or her sighted peers. In short, given proper training, blindness can literally be reduced to the level of a physical nuisance or inconvenience.

(6) To state it all very neatly--if it won't permanently damage too many psyches--vision is not a requirement for competence, competitiveness, success, and happiness for properly trained blind people, and it is respectable to be blind.

(7) Finally, the real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight itself but is rooted in the public's misunderstandings, misconceptions, and superstitions about it. In short, the blind are perceived--and generally perceive themselves--as inferiors and are a minority group in every negative sense of that term. Therefore service providers must come to understand this significant truth; then they have a duty to focus their blindness services accordingly and provide programs aimed at teaching their students or customers a new and constructive set of attitudes about blindness based upon an understanding that prevailing views are wrong and harmful.

(8) To sum it all up simply, the blind person must accept rather than deny the fact that he or she is blind and then learn to become comfortable with it. All of the foregoing is the simple truth that should be adopted by schools and agencies as the defined philosophy they teach regularly and openly to their blind customers.

From all of the above, it naturally follows that, if a blindness professional truly understands blindness and believes that blind people are normal people who can do what normal people do--that is, if the blindness professional knows the truth about blindness--then proper (normal) expectations will be set for blind customers routinely. Further, the blindness professional, whether educator or rehabilitator, will arrange for services which will raise the expectation bar for the blind customer to the level at which it should be, and the customer will be empowered as a result. In general the expectation level for a particular blind customer should be precisely the same as it would be for that same individual if he or she were not blind.

I pointed out above that the problems of lowered expectations are very nearly universal. They are shared by members of the general public, employers, family members, and friends, and all too often the blind themselves--they have bought hook, line, and sinker into the myths of the hierarchy of sight and the concomitant inferiority of the blind. Ultimately, of course, the general public will come to understand the truth of the normality of blind people, but the blind themselves have the primary responsibility for making this happen.
So too family members and friends will get it, but this will probably happen only when blind people themselves have come to know the truth and can share it with others: that is, when their success and happiness have risen to a level commensurate with their comprehension and internalization of the truth about blindness.

This brings us to the ultimate question: how then can blind people learn the fundamental truth about blindness and thus become empowered? There can be but one answer--the duty rests with blindness professionals. It is their duty to give their blind students or customers inspiration, optimism, and the golden gift of hope. It is their duty to teach the truth about blindness and, by so doing, to raise the level of expectations to that which is normal for each of their blind customers. Then it is also their duty to learn about proper training, to learn where to obtain it for their customers, and then to make certain that they get it.

It is not the function of blindness professionals to tell their customers what cannot be done. The main duty of the genuine professional is to help his or her customers raise expectations and do what to those customers, in the beginning, may have seemed to be impossible. Enough obstacles stand in the path of the blind person without having the blindness professional or the blindness system itself add to them.

Nor is it helpful when blindness professionals who are thinking and living in the past flare and become angry when it is pointed out that their stereotypical attitudes and methods are outmoded. It is not all about them! It is about the people who have been hurt by the failed blindness system, and it is all about improvement. It is about making conditions, training methods, and opportunities better for the blind than they have ever been.

The National Federation of the Blind has discovered the truth about blindness, and this truth is shared routinely with blind students who attend NFB or other progressive centers. Similarly this truth is presented as a part of our master's degree programs at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston. One of the most exciting developments to occur in recent years has been the acceptance of this truth by more and more educators and rehabilitators.

There seems to be only one way that people--either blind individuals or blindness professionals--can internalize this truth universally and raise the bar: that is, through immersion into blindness. Full immersion is what happens at the NFB training centers, and it is also what happens for students of the Louisiana Tech program. This practice must become the norm across the nation.

Therefore my urgent plea is that blindness professionals everywhere take advantage of the information that is available for the asking and learn the truth about blindness. By so doing, you can do your duty and also be empowered to raise the level of your own expectations for your customers to what will be normal levels for each of them. In turn you can guide them to raise their own expectations accordingly. Give them inspiration. Give them the truth about blindness. Give them hope because, where there is no hope for the future, there is no power for the present.

If we as blindness professionals give our customers all of these things, they will have appropriate expectations for themselves and therefore they will be encouraged to do those things which other normal people do. For the blind, great expectations are nothing more than normal expectations as measured against the truth about blindness.

1. Ronald Ferguson, We Know Who We Are: A History of the Blind in Challenging Educational and Socially Constructed Policies: A Study in Policy Archaeology (San Francisco: Caddo Gap Press, 2001), 22.

2. Robert Rosenthal and D.B. Rubin, "Interpersonal Expectancy Effect: The First 345 Studies," The Behavior and Brain Sciences, 3 (1978): 377-386.

3. Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson, Pygmalion in the Classroom (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1968).


St. Louis to Japan: An Experience with Study Abroad

by Rachel Sommerer

From Dan Frye: Rachel Sommerer, assistant director of student support services at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, sent us a narrative detailing the efforts a blind senior, Cory Klatik, made in preparation for study abroad in Japan in 2006. She also relates some of his encounters and observations while studying at Obirin University in Japan. Regular Braille Monitor readers and those generally familiar with blindness already recognize that the absence of vision does not prevent seriously committed students from participating in international studies; after all we know of many blind students who travel the world in pursuit of their academic interests. But despite her occasional amazement rather than simple expectation that solutions to the challenges of international study and language acquisition would be found, Cory’s story does have merit. His experience represents another positive example of a blind person who is reaching for the brass ring in anticipation of living a rich and rewarding life. This account of events is not written in Cory’s own words. Ms. Sommerer wrote the piece originally for a professional publication to urge university support services staff to help disabled students solve the problems inherent in study abroad rather than discouraging them from spreading their wings. The narrative may not entirely reflect Cory’s personal perspective, but here is his story:

As a freshman at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL), Cory Klatik became interested in studying the Japanese language. It seemed a logical choice since he was majoring in management information systems and international business and was also very interested in doing a year of study abroad. He had the same concerns that other students have about this prospective study, competitive grades and the expenses of travel, but what concerned Cory even more was his vision and the related obstacles that he would face in pursuit of his dream.

Cory has optic nerve hypoplasia, which affects him differently every day, leaving him with vision that ranges from enough sight to navigate without the use of his cane to absolutely no vision. Studying a complex foreign language and living in another country might have seemed impossible to some students, but not to Cory. After speaking with the study abroad coordinator in the Center for International Studies (CIS) at UMSL, Cory started to tackle the first challenge--learning the Japanese language. Unlike English, the Japanese written language is made up of three separate alphabets: Hiragana (strictly Japanese words and phrases, more round in appearance, and practiced mostly by children since it is the first alphabet taught); Katakana (borrowed words or Japanese words that are being given emphasis); and Kanji (iconic representations of Hiragana words or phrases and preferred by most adults). No letters exist in these alphabets; instead they reflect only the sounds and the symbols that represent them. Cory used a CCTV to enlarge everything that was presented in his textbooks. Sometimes this worked very well, and on other days, when his vision was low, he was able to read only a couple sentences to a paragraph.

Cory dedicated one to two hours a day to his studies as well as an additional hour spent with a private tutor who would walk through his homework assignments, verbalizing each printed word. Unlike his classmates Cory did not have the visual prompts and punctuation cues printed in the text. “Forty percent of the learning process came through hearing, vocalizing, and memorizing what the tutors read or said. I would mimic the sounds in order to learn.” And while Cory uses Braille in other reading areas, no Japanese-to-American Braille conversion process exists. Cory would have had to translate the verbal/written Japanese into Japanese Braille, and he learned both the Japanese language and the Japanese Braille code at the same time, so Braille was not an option. When it came to the written aspect of the language, many enlargements were made, sometimes as large as one symbol per sheet of paper. Each day provided its own unique experience in handwriting symbols and determining the size necessary for that given moment. Many times tutors used hand-over-hand demonstration to assist Cory with muscle memory. Working closely with his instructor, Elizabeth Eckelkamp, Cory was not only passing his Japanese class, he was getting an A and was ready to revisit CIS.

On Cory’s behalf CIS contacted Obirin University, and they tentatively welcomed him to pursue the application process. Cory then had to explain all of the necessary accommodations that he used at UMSL. He spoke intensively with the disability access office at UMSL and spent two and a half weeks preparing a document that detailed each aspect of every accommodation he was using. For example, Cory described why he needed written items enlarged and exactly how it was done (font size, step-by-step copying directions, percentage of increase of size, etc.), even converting our standard measurements to metric. The response from Obirin came almost six weeks later with a cautious, “We should be able to do everything that you have requested.”

Cory had to go through a couple of different application procedures. First he had to complete the application to the university. Japanese laws are very similar to U.S. laws, so nowhere was Cory asked about a disability. Cory took the opportunity, however, through essays to discuss the subject and thoroughly explain his ability to complete everything required of him. In addition to the standard application packet, Cory sent letters to individual instructors requesting the assistance that had been communicated earlier with the student assistance department. In February, seven months into his journey, Cory was officially accepted to Obirin University. Now came the completion of the second application process--scholarships.

In order to be approved for study abroad, Cory needed to have in place all necessary funding before leaving--approximately $23,000 in addition to UMSL tuition. Scholarships would be vital to his dream. Cory focused his attention on three sources: Obirin itself, the Japan Student Service Organization (JASSO), and the Freeman-ASIA Awards program. He had about one month to complete the school scholarship application and even less time to submit the other two. Time was of the essence, but quality and care were also necessary.

The JASSO scholarship process is very competitive, awarding only one scholarship per country and requiring attention to every detail. A 200-word-minimum letter needed to be submitted in Japanese using only the vocabulary with which Cory was familiar. For someone with perfect vision and about two years of Japanese instruction, this undertaking was estimated to take about six hours. With assistance from the UMSL foreign language department, limited to looking up words and symbols to ensure proper use, Cory completed this task in twenty-three and a half hours. What took so long? In order to stand out and make his letter memorable, Cory wrote his letter by hand. The following July Cory was the U.S. recipient of the JASSO scholarship. He also received scholarship assistance from the other two resources he had targeted. Cory was ready to go to Japan.

Cory does not have trouble with air travel. Since he is from Cleveland, Ohio, and attends school in St. Louis, Missouri, he is familiar with flying. This time, however, his flight would be eleven to twelve hours long and would take him to another country by way of a layover in Chicago. Cory admits that he was a bit nervous, but he received great assistance from all the airline personnel in both the U.S. and Japan. During his flight, communication took place in both English and Japanese, gradually transitioning to the latter as they neared Japan. Cory often felt lost listening to the fluent Japanese discussions happening around him, but he was very happy when he realized that he could recognize words here and there. Touchdown in Japan occurred at 2:10 p.m. on September 13, and Cory was struck with the realization that there was no turning back. “It was like going on stage. I had to be able to perform all that I had practiced.” Cory once again received wonderful assistance from the staff in Tokyo, and he enjoyed his communication once he discovered that he actually knew some Japanese. He also picked up additional language information from his assistant as they started to converse in Japanese.

Academic life at Obirin was similar to that at UMSL in that classes are set up by semesters and structured on units which are equal to credits. While Cory knew that Japanese laws supported his requests for accommodations, he did not have to remind the sensei [professors] of this. They were eager to assist him, conveying the message that they wanted to help him. They also knew that, if he did not receive their assistance, he would not be able to do the work, and this would reflect very poorly on them. In addition to the accommodations provided by Obirin, which included personal emails each morning with lecture material and handouts, Cory relied on his own CCTV for text-enlargement.

Cory’s knowledge and familiarity with assistive technology was one of the key elements that made study abroad possible. Digital files are widely used in Japan, and rarely were paper copies handed to him. He relied heavily on JAWS with a Japanese synthesizer, which he purchased on his own. He also used ZoomText to read some Japanese Web sites that JAWS was unable to make accessible. In Cory’s opinion, without the abilities of these assistive devices along with his extensive knowledge of their capabilities and uses, study in Japan would have been nearly impossible.

Study abroad is not something that every student dreams about. Cory’s experience demonstrates the courage, determination, and commitment necessary to make his dream come true. He hopes that his experience will encourage other students with a similar dream to step forward and accept the challenge, knowing it can be done, knowing that a dream became reality for Cory Klatik.


St. Louis to Japan: An Experience with Study Abroad

by the IBTC Accessibility Team

From the Editor: Microsoft recently introduced the Vista operating system and Office 2007. The access-technology developers have been scrambling to release programs that will make this software available to blind computer users. The International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind team have been using both the GW Micro and Freedom Scientific products with Vista and Office. Here is their review, the first one to appear anywhere as far as we can tell. This is what they say:

Windows Vista Accessibility Review

The release of Microsoft Windows Vista earlier this year left many blind computer users wondering when we will be able to use this new operating system. With previous releases of Microsoft Windows operating systems, the blind had to wait a considerable time to acquire a screen-access program that was compatible with a particular operating system. Now, for the first time ever, blind computer users can choose to use a new operating system at the same time as everybody else. GW Micro, the manufacturer of Window-Eyes, was the first to release a version of a screen-access program for Windows Vista. Freedom Scientific released a beta version of JAWS for Vista shortly after the release of Window-Eyes.

We observe that the performance of Window-Eyes in Vista is very good. User Account Control, Secure Desktop, Start menu with its search features, and Windows Sidebar are completely accessible. Navigating between list views and group panes is smooth and responsive.

Window-Eyes 6.1 and JAWS beta version 8.0.2107 are both compatible with Windows Vista. Users familiar with a particular screen-access program will be able to migrate to Windows Vista without too many difficulties. Many standard hot-key combinations are the same. For instance, pressing Windows+M still minimizes all applications and brings focus to the desktop. Users can still arrow between icons on the desktop or use Alt-tab to switch between applications. Pressing Windows+E still brings up Windows Explorer. We are pleased to report that screen-access software manufacturers have done a great job in helping users gain access to this new operating system.

It is worthy of note that, although screen-access programs are now working well with Windows Vista, users should not assume that all access technology products are compatible with it. Before converting to Windows Vista, one should verify that one’s notetakers, refreshable Braille displays, and Braille embossers are also compatible with this new operating system. Currently we know that Duxbury version 10.6SR1 and Kurzweil 1000 version 11 are Windows-Vista-compatible. We recommend contacting the relevant access technology manufacturers for the latest information on Vista compatibility.

Now let's turn our attention to the computer hardware requirements for Vista. When purchasing a Windows Vista computer to be used with screen-access programs, users should ask for the following items: a nonintegrated sound card, a nonintegrated video card, at a minimum 2 GB of random access memory (RAM), and at a minimum a Pentium 4 2.5 GHz processor. Getting the suggested hardware specifications may make your computer more expensive than an off-the-shelf system, but it will prevent you from experiencing any delay when multitasking. Four versions of Windows Vista are available for one to choose among. Vista Home Basic contains Windows Defender, Windows Firewall, and Internet Explorer. Vista Home Premium includes everything in the Home Basic version plus Media Center and a scheduled backup program. Vista Business includes everything in the Home Premium version plus the complete PC backup and a restore application, Remote Desktop Connection, a Network and Sharing Center, and the Windows Fax and Scan program. The Ultimate version of Vista contains everything in the Business version plus Windows BitLocker Drive Encryption program. Not everybody will need the Vista Ultimate version. We recommend clearly identifying your needs before spending the extra money.

Windows Vista has a range of new features. One that users may perceive to be an annoyance is the User Account Control. Periodically users will be prompted to authorize access to a particular program that is running on the computer. The prompts occur often, so we recommend turning this feature off if you feel confident that your PC has enough other security measures in place. Another change in Vista is that the names of the desktop icons are not the same as in Windows XP. For example, “My Computer” in Windows XP becomes “Computer” in Windows Vista and “My Network” becomes “Network.” “Windows Sidebar” is a new term in Windows Vista used to replace “System Tray.” Users can personalize the Windows Sidebar by downloading different “gadgets” of interest such as weather, headline news, or traffic reports from Windows Live™ Gadgets gallery. Regrettably, links for different gadgets on the Windows Live™ Gallery site are not properly labeled. Downloading specific gadgets is not easy.

The shut-down and restart options are no longer in the Start menu. The quickest way to shut down or restart the computer is to press Alt+F4 while on the desktop. Then the What-do-you-want-the-computer-to-do? prompt will appear, and users can choose either to shut the computer down or to restart it.

Other noteworthy changes in Windows Vista are the following: in the Control Panel you will find fifty items. Many items under submenus in Windows XP are on the main menu of the Control Panel in Windows Vista. One example of this is the Device Manager. In Windows XP one must go to Control Panel, System, then Control, then tab to the Hardware tab to get to the Device Manager. Under Windows Vista, “Device Manager” appears after selecting Control Panel on the main screen. Many categories in the Control Panel have been renamed in Windows Vista. An example of this is “Add and Remove Programs” in Windows XP, which has been changed to “Programs and Features” in Windows Vista. The XP operating system does not support first-letter navigation. In Windows Vista first-letter navigation has been implemented so that, if you press the first letter of a program that you wish to modify or remove, it will be highlighted.

The Vista operating system can have two additional clocks set under Date and Time. A Windows Vista user can also synchronize the clock with a timeserver on the Internet.

The volume of system sounds can be set independently for each running application. This can be useful, for example, when you are playing music or streaming audio on the Internet. The volume of the audio player being used can be louder or softer than your screen-reading program’s volume.

Many accessibility-related applications are included in the Ease of Access Center, located in the accessories by default. Examples of these applications are a speech-recognition application, magnification programs, and the Narrator speech output program. These applications are not the replacements for full versions of screen-access software such as JAWS or Window-Eyes, and Windows Magnification program is not a substitute for ZoomText or MAGic screen-enlargement software.

For further details contact us at <nfb@nfb.org>, reference: Vista inquiry, or use the technology answer line at (410) 659-9314, option 5. Keep an eye out for Vista-related technology tips on <http://www.nfb.org/nfb/Access_technology_tips.asp>.

Office 2007

In this article we discuss Office 2007, and in particular Word and its new interface known as the ribbon tool bar. Although this article discusses Office 2007 in Windows Vista, it may be run on Windows XP systems, and the items discussed here affect the user on both operating systems. We ran Office 2007 with Window-Eyes version 6.1 and JAWS version 8.0.2107 beta under Windows Vista and were able to navigate the Ribbon tool bar and its options with both screen-access programs. Because JAWS is beta software, we will not compare it to Window-Eyes in this article.

Office 2007 uses a new menu system called the Ribbon tool bar, which consists of a series of tab controls that you navigate around using Tab, Shift+Tab, and the left and right arrows. The tool bar has the feel of pages in a dialog. By pressing the left and right arrow keys, you move from one tab to another. We noticed seven tabs when opening a Word document. There are hot keys for these tabs. For example, pressing Alt+H brings up the Home tab, and Alt+W brings up the View menu.

Although there is no tab called File, pressing Alt+F takes you to the familiar options such as New, Open, Save, Save As, and more. For example, pressing Alt+F followed by the letter A opens the Save As dialog box. To move through the options on a given tab, press Tab and Shift+Tab. Doing this will result in the usual controls including checkboxes, combo boxes, and other buttons. Groups of items appear as you tab through the options. The Save items are grouped together, while another group has the Copy, Cut, and Paste items found on the Edit menu in previous versions.

Some familiar hot keys still bring you directly to their items. Control+O and Control+N, for example, still open a document dialog and a new document and may be pressed while writing in a document. Control+C, Control+V, Control+X and Control+P all perform their usual functions: Copy, Paste, Cut, and Print. Pressing F7 still opens the Spelling and Grammar dialog. Writing and editing work much as they do in Windows XP. You can select and deselect text; Delete, Copy, and Paste; and perform other editing functions as usual.
The above examples provide an overview of this new system. It is different because the old familiar menus are no longer available; there is no option to return to the classic menu view in Office 2007. The good news, however, is that both Window-Eyes and JAWS work well with this new Ribbon tool bar, and the available hot keys make operation from the keyboard much the same as it was in earlier versions of Word.

It will take some practice to find all the options and features presented on the Ribbon tool bar. Callers on the Kim Komando Show, a nationally syndicated computer talk show, say that the Ribbon bar is quite different and confusing to some. It appears that we are about equally challenged with our sighted peers in learning the new menu system.

We encourage you to try using the new versions of Office 2007. Although this discussion describes Office Word 2007 only, the Ribbon tool bar shows up in other Office 2007 applications. You will probably encounter this Ribbon menu sooner or later. When you do, just be persistent, and you will soon be up and running.


Watch Out, He's Blind!

by Kevan Worley

From the Editor: Kevan Worley is president of the National Association of Blind Merchants. He is a successful businessman living in Colorado. He also chairs the NFB’s Imagination Fund. The following article illustrates why Kevan is so successful. It also demonstrates how to be an effective fundraiser. This is what he says:

“Watch out! He’s blind!”

Coming off the elevator, I heard her.

“Watch out, he’s blind!” she said, talking softly but not too softly. She and her friend or coworker, heels clicking, coming down the hall, ready to cross my path. I, walking from the elevator, across the lobby, out the door, heading back to my office.

“Watch out, he’s blind!”

“Whatever,” I thought. “Here we go again. Wacky people,” I thought. She was not more than--I don’t know, six or eight feet to my left.

“Watch out, he’s blind.” She, not sounding mean, I, thinking, not a particularly stupid-sounding voice--whatever that means. I chuckled to myself, thinking, “Certainly not an outdoors voice, but way above a church whisper.”

“Watch out, he’s blind.”

I, pondering, “What did she mean?” I’m not being coy or cranky; I truly do wonder.

“Watch out, he’s blind.” Did she think I would whack or trip or cane-whip her or her companion? “Watch out, he’s blind,” she exclaimed casually but with a note of concern in her voice, certainly loud enough for me to hear although that probably wasn’t her intent. Or maybe it was. What did she mean? Did she have some preconceived notion of blindness as incapacity or incompetence, suggesting that I was helpless, deaf, inconsequential, a threat to myself, her, her friend, anyone in the general vicinity?

“Watch out, he’s blind.” Did she intend to warn the building, “Pitiful man in lobby”? Was she warning her companion that danger was near? Was she concerned for my safety without the social grace to express it tactfully by saying, “Good afternoon, sir, do you need directions?” Was she nervous about being in the presence of a blind man, resulting in the almost involuntary utterance, “Watch out, he’s blind!” Over-thinking on my part, sure, but still how should I react?

Business and life coach Joe Gilliam trains management and employees through the Rockhurst University National Seminars Group. He says to remember the formula E+R=O--that is, event + response = outcome. I had been visiting my doctor on the third floor before I stepped off the elevator to hear, “Watch out, he’s blind.” That seemed to be the event, so what response should that event trigger? What would the outcome be? How could I respond so as to increase the odds of a desirable outcome? Maybe I shouldn’t or even couldn’t respond at all. Sometimes, even when we try to be positive, to engage the public, to change attitudes, our openness is simply not returned; but we keep trying to smile, be cool, and educate along the way. “Watch out, he’s blind,” she had said. Our collective experience teaches us that many of our sighted neighbors have mistaken notions about blind people. They do not understand or relate well to folks who travel independently using the long white cane. Even when we are moving with expertise and grace, they sometimes assume that we are faltering when we stop to explore and find the best path to use. That’s the reality. They have mistaken notions and a complete misunderstanding of our capacity, travel style, information-gathering techniques; they just do not understand. They have little knowledge and lots of prejudice. It is easy to shrink or shy away from encounters, to prejudge without understanding, as we are prejudged. Sometimes our instinct is to be belligerent, making a caustic remark that provides a little rush of satisfaction. But after a few seconds the rush of triumph dissipates with the realization that it really wasn’t a triumph but an opportunity lost. As I have said, this woman did not seem mean-spirited.

The women were a bit to my left. I halted, trying to be engaging, thinking quickly, and trying not to be sarcastic, though I suppose I was. “Watch out, she can see!” I laughed and smiled broadly in her direction. I nodded slightly, moving my cane to the vertical, trying to strike an open, nonthreatening posture. I said, “No worries, I was just heading to the front door to meet my employee, who is picking me up. You really have to watch out for her. She can see too, but she can be a reckless driver,” I said laughing, smiling more broadly, and waving my left hand in an off-hand gesture, giving the woman an aw-shucks shrug, trying not to be at all sarcastic. Being nonthreatening, I said, “How are you all this beautiful afternoon?” I started ambling toward the automatic doors, hearing them slide open for someone going out or coming in. The door was only ten feet ahead and a slight angle to the right.

“Oh,” the woman said, “just fine,” unmistakable Colorado kind of Midwestern voice, now a little self-conscious. “I didn’t mean to offend, uh, sir.”

I said, “No offense,” with a bit of a laugh. I stopped and turned about forty-five degrees toward the ladies, saying, “Lots of folks get concerned when a blind guy comes barreling off the elevator, maybe concerned, you know, wanting to be helpful, maybe not knowing how. Do you work here?” I asked.

“No” she said, “just waiting for my husband.”

“I know about waiting.” I said, “I’ll be waiting for my ride for a while. She is Speedy Gonzales when she wants to be, but she usually doesn’t want to. My wife often comes with me to the doc and waits for me, but not today. It’s funny, she usually comes with me to the doctor, but I never go with her. Selfish of me, I know.”

“That’s a man thing,” the other woman said.

“Not today,” I continued; “too much going on back at the office.”

“Oh?” said watch-out woman. “Oh? What do you do, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Not at all,” I replied, “I have a military-dining contract business, and I do some contract consulting.”

“Really, where?” both asked with some surprise and curiosity.

“Mostly at Ft. Carson,” I said. “We have some other ventures as well. We’ve been very blessed.”

First woman, “My husband’s a contractor at Peterson Field.”

Chuckling, I said, “Watch out, he’s a contractor!”

“Sorry,” watch-out woman said. “I didn’t mean, well… .”

We shook hands. “Just teasing,” I said. “Often people do not know how to deal. Blind people are mostly like everyone else, you know. Some of us are even contractors like your husband.” I continued, “I actually do a lot of volunteer work in the National Federation of the Blind. We work hard to change misconceptions that people have about us, to increase opportunities and get folks to realize we’re cool.

Frankly,” I told her, “with good training, most of us are pretty independent. Occasionally we barrel into people, but not often, if the blind person gets really good training and comes to have some self-confidence. In fact, we are having a blind March for Independence this July third in Atlanta, Georgia, as a part of our national convention. Picture a thousand of us barreling down the streets, marching with confidence for independence. It just so happens that I intend to be in that march that day, if I raise enough for the entry fee. I’m looking for sponsors so I can march,” I said as I reached into my shirt pocket, handing her one of the march pledge cards, you know, the double-sided march cards with Braille and print info about the march that you hand to folks and tell them to send in with a check on your behalf to sponsor your participation in the march. I made sure my name was on a handful of cards I carry with me everywhere.
“Here,” I said, “perhaps you and your contractor husband would want to donate to the cause, making greater independence for more people possible by supporting the greatest organization for the blind in the world. I intend to be at the Medallion level raising $1,000 or more.”

Taking the card, she said, “We just send this in to the address here?”

“Well, yes, easy as that, with a check, of course,” I said with a grin.

I began moving toward the doors and she called after me down the hall, “We’ll sponsor you!” she said with some enthusiasm.

“You’re very kind,” I said. I quickened my pace. “The money doesn’t go to me. It’s my entry fee, and it will be spent wisely to change what it means to be blind,” I said as I heard the doors slide open. “And watch out for us contractors,” I said, smiling over my shoulder. I could have been surly or angry or ignored her altogether. If I had responded like that, the outcome would not have resulted in a positive connection and a potential contribution to our Imagination Fund. The way we respond to the people around us and the little events of each day can lead to changed attitudes and new understandings. Watch out, world, we are marching for independence. We are changing what it means to be blind. We are the National Federation of the Blind, and we are on the move!


Comments from Miss Whozit’s Mail Basket

by Kevan Worley

From the Editor: Miss Whozit has received comments on two recent columns which seem worth reprinting even though they require no response. Here they are:

Dear Miss Whozit:

I have attended eight national NFB conventions since 1993. The reason I am writing is to encourage you to continue to speak to us blind folks about how we present ourselves, whether we are all together at state and national conventions or out in the seeing world. Many times I glance around at the conventions and see people in shorts and T-shirts, while others are wearing suits and ties and dresses and skirts at the formal banquets. Now I don't wear a dress and pearls myself, but I wear a nice pair of dress pants and top. I really do think that the old excuse "I can't see what I look like, so who cares?" is short-sighted and silly. The answer is that they should care about how they’re presenting themselves to the public.

When people look like slobs to the seeing world, they are saying, "I'm blind; that's why I look like a slob." No. They look like slobs because of low self-esteem or just plain laziness. There are techniques for keeping colors straight if they will bother to use them so that they don't wear a yellow and black plaid shirt with striped pants or a brown tie with a black suit. Now the next step is for Miss Whozit to tell us how to meet people to date without being able to see. Alas, one step at a time. Miss Whozit, keep the advice coming, and I will hope that at this year’s Atlanta convention I will see fewer T-shirts in the banquet hall.

Hoping for Better Things

Dear Miss Whozit:

I am glad you brought up the subject of using the white cane in church. You are of course correct in that Pilgrim will have to decide for himself how best to deal with the various issues he raised. May I offer a few suggestions that I have found helpful? As a regular attendant at my local Catholic church, I have discovered over the course of time that these techniques seem to meet my needs.

1. Regarding the stowing of a long white cane at the pew: it has been my experience that usually the best way is to position the cane behind you in the pew so that it's out of the way when people sit down or rise.

2. If this is not an option, the next best technique is to position the cane at your feet just in front of the kneeler (assuming of course that the pews in question have kneelers, as most Catholic churches do). In this way the cane is still out of the way; however, with this method the cane may be stepped on by people in the pew when they rise.

3. If neither of these methods is an option, may I suggest that, at least during Mass or other church services, you consider using a folding or telescopic cane? No, they're not perfect, but you are not using it extensively, so it should do nicely.

4. With regard to approaching the communion rail and taking into consideration the tile floor, I have found that it is best not to tap the cane but to slide the tip back and forth. This has a double benefit. It allows you to keep track of the progress of the person in front of you, and it is not as noisy as tapping. A very gentle tap, however, should not be all that disruptive. After all, I'd assume that most of the congregation will not be concentrating on the manner of Pilgrim's progress since they should be focusing their attention on receiving the Host and cup.

5. As for parishioners who may be overly helpful, you and Pilgrim are of course correct. You can't take the time during the most solemn moments of a service to explain anything in the way of NFB philosophy, but there is still a way. If a person grabs you by the arm even though you need no guidance, gently remove your arm and whisper as discretely as possible that you can get where you are going. Once, just after I began going to church on my own, an usher picked me up bodily and started carrying me off before he even knew where I wanted to go. I found this so disturbing that the next week I had a chat with the pastor, and it never happened again.
I hope that these suggestions may be of help to Pilgrim and others who wish to worship independently.



This month’s recipes have been contributed by members of the National Federation of the Blind of Mississippi.

Butterfinger Cake

by Nicey Mcgaha

Nicey Mcgaha is an active member of the Tupelo Chapter. She is known locally as a wonderful cook.


1 chocolate cake mix
3 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 large package Cool Whip
1 large jar caramel topping for ice cream
3 Butterfinger candy bars

Method: Make the cake and bake according to package directions in a 13-by-9-inch pan. When done, remove from oven and allow to cool. Poke holes in cake and fill half to three quarters full with caramel topping. Complete filling the holes with Cool Whip and use the rest as frosting. Crush the Butterfinger candy bars and sprinkle on top. Swirl any left-over caramel topping on top, then refrigerate. Cut and serve and most of all enjoy.

Kool Aid Pie
by Nicey Mcgaha

1 package unsweetened Kool Aid, any flavor
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 8-ounce container Cool Whip
1 graham cracker crumb crust

Method: Combine first three ingredients and mix thoroughly. Pour mixture into graham cracker crust. Refrigerate overnight. This pie is very sweet after it is first made, so it is better if made the day before.

Awesome Pound Cake
by Barbara Hadnott

This is an old family recipe shared with Barbara Hadnott by a friend. Barbara Hadnott serves as secretary of the Jackson Chapter of the NFB of Mississippi and first vice president of the affiliate. She also chairs the annual NFB of Mississippi walk-a-thon in May of each year during White Cane Recognition Week.


3 cups cake flour
6 large eggs
1 pound butter, softened
1 pound sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder

Method: Sift the flour, baking soda, and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Stir in salt and sugar with a large spoon. Then add the softened butter. My grandmother used to melt the butter in a pan over low heat, which she said made it blend more easily. Then add the eggs one at a time using a spoon. Using an electric mixer, begin slowly beating in buttermilk and vanilla with mixer on low. When batter is thoroughly mixed, turn the mixer up to medium for a few minutes and then to high. If the mixture is a little thick, I add just a bit more buttermilk. If you don't mix the batter thoroughly, lumps will form, resulting in air pockets, which will cause holes in the finished cake. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a standard tube pan with butter and then dust with flour. Shake excess flour from pan. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for about one hour and twenty minutes. Avoid opening the oven door until the fragrance suggests that the cake may be done. Exposing it prematurely to cool air, like jumping on the kitchen floor, can result in a collapsed cake. Pound cake is done when a toothpick inserted in center comes out dry. Allow the cake to cool fifteen or twenty minutes in the pan. Then gently loosen and remove it to a cooling rack to cool completely. Serve on your favorite decorative cake plate.

Cabbage and Sausage
by Barbara Hadnott

Barbara Hadnott writes: I learned about this recipe when I lived in Louisiana.


1/4 cup olive oil (less if desired)
4 to 6 carrots, cut diagonally
4 to 6 small whole onions
Salt and Louisiana hot sauce to taste
One medium cabbage cut into wedges
2 pounds smoked link sausage
1-1/2 to 2 cups Sauterne wine

Method: Combine oil, 2 cups wine, and 3 cups water. Add cabbage, carrots, and onions. Bring to a rapid boil then add sausage. Simmer covered until vegetables reach desired doneness. Serve with hot cornbread. Enjoy! Serves four to six.

Stuffed Bell Peppers
by Gwen Byrd

Gwen Byrd has been a member of the NFB of Mississippi for more than twenty years. She has served as president of the Jackson Chapter and chaired a number of committees. She currently serves as second vice president of the state affiliate and chairs the affiliate's scholarship committee.


6 large green peppers
1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 cup rice
1-1/4 cup beef broth
3/4 cup diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1 large egg, slightly beaten
3 cups tomato sauce

Method: Remove stems and seeds from peppers and steam them for eight minutes, then remove them from pan to stop cooking. Brown the ground meat and drain the fat off. Mix Worcestershire sauce, beef broth, onion, and garlic in large skillet. Add browned meat, rice, and tomatoes, then salt and pepper to taste. Bring to boil, then simmer tightly covered for eighteen to twenty minutes. Cool for about fifteen minutes. Stir in egg and 1/3 cup cheese. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly oil baking dish. Pour 2-1/2 cups tomato sauce into baking dish. Stuff peppers with meat and the rice mixture and place some sauce on top of each pepper. Arrange peppers in baking dish and cover with foil. Cook for thirty-five minutes. Sprinkle any remaining cheese over top before serving.

Sausage, Apple, and Cheese Pie
by Gwen Byrd

3/4 pound hot or sweet sausage, cases removed
2 large red onions, chopped, (about 3 cups)
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/3-inch dices
2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped, plus whole leaves for garnish
1/2 cup apple cider
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Vegetable spray for pan
1 15-ounce box prepared piecrust sheets
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

Method: Cook sausage in a large nonstick skillet over moderately high heat, stirring and breaking up lumps until done (about five minutes). Drain in colander over bowl. Discard fat. In same skillet cook onions over moderately high heat with salt and pepper, stirring until golden brown (about eight minutes). Add apples and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage. Cook, stirring until apple is just softened (about three minutes). Stir in cider and vinegar. Simmer until liquid is almost evaporated but mixture is not dry (about one minute). Transfer to bowl and cool to room temperature. Fit piecrust into deep-dish nine-inch pan and bake at 425 for about eight minutes. Pour filling into crust and top with grated cheese. You can cover with a top crust or cook uncovered for about twenty-five minutes, until crust is browned and filling is bubbly. Serve hot.

Fruit Pie
by Alfred Morgan

Alfred Morgan is a longtime member of the Federation. For more than twenty years he has served on various committees and is currently a member of the affiliate's board of directors.


1 package sugar-free cook-and-serve vanilla pudding
1 small package sugar-free fruit gelatin
4 cups mixed fruit--if using canned fruit, drain well
1 9-inch graham cracker crumb piecrust

Method: Mix pudding with two cups of water and microwave for six minutes and cool for four minutes. Stir gelatin into pudding mixture to dissolve. Spread fruit evenly across pie shell. Pour pudding mixture over fruit and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

Don’t Miss the 2007 tenBroek Auction!
This year the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund Auction will take place on Wednesday evening, July 4. Check your agenda for time and location.

Several unique items of great historical interest in the Federation will be available at the auction this year, and you won’t want to miss the fun and excitement. You may have heard of the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC) but may not know much of the history of the tumultuous days of NAC’s vitality. The NFB recorded almost all of its board meetings during NAC’s heyday in the 1970s and 80s. During the 1988 NAC meeting in Arlington, Virginia, a set of headphones being used by NFB personnel was damaged in an attempt by a former American Council of the Blind national president to cut the cable with a knife. He was caught by the wrist with the knife in his hand while he was cutting the cable, and the knife was taken from him. Those very headphones will be auctioned off this year as a wonderful piece of memorabilia from the bad old days of NAC. Be sure to get to the auction to bid on this priceless item. The starting bid will be $100.

In 1968, while serving as director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind, Dr. Jernigan was invited to present a ninety-minute program at a church in Des Moines, Iowa. Don Bell, author and columnist for the Des Moines Register, introduced Dr. Jernigan. For the first forty-five minutes he read some of his favorite humorous poems and stories. After an intermission for coffee and cookies, he was re-introduced by Mr. Bell. During the second half of the program Dr. Jernigan read excerpts from his favorite poems and stories about love. At that time all recordings were made on open-reel tape. These two tapes have now been restored and transferred to compact discs. They are recorded on two CDs and will be available to the highest bidder as a set. They have been encrypted to prevent mass duplication but can be played on any CD player or computer. Not many Federationists have recordings of Dr. Jernigan reading materials not related to blindness or the NFB. The bidding will start at $200. These CDs are absolute jewels that everyone will want to own. So plan to be present on Wednesday evening, July 4, to bid on these once-in-a-lifetime items.

On January 6, 2007, the Tri-Valley Chapter of the NFB of California elected the following officers to serve two-year terms: Carl Martin, president; Steve Peters, vice president; Mary Willows, secretary; Jim Willows, treasurer; and Rickie Murphey, board member.

Jobline Ends:
Effective April 13, 2007, America's Jobline was suspended because of the upcoming shutdown of America's Job Bank. For information about other public workforce services, please call the America’s Workforce Network toll-free help line at (877) 872-5627 (voice) or by TTY at (877) 889-5627.

At its fifty-fourth annual state convention held in Worcester, April 13 to 15, the NFB of Massachusetts elected the following officers to its executive board: Dr. David Ticchi, president; Priscilla Ferris, first vice president; William Cuttle, second vice president; Gloria Evans, treasurer; Kobena Bonney, secretary; and James Daley, Sunish Gupta, and Kristina Constant, board members. During the Saturday night banquet members paid glowing tribute to Priscilla Ferris, who was stepping down from the presidency after twenty-five years at the helm, for her stalwart leadership and outstanding service to the organization.

On April 14, 2007, the Chicago Chapter of the NFB of Illinois elected the following officers and board: Deborah Kent Stein, president; Patti Gregory-Chang, first vice president; Anthony Thomas, second vice president; Connie Davis, secretary; Carmen Dennis, treasurer; Mary Lou Grunwald, Debbie Pittman, Jemal Powell, and Bob Widman, board members.

The Greater Daytona Beach Chapter of the NFB of Florida recently held elections. Officers and board members were elected to two-year terms. Results are as follows: president, Kathy Davis; vice president, Sabrina Deaton; secretary, Bill Outman; treasurer, Allen Bornstein; and board members, Peter Cerullo, Laurel Brown, and Peter Poiley.

Federationist Honored:
Frank Shamenek writes to announce the following good news:

It seems only yesterday rather than two years ago that National Federation of the Blind member Melissa Resnick began nursing school at Nassau Community College in the spring 2005 semester. As you will recall, approximately halfway through the semester, after necessary surgery for an injury sustained in a car accident, Ms. Resnick had to take a medical withdrawal. We all hoped that her injuries would heal so that she could return to the nursing degree program, but this did not happen. To this day she still suffers from those physical injuries, and her personal injury lawsuit is moving towards trial.

Not one to be kept down, Melissa searched for a different direction that would still allow her to work in the medical field, albeit in a more cerebral than physical career. After investigating her choices, she decided upon medical librarianship and enrolled in the M.L.S. program at Queens College. Ms. Resnick will be earning this, her second graduate degree, next month.

Her exceptional aptitude and abilities have been recognized in her selection for a prestigious and highly competitive academic fellowship. Melissa Resnick is a 2007-2008 Associate Fellow at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland. We are all very proud of her continued success.

We were asked to wait until the first week of May before making any public announcement of Melissa's selection. She earned this highly selective academic fellowship on merit, with no preference given because of her blindness. Melissa's selection is one more example that blind people are capable of successfully competing with the sighted, even when the bar is set very high.

The following press release was circulated on May 8, 2007.

President George W. Bush has reappointed James H. Omvig, a resident of Baltimore, Maryland, to the Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled (Committee). Mr. Omvig continues to serve as the Committee’s vice chairperson, a position he has held since July 2006. First appointed to the Committee by President Bush in March 2003, Mr. Omvig serves as a private citizen representing the interests of nonprofit agency employees who are blind. The Committee is an independent federal agency responsible for administering the AbilityOne (formerly Javits-Wagner-O’Day, JWOD) Program through the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act, a public law that directs the federal government to purchase certain products and services furnished by nonprofit agencies employing individuals who are blind or have other severe disabilities.

Mr. Omvig is a nationally recognized leader in the field of rehabilitation and lifelong advocate for people who are blind. He began his career as the first blind attorney ever employed by the National Labor Relations Board and went on to direct the Iowa Commission for the Blind’s Adult Orientation and Adjustment Center for nine years. In 1978 he moved to Baltimore to become director of an employment program for people with disabilities at the Social Security Administration for six years. The capstone of Mr. Omvig’s career was serving as director of the Alaska Center for Blind and Deaf Adults from 1984 to 1987.

Mr. Omvig’s many professional affiliations include the National Blindness Professional Certification Board, where he is a past president; the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, where he is treasurer; and the National Federation of the Blind. He is an accomplished author of numerous articles, published speeches, and books. His most popular book, Freedom for the Blind: The Secret Is Empowerment, republished in 2005, is a resource for the Department of Education on how best to provide training and rehabilitation services to people who are blind.

“I am honored by President Bush’s reappointment of me to this essential federal committee,” said Mr. Omvig. “In my capacity as committee member and vice chairperson, I will continue to ensure that people who are blind or have other severe disabilities have access to a variety of employment opportunities nationwide.”

As the committee’s vice chairperson, Mr. Omvig will continue to play a leadership role in the strategic direction of the AbilityOne Program, which is the nation’s largest employer of people who are blind or severely disabled. In fact, the AbilityOne Program provides nearly 47,000 jobs for this population, including many of the manufacturing jobs at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, headquartered in Baltimore.

In Brief

Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.

Braille Text Now Available through a Web Test:
On April 12, 2007, BBC News published a story by reporter Geoff Adams describing a project to translate computer files into Braille in only a few minutes. Here is the story that appeared:

A free service that provides automatic Braille conversion is proving popular despite still being in test phase. RoboBraille was started by a Danish organization and now has partners in five other European countries, <www.robobraille.org>.

Anyone wanting to use the service, which is partly funded by the EU [European Union], can send plain text, Rich Text, HTML, or Word documents by email. Within a few minutes they receive their document either as an MP3 audio file or as electronic Braille. Electronic Braille can be read by a tactile display--a device connected to the computer with a series of pins that are raised or lowered to represent the Braille characters--or sent to a Braille printer.

"About two or three years ago we came to the conclusion that it's simply too complicated for the average user to produce Braille," consortium leader Lars Balieu Christensen told the BBC News Web site. "You need to know far too much about Braille conversion, Braille characters, and layout."

Mr. Christensen--who also runs a Danish assistive technology company--said that he and a colleague decided that the process needed to be made far simpler. "We wanted to set up a system that was entirely automated, where the user didn't need to know anything apart from an email address."

Testing Times
Although the RoboBraille site currently handles plain text, Rich Text, HTML, and Word format, Mr. Christensen's team is about to add PDF documents as well. The consortium includes the UK's Royal National College of the Blind as well as organizations from Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Cyprus. The European Commission provided more than £500,000 for the testing phase, which should end this year. It is hoped that the service will be fully implemented next year and that it will remain free to individual users and nonprofit organizations.
Mr. Christensen thinks that RoboBraille could be funded by a combination of public and private grants as well as charging pharmaceutical companies for producing Braille labels for medication, which is soon to become a legal requirement. He says a number of other large institutions will also need to produce information in Braille and could use his service as paying customers. As well as widening the number of countries and languages involved, the consortium has also decided to expand the number of users by catering for people who--for a variety of reasons, for example dyslexia--find it difficult to read.

The RoboBraille service is currently processing about 400 requests a day, but the system has the capacity to deal with up to 14,000 a day. Mr. Christensen thinks this will be sufficient to provide a viable service for the first two years, which will cost around £135,000 a year to run. With the second phase of testing about to begin, RoboBraille's developers are now keen for more people to test the service ahead of its planned launch next year.

Attention Travelers:
Fellow Federationists, we all work hard performing our professional and personal duties, changing what it means to be blind one step at a time, dreaming, and working towards those dreams. When you are ready to sit back and relax, enjoy a nice vacation, or simply plan a memorable weekend getaway, LaBarre Travel full-service travel agency will be happy to assist you with all your travel needs. Whether it is a hotel reservation, a cruise, a resort vacation, transportation, or a tour, I can be there to make sure every experience is a pleasant and unforgettable one. You deserve a vacation, and we are here to help. Contact Anahit LaBarre, independent travel agent for ETravel Unlimited, (720) 334-3652; <labarretravel@msn.com>.

Assistance Needed:
The Braille Circulating Library is a Christian resource for the blind that provides free religious materials including missionary biographies, devotionals, Bible studies, doctrinal materials, and music in Braille, in large print, and on cassette for six-week loan to those who are print disabled. The collection also includes special resources for children and youth and some materials in Spanish. The vision of Brian J. Barton, executive director of the Braille Circulating Library, is to assist churches to integrate blind worshipers more effectively into their ministries by providing hymnals, sermon notes, and other print materials in members’ preferred alternative format.

The Braille Circulating Library was founded eighty-three years ago as a faith-based ministry. At present its operating funds are so low as to threaten insolvency. The Rev. Mr. Barton believes that, if three hundred people, churches, civic groups, Sunday school classes, etc., could contribute $25 a month to this ministry, the operating budget would be fully funded. An advisory counsel of blind individuals from diverse backgrounds is now being assembled to help spread the word about this important ministry resource. If you want to find out how you can help, contact the Rev. Mr. Barton directly either by snail mail at the Braille Circulating Library, 2700 Stuart Avenue, Richmond, Virginia 23220; by telephone at (804) 359-3743; or by email at <Bjbarton77@aol.com>.

Talking Multimeter Available:
Bryan Bashin reports that he's found a source for an inexpensive and largely accessible talking multimeter. The meter announces volts, amperes, resistance, and capacitance in a clear voice. Most meter functions are accessible.

Since the meter isn't sold in the United States, purchasers can order directly from KMS Tools, located near Vancouver, British Columbia. At this time the meter costs about $40 with no sales tax. To order, call KMS Tools at (800) 567-8979 and ask for the Nexxtech Talking Multimeter. Customers wishing to order online using a credit card can also visit the Web site at <www.kmstools.com>.

Fall Football Schedule in Braille Available:
The 2007 NCAA Braille college football schedule will be available again this year with 119 Division 1-A and some requested Division 1-AA teams. Included will be the results of the 2006-2007 bowls, the AP top twenty-five final polls, the 2007-2008 bowl schedule, and much more.

The cost of this year’s schedule is still $10 each. Please make your check payable to Allen H. Gillis and send to 302 Schaeffel Road, Cullman, Alabama 35055. If you have questions, call (256) 734-4047 or email <gill4047@bellsouth.net>.

New Poetry Chapbook Available:
Leveling the Spin by Nancy Scott is a collection of poems that explores the art of creating joy. Subjects range from the need for risk to the need for routine, the sounds of wind chimes to the sounds of early morning crickets. Leveling the Spin is available in two formats: the print contains nineteen poems for $9; the audio CD (read by the author) contains the entire text of the print edition plus selections from her first chapbook, Hearing the Sunrise for $14. Prices include shipping.

To order, make checks payable and mail to Nancy Scott, 2040 Lehigh Street, Apt. 304, Easton, Pennsylvania 18042.

National Braille Press and Louis Braille Honored:
We recently received the following good news from National Braille Press:

Just last year National Braille Press published C. Michael Mellor’s landmark biography, Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius–one of roughly 160,000 new titles published every year. Nonetheless, Louis got recognized. We are pleased to announce that Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius was selected by the New England Book Show as a winner in the category, General Trade, Illustrated.

Since 1956 Boston has hosted the prestigious New England Book Show, an annual juried show that recognizes the year’s most outstanding work by New England publishers, printers, and graphics designers. Winning books are selected for their design, quality of materials, and workmanship. Books, covers, and other media are judged in several categories, including elementary-high school, college, trade, and juvenile. National Braille Press and other awardees were fêted at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston on May 7, 2007, where the book was prominently displayed along with other jury picks.

If you haven’t yet ordered your copy, you can easily order online at <http://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/LB.html>. To order any books, send payment to NBP, 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02115-4302; or call and charge it toll-free at (800) 548-7323 or (617) 266-6160, ext. 20; or order any of our books online at <www.nbp.org>.

Volunteer Personal Instructor Wanted:
Bob Gruff wants someone to teach him Windows 2000 professional. His contact information is Bob Gruff Jr., 487 Pumpkin Center Circle, Quitman, Arkansas 72131, (501) 589-2886.

Music Instruction Tapes Available:
This summer learn to play your favorite instrument without having to read printed or Braille music. Bill Brown has created beginner courses for a dozen instruments including piano, guitar, bass, violin, banjo, and flute. These courses are taught in all-audio format, so there is nothing to read. Each course contains at least four tapes or CDs and costs as little as $39. As well as these beginner courses, there are over six hundred individual song lessons that are taught in the same all-audio format. The price of these starts at only $10 each. For more information go to the Web site at <www.MusicForTheBlind.com> or call (888) 778-1828.

Monitor Mart

The notices in this section have been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.

Hoping to Buy:

Tony Sohl writes: I am looking for a Sony Dream Machine talking clock radio. If anyone knows where I can find one or if anyone is selling one, let me know. You can contact me at 333 North Chippewa Place, Apartment 102, Chandler, Arizona 85224; phone (480) 786-4898; email <tonysohl@extremezone.com>.

Optelec CCTV for Sale:
In 1994 I purchased a top-of-the-line Optelec CCTV, and for the last eight years it has sat on the shelf. It has many features, including zoom, reverse image, and more. Asking $850 plus $35 UPS ground. Contact Joe at (719) 495-4335, or email him at <joe.morgan@pcisys.net>.

For Sale:
Xerox Outlook fourteen-inch CCTV. Asking $1,000. Also selling a Perkins electronic Braillewriter, recently serviced. Asking $450. Contact Jerry at <jnr7402@adelphia.net>.

NFB Pledge

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.