Vol. 50, No. 8 August/September 2007
Barbara Pierce, editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, president
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 50, No. 8 August/September 2007
The 2007 March for Independence
A Photo Report
The 2007 Convention Roundup
by Daniel B. Frye
The 2007 Presidential Report
by Marc Maurer
Awards Presented at the 2007 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind
The 2007 Scholarship Class of the National Federation of the Blind
Expanding the Limits: The
Uncertainty of Exploration
by Marc Maurer
A Declaration of Equality
by Fredric K. Schroeder
The Advocate, the Strategist,
by James Gashel
Education, Influence, and
Inspiration: The Effect
of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute
by Betsy Zaborowski
Become the Change
by Mark A. Riccobono
A Report on the 2007 Convention Resolutions
by Sharon Maneki
The 2007 Resolutions of the National Federation of the Blind
Legal Notice in the E*TRADE Case
Copyright 2007 National Federation of the Blind
At 6 a.m. on Tuesday, July 3, 2007, Bruce Peters, one of Affiliate Action Committee Chairman Bruce Gardner’s chief lieutenants, was already at work in the lobby of the Marriott Marquis Hotel. Much of the following photo story is his report.
By some miracle Tuesday, July 3, had dawned almost chilly in Atlanta. Folks were already trickling into the lobby. It would be thirty minutes before even the coffee shop opened. They came down the elevators and escalators; they came by car and taxi and van; they came in wheelchairs, with guide dogs, and with white canes. The trickle turned into a flow and then a flood of humanity as best guesses of between a thousand and fourteen-hundred marchers gathered on Harris Street to take part in the NFB’s first-ever March for Independence, a five-kilometer walk that climaxed a yearlong fundraiser first imagined eighteen months earlier. How did a 5K walk take eighteen months to complete?
In the winter of 2005-2006, leaders of the organized blind were looking for new ways to accomplish the Federation’s objective of changing what it means to be blind. How could we increase awareness of the capabilities of blind people; how could we raise significant money to support the notable work of the Jernigan Institute? The March for Independence was conceived, and in July 2006 at the Dallas convention Kevan Worley announced that a year later in Atlanta, a city that had hosted civil rights walks in the sixties and the Olympics in 1996, the organized blind too would march to declare to all the world our own desire for security, opportunity, and equality--our own civil rights march.
Before President Maurer took that first early-morning step, eighteen months of preparation had taken place to get ready. The city of Atlanta had to approve both the march and the route through the city. The gathering place, Centennial Park, falls under state jurisdiction, so the NFB had to get state approval for its use. At length both approvals came. The march route had been carefully planned, and police prepared to assist, closing the road before us and opening it behind. In the four days leading up to the march, planners and NFB marshals walked the entire route step by step, time and time again, planning every move, trying to anticipate every obstacle, timing every checkpoint. We meticulously planned each leg of the route, and we made numerous visits to Centennial Park to determine the smoothest entry, maximum seating, and most efficient exit for the multitude. We attempted to anticipate virtually every traffic pattern, road construction, marcher need, and of course the weather. Would it rain? Thunderstorms had repeatedly battered the city since Saturday.
Would it be cold and windy? Hot and muggy? We took case after case of bottled water and snack bars donated by Nestlé, Shamrock Foods to Centennial Park. Would we have medical emergencies during the march? Six electric golf carts circulated through the throng as it snaked through the streets of beautiful old downtown Atlanta. A nurse with a two-way radio rode on one of those carts. Vans stood by to transport tired marchers as necessary. Four buses, one a red British double-decker, carried those physically unable to march but mentally and emotionally determined to participate.
Leading the wave of humanity through the streets was a sound truck with Kevan Worley almost single-handedly providing inspiration and encouragement to the crowd. He initiated cheers and repeated the ones he heard begin in the street. He invited leaders in the vanguard to cheer the marchers on. When passers-by stopped to watch our progress, he told them what we were doing and why. His monologue was tireless and good humored.
Lisa Hamilton, president of the UPS Foundation, and Dr. Tuck Tinsley, president of the American Printing House for the Blind—both march sponsors—actually walked the route with us. Two other sponsors, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Comcast Cable, helped to publicize the event. The Journal-Constitution published a large ad the preceding Friday and also covered the event, and Comcast Cable broadcast a public service announcement about it.
Nearing Centennial Park, the unimagined happened. Fire trucks with lights flashing and sirens wailing responded to a structure fire on the very same street and block as the throng of marchers. The firemen cut our snake of marchers in two. Disaster? Nope. As in Louisville two years before when fire alarms chased conventioneers from the Galt House Hotel, the blind took it all in stride, and the tail of our snake paused for a moment, then detoured around the obstacle and rejoined the great jubilee gathering.
entered the park, they picked up water and energy bars, and some were lucky
enough to be handed a cool can of Red Bull soda dispensed by volunteers from
Nestlé. Many marchers found seats on the broad steps. The medallion winners,
who had raised at least $1,000, were urged to stand at the front. A number of
people briefly addressed the crowd. The first was NFB Treasurer Pam Allen. This
is what she said:
Good morning, brothers and sisters.
can imagine it, you can be it. If you can dream it, you can become it."
Last year we announced a march, a march to demonstrate the independence and true capabilities of blind people, a civil rights march that would shatter misconceptions about blindness--that would demonstrate to ourselves and to the world the true power of the National Federation of the Blind.
We are here this morning to celebrate--to celebrate the power of collective action and the spirit of independence embodied in the National Federation of the Blind. We are here today to pay tribute to the leaders of our movement who paved the way for us by their sacrifice and commitment so that we might enjoy the freedoms we have today. We are here to make a difference, to build a future full of hope and opportunity.
When we began to plan this march, there were those who said it could not be done. We have proven them wrong. Our combined efforts have raised more money than we imagined. As the treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind, I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to each of you for your tireless efforts and unparalleled dedication. The money we have raised will make the future brighter for generations to come; it will help turn our dreams into action. We are who we are because of each of you, because of your work and unwavering commitment to changing what it means to be blind.
We are the
blind speaking with one voice. Together we stand. United as one we cannot be
defeated! We are the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you, fellow Federationists.
President Maurer also had stirring words.
What is the meaning of independence? How do we know if we have this precious commodity? In our society it means to be responsible for the disposition of ourselves—to decide what we will do, when we will do it, how we will do it, and (at least in part) what we can expect to gain from it. Children do not have independence; they must ask permission. Those without economic capacity have limited independence; they must ask the banker.
The blind face a diminution of these expectations of independence. For us the unemployment rate is staggeringly high at more than 70 percent. We have only recently been able to persuade the members of Congress to tell the publishers and the school districts to get our books to us on time in our grade school and high school classes. Only about 10 percent of us in school are being taught to read Braille. The school districts almost never teach us to travel independently, and many of them (whether they say it or not) prohibit the use of travel aids for the blind or discourage their use to such an extent that the students and their parents quit fighting about it. College textbooks are often not available to us, and we frequently cannot cast an independent secret ballot. If we can't even vote without somebody else looking over our shoulders, is it any wonder that only very few of us are active in the political realm?
Beyond all of this, much of the time we, the blind, are told by all and sundry to sit and wait. This is one method of diminishing our independence. This summation is one way to express the condition of the blind today—no job, no independent vote, no books, no participation in politics, no education, no lessons in the skills of travel, no Braille literacy. What is the meaning of independence? To all of this summation we respond: You may think the description is true, but it is not. You may think we should wait, but we will not. You may think that we should not be a part of the economic power of this great nation, but we know better, and we will do what we know. We are alive and well and on the move.
We will build
our economic force; we will insist on the right to a secret ballot; we will
get our education; we will find a way to literacy; we will learn to travel;
we will participate in the political community; and we will no longer wait while
you who think you know what's best for us make decisions about the nature of
our lives and the concept of independence for us. Those who have told us to
wait misunderstand what we are, but we have faith that the time of misunderstanding
will pass and the time of recognition will come—the time of recognition of the
talent that we have—the time of recognition that we have a right and a responsibility
to participate in the culture of America. Today our Independence March has said
these things in a visible way. Today our Independence March has demonstrated
our capacity to be abroad in the land. Today we have altered the nature of the
meaning of independence. Our march takes us from one place to another, but it
also alters our processes of thought. The words “immobile,” “peaceful,” “sedentary”
become “energetic,” “aggressive,” “dynamic” because the people that inhabit
the words have caused the metamorphosis. A time will come when we will be recognized
for what we are, when we have created a climate of understanding, when our capabilities
will be known and valued. This march brings that day closer than it has ever
been. This march speaks to our sighted colleagues but also to us of a day of
true equality. This march creates for us a new kind of independence.
Though Honorary March Chairman Ambassador Andrew Young was unable to join us for the march, his wife Carolyn was present and addressed the crowd. But the most electric moment of the program came when veteran civil rights marcher, Congressman John Lewis, stepped forward to address the crowd following a delightfully warm introduction by Host Affiliate President Anil Lewis. This is what they said:
Anil Lewis: It is indeed my deep honor and pleasure to introduce an icon to my family, an individual whose efforts, unbeknownst to him, have made a tremendous difference in the lives of many, many American citizens. I like to refer to him wonderfully as “my cousin from metropolitan Troy, Alabama”--the phenomenal, the outstanding, yet still humble Congressman John Lewis. [applause]
Congressman Lewis: Good mornin’, good mornin’. Welcome to Georgia, though you are not from Georgia. Those who are not from Atlanta, welcome to Atlanta. Mr. President, my cousin Anil Lewis, Thelma Godwin--let me just say I am so pleased, happy, and delighted to be with you today here in Centennial Park, here with members of the National Federation of the Blind March for Independence. [applause] The Almighty God is looking down on us today with this wonderful weather. It is not raining. It is not hot. It is a good morning.
Over one thousand of us here today demonstrate the true independence of the blind. We speak with one mighty voice, for we are one people. We are one family, human family, and it should not matter whether we are blind or whether we see; we are one people. We are all human. [applause] We must find a way to value each other. We must find a way to live together. We must find a way to make peace with each other. You can make a difference in our society, and you are making a difference by being here this morning.
During my lifetime I have marched a great deal. I marched in Washington on August 28, 1963, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was only twenty-three years old. I had all of my hair, and I was a few pounds lighter. [laughter] But in that speech I said then, and I say to you today: Some of you tell us to be patient. You tell us to wait, and I said then, and I say now, we cannot wait. We cannot be patient. We want our freedom, and we want our independence now.
You must continue to stand up, stand up, stand up. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said long ago: “When a person straightens up his back, no man, no person can ride you if you stand, straighten up your back, and walk with dignity and walk with pride.” You cannot be silent. You must make some noise. You must get out there and push and pull for what is right, for what is fair, for what is good.
When I was a young man, very young, growin’ up in rural Alabama, I tasted the bitter fruits of segregation and racial discrimination. I didn’t like it. I’ve asked my mother, I’ve asked my father, my grandparents, and my great-grandparents about segregation, about racial discrimination. And they said, “That’s the way it is. Don’t get in trouble. Don’t get in the way.” But one day I heard the words of Martin Luther King Jr. on the radio, and I was inspired to get in the way. I got in trouble. It was good trouble. It was necessary trouble. You must find a way to get in trouble. By coming to Atlanta, you are getting in trouble; it is necessary trouble. [applause] I got arrested a few times. I got arrested forty times. I was beaten and left bloody at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery, Alabama, and a concussion in Selma; but I didn’t give up. I didn’t give in. You must not give up. You must not give in.
You have decided to get in trouble—good trouble. You have learned like we all learned before— we didn’t have a Web site. We had never heard of the Internet. We didn’t have a fax machine. We didn’t have a cellular phone, but we used what we had. We used our marching feet, and that’s what you’re doing today—marching for independence. I say to you today, if you follow the leadership of the National Federation of the Blind, if you continue to get in the way, you can make it possible for blind college students to get the textbooks they need. You can make it possible to fill the corner library with the books you need. You can help reauthorize the Rehabilitation Act. You can assure that blind people receive equal pay for equal work.
Today you have proved that you have the courage. You have the ability. You have the capacity to get in the way. Get in the way, and stay in the way. You must continue to get in good trouble, necessary trouble, until we build a wall of equal opportunity for the blind. I stand with you today. I am with you today. I will be with you in Congress, and I will be with you tomorrow. Mr. President, as I close, and Cousin Anil, I must tell you that, when I was growing up in rural Alabama many years ago, I had an aunt by the name of Soniva. And my Aunt Soniva lived in what we call a shotgun house. She didn’t have a green, manicured lawn. She had a simple, plain dirt yard.
Sometimes at night you could look through the holes in the ceiling, through the tin roof, and count the stars. When it would rain, we got a pail, a bucket, or tub to catch the rain water. From time to time she would walk out into the woods and get branches from the dogwood tree and tie these branches together to make a broom, and she called it the brisk broom. She would sweep this dirt yard very clean, sometimes two and three times a week. I know most of you from Minnesota, Rhode Island, Hawaii, New Mexico, Texas, Massachusetts, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Washington, D. C., have never seen a shotgun house, and you don’t know what I’m talkin’ about. But in the nonviolent South a shotgun house, old house one way in, one way out, where you could bounce a basketball in the front door and it goes straight out the back door. One Saturday afternoon a group of my brothers, sisters, and a few of my first cousins--we were all playin’ in my Aunt Soniva’s backyard. An unbelievable storm came up. The wind started blowin’; the thunder started rollin’.
The lightning started flashin’, and the rain started beatin’ on the tin roof of this old shotgun house. I became terrified. Started prayin’. I thought this old house was going to blow away. She got all of us children together and told us to hold hands. We cried and we cried. If one corner of this house appeared to be lifting from its foundation, she had us walk in that corner to try to hold the house down with our little bodies. When another corner appeared to be lifting, my aunt had us walk to that corner and try to hold the house down with our little bodies. We were little children walking with the wind, but we never ever left the house.
Call it the house of the National Federation of the Blind. [applause] The rain may beat on our house. The lightning may flash. The thunder may roll, but you must never ever leave the house. We must hold the house of the National Federation of the Blind together and hold it down. Stay with the house. We are one house. We are one people. We are one family. We all live in the same house. It doesn’t matter whether we are black or white or Hispanic or Asian American or Native American. It doesn’t matter whether we can see or whether we are blind, so hang in there. Don’t give up. Stay with the house. Keep your faith, and keep your eye on the prize.
When the ceremonies ended, we marched out of the park and back to the hotel, actually arriving ahead of schedule. The March for Independence drew to a close in the enormous ballroom of the Marriott Marquis, where the thunderous drums of the Atlanta Drum Line Band accompanied the dancing, clapping crowd as they found their way to their delegations, and the gavel fell opening the first general session of Convention 2007. Hundreds had marched that crisp Atlanta morning, and more than 99 percent of those that began the march at dawn crossed the finish line just as they had started: enthusiastic, hopeful, and determined to be a part of the dawn of complete civil rights for all, the blind included.
Atlanta, Georgia, the modern home of southern hospitality and the historic cradle of the American civil rights movement, served as host city for the 2007 convention of the National Federation of the Blind, which occurred from Saturday, June 30, through Friday, July 6. Representatives from our host affiliate warmly welcomed almost twenty-nine hundred delegates to Georgia with the spirited greeting repeated throughout the week, “Federation family forever.” Many of the delegates attended the convention for the first time; fifty-one delegates from forty-one affiliates were sponsored by the Jernigan Fund Scholarship program.
The buzz that animated the early part of this year’s convention was anticipation about our first-ever National Federation of the Blind March for Independence, scheduled for sunrise on Tuesday, July 3, 2007, the morning of our first general convention session. Several planning sessions for both marshals and marchers were held on Sunday and Monday of convention week so that event logistics could be reviewed with all participants and every contingency could be addressed to ensure a smooth execution of this thousand-person-plus march. Stellar leadership, excellent planning, and cooperative weather gods all contributed to a remarkable occasion, successful beyond all imagining.
Led by President Maurer and other event organizers, Federationists with canes, banners aloft, and dogs flooded the downtown streets of Atlanta, filled Centennial Olympic Park for the midmarch rally featuring dignitaries including U. S. Representative John Lewis, and streamed back to the Marriott for a dramatic, percussion-inspired processional into the opening session of the convention. Our march and message received considerable press coverage in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, on the national Associated Press wires, and through local television.
This year’s exhibit hall bustled with activity throughout the week. All 102 exhibitors, the Independence Market, and the Accessible Home Showcase occupied a single ballroom for the first time in several years. A cadre of volunteers and staff met the wall-to-wall crowds just inside the doors at an information booth designed to provide directions and circulate Braille and large-print hall maps and vendor lists. A record fourteen organizations, most of which had representatives present in the exhibit hall, sponsored the 2007 NFB convention. Again this year the exhibit hall was opened on Tuesday evening of convention week for sponsor-level supporters only, so that interested conventioneers could have a more intimate shopping experience with these vendors. A wide array of free NFB literature was on display just outside the exhibit hall doors so that visitors could peruse and pick up items en route to or from the hall.
Buoyed by the prospect of a dynamic convention ahead and inspired by the good will of the assembled crowd, Saturday’s preconvention programming got off to an early start. The NFB ham radio users group retained its traditional first position on the convention agenda with a 7:30 a.m. emergency preparedness seminar, but a first this year sponsored by the New York chapter of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children was an opportunity for thirty Federationists to become certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation in a half-day seminar taught by representatives of the American Heart Association.
Adaptive technology enthusiasts were free to choose from a plethora of program options, primarily on Saturday but also scattered throughout the entire convention week. The staff of our International Braille and Technology Center (IBTC) sponsored a series of ninety-minute sessions focusing on computer communications for the deaf-blind, personal data assistants (PDAs) and new cell phone technology, Microsoft Vista, and the Linux operating system. The IBTC staff also promoted the Accessible Home Showcase again this year in our filled-to-capacity exhibit hall, where usable, if not fully accessible, home appliances were on display for curious conventioneers to examine. Freedom Scientific; HumanWare; GW Micro; K-NFB Reading Technology; the American Printing House for the Blind; GH, LLC; and Clever Devices Technology each hosted demonstration and training sessions for current and prospective consumers of their products. These companies promoted an array of products, including notetakers, screen readers, handheld readers, digital Talking Book players, and stop-announcement technology for public transportation providers.
Our Title sponsors for the 2007 NFB convention, HumanWare and Freedom Scientific, both used our NFB forum to unveil and inaugurate their own technological innovations. HumanWare Chief Executive Officer Richard Mander introduced to the convention the Victor Stream, a state-of-the-art pocket-sized digital Talking Book reader and MP-3 player, which was developed in partnership with the NFB. Shipping in August 2007, the Victor Stream will be the most versatile commercially available player of digital recordings and music from virtually all of the major recording vendors around the world. HumanWare also offered convention delegates a sneak peek at the newest features in Keysoft 7.5, the operating system for its line of notetakers. Lee Hamilton, president and chief executive officer of Freedom Scientific, released the PAC Mate Omni, a newly designed PDA that features both hardware and software upgrades to the original PAC Mate. Freedom Scientific offered a number of impressive purchasing and upgrading incentives for the new PAC Mate Omni.
Fast Forward to the Future was the theme for the week-long series of events sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Boasting over forty organized events focused on the family throughout the convention week, NOPBC programming has become almost a distinct conference within our convention. Everybody involved understands, however, that it is the daily exposure to adult blind role models throughout the convention week and the defined philosophy of the Federation that helps to integrate our NOPBC initiatives and membership into the broader Federation family. Saturday morning saw the start of the annually inspiring NOPBC seminar punctuated by President Maurer’s regular Kid Talk segment; a stirring keynote address from LisaMaria Martinez, president of the NFB Sports and Recreation Division; and an informative panel on employment, moderated by NFB First Vice President Fred Schroeder. Catering to the diverse interests of the parent membership, fifteen different breakout sessions consumed the bulk of the Saturday afternoon seminar programming.
As the Saturday seminar drew to its conclusion, Barbara Cheadle, the able president of NOPBC since 1985, announced that she would not seek election to the office of president at the end of her term in July 2008. Her distinguished service and commitment to parents, their blind children, and the field of blindness education in general deserve our grateful recognition. Her visionary leadership as president of NOPBC will be missed, but it is clear that President Cheadle will continue to be involved and will exercise into the future the same positive brand of influence in her areas of expertise that she has for the last twenty-two years.
Seminars on science education, advocacy and the Individualized Education Plan (IEP), the correlation between learning Braille and securing employment, the traditional Kids Cane Walk, the Braille Book Flea Market, an outing for fathers of blind children, numerous family hospitality events, and a complementary array of programming for blind children themselves are only a few of the NOPBC-sponsored initiatives held throughout the week. The Parent Leadership Program, a developmental program jointly sponsored by the Department of Affiliate Action and NOPBC, brought eighteen sets of parents to the 2007 NFB convention to learn, grow, and return to their affiliates to start or further cultivate NOPBC chapters across the country. Following the convention, Texan Kim Cunningham, a first-time parent participant in our convention, wrote to say:
I would just like to take a moment to thank everyone involved for assisting me and my daughter in attending the national NFB conference in Atlanta 2007. As a parent, this was a life-changing experience for me. I feel an even stronger sense of hope, coupled with determination for my daughter's future. My daughter, Kayleigh Joiner, made several new friends and met some inspiring adults. Kayleigh has always been an outspoken and driven individual; however, she has never felt a part of any particular group. I believe that she has found a home with the NFB that confirms her belief about her blindness and her desire not to be pitied or thought of as disabled.
“Blindness: A Consumer-Based Model of Rehabilitation” was the title for the sixth annual rehabilitation and orientation and mobility conference held all day on Saturday, jointly sponsored by the National Association of Blind Rehabilitation Professionals, the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness (Louisiana Tech University), and the National Blindness Professional Certification Board. Joe Cordova, administrator, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Hawaii Department of Human Services, delivered the keynote address to the assembled crowd. Using anecdotes from his own life, Administrator Cordova identified the elements of a truly consumer-based model of rehabilitation. During the conference luncheon Dr. Edward Bell, director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University, received the Fredric K. Schroeder Award given to pioneers and meaningful contributors in the field of orientation and mobility in particular, and rehabilitation in general.
In addition to everything mentioned here, other Saturday options for Federationists included an employment seminar; NFB fundraising sessions; divisional meetings of blind entrepreneurs, office professionals, and guide dog users; a poetry reading session; the ever-popular Karaoke Night sponsored by BLIND, Incorporated, our NFB training center in Minneapolis, Minnesota; and a welcome dance hosted by our Georgia affiliate. First-time conventioneers were invited on Saturday evening to attend the Rookie Roundup, an orientation to the organized chaos that is the NFB national convention. Dr. Maurer; Anil Lewis, president of the host affiliate and member of the national board; Allen Harris; and Kevan Worley addressed the crowd of several hundred new participants. Coordinated by NFB Treasurer Pam Allen, ribbons, first-timer’s guides, and tote bags were distributed. NFB literature was available in both English and Spanish to help educate novice Federationists. The energy level at this meeting was high. Many longtime Federationists joined our newest members to welcome them into our Federation family.
By Sunday morning all facets of our convention operation were up and running. Convention registration opened to brisk business just before 9:00 a.m. The 1,954 Federationists who preregistered for the convention were able to drop by the preregistration square, pick up their already assembled packets containing their name tags and prepurchased banquet tickets, and be on their merry way. During the open NFB board of directors meeting on Monday morning, Mary Ellen Jernigan, who chairs convention organization and activities, urged everybody to preregister for next year’s convention, setting a target goal of preregistering twenty-five hundred people. Mrs. Jernigan explained that in this way staffing for traditional registration could be significantly curtailed.
One measure of our convention’s vitality and growth is the fact that an increasing number of meetings and events are now being scheduled simultaneously with the traditional Sunday afternoon meeting of the Resolutions Committee. Opportunities to participate in a National Library Service (NLS) Music Section focus group, a business meeting of the Blind Musicians Group, a meeting concentrating on cultivating community volunteerism, and the second annual NFB Spanish seminar all were on offer Sunday afternoon. The NFB Division Expo, a new wrinkle in our convention lineup, sponsored by the Department of Affiliate Action, where representatives from twenty-four of our twenty-six divisions staffed booths in a fair-like environment promoting information or activities unique to their organizational missions, also rivaled the Resolutions Committee for attention. Many convention delegates commented favorably upon this new event that promotes the resources of our NFB divisions.
Despite the allure of alternative programming, those interested in Federation policy flocked to the Sunday afternoon meeting of the Resolutions Committee. Committee chairperson Sharon Maneki gaveled this year’s committee to order promptly at 1:30 p.m. The committee considered sixteen resolutions and recommended to the Convention that they all pass on Friday afternoon. On Monday morning during the NFB board of directors meeting an additional resolution was generated directly from the national board and also presented to the Convention for its consideration. A more detailed report, including the complete text of each resolution adopted by the Convention, appears elsewhere in this issue.
Over three hundred Federationists interested in equal doses of humor and poignant blindness education attended the tenth annual mock trial sponsored by the National Association of Blind Lawyers (NABL) on Sunday afternoon. Scott LaBarre, president of NABL, reports on the reenactment of the case as follows:
We conducted the tenth annual mock trial, which was based on the Acme Markets case out of Pennsylvania, in which a sighted woman sued the company because she fell over the cane of a blind employee. She alleged the market was negligent because it did not post warnings about the presence of the blind employee or have an escort for him. In our reenactment we had the case of Couponclipper v. Yummy Foods. Carla McQuillan of Oregon played the role of plaintiff, Ima Genia Couponclipper. Tom Anderson of Colorado played I.M. Authority, a manager of a rival grocery chain, Superfluous Foods, who testified that he would never hire a blind worker. Dan Frye of Maryland played Dr. Know It All, an expert in the area of biomechanical parapetology, who rendered his expert opinion that a blind person would be far too dangerous in a grocery store environment, especially as an employee.
On the defense side for Yummy Foods, Jim McCarthy of Maryland played the role of Happy Tripp, the blind employee over whose cane Couponclipper tripped. Nicky Gacos of New Jersey played Mr. Bustem, the owner of Yummy Foods, Tripp’s supportive employer. Finally, Julie Deden of Colorado played Mrs. Sweet Lady, a nice old lady and a regular customer of Yummy. She observed the accident and confirmed that Mr. Tripp did nothing wrong.
Charlie Brown of Virginia served as judge, and Peggy Elliot of Iowa served as bailiff. Anthony Thomas, AKA C. Justice Done from Illinois, and Ray Wayne, AKA I. Eat Too Much of New York, represented Yummy Foods. Warren M. Ratnow, AKA Bennett Prows of Washington State, and Duey Cheetem, AKA Scott LaBarre of Colorado, represented the plaintiff, Mrs. Couponclipper.
At the end of the trial Jim Antonocci, president of the Pennsylvania affiliate, and Stanley (Buddy) Nowaczyk spoke about what happened in the real case. Buddy is the actual blind employee who works for Acme Food Markets near Philadelphia. They talked about the importance of the Federation's role and support. As you might imagine, the Federation jury in the audience returned a resounding verdict in favor of the defending store, Buddy’s employer.
Sunday evening was filled with meetings of divisions, committees, and groups. Topics of interest to blind seniors, parents, public employees, car aficionados, newsletter editors, Webmasters, and library patrons were just a few of the programs on the evening’s agenda. In keeping with tradition, the National Association of Blind Students also held its lively and thought-provoking meeting on Sunday night. During this meeting NFB Second Vice President and National Scholarship Committee Chairman Peggy Elliott received public recognition on behalf of all students (present and past) for her twenty-four years of leadership and commitment to the welfare and interests of this population. Anil Lewis presented Mrs. Elliott with an appropriately inscribed plaque acknowledging her long and devoted service.
In accordance with custom the NFB board of directors held its open meeting on Monday morning. President Maurer called for a moment of silence to recognize those Federationists who had died since the 2006 convention in Dallas. Delegates then joined in saying the American and Federation pledges of allegiance. After asking several board members if they remembered when the Federation pledge was first circulated, President Maurer reminded the Convention that it was written and released at the 1974 convention in Chicago.
President Maurer then turned to the organizational elections. He announced that the hold-over offices for 2007 were Marc Maurer, president (Maryland); Fred Schroeder, first vice president (Virginia); Peggy Elliott, second vice president (Iowa); Gary Wunder, secretary (Missouri); Pam Allen, treasurer (Louisiana); Amy Buresh (Nebraska); Sam Gleese (Mississippi); Carl Jacobsen (New York); Chris McKenzie (Arkansas); Alpidio Rolón (Puerto Rico); and Dan Wenzel (Wisconsin). All other board positions were up for election.
President Maurer then recognized Don Capps, the senior member of the NFB’s national board. Following a touching tribute to his wife of fifty-eight years, Betty, and a walk down memory lane of his work with our three major national presidents since his first election to the national board in 1959, Dr. Capps announced that he was “stepping down but not stepping away.” With obvious warmth and affection, President Maurer thanked Dr. Capps for his service, friendship, and education. The audience offered a sustained standing ovation in recognition of Don Capps’s forty-eight years of national leadership in the NFB.
Anil Lewis then welcomed the assembled crowd to “Hotlanta.” He promoted the convention theme, “Federation family forever,” and urged everybody to take full advantage of Georgia’s hospitality during the week ahead.
Bob Brown, president of the South Dakota affiliate, next approached the dais and made a presentation to Tom Ley of the Voice of the Diabetic in loving memory of Karen Mayry, who served as president of our South Dakota affiliate for twenty-five years and who concentrated on issues of blindness and diabetes throughout her career of volunteerism. The entire Convention, along with President Brown, mourned Karen Mayry’s recent death, but celebrated her lifelong contributions in a fashion that respectfully honored her hard-working spirit.
Dan Goldstein, one of the principal attorneys for the NFB, next spoke to the board and audience. He urged all Federationists to help him identify visual access problems with online security, including the concept of “visual captcha,” barriers to online education, and challenges to using electronic kiosks in commercial transactions. This research is being conducted to determine if litigation in these areas is necessary. If you were not at the convention but have useful information to share, Mr. Goldstein would be pleased to hear from you. He may be reached at (410) 962-1030 or by email at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
President Maurer next recognized Christine Boone, a longtime Federationist and former director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (PBBVS), for remarks and a presentation. Ms. Boone spoke briefly of the injustices to which she was subject when she was fired as the director of PBBVS several years ago and happily reported on the successful resolution of her lawsuit to remedy the mistreatment visited upon her by the state of Pennsylvania. She thanked both leaders and members of the NFB for our support of her and her family during their time of personal trial. In gratitude for the help of the Federation, she made a generous donation of ten thousand dollars to the NFB general fund. President Maurer thanked Ms. Boone for her gift and shared the good news with all present that she has now moved on and is effectively directing the adjustment-to-blindness training center at the Michigan Commission for the Blind.
In appreciation for the support of the March for Independence and the development of the Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Braille Map of the United States, both provided by the American Printing House for the Blind, President Maurer recognized our longtime colleague, Dr. Tuck Tinsley, president of APH, for his remarks. Following President Tinsley’s warm greetings to the board and Convention, Kevan Worley, chairman of the Imagination Fund, briefed the board and audience on logistics for the March for Independence.
Sharon Maneki, chairperson of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award Committee, next took the platform to present this year’s award to Sister M. Margaret Fleming, principal of the Saint Lucy Day School for Blind and Visually Impaired Students in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The full text of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
Jim Gashel, recently named vice president of business development for K-NFB Reading Technology, then addressed the board and audience, providing an update on the handheld K-NFB Reader. Mr. Gashel described the new features of release 3.8.0 of the Reader software and announced the availability of a reader stand, developed and sold by the NFB and selected K-NFB Reading Technology dealers. All were encouraged to visit the K-NFB Reading Technology table in the exhibit hall to take advantage of the special convention price of $2,250 for the Reader and the standard price of $150 for the K-NFB Reader stand.
President Maurer then introduced Betsy Zaborowski, executive director of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, to discuss the National Center for Leadership in Visual Impairment (NCLVI) Ph.D. Fellows program. After expressing delight at being able to attend the convention in view of her recent treatments for cancer, Dr. Zaborowski explained that the NCLVI, coordinated by Dr. Kathleen Huebner of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO), is a consortium of fourteen universities with Ph.D. programs in blindness education throughout the country. The PCO administers a grant to assist NCLVI Ph.D. fellows with their education. Dr. Zaborowski explained that many of these students would become professionals and leaders in blindness education in years to come. Dr. Zaborowski announced that twenty NCLVI Ph.D. fellows were in attendance at our national convention, each mentored by a different Federation leader every day. Federationists were urged to introduce themselves to the NCLVI fellows. In closing, Dr. Zaborowski invited the Ph.D. students to stand and be recognized by the board and assembled audience.
Dr. David Ticchi, president of the NFB of Massachusetts, then approached the podium to present the Blind Educator of the Year Award to Sheila Koenig of Minnesota. The full text of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
At this point Peggy Elliott asked the members of this year’s scholarship class to come to the platform, where she introduced them. Their comments appear elsewhere in this issue as part of a full report of our scholarship program.
Finally, President Maurer told the board that the NFB would be administering the Perlman Award, a new means of recognizing a blind person or organization that has been determined to have contributed the most in promoting independence for blind people. The award will be a sum of money generated from the one million dollar bequest left to the NFB by Rosalind Perlman and an additional sum of approximately fifty thousand a year designated for inclusion in this award fund from the Santa Barbara Trust. The award will be given annually or as often as circumstances merit. Assuming that an appropriate candidate can be identified for this award, President Maurer announced that the Perlman Award could be given as early as 2008 at the NFB convention. The NFB board of directors will establish a procedure for the administration of the Perlman Award. Rosalind Perlman was the niece by marriage and author of a biography about her blind uncle, Dr. Jacob Bolotin, a pioneering blind heart and lung specialist who practiced medicine in Chicago, Illinois, during the early years of the twentieth century. The award is to preserve and memorialize Dr. Bolotin’s contributions to improving opportunities for blind people. Copies of the book, The Blind Doctor, in print and on compact disc were available free to interested convention delegates. Since no further business was brought to the board, the meeting was adjourned.
The balance of Monday offered attendees a wide range of division and committee meetings, seminars, workshops, receptions, and theater productions. The Jerry Whittle production this year titled, Out of the Cradle, was performed as usual by the Louisiana Center Players, made up of students and alumni from the Louisiana Center for the Blind. All proceeds from the two performances were used to support the center’s summer programs for blind children.
Tuesday morning’s opening session of the convention represented the culmination of our 5K March for Independence. Basking in the immediate afterglow of an incredibly successful event, marchers entered the Marquis Ballroom, exhilarated and pleased. The Atlanta Drum Line band greeted our marchers and filled the convention hall with an elaborate percussion performance. In the wake of such joviality, President Maurer was hard pressed to gain the complete attention of the assembled membership after calling the Convention to order.
In due course, though, the hubbub subsided, and President Maurer introduced Anil Lewis to bring greetings to the convention on behalf of the host affiliate. President Lewis reflected on the success of the March for Independence, urged us all to enjoy our visit to Georgia, and introduced Carolyn Young, spouse of Ambassador Andrew Young, honorary chairman of the March for Independence, to address the entire assembly.
Mrs. Young reminisced about Atlanta’s civil rights history, reminding convention delegates that Atlanta is still called “the city too busy to hate.” She observed, then, that it was appropriate that our civil rights march be held in this historic venue. Standing with us, Mrs. Young gave voice to our philosophical principles and offered her support to our cause. She conveyed Ambassador Young’s greetings to our membership.
The mood of the convention turned from celebratory to sober when President Maurer invited Joe Ruffalo, national board member and president of our New Jersey affiliate, and Dwight Sayer, first vice president of our Florida affiliate, to recognize military veterans in our ranks. Veterans were called to the stage, given ribbons, and asked to state their names and branch of military service. Twenty-four former members of the military answered the call, including Robert Crawford of Ohio, who was one of the revered Tuskegee airmen of World War II. Gwen Byrd, second vice president of our Mississippi affiliate, capped off this tribute with a rendition of the national anthem.
The remainder of the morning was devoted to the roll call of states. Each affiliate representative announced the name of the delegate, alternate delegate, appointed member of the Nominating Committee, and date and location of the next state convention. In addition state presidents took the opportunity to make a variety of announcements and comments. Here is a sampling of the information that we learned during the morning:
Fourteen state rehabilitation agency directors and many other staff members were part of their states’ delegations. The staff and students of our three NFB centers in Louisiana, Colorado, and Minnesota were all present for the convention. South Carolina announced that it would be the home of a fourth Federation center in the relatively near future. Anahit LaBarre, spouse of Colorado Affiliate President Scott LaBarre, obtained her U. S. citizenship in June of this year. Our Hawaii affiliate brought twenty members to the convention, its largest delegation ever. Nani Fife, president of our Hawaii affiliate, took the time to remember Dr. Floyd Matson, longtime Federationist and author of Walking Alone and Marching Together, since he was too ill to attend convention this year. Michael Gosse, new affiliate president in Maryland, announced that the Maryland School for the Blind has finally severed its affiliation with the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving People with Blindness or Visual Impairment. As promised last year, Maryland recovered the attendance banner, registering 234 people at this year’s convention. Texas, New York, and Maryland were successful in having accessible textbook legislation for higher education adopted in their states during the last twelve months. Ohio’s affiliate president, Barbara Pierce, told the convention that seven students from her state were winners in this year’s Braille Readers Are Leaders program. Finally, Nebraska announced that they had fifteen first-time convention attendees, the largest announced number of first-time delegates during the 2007 convention.
the lunch recess, President Maurer delivered the 2007 presidential report, which
appears in full elsewhere in this issue.
Deborah Kent Stein, chairperson of the NFB Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety, and Dr. Lawrence Rosenblum, professor of perceptual psychology at the University of California, Riverside, jointly presented on the topic “Quiet Cars and Blind Pedestrians: Avoiding the Impact.” Chairperson Stein briefly reviewed the Federation’s effort to address this vexing problem. Happily she was able to report that during the last year the NFB has forged a partnership with the Society of Automotive Engineers to develop a minimum sound standard for hybrid vehicles, but she also noted that manufacturers of these cars are not yet prepared to deal directly with the organized blind movement on this issue. In closing, Ms. Stein reflected that, “in order to preserve our freedom to walk alone, we may have to start doing some marching together.”
Professor Rosenblum offered audible comparisons between the sounds made by conventional vehicles and hybrid cars, noting that a fifteen-decibel difference in sound exists between these types of automobiles. According to him, the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles reported an increase in blind pedestrian accidents in the year 2004-2005, but no information about whether these accidents involved hybrid cars was recorded. Professor Rosenblum discussed the theory of auditory time of arrival, a concept which involves using one’s hearing to anticipate how close an oncoming car is, and he has concluded that most blind people are as good at using their hearing to anticipate accurately the distance of oncoming cars as sighted people are at using their vision for this same purpose. He proposes to do further research on this subject.
Addressing the topic “Education, Influence, and Inspiration: The Effect of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute,” Betsy Zaborowski, executive director of the Jernigan Institute, and Mark Riccobono, her designated successor in this position, both chronicled the activities of our institute during the last year. The convention was generally aware that this would be Dr. Zaborowski’s last time to present in her current capacity, and she was greeted with a warm standing ovation. Mark Riccobono offered autobiographical remarks as he assumed a more public role as executive director of the Jernigan Institute. The full texts of their remarks appear elsewhere in this issue. Finally, Lisa Hamilton, president of the UPS Foundation, talked to the convention about the strong partnership between the NFB and the UPS Foundation. President Hamilton affirmed that UPS and the NFB subscribe to common values, particularly in the areas of education. After providing some history about the rags-to-riches story of Jim Casey, the founder of UPS, President Hamilton closed with the supportive statement, “We are partners building tomorrow with imagination and faith.”
In a deviation from the printed agenda, President Maurer next reviewed with the members of the national board of directors the technically modified text of resolution 101-2007, urging Congress to fully fund the transition to digital services at NLS. Upon board approval of the text, the resolution was unanimously passed by the Convention. Telegrams and other messages supporting this position were sent to every member of Congress directly from the Convention floor. Our advocacy on this issue received press coverage during the week.
“The Promise Unmistakable: Organizational, Professional, Personal” was the title of the address delivered by Kevan Worley, chairperson of the Imagination Fund. With his trademark Imagination Fund chimes at the ready, Chairperson Worley dazzled the delegates with moving oratory recounting his evolution in thinking about blindness, starting with his reluctant attendance at his first NFB national convention in 1983. Chairman Worley attributed the personal and professional success that he has enjoyed to the guiding influence of the NFB, and he believes that his story illustrates clearly why generating revenue for the Imagination Fund is so important.
He then reported on this year’s record-setting Imagination Fund campaign. The grand total in the Imagination Fund this year was $580,457.54 raised by 967 contributors. Maryland won the honors for being the top state in fundraising with $115,849 toward this goal. Chairperson Worley distinguished himself as the top personal fundraiser with $30,058 in Imagination Fund gifts. Thirty-six walking teams in the March for Independence raised a total of $76,000 toward the 2006-2007 Imagination Fund campaign. Team McKenzie, named in loving memory of NFB staff member Kristi Bowman’s daughter, who tragically died earlier this year, was the leading team fundraiser with $13,590.
As a result of this phenomenal success, each affiliate received a check for $2,790.66 in Imagination Fund grants to use at its discretion. The application deadline for Imagination Fund grants is September 2007. This year NFB divisions are also invited to apply for Imagination Fund grants.
After setting a goal of one million dollars for our next Imagination Fund campaign, Kevan recognized Kathy Davis, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida, as the Imaginator of the Year. President Davis had thirty-nine investors and raised a total of $4,330. Following this announcement, President Davis said: “I am blown away, and believe me, I am in this house. Thank you so much for this terrific honor. Guys, I love you all.”
Lord Colin Low of Dalston capped Tuesday afternoon’s programming with a delightful presentation full of dry British humor. In his remarks, titled “Blind, and a Peer of the Realm,” Lord Low spoke warmly of his respect for the work of the NFB. He identified five characteristics of the Federation that especially appealed to him, including our philosophy, powers of communication, caliber of leadership, premium on independence, and social assumptions about blindness. Lord Low then offered some perspective on the blindness movement in the United Kingdom, explaining how governance reform of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) was the primary way that blind people could assert power over their own lives since a small country was hard pressed to develop and sustain a strong and independent consumer movement.
Finally Lord Low offered the convention a brief primer on the structure of the peerage. He explained how he was elevated to the House of Lords and described his experience and philosophy about serving in this chamber as a blind person.
Weary Federationists, who had been up since before the crack of dawn, scattered to a full array of Tuesday evening events. The organization of a new blind veterans division, the Annual Showcase of Talent, NFB NEWSLINE® demonstrations, competing parent workshops, and much more provided delegates with plenty to do. The traditional Tuesday night welcoming dance, though, was moved to Wednesday evening on the theory that energy levels would be sapped after such a long day.
When the gavel dropped on Wednesday morning, President Maurer quickly turned his attention to organizational elections. All five national board incumbents were re-elected by acclamation. These board members were Ron Brown of Indiana, Dan Burke of Montana, Kathy Jackson of Kentucky, Anil Lewis of Georgia, and Joe Ruffalo of New Jersey.
Parnell Diggs, president of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina, was elected to fill the vacancy on the board created by Donald Capps’s decision not to seek re-election. After his election, President Diggs said:
Mr. President, it is with great humility that I stand before this body to accept the responsibility that this convention has placed in my hands. I came to this organization in 1989. I became a student of our movement, of our leaders, of our philosophy. I came to know Dr. tenBroek, though he had died the year before I was born. This was possible because, though our faces change, our philosophy remains the same. In 1989 I met Dr. Jernigan, who was already in his early sixties. What did he have in common with a young college kid at the age of twenty? We were both blind and had to deal with the myths and misconceptions of blindness.
Today our movement might be considered a senior citizen. It is now our sixty-seventh year as a movement; yet, Mr. President, I believe that our movement continues to walk in the sunrise. We have not reached midday. There is work to be done. Though the individuals who started this movement in 1940 would be astonished to see what we have accomplished today, they knew that we would make progress. They didn’t know how it would be manifested, but they knew that progress would be achieved. And we can only dream and look with a great deal of anticipation toward the future, to that day when our goal of first-class citizenship is realized. I look forward to working with you to bring about this reality and to working with you during the time ahead.
I thank you for the support, and God bless all of you.
Doug Geoffray and Dan Weirich, cofounders of GW Micro, delivered the item “Expanding Opportunities for the Blind through Technology.” Celebrating twenty-five years of service in the adaptive technology field, Federationists were treated to a fascinating history of the evolution of computer equipment usable by the blind. Dividing their remarks between the company’s hardware and software products, they explained to delegates the advantages of Window-Eyes, a screen reading software, and the HIMS line of notetakers, more commonly known as the Braille Sense and the Voice Sense. At the end of their presentation, one was truly left with the impression that the GW Micro representatives are truly committed to their craft.
Kirk Adams, president-elect of the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind, painted a progressive portrait of a workshop for the blind in his remarks titled “Work, Instruction, and Community Activity at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind.” Blind since age five, Mr. Adams received a solid education and good grounding in blindness skills from the Oregon School for the Blind and later the public school in his neighborhood. Confident as a blind person, Mr. Adams nevertheless was challenged to find employment after his graduation from Whitman College in Washington State. Ultimately he became a stockbroker and later decided to devote himself to working in the not-for-profit field. During seven years at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind, Mr. Adams received four promotions, leading to the position of chief executive officer that he will soon occupy.
He reported that since 1953 every Boeing aircraft has been built with parts manufactured at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind. The agency manufactures sixty thousand parts for Boeing every month. In total, the Lighthouse manufactures eighty-five different products and has annual sales of thirty-five million dollars. Of the 185 blind employees working at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind, thirty-five are deaf-blind. The Lighthouse prides itself on being a leader in the employment of the deaf-blind community. Mr. Adams disclosed that the average wage for a direct service job is $11 per hour and that the average wage for an indirect service job is $20 per hour.
According to Mr. Adams the future at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind is bright. He said, “My job is to create jobs by being the most efficient manufacturing company we can be.” Part of this will be to invest in Braille and adaptive technology literacy for all Lighthouse employees. As part of its commitment to Braille, the organization regularly purchases the NFB Braille Is Beautiful kit. Mr. Adams also told the convention that, in addition to Braille pay stubs and other regularly circulated Braille documents for employees, when he is in charge, his motto will be “No Braille, no meeting.”
Finally, Mr. Adams advised the convention that he agreed with our desire to modernize the JWOD program, focusing on upward mobility for employees, stronger advocacy for blind employees, greater accountability throughout the system, and an emphasis on good jobs for qualified employees. President Maurer observed that it was refreshing to learn of a workshop for the blind that believes in Braille and promotes good treatment of its employees.
Leslie Stocker, president of the Braille Institute of America, next delivered the presentation “Taking up the Braille Challenge.” Mr. Stocker reviewed both the Braille Special Collection and the Braille Challenge contest administered by the Braille Institute. He reported that the Braille Institute has 3,274 registered Braille readers under age eighteen throughout the United States, a good number considering that APH reports that only about four thousand minors throughout the country read Braille. The goal of both programs is to promote Braille literacy. Mr. Stocker suggested partnering with the NFB by promoting one another’s Braille programs and inviting local chapters or state affiliates to host regional Braille Challenge contests. He welcomed our sponsorship of Braille book production. Delighted with his presentation, President Maurer asked that Barbara Cheadle work with Mr. Stocker to cultivate a closer working relationship between our two organizations.
Longtime Federationists Jennifer Dunnam and Nadine Jacobsen jointly presented the item titled “Braille Campaigns: Changing Comprehension, Changing Lives.” This presentation focused on the work of the Jernigan Institute to promote Braille. Jennifer Dunnam now manages the Jernigan Institute’s Braille transcription program contract with NLS. Since January 2007 the NFB has forwarded one hundred names of people to NLS for certification as Braille transcribers or proofreaders. Promoting Braille access, including the Nemeth Code, on the Internet is one of Ms. Dunnam’s primary goals. Nadine Jacobsen highlighted the NFB Braille Readers Are Leaders contest for 2006-2007, informing convention delegates that 340 students participated in the program this year.
The next presentation was titled “Bringing the Full Range of Educational Opportunities to the Blind: A Work in Progress.” Dr. Mark Leddy, program director, Research in Disabilities Education, Division of Human Resource Development, Directorate for Education and Human Resources, National Science Foundation (NSF), talked to the convention about the new initiatives at NSF that could be of benefit to our community. He reviewed the existing grant relationships between the NFB and his agency. Dr. Leddy’s presentation affirmed the strong partnership that has been established and will continue to be forged between the NFB and NSF as our organization continues to promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects as viable career opportunities for blind students.
of Freedom Scientific delivered the final presentation of the morning. In a
presentation titled “PAC Mate and Beyond,” Lee Hamilton, the company’s leader,
spoke of the significant investment that Freedom Scientific has made in the
area of Braille products. With considerable pride Dr. Hamilton noted that Freedom
Scientific has manufactured the least expensive Braille display on the market,
selling at $1,395, and has also managed to produce other Braille displays at
almost 40 percent less than competitive products.
Dr. Hamilton then yielded the balance of his time to Jonathan Mosen and Glen Gordon, Freedom Scientific vice presidents. Mr. Mosen said that one element of the Freedom Scientific difference is that blind employees are present in high numbers in the company.
Currently, according to Mr. Mosen, Freedom Scientific employs fifty blind people. Vice President Mosen then reflected that Freedom Scientific’s commitment to quality includes keeping problem issues on the agenda until solutions are found, measuring customer satisfaction, communicating effectively, providing excellent training resources for customers, and innovating relentlessly.
Following this discussion of Freedom Scientific’s corporate philosophy, they unveiled the new PAC Mate Omni. This new PDA features a variety of improvements, including the ability to read PowerPoint presentations and a guarantee that data will not be lost if the unit’s battery goes flat. Much to the delight of current PAC Mate users, Freedom Scientific officials announced that the most any current owner of the PAC Mate would pay to upgrade to the PAC Mate Omni would be $699; those with software and hardware agreements would pay even less. Convention delegates greeted the entire Freedom Scientific presentation with great enthusiasm.
Wednesday afternoon and evening of NFB conventions used to be a relatively quiet tour day, but in the last few years it has morphed into an increasingly busy break-out program time. Tours of Atlanta were available in abundance, but other Federationists could choose from a Social Security seminar, a mentoring workshop, a Meet the Blind Month presentation, recreational activities sponsored by our Sports and Recreation Division, a six-hour Advocacy Skills session, a Randolph-Sheppard reception, a night with the Colorado Center for the Blind, Monte Carlo Night with the National Association of Blind Students, and an Independence Day dance, sponsored by the host affiliate, just to name a few of the attractions on offer.
The first agenda item on Thursday morning proved a pleasant surprise to longtime Federationists. Seventeen-year NFB veteran Ollie Cantos, now special counsel to the assistant attorney general, U. S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, addressed the convention. Mr. Cantos spoke about his career and the influence that the NFB has had on his life. Acknowledging that he used to subscribe to the principle of the hierarchy of sight and that his ability to come to terms with his blindness was made especially difficult because of his Filipino heritage, Mr. Cantos said that his resolve to face his blindness head-on was bolstered by role models and mentors in the NFB. Since his shift in attitude, Mr. Cantos has enjoyed a successful legal career, including jobs with the American Association of People with Disabilities, the U. S. Department of Justice, and a detail assignment as associate director of domestic policy, concentrating on issues of disability in the White House.
Jerrel Lambright, a newly blinded licensed funeral director from Louisiana, then presented the item titled “The Blind Funeral Director.” In colorful and colloquial southern prose, Mr. Lambright related how he had lost his vision to diabetes six years ago, languished in self-pity for four years at home, and finally enrolled as a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Having successfully graduated from the Ruston Center in April of this year, Mr. Lambright returned to his life’s work as a funeral director with the Myers Colonial Funeral Home. Laced with plenty of good humor and fun, his remarks included an anecdote of a family that doubted his ability to manage his responsibilities as a funeral director for their deceased loved one. As a result of his competent performance and professional patience, the spokeswoman for the family ultimately changed her tune. When all was said and done, as Mr. Lambright was preparing to leave the graveyard, she admitted that she really did not like him at first and felt as though she was going to be shortchanged with a blind funeral director, but she conceded that he had provided her with excellent service and she asked him if she could call on him again when the time was right. With grace and dignity Mr. Lambright replied that it would be an honor to provide service to her or her family in the future. This story resonated with the convention, serving as a powerful reminder of the NFB’s positive philosophy.
Christopher Stephen, chief executive officer of ReadHowYouWant.com, next presented the item “A World-Wide Library for Blind and Other Print Disabled People: A Proposed Partnership.” Mr. Stephen told the convention that he became interested in reading disabilities as a result of the struggles his sister experienced after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and hearing about the frustrations of the blind dean of the faculty of law at the University of Sydney. He concluded that it was the book and not the reader that needed to be adjusted. An adventuresome entrepreneur by nature, Mr. Stephen founded ReadHowYouWant.com with the goals of making reading easy and enjoyable by delivering reading formats that suit his readers, giving people with reading disabilities access to information at an affordable price as soon as a book is published for the mainstream audience, and making producing in accessible formats desirable and profitable for publishers. It took five years to develop a technology that will allow him to achieve his objective of rapidly producing books in alternative formats at an affordable price for large publishers and individual customers. The technology that he has developed will efficiently and accurately mark up files to XML from a variety of sources, automatically generate different formats from this file, and systematically typeset print formats.
Mr. Stephen reported that his company will serve all DAISY formats, will be able to customize specific format requests in Braille and large print to meet the requirements of the individual user, and will feature a searching and indexing facility. His company has a partnership with Amazon.com. He will be working with them to enable people to order books in their format of choice directly online. ReadHowYouWant.com and the NFB plan to embark on a partnership to create a critical mass of books in alternative formats. Together our goal will be to foment a publishing revolution that will be to the access advantage of blind people everywhere.
The next item on Thursday morning’s agenda was titled “The Randolph-Sheppard Program under Attack.” Moderated by Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, this panel also featured Terry Smith, director of Tennessee Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired; and Catriona Macdonald, president, Linchpin Strategies. Together these speakers raised the awareness of our membership about the increasing number and ferocity of the attacks on the Randolph-Sheppard program. President Worley briefly surveyed the recent history of attacks and challenges. As a consequence of this hostile environment, he said that the NFB has entered into a coalition with other like-minded allies to respond to these attacks.
Putting it into perspective, Director Smith reminded the convention that nine months ago the Randolph-Sheppard community faced an unjustifiably scathing report from the U. S. Senate HELP Committee. The Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) was closing regional offices, the national Office for the Blind at RSA was being eliminated, the General Accounting Office was looking for problems in the Randolph-Sheppard program, and the Oasis program was threatening the Randolph-Sheppard priority at the state level. In light of these facts, he explained that leaders in the community decided it was time to create another organization solely dedicated to responding to these concerns. All involved came to recognize that our individual efforts could yield better results if combined into one strong and centralized force. The Blind Entrepreneurs’ Alliance (BEA) was thus formed.
Catriona Macdonald, familiar with blindness issues from her part-time work with the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, was hired by the BEA to represent its interests in Washington, D. C. She explained to the delegates that the challenges to the Randolph-Sheppard program represent a more general attack on categorical services to all blind consumers. She reviewed some of the immediate threats to the Randolph-Sheppard program, including the unfair congressional comparison of salaries from JWOD workers with those of Randolph-Sheppard managers, the Department of Education’s abdication of its responsibility to protect and promote the Randolph-Sheppard program, and threats to Randolph-Sheppard vendors’ gaining access to troop dining contracts. Ms. Macdonald urged delegates in the months ahead to anticipate promulgation of adverse regulations controlling Randolph-Sheppard vendors’ priority under Department of Defense contracts, reports in the fall from various investigative bodies that will coincide with the Defense Committee’s evaluation of its legislation, and the implementation of Oasis legislation that will challenge Randolph-Sheppard rights at the state level.
Despite these dire warnings, President Worley concluded the panel with the announcement that the Colorado Center for the Blind has recently established a Randolph-Sheppard training program. He also urged people to remember that the program remains a strong and viable alternative for employment of blind people. President Worley expressed optimism that our collective efforts would yield positive results. All were urged to respond to the call for help when the time comes.
Strategically placed on our agenda following the dialogue about the Randolph-Sheppard program, Congressman Phil Gingrey of Georgia’s 11th Congressional District spoke next. Representative Gingrey pledged his support for the legislative programs and priorities of the NFB. He specifically recalled his previous support for the Louis Braille coin legislation and his prospective support for our Social Security linkage bill and adequate funding levels for the NLS digital transition.
Tony Muscarello, senior vice president, U. S. national sales, Cardtronics, delivered the item “Automated Teller Machines the Blind Can Use.” After several years of legal wrangling, the NFB reached a favorable settlement with Cardtronics, the nation’s largest distributor of nonaffiliated ATM machines, which will require that almost all of their equipment be made accessible with voice-guided technology by July 2010. This is a tremendous triumph for the blind of America. The details of the settlement appear elsewhere in this issue.
“Digitizing the Literature of the World for All Who Love Research, Including the Blind” was the next item to be considered on Thursday morning. T.V. Raman, a research scientist with Google, Inc., reported on the efforts to render accessible some of the library that the Google company is digitizing and putting online. While he acknowledged that the steps taken thus far by Google to render its online collection accessible to the blind represents only “step zero,” Dr. Raman did announce that all of the books in the Google public domain collection are now available in a readable text format. He explained that this step is significant simply because of the substantial number of books this involves, several hundred thousand. Additionally Dr. Raman reported that Google has created a user group for accessible services. He urged delegates to use this service to communicate further accessibility requests to Google. Though Google’s progress thus far has been modest, Dr. Raman seemed optimistic about the future of online access to the growing library of books in the Google collection.
the Google presentation, George Kerscher, senior officer, accessible information,
with Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D), offered remarks to round
out this panel. He reported to the convention that RFB&D is now 100 percent
digital. Forty hours of content is available to readers on a single compact
disc. The organization currently has thirty-five thousand digital titles available
to RFB&D borrowers. Seven thousand volunteers are producing six thousand
titles a day to add to the RFB&D collection. Finally, Mr. Kerscher reported
that RFB&D has entered into a partnership with Google to lend its titles
to the Google searchable database.
Using the compelling refrain “The power of the blind united in a just cause,” Daniel Goldstein, longtime friend and legal counsel to the NFB, delivered an evocative address to close out the Thursday morning general session summarizing our tradition of advocacy.
Surveying a variety of our legal challenges during the previous twenty-five years, including our suit against America Online and an Alabama custody action on behalf of a blind mother, Mr. Goldstein reminded us that much of our success can be attributed to the collective power of the Federation. Looking ahead, Mr. Goldstein seemed confident that our collective strength would hold us in good stead as we battle for accessibility to products and services in our ever-changing society. According to Mr. Goldstein, one quantifiable result of our quest for accessibility on the Internet is the fact that other organizations are taking notice of their obligations and voluntarily contacting the NFB to inquire about complying with accessible standards. Mr. Goldstein’s remarks inspired the audience and sent us all off to lunch hopeful about the future of accessibility for blind people.
The Thursday afternoon session commenced with what can fairly be called a valedictory address by James Gashel, a widely respected thirty-four-year employee of the NFB, who has served this organization loyally as executive director for strategic initiatives, director of governmental affairs, and chief of the Washington office. Mr. Gashel’s record of legislative accomplishment is impressive, and the assembled crowd expressed its gratitude and love to him through an extended standing ovation at the conclusion of his prepared remarks. The full text of his address appears elsewhere in this issue.
Frank Kurt Cylke, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and Michael Montoya, NLS financial officer, offered their annual report this year. Mr. Cylke commended the NFB for our efforts to help secure more funding for the digital transition. Despite the disappointing funding situation, he reported that all was on schedule for the transition.
Michael Montoya announced that the pilot for the downloadable Web site would be expanded in August 2007 to include eligible NLS patrons. Early access to digital books proved quite exciting to many in the crowd. He also noted that, if the transitional funding remained at its current level, it would delay the complete transition to digital services by four years.
Richard Mander, chief executive officer of HumanWare, delivered the next item, “The Book Reader of the Future Available Today.” He began his remarks by announcing that HumanWare had endowed a professorship in adaptive technology at Canterbury University in memory of Russell Smith, the founder of HumanWare, who was killed in a plane crash two years ago. Dr. Mander then turned his attention to addressing the rumors abounding about the new investors for HumanWare. He explained that identifying new investors for the company was a goal he was given by the HumanWare board when he first arrived, in light of the fact that circumstances were changing in the Smith family and for many long-term staff investors. He assured the convention that the new board chairman was committed to preserving blindness as the foundation of the HumanWare business.
Dr. Mander highlighted improvements in customer service in the United States. The establishment of a new toll-free number, the employment of additional technical support staff, the installation of a new phone system, the adoption of a new problem-escalation procedure, and the creation of a new RMA system should all result in improved quality. Dr. Mander coupled this new emphasis on quality with the disclosure of HumanWare’s new vision statement, which reads: “HumanWare provides innovative solutions which empower people to fully participate in society.”
chief executive officer touted the company’s commitment to Braille literacy.
He specifically cited its release of the Oxford English Dictionary, its new
role as distributor for the Mountbatten Brailler, and its development of a Nemeth
Finally, Gilles Pepin, president, Technologies HumanWare in Canada, promoted two new products. Each delegate found on his or her chair a paper simulation of the Victor Reader Stream, the digital reader described earlier in this roundup. He also teased the interested crowd about an accessible popular Blackberry Smart Phone that is being developed and will likely be available in 2008.
NFB First Vice President Fred Schroeder then delivered an address to the convention entitled “A Declaration of Equality.” The full text of this speech appears elsewhere in this issue.
The convention warmly welcomed remarks from Ray Kurzweil on both the history and future of the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader. Mr. Kurzweil demonstrated future software for the Reader that will allow one to use an indoor navigation system and enjoy the benefits of object recognition performed by the Reader. These demonstrations vividly illustrated the as yet untapped potential of the Reader.
John Paré, newly appointed executive director for strategic initiatives for the NFB, then delivered the item “An Independent Blind Medical Doctor in the Early Years of the Twentieth Century.” In this presentation Mr. Paré offered further biographical information about Dr. Jacob Bolotin to supplement the data previously provided by President Maurer during the meeting of the board of directors earlier in the week. Born in 1888, Dr. Bolotin had other blind siblings. Their parents were poor immigrants. Dr. Bolotin attended the Illinois School for the Blind. Before launching into his medical career, he spent his early days as a door-to-door salesman of various products, which illustrated his fierce independence. On May 20, 1912, Jacob Bolotin became the first person born blind to become a medical doctor. Further information about his life and story can be found in the biography written by his niece, mentioned earlier in this roundup.
Dr. Mark Stracks next delivered the item “The Blind Doctor Practicing Today.” He offered a reflective talk about the determination and resolve that one must have to achieve personal goals in life. He reported that he had always wanted to be a doctor. Dr. Stracks said, “We do collectively as an organization what the human mind does; we break through fear and bring forth enlightenment. Everything is possible if we only dare to make it a reality.”
Joe Cutter delivered the final item on the day’s agenda, “Have Cane, Will Travel.” This expert in early childhood orientation and mobility offered sage advice to parents of blind children about promoting independent travel skills as soon as possible. In short, Mr. Cutter’s advice was, put a cane in their hands and allow them to experience active, self-initiating independent movement. He closed his remarks by thanking everybody for helping him learn enough about this subject to publish his book, Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children: A Promotion Model.
The 2007 banquet of the National Federation of the Blind was a festive affair, not only filling the main Marquis Ballroom but requiring the Imperial Ballroom to accommodate six hundred overflow guests. NFB First Vice President Fred Schroeder served as master of ceremonies for the evening. In addition to the homespun NFB songs that make our banquets merry, the crowd was treated this year to a performance from Allen Bailey, a gifted violinist.
President Maurer delivered a banquet address titled “Expanding the Limits: The Uncertainty of Exploration.” He urged us all to embrace the adventure and imagination inherent in personal and organizational exploration. The text of his address appears elsewhere in this issue.
Ramona Walhof was the recipient of the Jacobus tenBroek Award, the highest honor given to a member of the Federation. Ray Kurzweil received our Newel Perry Award, the highest honor given to an external supporter of the Federation. Finally, Donald and Betty Capps and James Gashel and Betsy Zaborowski were awarded special recognition during the banquet for their years of dedicated service to the Federation. A full report of these awards appears elsewhere in this issue.
Finally, Peggy Elliott, NFB scholarship chairman, announced the thirty scholarships awarded by the NFB. Sachin Pavithran of Utah received the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship in the amount of twelve thousand dollars. A full report of the scholarship awards appears elsewhere in this issue.
Friday morning of convention was dedicated to internal organizational business. The financial report, the Washington report, and the Honor Roll Call of States consumed most of the morning session.
Kristen Cox, executive director of workforce services, State of Utah, was introduced to the convention for remarks that she had been scheduled to make earlier in the convention. She shared her perspective on running for the position of lieutenant governor as a blind candidate in the state of Maryland last fall. Her steadfast Federationism enabled Mrs. Cox to participate in this campaign with dignity, grace, and independence.
Friday afternoon was devoted to consideration of the sixteen resolutions forwarded to the Convention floor by the Resolutions Committee. Fifteen of these resolutions were ultimately adopted by the Convention. The full texts of all resolutions passed by the Convention appear elsewhere in this issue.
President Maurer invited the Convention to deliberate on two additional questions this year: whether the convention should be shortened and whether we should invest organizational funds in the development of a car that blind people could drive. After some discussion the sense of the Convention was that the annual convention should not be shortened if at all possible. The Convention also strongly rejected the idea of investing significant organizational resources in developing a car drivable by blind people.
Scott LaBarre, chairman of the Pre-Authorized Check Plan Committee, awarded the PAC Rat to Maryland as the affiliate with the greatest activity during convention. Similarly the NOPBC received the PAC Mule as the division with the greatest level of activity during the convention. Finally, the Indiana affiliate was recognized with the PAC-iderm for being the affiliate to achieve the highest percentage increase on PAC during the convention. Indiana increased its PAC pledge by 69 percent during the week. Earlier in the convention Scott had presented the new Alpaca Award to the NFB of Hawaii for the largest PAC increase by a small state during the months between the 2006 and 2007 conventions. Colorado won the award for large states.
As the convention concluded, most delegates felt a simultaneous sense of emotional rejuvenation and physical exhaustion. Many acquaintances had been renewed, new friends were made, and, most important, our collective Federation spirit had been rekindled for another year. Everyone left the convention hall at 5:00 p.m. on Friday night ready to face our Federation work during the year ahead and promising to return next year for another dose of what keeps us strong—our collective spirit and fellowship in the NFB Convention assembled.
National Federation of the Blind
July 3, 2007
The National Federation of the Blind has never been in better health. The challenges we face are many, but we know what we must do to meet them. We have learned from our experiences and from our predecessors in the Federation who have stood in the ranks since the time of our founding in 1940, and we are prepared to do battle in whatever arena may be necessary to protect the rights and procure the opportunities for the blind.
We are in almost every city in the nation, in every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. We are professionals, students, parents of blind children, teachers, rehabilitation workers, employees of workshops for the blind, newly blinded people, blind seniors, blind people seeking employment, blind people with training in the skills of blindness and those without it; we are the blind from every part of our culture and every segment of society. We are the National Federation of the Blind.
Last year at the convention of the National Federation of the Blind we inaugurated our public relations initiative, directed by John Paré, who, at the close of this convention, becomes our executive director for strategic initiatives. James Gashel, who has served as the chief of our Washington office, the director of governmental affairs, and the executive director for strategic initiatives, is retiring from service in the National Federation of the Blind after more than thirty-four years as an employee of our movement. Jim Gashel is among the most imaginative thinkers in the field of blindness. He has written much of the legislation affecting blind people, has directed the development of policy and regulation regarding the blind in most areas of government and in the private sector, and has been among the most aggressive advocates of programs for the blind and individual rights for blind people in the United States. He is beginning a new career as an executive with K-NFB Reading Technology, Inc., the entity that in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind developed and is selling the handheld reading machine. We express our gratitude to Jim Gashel for his service, but we also appreciate his tutelage of John Paré.
As director of public relations, John Paré has helped us to gain recognition of the work of the National Federation of the Blind in more than 250 television interviews, more than 500 online Internet articles, more than 600 newspaper articles, and more than 600 radio interviews. CNN broadcast a nine-minute news piece featuring the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader. The Wall Street Journal published an extensive article on the same topic, and Good Morning America broadcast a demonstration of the reader performed by John Paré. This single interview was estimated to be valued at approximately $235,000.
John Paré and Chris Danielsen were invited to the Associated Press headquarters in New York City for an interview about our Target lawsuit. They provided material to the Washington Post about the Library of Congress digital Talking Book program, which appeared in an editorial, dated May 30, 2007, endorsing the plan to create digital Talking Books.
Through our public relations initiative, we have placed editorials with the USA Today newspaper and the New York Times. In addition John Paré has arranged for interviews on the National Public Radio program All Things Considered and on the Fox News Channel’s prime-time program Your World with Neil Cavuto. Altogether the public relations effort within the last year has brought the work of the National Federation of the Blind to the attention of the public with more than 600 million audience impressions.
The NFB-NEWSLINE® program is thriving with forty-one states and the District of Columbia now sponsoring the service. Oregon, Vermont, and Delaware have been added in the past year; 95 percent of the population of the United States has access to NFB-NEWSLINE. In April the Wilmington News Journal joined the NFB-NEWSLINE program as the 250th newspaper on the service and the twenty-fifth added this year. We continue to offer both UPI and Associated Press wire services, and we have added television listings. NFB-NEWSLINE may be received by email. The service currently has over 57,000 registered users and provides more than 2.5 million minutes of news per month.
In 2004 we successfully included provisions of the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act in amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. These amendments require that publishers provide to a central depository an electronic copy of textbooks sold to the public schools so that blind students may receive an accessible book in Braille or in another format. This model of textbook accessibility is being incorporated in proposed legislation to make college-level books accessible to the blind. Congressman Raúl Grijalva of Arizona is leading our effort in the House of Representatives, and Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut is promoting legislation in the United States Senate. Some people in the publishing business are opposing this proposed legislation, but we are determined that blind students will not be shunted aside or forgotten or cut out of the educational process. We will attend the colleges of our choice, and we will expect the same kinds of educational experiences that are available to everybody else. The publishers would not hear us when we said this for blind grade-school and high-school students. They do not want to hear us today, but we have made up our minds. Blind college students will have their books.
The Help America Vote Act (HAVA), adopted in 2002, contains provisions guaranteeing the right of blind voters to cast independent secret ballots by 2006. These provisions, drafted by the National Federation of the Blind, are not self-executing. We are doing what we can to ensure their enforcement. In November of 2006 we conducted an election-day review of the experiences of blind voters. On our voter comment line we received reports enthusiastically reviewing the experience of those able to cast a ballot independently for the first time as well as those who felt the frustration and disappointment of being unable to vote without assistance despite the legal requirements that this be a part of the voting process. We are sharing the data we collected about the violations of the Help America Vote Act with the Department of Justice. The right to vote without interference and without public scrutiny is fundamental to American democracy, and we expect to have as much access to this right as anybody else.
Some members of Congress want to amend the Help America Vote Act by requiring voting machines to have a paper verification of the voters’ choices. We have said that we do not object to voter verification systems but that we insist that we maintain the right to vote independently and privately. Some of the proposed changes would diminish this independent private right to vote for the blind. We fought for the right to cast a secret ballot, and we insist that this right must be maintained.
Since 1936 the Randolph-Sheppard Act has authorized blind vendors to operate facilities on federal property. In 1974 this act was expanded to include cafeterias and to provide extensive appeal procedures to vendors with grievances.
Within the last few years those operating workshops for the severely handicapped have sought to take opportunities from blind vendors, transferring them to the sheltered shops. The argument they make is that only one blind vendor benefits from a lucrative contract but that many disabled workers benefit from operations conducted by sheltered shops. This argument might have some appeal except that sheltered shop management almost never includes blind people, and the managers of sheltered shops are ordinarily not disabled. The big money always goes to the sighted, nondisabled managers. The amount received by the blind is a small sum compared to that paid to the sighted. Sometimes the wages paid to the disabled are below the federal minimum wage.
Several months ago a provision in the Defense Department budget directed that negotiations occur among the Department of Defense, which operates military installations; the Department of Education, which has statutory responsibility for the Randolph-Sheppard program; and the Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled, the federal agency responsible for distributing federal contracts through NIB and NISH to sheltered workshops for the blind and severely handicapped respectively. In these negotiations the Department of Education failed completely in its responsibility to protect and preserve the priority for blind vendors. In conjunction with other organizations, the National Federation of the Blind established this year the Blind Entrepreneurial Alliance to advance the argument that the Randolph-Sheppard program contains a statutory priority for blind vendors on federal property, including military installations. Linchpin Strategies, a consulting firm located in Washington, D. C., has been hired to represent the interests of the Blind Entrepreneurial Alliance. Our investment in this consulting firm appears to be paying off. Catriona Macdonald, the president of Linchpin, will be appearing later during this convention.
The digital Talking Book is a concept that has been discussed by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress, the National Federation of the Blind, and all other interested entities dealing with blindness for more than a decade. Prior to the convention of the National Federation of the Blind last summer, we learned that questions about the planning for this program were being raised by a staff member of the House Committee on Appropriations. We passed a resolution expressing support for the program. We have appeared before hearings in the Senate and the House of Representatives. We have requested funding for the next generation of Talking Books, and we will continue to articulate the vital importance of the Books for the Blind program. We believe that the planning has been more than adequate; we commend the leadership of the National Library Service for its comprehensive and thoughtful development of this program; and we believe it is time to move to the digital Talking Book.
At our convention last year I reported that the Louis Braille Coin Bill, a piece of legislation declaring that the Treasury should mint a commemorative coin in 2009 in honor of the two-hundredth birthday of Louis Braille, had been passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate. On July 27, 2006, President Bush signed this bill into law. We are currently planning for the programs to be conducted in conjunction with the issuance of this commemorative coin. The proceeds from the sale of Louis Braille coins will be used by the National Federation of the Blind to promote Braille literacy.
The Louis Braille Coin Bill has become the law of the land. Here are provisions from Public Law 109-247:
Federation of the Blind, the Nation's oldest membership organization consisting
of blind members, has been a champion of the Braille code, of Braille literacy
for all blind people and of the memory of Louis Braille, and continues its Braille
literacy efforts today through its divisions emphasizing Braille literacy, emphasizing
education of blind children, and emphasizing employment of the blind.
Braille literacy aids the blind in taking responsible and self-sufficient roles in society, such as employment: while 70 percent of the blind are unemployed, 85 percent of the employed blind are Braille-literate.
That is the law.
We have reached an agreement with the Amazon company to ensure that Amazon itself is usable by the blind but also that other retailers who employ Amazon’s platform for their Web sites are encouraged to be blind-friendly. Amazon has pledged that by the end of this year its site will be fully and equally accessible to the blind, and by the time of next year’s convention, all impediments to accessibility on Web sites for merchants who use Amazon’s platform will be removed.
Through our Access Technology Initiative we have certified this year Web sites for the following companies and organizations: General Electric; Guide Dogs for the Blind; Brown, Goldstein, & Levy, LLP (the Baltimore law firm we have used for more than twenty years); Legal Sea Foods; State of Diabetes Complications in America; Merck & Co. Inc. (the first pharmaceutical company to be certified); USPEQ (pronounced “you speak,” which is a Web-based survey company); Maryland Voter Information Clearing House; and Quantum Simulations Measurement Tutor (the first and only tutoring program for blind students based on artificial intelligence).
To improve nonvisual access to technology, we have worked with the following companies during the past year: Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, HumanWare, Freedom Scientific, Google, Amazon, GE, Whirlpool, GW Micro, IBM, AOL, Mozilla, and Olympus. We have also provided advice on accessibility to a number of universities and to many government agencies.
On our fiftieth birthday, in 1990, we decided to create the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, a technology laboratory containing at least one of every device or software program designed to offer information to the blind in Braille, refreshable Braille, or auditory form. We have continued to maintain this technology laboratory through the years, and we have acquired many new products to ensure that it is up-to-date with the best state-of-the-art equipment and software now available. We have acquired from twenty-two corporations or organizations eighty-eight new products, new pieces of software, or software upgrades since our last convention.
With the advent of interactive visual displays, the blind have encountered increasingly difficult problems in operating home appliances. The National Federation of the Blind created the Accessible Home Showcase, which was completed as of January 2007 with products contributed by Whirlpool, GE, and a number of others. We continue to seek methods for providing information on accessibility to manufacturers of products that are to be used in the home.
Although we concentrate on Braille and speech output in our access efforts, we have also established this year a low-vision section of our International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. In this section we display a representative sample of low-vision products from such companies as Vision, Inc., Enhanced Vision, Freedom Scientific, and HumanWare.
Over the last year the Jacobus tenBroek Library—a resource library on the advancements of the blind—has made significant progress. This includes making available for use the 3,000-volume blindness collection of print materials on loan to us from the Iowa Department for the Blind; digitizing 80 percent of our Federation literature for the NFB Web site; placing the newly designed Independence Market in the library; and producing the new Jacobus tenBroek Library Resource Guide (a catalog of aids, appliances, and materials), which is available in print and in Braille and is searchable on our Web site.
Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, our founding president and our great leader, was a lawyer and a constitutional scholar. He wrote a number of books including a volume which changed the way that legal scholars interpret the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. In 2008 we will be hosting the first Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium, entitled “Disability Law: From tenBroek to the 21st Century.” We have already assembled a faculty for this symposium that includes the most prestigious lawyers and legal scholars writing or practicing in the disability field. The person to deliver the keynote address is the president of the National Federation of the Blind.
The education programs of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute continue to grow in number and influence. After our convention last summer the third annual Science Academy for the Blind took place at the National Center for the Blind. The Rocket On! students conducted the most successful rocket launch to date, sending a ten-foot sounding rocket six thousand feet into the atmosphere with a perfect landing, permitting the rocket to be recovered in one piece.
The Science Academy model is being implemented in places across the nation. In Montana Camp Eureka continues to inspire blind students with programs of education in science and nature, and in Utah our affiliate has engaged in a collaboration with Brigham Young University to teach science to blind students there. The Web portal for blind science (a Web site encouraging the study of science, technology, engineering, and math), which we established last year, offers curricula for science education for the blind, information tools about accessible scientific instrumentation, techniques used by blind scientists, resources for information produced in accessible formats, and other information to assist teachers. We continue to improve this Web site, which (in addition to offering other advantages) represents our declaration that the blind can participate along with others in these disciplines. This is one of the elements of the unmistakable message of the National Federation of the Blind.
We have formed a partnership with Penn State University to develop a talking scientific multimeter. Prototypes of the device are now being completed and will be tested in the next few months.
Shortly after this convention we will be undertaking, in partnership with the Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam. This dynamic event will bring together two hundred blind high school students along with seventy blind mentors and many other blind professionals for four days of inspiring activities. Other Youth Slam sponsors include the UPS Foundation, the Honda Foundation, the NEC Foundation of America, Northrop Grumman, the Verizon Foundation, the American Chemical Society, and Pepsi.
Not all blind people will want to study science or engineering, but many will. Blind students have been told that these disciplines are too difficult for us. But this assessment is wrong, and we intend to demonstrate that we have as much ability in this arena as anybody else. Part of the demonstration will take place at the Youth Slam.
The National Center for Mentoring Excellence, a national mentoring project conducted by the National Federation of the Blind and funded by the United States Department of Education Rehabilitation Services Administration, is in its second year of matching blind transition-age youth with positive blind role models. Four states (Georgia, Ohio, Texas, and Utah) joined the mentoring program this year.
The National Federation of the Blind has undertaken a contract with the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped to conduct courses for Braille transcribing and proofreading certification. Although our administration of these courses began only in January of 2007, we have already processed more than six hundred applications, graded more than one thousand course lessons, and forwarded the names of nearly one hundred individuals to the Library of Congress indicating that they have successfully completed the certification courses in literary, mathematics, and music Braille.
Volunteers from the United Parcel Service have worked with us in the National Federation of the Blind for over ten years—most of the time in conjunction with our national convention. United Parcel Service workers pride themselves on their willingness to give of their time to the community, and we value their willingness to help. We are seeking to expand our relationship with the United Parcel Service through our volunteer infrastructure program, established to assist in bringing volunteers to our state affiliates and local chapters to help with the work of the Federation nationwide.
The Imagination Fund encourages us to raise money for programs at the national, state, and local levels of the Federation. Twenty-five grants to state affiliates, divisions, or local chapters supported leadership-building seminars, a pilot computer training program for senior blind people, peer mentoring for seniors losing their vision, continued support for an Internet radio program called ThruOurEyes, a parents’ seminar, and a transition fair for high school seniors.
As those at this convention know, we have conducted our first-ever March for Independence. We build with our spirit; but we also build with our feet. Many have told us to sit still and wait, but we are marching to the sound of our own independent drum, and we will make our Imagination Fund a powerhouse for the dreams that we intend to accomplish.
During the last year the Department of Affiliate Action of the National Federation of the Blind provided hundreds of hours of rehabilitation training services to state rehabilitation agencies in Florida, Texas, and Maryland. The purpose of this initiative is to expound our positive philosophy of blindness to rehabilitation service providers and to strengthen rehabilitation services to blind consumers throughout America.
A rehabilitation seminar for residential rehabilitation programs is being planned for December of 2007, and the faculties of the NFB training programs in Louisiana, Colorado, and Minnesota will be conducting much of the teaching.
We have also
helped with rehabilitation appeals. Ruth Harrington, a blind woman living in
Wyoming, sought to attend classes at the Colorado Center for the Blind, a training
program conducted by the National Federation of the Blind. However, rehabilitation
officials in Wyoming said “no." They argued that services available in
Wyoming are just as good as those in Colorado and that spending Wyoming dollars
out of state is reprehensible. We responded by pointing out that no comparable
rehabilitation program exists anywhere in Wyoming and that the placement statistics
for blind clients in the state are not merely dismal, but virtually nonexistent.
If Ruth Harrington relied on the skills and techniques of rehabilitation officials
in the state of Wyoming, she would wait for her training forever. We demanded
an appeal. Ruth Harrington got her training at the Colorado Center for the Blind,
and she is at this convention today.
In 2005 I reported that we had assisted Mary Evans in filing suit in the United States District Court against the Pontotoc County School District in Mississippi. Mary Evans is a blind teacher of Braille, who had provided service under contract to blind students in the county until she began protesting the lack of commitment of school officials to teaching their blind students. School officials fired Mary Evans and hired in her place a woman who was not blind and who had only a rudimentary knowledge of Braille. At a court proceeding this new teacher testified that she did not know the Braille symbol for the plus sign or certain other basic Braille contractions. Yet the school district claimed that they had hired a qualified teacher.
I am happy to report that the case is settled. The terms of the settlement are confidential, but Mary Evans is in a better position than she occupied while contracting with the school district.
For many years we have been in litigation with Cardtronics to get the ATMs that they own and operate to be accessible. Cardtronics is now the largest distributor of ATMs in the world, with over 25,000 ATMs. They have announced that they will acquire the ATMs at 7-11's throughout the United States, which will enlarge their fleet to some 30,000 ATMs. We have now reached an agreement to settle the case. The largest number of ATMs to become accessible to the blind through a single action will soon be in operation. Cardtronics will also be paying the National Federation of the Blind an amount to meet our legal costs of $900,000.
Last year I reported that we filed suit on behalf of Mary Jo Thorpe against the Utah School for the Deaf and the Blind. I am pleased that we were able to settle the matter. The School has agreed to notify Mary Jo Thorpe of any openings as they become available, to accept applications from any qualified blind or visually impaired person, and to make a monetary payment.
A customer of Acme Markets who tripped over the white cane of a blind employee sued and won a verdict against Acme, claiming that it was negligent not to have a sighted person travel with the blind employee in the aisles of the store and that Acme had a duty to warn customers of the dangers created by having a blind employee. We filed an amicus brief on the appeal, and the appeals court agreed with us that the jury verdict was poppycock. The appeals court very logically explained that when anybody, sighted or blind, comes to the end of an aisle in a grocery store, that person cannot see what traffic may be coming—what obstacles may be in the way—a foot, a grocery cart, or a white cane. It therefore behooves every customer to take care to avoid hazards. Additionally, the court said that reasonable people recognize that blind employees and others who use canes may be found in many occupations. Customers should reasonably expect to encounter disabled people. The decision of the appeals court upholds the right of the blind to be abroad in the land and rejects the argument that our very presence in a public place is an indication of danger. Though this is the right decision, the fact that we had to argue in favor of it is an indication of how much we must still do to ensure that our rights are not restricted or circumscribed or diminished. For as long as the Federation has had life and breath, we have fought to be a part of the world in which we live, and we are not willing to relinquish one grain of the territory we have achieved.
Carl Jacobsen is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of New York and a former Randolph-Sheppard vendor. The State of New York claims that Carl Jacobsen cooked the books while he was a vendor and has demanded that he pay more than $9,000 to the state in fees they say he owes. Perhaps I need not point out that Carl Jacobsen is an outspoken, deliberate, aggressive leader of the blind in his state. He has criticized public officials for their failure to provide the kinds of service that the blind have a right to expect. We believe that the case against Carl Jacobsen is retaliation for public statements he made criticizing the New York Randolph-Sheppard program and its administrators. Officials of the State of New York admit that they took special pains in auditing Carl Jacobsen because of who he was. We are defending Carl Jacobsen, and we believe that an arbitration panel will find that his financial records are accurate and that New York’s audit is fatally flawed. We are also defending Carl Jacobsen’s right to criticize those who do not perform as the blind have a right to expect.
Parnell Diggs, president of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina, reports that certain legislators in South Carolina colluded with staff members of the Commission for the Blind to adopt a set-aside payment policy that would have taken substantial amounts of money from the pockets of blind vendors in that state. The policy created by the legislature violated provisions of the Randolph-Sheppard Act, so the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina sued the legislature and the Commission for the Blind. Not only did the judge rule in favor of the blind vendors and the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina, but attorney’s fees were also awarded in the amount of $30,362.25. It takes guts to be a leader of the National Federation of the Blind, and Parnell Diggs has plenty of guts.
is a blind student completing middle school in Utah. She has asked school officials
to teach her Braille, but they have declined. They say that Katie Colton has
some residual vision, is not failing, and is therefore able to manage the work
without Braille. However, Katie Colton is blind, and the diagnosis for her is
that she will lose the limited vision she now has. We are helping with a legal
appeal, and we expect to ensure that Katie Colton’s right to read is not limited
by the uneducated opinions of school administrators. The Coltons are at this
convention, and Katie’s mother, Denise, gave a number of unsolicited donations
to the March for Independence.
Remodeling and upgrading the National Center for the Blind continues. In our original building we have reconfigured one of our sleeping rooms so that we have a completely wheelchair-accessible place for Federationists or visitors.
The roof on the original building at the National Center for the Blind was installed more than twenty-five years ago. It has been quite serviceable, but it is in need of replacement. We are currently securing estimates for obtaining a new roof and for installing additional insulation. In the original building we have many different heating and air conditioning systems, installed as we conducted the remodeling projects to put our building into shape. In our new building we have a unified heating and air-conditioning system operated through a complex set of controls. We are seeking ways to decrease the cost of operating our facilities. Our energy bill for 2006 was quite substantial, and we are told that electricity and gas prices are on the increase. With this in mind we are installing light switches that switch off the lights automatically in certain areas when our facilities are unoccupied; we are setting thermostats to higher temperatures in the summer and cooler ones in the winter, adding insulation, and taking other steps to increase our efficiency. We do not yet have estimates for all of the work we plan, but I would suspect that the cost will be more than a million dollars.
The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute that we began to build in 2001 has never been quite complete. We took possession of the building in 2004, thinking that the contractors would finish the details in a short time. We learned that some of the tile in the Atrium had not been installed properly. This is now proceeding in accordance with the experts’ recommendations. The estimate for completion is the end of July 2007. All of the other remaining details of construction have been finished, and we should have full possession of the Jernigan Institute in shipshape order within the next few weeks.
Making certain that contractors carry out the work as designed is a mammoth task, but we have stayed with it, and I am proud of the magnificent result we are getting. In the midst of refurbishing our Atrium, we have completed plans for the Wall of Honor, installed appropriate electrical service, and designed the final appearance of the wall. This should be in place before the end of 2007.
Last fall we inaugurated the new version of our Web site at nfb.org with an updated look and reorganized content. A constantly changing home page offers the latest events and news about issues affecting the blind. More NFB literature than ever before is available on the site. A wide range of audio and video can be accessed online as well. Among the content are new Braille Monitor issues, Dr. Zaborowski's "Straight Talk About Vision Loss" video series, news audio and video clips featuring the NFB, and previously unavailable banquet speeches. An RSS feed for Voice of the Nation's Blind has just been added.
Another new service initiated this year is "Technology Tips" online for those who want to learn more about technology for the blind. It can be found at our Web site, <www.nfb.org/nfb/access_technology_tips.asp>.
Federation of the Blind Reader, released at our last convention, has continued
to improve throughout the year. It reads more than it did a year ago, and it
reads faster than it did a year ago. The machine represents visual capacity
that can be carried in a briefcase, which gives access to at least part of the
print world. It reads very well, and we anticipate additional developments.
Ray Kurzweil will be with us later during this convention to discuss the future
of the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader.
A company established in Australia called Read How You Want has constructed a technology that can transform print files into many different formats. With this technology it is likely that many, many print documents can be produced in Braille. We are contemplating joint effort with Read How You Want. The president of this company, Chris Stephen, will also be appearing later during this convention to tell us what his company and its technology can do.
In 2003 Dr.
Betsy Zaborowski became the first executive director of the National Federation
of the Blind Jernigan Institute, our newly erected building and our expanded
program to explore understandings about blindness, research, and training that
had not previously received as much attention as they deserved. The program
of the Institute was not completely unknown because it depended on the underlying
philosophy and purpose of the National Federation of the Blind, but how we would
implement the ideas that we had and how we would generate new ones were yet
to be determined. What I said to Dr. Zaborowski was, “Make the Institute work.
Imagine how you would like it to be, convince me that you are right, and help
me find the resources to build what we need.” In 2007 it is abundantly evident
that she has done everything we have asked. Much of this report reflects the
work of the Jernigan Institute, and many of the plans for the future are embodied
within programs generated by the staff and with the direction of Dr. Zaborowski
in the Institute.
Some time ago she told me that she was thinking of changing her workload. She contemplated retiring as the executive director of the Institute, but she hoped to continue making contributions to the effort and the spirit of the Federation. Then came the cancer. For some months Dr. Zaborowski has been fighting a form of cancer, and it appears that she is winning. She is at this convention, and she will be making a presentation this very afternoon.
Mark Riccobono has been our director of education within the Institute. As Dr. Zaborowski has been unable to be at the National Center for the Blind, Mark Riccobono has taken over the duties of directing the work of the Institute. He has had very little notice, but he has performed extraordinarily well. I am confident that Mark Riccobono will be able to manage the challenge of the Institute, bringing inspiration and excitement to the work.
In the meantime what will Dr. Zaborowski be doing? You will note that in the last two years we have discussed the minting of a commemorative coin honoring the life and work of Louis Braille. This coin must be sold if proceeds from it are to be available for us to create a Braille literacy program. Somebody must direct this activity. Betsy Zaborowski and I have discussed her doing so, and she has told me that it is the kind of work which would make her heart leap with joy.
The Google company has said that it wants to digitize the knowledge of the world and make it searchable on Google. It has made agreements with many of the best university libraries, such as those at Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford, to create digital content of much of the material contained in them. Some of the Google content is usable by the blind, but some of it is not. Therefore we have been engaging in discussions with Google to ensure that the material that comes to be available to sighted people through Google is also presented in a format that can be read by the blind. A Google representative will be presenting information about the commitment of Google at this convention.
Automobile manufacturers are building vehicles that are quiet enough that they are hard to hear. Blind travelers, not being able to hear these vehicles, face the danger of stepping in front of them and being injured. We appointed a committee to seek solutions to this problem, and we distributed information to the news media. Yahoo News reported that the quiet cars story was, for a considerable time this past winter, the third most read Internet news item.
The National Federation of the Blind continues to be an active member of the World Blind Union. A number of leaders from the Union are at this convention, and our participation in world blindness programs stimulates development of activities in our own country. A year ago the president of the European Blind Union, Colin Low, was appointed to the House of Lords, and we have been discussing joint programs with the blind in the United Kingdom. Lord Low will be addressing this convention.
We continue to publish the Braille Monitor; Future Reflections, the magazine for parents and educators of blind children; Voice of the Diabetic; and many other documents. Through our Independence Market (formerly the Materials Center of the National Federation of the Blind), we distribute literature about blindness, canes, Braille writing supplies, electronic devices, and other products of use to the blind—approximately two million items each year.
Almost four thousand people came to the National Center for the Blind this year to learn about blindness and to be inspired by the National Federation of the Blind. More than a thousand of these people stayed overnight, and we served over eight thousand meals to those visiting the Center from every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and a number of foreign countries.
As Federation members know, I am a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, having matriculated there from 1970 to 1974. I would never have been able to attend this first-class university without the assistance and support of the National Federation of the Blind. Some years ago the university asked me if I would be willing to have my name and my picture displayed during the half-time programs of the football games for Notre Dame as an honored graduate and a champion of the university. I agreed to do so as long as our organization was named as well. Now a book has been published entitled Notre Dame Inspirations by Hannah Storm, a CBS anchor for The Early Show. The text on the front cover declares, “The University’s Most Successful Alumni Talk About Life, Spirituality, Football—and Everything Else Under the Dome.” I am among the thirty-two distinguished graduates featured in this book. Also featured is the inspiring work of the National Federation of the Blind.
Our programs are more complex, more far-reaching, and more intricate than they have ever been, but the circumstances we face are also increasingly complex and intricate. Our public education programs have reached a significant segment of the population, and the language used about blindness has changed, at least in part. In the past blindness has meant weakness and pity. Sometimes today the words that come to mind are strength and power. This does not always occur—the old thoughts are still all too common, but sometimes it does, and occasionally we are considered people of capacity, intellect, and joy.
As our Federation continues, the fundamental elements that make us what we are do not change. However, certain of the details of how we are perceived, of what we can accomplish, and of who we can expect to become have altered. This change has come because we have made it happen. We have said to ourselves, to members of government, to officials in agencies for the blind, and to the public at large that we want certain things—those specialized programs that are essential to meet our particular needs, educational opportunities in the fields of our choosing, recognition of our talents without prejudice or condemnation because of our blindness, acknowledgment that we are an essential part of the decision-making that affects our lives, and full equality with others.
Sometimes people have responded to this by telling us that we ask too much. “You want both specialized programs and equal treatment—pick one.” To which we respond, “No, not now, not ever!” We have the will, we can muster the resources, we have the energy, we have the faith in each other, and we have the guts. The equality we seek will be ours. The opportunity we pursue is within our grasp. This is our dream; this is our determination; and this is my report for 2007.
From the Editor: In the National Federation of the Blind we present awards only as often as they are deserved. This year two were presented during the annual meeting of the NFB board of directors. Four more presentations were made during the banquet. Here is the report of what happened:
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
by Sharon Maneki
Good morning, Mr. President and fellow Federationists. The committee of Allen Harris, Joyce Scanlan, Dr. Edwin Vaughan, and I are pleased to present a distinguished educator of blind children. Many of you know this individual because you have heard her speak. She gave an eloquent speech at the parents of blind children division meeting on Saturday. But we didn’t pick her because she could make a good speech, although that’s a nice quality to have. This woman is a person who believes in and fosters independence of blind children, not once in a while, but every day. She is a woman who has high expectations. She is a woman who believes in the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. As she makes her way to the stage, let’s greet Sister M. Margaret Fleming, who is the principal of the St. Lucie Day School for Children with Visual Impairment and Blindness in the great state of Pennsylvania—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. [applause]
Meg is what she wants her friends to call her; and of course we are friends
of Sister Meg in the National Federation of the Blind. She has been a teacher
for thirty-five years. She has been the principal of the school for many years,
since 1995. I just want to tell you one little fact about the school. There
are many things we could say. Her school has fifteen hundred Braille books in
the library; that shows you the kind of school it is. So, Sister Meg, I have
for you first of all a check in the amount of $1,000. Then I am going to present
a plaque to you. The plaque reads:
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
SISTER M. MARGARET FLEMING
DISTINGUISHED EDUCATOR OF BLIND CHILDREN
FOR YOUR SKILL IN TEACHING BRAILLE AND OTHER
ALTERNATIVE TECHNIQUES OF BLINDNESS,
FOR GENEROUSLY DEVOTING EXTRA TIME
TO MEET THE NEEDS OF YOUR STUDENTS
AND FOR INSPIRING YOUR STUDENTS
TO PERFORM BEYOND THEIR EXPECTATIONS.
YOU CHAMPION OUR MOVEMENT,
YOU STRENGTHEN OUR HOPES,
YOU SHARE OUR DREAM.
Sister Meg: Sharon did say to me I had to talk for a whole minute. I’m not going to talk for a whole minute, but I am going to take these few seconds out to say a huge thank-you to NFB for being there when we need you. There is never a time that I don’t call Jim or Lynn from the Keystone Chapter in Pennsylvania of NFB that they don’t get back to me, that they don’t help us, that they don’t support us. For this I am very grateful. In tomorrow’s readings for church, it says, “You are strangers and aliens no longer, but I call you friends.” This is my opportunity to say to NFB, “I call you friends.” And because you are a friend to our children, you are there for us. You help us to achieve independence; to encourage our own self-esteem; and to work very, very hard to do what their dreams are. For that I thank you. [applause]
Blind Educator of the Year Award
by David Ticchi
Thank you, President Maurer. It’s a pleasure and an honor to chair this committee. I would like to thank the committee members—Judy Sanders, Ramona Walhof, and Adelmo Vigil—for their help with the committee this year. This award was established by the National Organization of Blind Educators to pay tribute to teachers’ classroom performance, their notable community service, and their uncommon commitment to the Federation and Federation philosophy.
In 1991 this became a national award beyond the division because of the importance and impact that good teachers have upon their students, upon the faculty, upon the community, and really upon all blind Americans. It’s in the spirit of our founders, who nurtured the NFB: Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and President Maurer. Through their teaching, their leadership, their advocacy, and their guidance, we are who we are today. This is truly a very, very prestigious award.
This year we received many nominations for this award, and the winner exhibits all that I stated before: good teaching and commitment in the community, the Federation, and beyond. This individual is a role model within the blindness community and outside it. Our selection will not come as a surprise to you. Not to keep you in suspense, I am now going to tell you the winner of this award, and ask this individual to come up here and to say a few words. I’ll tell you a little bit about the individual. You will notice I have been very careful about my pronouns, not to say whether it’s a he or a she. The winner of the Blind Educator of the Year Award for 2007 is Sheila Koenig. [applause]
Sheila, if you would make your way up front to say a few words. Many of you know Sheila, but I want to tell you a little bit. It was very interesting to read the material which had been submitted by people for her nomination. Briefly, without reciting her resumé, she has a bachelor’s degree from Cardinal Stritch College and a master’s from the University of Minnesota. I would like to point out that her grade point averages were 4.0 and 3.98 respectively. Sheila, I want to know what happened with that 3.98!
She holds professional certification in a number of areas, has done internships, professional conferences. I want to pause here for a moment to say that, when I mention certification of a blind person as a public school teacher, we must remember that fifty years ago this wouldn’t have been possible. During the 1950s and ’60s many of the states in this country had visual acuity requirements for a public school teacher. The National Federation of the Blind changed those requirements, just as we have many others. [applause] Even once those restrictions and regulations had been changed, there were still many hurdles for blind people to become certified, trained, and employed as public school teachers. There were universities in this country that would not accept a blind person to major in education. If the blind person was accepted as an education major, they were often not permitted to become a teacher, to get a student teacher assignment. The thinking was that, even if you became a student teacher, you would not get a job as a teacher anyway, so it was detoured.
This has been a major area of work over the years for our National Federation of the Blind and why we in the NFB and the organization of blind educators really cherish this award and recognize how prestigious it is. Sheila has done all that and more. Her principal, Mr. Johnson, speaks very highly of her. The two words that came through in his conversation and the information he shared with me were “autonomy” and “passion.” She is autonomous in all she does in the school, and she is integrated into the faculty at the Southview Middle School in Edina, Minnesota. But she is also passionate about her work. Sheila’s material included a presentation that she did in Missouri at a children’s vision summit. It is entitled “Embracing a Vision of Success.” I just want to give you a couple of touching details. In her presentation Sheila talked about times in her life when she was a young woman that she would read straining to see her paper, not using any technical assistance, not using a white cane. In essence, she tried to pass. She went to camps with other blind students but just didn’t feel comfortable and wasn’t sure yet how to turn that around. Later in her life BLIND, Inc., came into being. She attended the program and graduated, and she spoke very passionately about that experience. One of her last O&M solo assignments was to deliver some Braille menus to the Green Mill Restaurant. Sheila didn’t want to do it. She didn’t feel up to it. In the morning she didn’t do it. The day went on, and she still hadn’t done it. Finally, she picked up the menus and delivered them to the Green Mill Restaurant. In fact the manager was so happy to get them he offered Sheila a martini. I will point out here that she did not have the martini. She walked back to BLIND, Inc., and completed her solo. Sheila, you may want to celebrate this evening with some of your friends because, along with this award and along with this plaque, there is a check for $1,000.
Throughout her material a woman comes through who is a role model, who has expectations for herself and others, but knows the value of a good work ethic and discipline. I will now present this award to Sheila, and I will read what it says:
EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR
IN RECOGNITION OF OUTSTANDING
ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN THE TEACHING PROFESSION.
YOU ENHANCE THE PRESENT,
YOU INSPIRE YOUR COLLEAGUES,
YOU BUILD THE FUTURE.
JULY 2, 2007
Sheila Koenig: Thank you, Dr. Ticchi and the committee, and thank you to all of you in the National Federation of the Blind who have shared your experiences, your strategies. The Federation has just opened so many doors of opportunity for me. When I was in college, I fell in love with literature, and each year, when I get a new group of students, I hope to inspire within them an awe of the power and beauty that language possesses.
One of my favorite characters for them to meet is Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus has an unwavering conviction; he is willing to take on the challenge even though he knows that it is going to be an extremely difficult one, an unwinnable one. Other characters say of Atticus that he is the same in his house as he is in the public streets. Not only do I hope to teach my students to become good scholars and good citizens, but I really want them to understand that their integrity is an invaluable asset that they carry with them throughout life.
One of my very fond memories from a few years ago is as a couple of students were leaving the classroom, one girl said to another, “When I have kids, I am so naming my little boy Atticus.” It’s in those moments that we see a glimpse of the sparks we ignite. And even though initially I fell in love with language and literature, I quickly realized that the kids and being a part of their world energized me just as much.
so much for this tremendous honor.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ramona Walhof and Jim Omvig stand together with Ramona’s daughter Laura behind them.]
Jacobus tenBroek Award
by James H. Omvig
It is a humbling experience to follow speakers such as Drs. Maurer and Schroeder on this dais, but it is also an honor and privilege for me to make a special presentation this evening. You will notice that Dr. Schroeder took great pains to reveal nothing about why I am up here. I venture to say that my remarks will be somewhat unusual among National Federation of the Blind special banquet presentations--certainly among any of my own--in that I thought I'd begin by playing a brief guessing game with you. So put your thinking caps on, and see if you can figure out two things--first why I'm up here tonight and second who I am talking about as I recognize a unique and deserving person among us.
This person is blind (which should tell you a lot) and is also a longtime, active member of the National Federation of the Blind.
Let's narrow the field a bit. The person I'm thinking of was born blind and has two blind siblings. Talents and abilities were recognized early when this person was named high school graduating class valedictorian. Then this person received proper training following high school graduation at one of America's finest orientation and adjustment centers for the blind. Any ideas yet?
Now let's narrow the field even further. This individual has been passionately committed to the philosophy, the vision, and the unending hard work of the Federation throughout adult life and continues in the cause today without question or hesitation. The person I'm thinking of has been active at the local and state levels, serving for a time as a state affiliate president. This person has also served on our national board of directors. Perhaps this final fact will help narrow the field even further: The person I'm thinking of has also been an agency for the blind director.
Ladies and gentlemen of this great Federation family, please join me in a hearty welcome for the recipient of the 2007 National Federation of the Blind Jacobus tenBroek Award, Ramona Walhof of Boise, Idaho.
Most in this audience tonight are aware that Ramona Walhof has served as chairman of the tenBroek Award Committee for several years now, and she has made presentations at many of these banquets. It complicates things a bit when the chairman of an award committee deserves to be the recipient of that very award. For this reason it was necessary this year, with Dr. Maurer's help, to engage in a bit of subterfuge and skullduggery to make Ramona believe that no tenBroek Award would be presented at all during this banquet. The slightly reshuffled tenBroek Award Committee for 2007 consists of Joyce Scanlan of Minnesota, Jim Gashel, and me.
Dr. Jacobus tenBroek's birthday is July 6, so this is a particularly fitting time of the year to remember and honor him. He it was who founded this movement, and his spirit continues to be with and guide us every day of the year. The tenBroek Award itself was established by the Federation in 1974 as its highest honor not only to keep Dr. tenBroek and his noble vision alive in our hearts and souls, but also as a means of thanking and honoring Federationists who have shown outstanding commitment and leadership within the organization and who have also made invaluable contributions to it.
Most of you will recognize the names and work of many of those who have been previous tenBroek Award winners, staunch Federationists such as Don Capps, Diane and Ray McGeorge, Dick Edlund, Mary Ellen Jernigan, Betsy Zaborowski and Jim Gashel, Joyce and Tom Scanlan, Barbara Loos, Joanne Wilson, Betty and Bruce Woodward, Sharon and Al Maneki, Allen Harris, Charlie Brown, and I myself was blessed with this award in 1986. What greater tribute can we pay to Dr. tenBroek than to remember him through the lives and work of dedicated leaders such as these?
The person we honor tonight is again one of our very best. Ramona Walhof joined the movement before many of you here tonight were even born. She grew up in Iowa as Ramona Willoughby, attended and graduated as class valedictorian from the Iowa Braille and Sight-Saving School, and was one of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan’s early students at the Iowa Commission for the Blind.
By the middle 1960s--because of Dr. Jernigan's pioneering and revolutionary work there--Iowa was already becoming a safe haven and a good place for blind people to be. At almost the same time--at the height of the Soviet threat against America--Georgetown University in Washington, D. C., had come to understand that lots of Russian translators would be needed, and it developed a program in Russian language to assist in the effort.
Dr. Jernigan believed strongly that blind people could be interpreters--including doing work with the United Nations--and, with a bit of his loving and gentle nudging, the young Ramona Willoughby left the security of Iowa and headed for Washington to join the new Georgetown program. As a part of her educational experience, she also spent a year living and traveling in the Soviet Union, studying the Russian culture and mastering the language. At that time in our history it was not at all common for American blind students to study and travel abroad.
Instead of going to the United Nations in New York following her schooling and her travels, however, Ramona Willoughby met and married Chuck Walhof of Idaho and moved to Boise. Before long, daughter Laura and son Chris came along. At much too young an age, Ramona's personal strength and character were tested profoundly when Chuck became ill and passed away, leaving the young mother alone to support and raise her two children. Ramona passed the test with courage and grace and is now not only the proud mother of Chris and Laura, but also the buttons-bursting grandmother of four beautiful grandchildren.
Ramona has had numerous employment experiences as a single mom over her illustrious career. She worked in the vending stand program, was a teacher in the Iowa Orientation Center, worked at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, served for a time as director of the Idaho Commission for the Blind, and owned and operated her first business, the White Cane Bakery in Boise, before becoming an executive, owning and operating her second business, conducting public relations and community outreach programs for the blind. Through this public relations and educational effort, she raised significant funding for seven Federation affiliates and also helped spread the truth about blindness far and wide across America.
Ramona Walhof has been one of the stabilizing anchors and wise counselors within the Federation throughout her adult life. She has had many local chapter and state affiliate responsibilities, serving for several years as president of the NFB of Idaho. She has served on many national committees and has also been a member of our national board of directors, including work for a time as NFB secretary.
Her most recent significant national assignment was serving as a member of the committee that has overseen the final development of the National Literary Braille Competency Test--a test to make certain that future teachers of blind kids are qualified to teach Braille. Her responsibility, as Dr. Maurer told me, was to help blind children to become truly literate by making certain that the Braille competency test was not dumbed down. It wasn't!
Through the years--in addition to raising her children, working at her many jobs, and giving back through her relentless volunteerism--Ramona has also written widely for the Braille Monitor and our Kernel Book series. Many may not be aware, however, that she has also written several books: Beginning Braille for Adults--A Teaching Manual; Questions Kids Ask About Blindness; A Handbook for Senior Citizens: Rights, Resources, and Responsibilities; and A Technical Assistance Guide for Employers.
we find a more deserving honoree? Ramona, we are proud to recognize you this
evening with our 2007 Jacobus tenBroek Award as a means of offering tangible
evidence of our thanks and appreciation for all you have done and continue to
do. With the plaque I am about to present, we show you our admiration and respect,
but, even more important than either of these, we give you our love.
The engraved walnut plaque we present to you this evening reads:
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
FOR YOUR DEDICATION, SACRIFICE, AND COMMITMENT
ON BEHALF OF THE BLIND OF THIS NATION.
THE CONTRIBUTION IS MEASURED NOT IN STEPS,
BUT IN MILES, NOT BY INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES,
BUT BY YOUR IMPACT ON THE LIVES OF THE BLIND OF AMERICA.
WHENEVER WE HAVE ASKED, YOU HAVE ANSWERED.
WE CALL YOU OUR COLLEAGUE WITH RESPECT.
WE CALL YOU OUR FRIEND WITH LOVE,
JULY 5, 2007
Ramona Walhof: Thank you. I guess that’s really the main thing I have to say. There are so many things I’d like to say. A person should be suspicious in this organization; I’ve seen people get this award when they should have suspected and didn’t. I’m the same—I never dreamed. When Dr. Maurer and I decided we weren’t going to give it, I just went on about my business. Luckily Mr. Omvig likes to talk a little bit, so I had time to think a minute. I have to say (he’s pulling my ear) that the Federation is a wonderful organization. I’m so glad that I’ve been able to retire from my company because there are so many other things I’d like to do both in the Federation and out of the Federation, and I hope to have the opportunity to do them. But more than anything else, I have received more from you, more from the National Federation of the Blind, individuals, and as a body than I could ever give back in three lifetimes, or five. And I keep that in mind as I go about my activities, because it’s a wonderful thing to have this resource available to me and to be able to pass on in bits and pieces what I can to you. Thank you. Thank you.
When the photos had been taken, Jim Omvig had one more presentation to make to Ramona:
Ramona, don’t go away. We have one more present for you. Behind you are Chris and Laura [Ramona’s two adult children]. [applause]
to Don and Betty Capps
by Mary Ellen Jernigan
The term “unique” is an interesting word in the English language. In common usage it has come to mean extraordinary or very special. The grammarians among us, however, regard “unique” as an absolute term, saying that a thing is either unique or not unique. That is, to be unique, something must be the only one of its kind, without an equal or equivalent, unparalleled. Remembering that Dr. Jernigan, as most in this audience know, was a grammarian extraordinaire, I shall use the word “unique” in the presentation I am making this evening in its absolute sense.
For tonight we honor two people who in the history of our Federation are truly one of a kind, without equal or equivalent, unparalleled. For those of you still following the grammar thread of all of this (or perhaps I should say the mathematical thread)—yes, I did say that two people are one. Exactly and precisely what I meant to say. For who among us does not think of Don and Betty Capps in the same breath, does not know that they are one heart, one mind, one treasure of the Federation!
Fifty-eight years ago Don married the girl next door, and the Don and Betty team set forth to meet the world—and when that world was not what it ought to be—particularly when it was not what it ought to be for blind people, they worked to change it. Consistently, tirelessly, persistently (some might say, stubbornly) Don and Betty have chipped away at injustice, discrimination, inadequate education, poor rehabilitation, and the societal structures that institutionalize poverty.
South Carolinians through and through—the driving force in the building of our powerhouse South Carolina affiliate, mainstay of national leadership—longest serving ever officer and member of the national board, ambassadors to the world—indispensable advisors in the World Blind Union general assemblies: these descriptors are inadequate to capture the immeasurable contributions Don and Betty have made in their more than five decades of service to this organization.
During this convention we have been fortunate to enjoy the presence of Lord and Lady Low of Dalston. Some months ago I attended a reception in London celebrating Colin’s elevation to the British House of Lords, and I was moved by what he had to say--not about himself, but about the collective nature of the personal honor embodied in the title, Lord of the Realm.
I am about
to bestow titles upon Don and Betty Capps--unique titles, one of a kind, unparalleled
in our history--titles which symbolize the love, honor, and esteem this organization
holds for them. In honoring Don and Betty, we in one sense honor ourselves.
Through the granting of these titles, we say to the world:
This is who we are.
This is what we do.
This is how we live.
This is our best.
This is the National Federation of the Blind.
Betty Capps: The National Federation of the Blind herewith bestows upon you with love and gratitude the title, Keeper of the Spirit of the Federation. We present to you this jeweled treasure chest—symbol of your title and the jewel and treasure you are to all of us.
Donald Capps: The National Federation of the Blind herewith bestows upon you with respect and admiration the title, Doctor of the Federation. We present to you this doctoral hood—symbol of your title and of the wisdom and guidance you give to all of us.
Members and friends of the Federation: I present to you, Keeper of the Spirit of the Federation Betty, and Doctor of the Federation Donald Capps. [applause]
Don Capps: After attending fifty-two consecutive NFB convention banquets, I thought I knew it all. I thought I had heard it all, and I had no idea that this was even being thought of. I am just so overwhelmed. It is very meaningful that Betty should be involved in this honor because she has been by my side the entire time. This is a special honor to us. But it also came from a very special lady, Mrs. Mary Ellen Jernigan. She has been a friend for a long time, and she means so much to the National Federation of the Blind and to the blind of the nation. We appreciate this honor. Honey, do you want the last word?
Betty Capps: I am not much of a speaker. (Don comments: You do a lot of speaking around the house. [applause]) Just thank you so very much.
by Fred Schroeder
It is my honor and privilege to express on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind our sincere gratitude and appreciation to two individuals who have served the National Federation of the Blind in distinct roles and who will soon be transitioning to new roles, no less important, no less vital, and with no less contribution to the work of the National Federation of the Blind, yet new roles. These two individuals have been members of our organization for all of their adult lives and most recently have held positions at our national headquarters. I would like this evening to ask Jim Gashel and Betsy Zaborowski to come forward. [applause]
As they make their way forward, I would like to say a couple of things about each of them; then we have a small symbol of our appreciation to present to each one of them. First I would say to Mr. Gashel, for all of the years that I have known you, you have embodied the very best of the National Federation of the Blind. Mr. Gashel is not a lawyer, but (interjection by Jim Gashel: thank goodness) he knows more about the Social Security program as it relates to the blind than anybody else in this country. He knows more about the details of the Rehabilitation Act, more about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, more about the Randolph-Sheppard Act, and more about the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act than any lawyer around. [applause]
So in recognizing Mr. Gashel as he leaves his current role as the executive director for strategic initiatives and moves to Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Technologies, it seems only fitting that we find something that symbolizes his efforts to achieve justice for the blind. So, to my left, I am about to unveil the scales of justice in gold. In one of the trays of the scale are the letters “NFB” because it is the National Federation of the Blind that has created the opportunity for blind people to achieve justice and first-class status in our society. Inscribed on the base of the scales is the following, “Presented to James Gashel by the National Federation of the Blind. July 5, 2007.” Then a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King: “Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle, the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” Mr. Gashel, we present to you the scales of justice and thank you for all of your efforts and work on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind. [applause]
Now since Mr. Gashel is unaccustomed to public speaking, I’m going to give him a moment to think of what he might say. He might look at those scales of justice over there. Also we have then to present a token of our appreciation to our own Dr. Betsy Zaborowski. As you all know, Dr. Zaborowski is a clinical psychologist. She has worked in private practice, but more recently she took on the challenge of becoming the first executive director of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. When she became the executive director, she took our hopes and dreams, our confidence and belief that, by applying our philosophy to programs of research and training, we could change opportunities for blind people. So now let me unveil a beautiful piece of art made of glass. Embedded in the glass are small bubbles rising that symbolize creativity and imagination, symbolize our hopes and dreams for a future that is bright with promise for blind people everywhere. Inscribed on the base is the following: “Presented to Betsy Zaborowski, Psy.D. by the National Federation of the Blind, July 5, 2007,” then the following quote, “To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but dream, not only plan, but believe.” I now present to you James Gashel and Betsy Zaborowski. [applause]
Jim Gashel: Thank you, Dr. Schroeder. Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking and being mindful that this is a very long banquet, I was about to defer to Betsy. Working for all of you in the National Federation of the Blind has been the labor of a lifetime, the dream of a lifetime, the love of a lifetime. Now we have to find a new role in which to do that. Because this is a time of transition, as I said earlier today, we will make that transition. But one thing we will bear clearly in mind as we do that—we will never live long enough to give back to all of you all of what you have given to us, but we will try to do it every single day as long as there is breath in our bodies. Thank you so much. Thank you so much. [applause]
Betsy Zaborowski: I think that Jim said it very well. Our commitment continues to grow, and it has been an incredible gift and a gift of real meaning in our lives to be a part of this organization. In 1981 I won a scholarship, and I remember that convention so well because I made a pledge to myself then that this is where I’m supposed to be, and this is where our work is. Our work will continue with your help and your optimism and your support. Thank you so much.
Fred Schroeder: Well thank you to both of you. We appreciate your contributions, we respect you as colleagues, and we love you as dear and cherished friends.
by Marc Maurer
Newel Perry was a predecessor to Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. Newel Perry was a blind man who had an education in mathematics to the Ph.D. level, who had written astonishing documents about mathematics, and who, because he was blind, was unable to find a job in his chosen profession. He took up the task of teaching blind students at the school for the blind in California. His teaching brought the life of Jacobus tenBroek into a kind of fire, a kind of determination, a kind of recognition of the need for independence that has furnished the basis for the National Federation of the Blind from the time of its beginning.
Consequently, we have created the Newel Perry Award, which symbolizes the work of the teacher of the founder of the Federation. The Newel Perry Award stands for independence, for commitment to change, for comprehension of the abilities of us all. We do not give the Newel Perry Award each year, but only as often as we find a person worthy of receiving it; and we have such a person with us at this banquet. You know the person; you have heard his presentation now for thirty-two years.
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
IN RECOGNITION OF COURAGEOUS
AND OUTSTANDING SERVICE,
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
BESTOWS THE NEWEL PERRY AWARD
OUR BROTHER ON THE BARRICADES;
YOU CHAMPION OUR PROGRESS;
YOU STRENGTHEN OUR HOPES;
YOU SHARE OUR DREAMS.
JULY 5, 2007
I could say many things about Ray Kurzweil. I could recite the numerous degrees he has received. I could remind you that he is a part of the Inventors Hall of Fame, that he has received a Presidential Medal, that he has been recognized throughout the world for his pioneering work, that he has created numerous companies that have produced astonishing technology, that the technology that he has envisioned has modified the thinking of the population of the world, that he has been described as a thinking machine, that he has written many books, that he has contemplated changing the nature of intellect in our society; and it’s all true. He is the most imaginative thinker that I have ever met. He is a very practical inventor.
But he has changed more than a technology; he’s changed a method of thought for us; he’s helped us to live a kind of dream that we would never have known without him. And, besides that, he’s demonstrated that he cares about us. He has the degrees I’ve talked about. He has the companies. He has many demands upon his time. He has many opportunities to do other things, yet he is with us tonight. He is working on projects that we find of value. He is, as we say, our brother on the barricades. It is an honor to present to you the Newel Perry Award, Ray Kurzweil. [applause]
Ray Kurzweil: Well it’s quite a shock; I wasn’t expecting that at all. This award means a lot to me, but your friendship and collaboration and enthusiasm I have received here for thirty-two years have been terribly meaningful. I give a lot of thought to the small decisions of life, what to eat, what route to take on my daily walk, what emails to respond to. I find the big decisions a lot easier. I don’t give much thought about what inventions to embark on—like the Kurzweil Reading machine, or the reading machine we just worked on. These projects just seem to happen and recruit me along the way.
A little over thirty years ago I met my wife. We were engaged a few months later. We are now coming up on our thirty-second anniversary. Well, so far, so good. We’ve collaborated on two wonderful children, among other projects; and she has been one of the blessings in my life. So it has been with my relationship with the National Federation of the Blind. I never gave much thought to having a long, intense, multifaceted and devoted collaboration and friendship with the National Federation of the Blind. It just happened. It has also been one of the blessings of my life.
Why do I consider my relationship with the National Federation a blessing? I can think of many reasons; I’ll just mention two. One is the amazing enthusiasm I experience among all of you. That’s definitely one of the reasons I’ve been coming to these conventions for the past thirty-two years. I just flew in last night; I’m actually a little jet-lagged from France, where I had the opportunity to present to four thousand female entrepreneurs from Russia and Kazakhstan. They had recently overcome their own form of oppression in overcoming Communism. They were also very enthusiastic, so it made me think of you. But no group I’ve ever known comes close to the enthusiasm of all of you. So that’s one reason I consider my thirty-two-year relationship with all of you a blessing.
The second reason is the leadership. I’ve known two presidents of this organization. I already told you my reflections and feelings for the first of these two individuals. As I mentioned, Dr. Jernigan in my mind was one of the great leaders in American history. He was to blindness and disabilities what Martin Luther King was to the civil rights of Afro-Americans. But for all of Dr. Jernigan’s accomplishments--and there were many--there is one that stands out in my mind. It’s an accomplishment that few other leaders in history were able to accomplish. Actually, I can’t think of any, although many have tried. Martin Luther King, for one, was not successful in this regard. That accomplishment was to have the humility and insight to identify his own successor. I think you will agree with me that, as in so many other things that Dr. Jernigan did, he did a great job at this.
I first met Dr. Maurer when he was head of the student division. While he was impressive then, it’s been an inspiration to me to have witnessed for the past thirty years how Dr. Maurer has followed in Dr. Jernigan’s footsteps, has become one of America’s great leaders. Over the past decade the NFB has enormously expanded its resources, its influence, and its programs while maintaining its clear vision. That has resulted from Dr. Maurer’s outstanding leadership. [applause]
So I’m going to continue to give thought to all the little decisions in my life, but the big ones, like continuing this thirty-two-year relationship for another thirty-two years, I’m just going to let fate take its course, and I look forward to another half decade, another century of friendship and collaboration in this wonderful organization. Thank you. [applause]
From the Editor: With every passing year we recognize the increasing value of the National Federation of the Blind’s Scholarship Program to our national organization. Members of previous scholarship classes--ninety-seven past winners this year--stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done. Each year everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing now and planning to do with their lives in the future.
On Thursday evening, following President Maurer’s inspiring banquet address and a number of award presentations, Peggy Elliott came to the podium one final time to present the year's winners and give an academic and personal sketch of each after announcing which scholarship the person had been awarded. This year each winner crossed the platform and shook hands with President Maurer and Ray Kurzweil. In addition to his or her NFB scholarship, each also received a $1,000 check and plaque from the Kurzweil Foundation, the new Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader presented by Ray Kurzweil, the Kurzweil 1000 reading system software from Kurzweil Educational Systems, and a year's subscription to bookshare.org from the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults.
The final award presented in this year's scholarship extravaganza, which took place at the banquet on July 5, was the Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship of $12,000, presented to Sachin Pavithran, who then spoke briefly to the audience. His remarks appear later in this article.
But earlier in the week, at the meeting of the NFB board of directors, the twenty-seven 2007 NFB scholarship winners and three tenBroek Fellows, who were each receiving a second scholarship, came to the microphone and spoke directly to the Federation. Following is what they said about themselves. Each speaker was introduced by Peggy, who announced the home and school states after each name.
Karen Anderson, Nebraska, Nebraska: “The kind of role model I care to be for anyone who cares to see me as such is a competent well-rounded human being, not a caricature.” Dr. Jernigan used these words in his speech, “The Nature of Independence,” and the National Federation of the Blind has helped me to live these words. In the fall I will be an incoming freshman at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, where I will double major in languages and psychology. The National Federation of the Blind has given me confidence to enter college and know that I can do anything that I want to do.
Trevor Attenberg, Connecticut, Massachusetts: I am currently a second semester senior at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, in the geography department, global studies. My vocational plan is to become a professor. I am doing a fifth year master’s degree starting next spring. I’d like to say that geography, especially environmental geography, is far more than plants and animals, although I do thoroughly enjoy those. It’s an array of things, it’s understanding, and I compare it with the NFB that it’s diversity, it’s a multitude of ideas and perspectives, not just one of a journalist or cowboy or missionary or somebody like that on a high horse. It’s people with differences all around the world, and I’d like to offer my appreciation for that as well. I am a member of the honor society of geographers. I thought I’d talk about geography because of Kenneth Jernigan, but I’ll also give my quote which is very valid in geography, which is something Gandhi said. He was asked about what he thought about Western society, and he said, “I think it would be a great idea.”
Charles Black, South Carolina, South Carolina and he’s in Kentucky for the summer: Good morning. I plan to attend the University of South Carolina, where I am studying technology support and training management. I would like to thank you, my Federation family, for what you are doing for me. I’d also like to thank Florida for Steve Spurrier. I look forward to my last year in college, and I will work and do my best to promote blindness in my work at Fort Campbell, where I currently attend.
James Brown, Tennessee, Tennessee: Langston Hughes was a famous African-American poet, and he said, “Hold fast to dreams. For if dreams die, life is like a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” Collectively that is what you all have helped me to do. You have helped me to go to school to fulfill my dream of becoming a psychologist one day, and I appreciate it very much. Thank you.
Bill Casson, New Mexico, Oregon: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I would like to start by thanking the entire Scholarship Committee for giving me the opportunity to realize my dreams to become a nuclear physicist. I will be attending Lewis and Clark College in the fall in Portland, Oregon. Thank you.
Theresa Chinheya, New York, New York: Good afternoon. A coincidence just happened that reinforced my goal. Can you imagine that I got room 314, which is the approximation for pi? I aspire to be a mathematician. I am at Hunter College in a program that is a combined BA/MA degree, and I have two more semesters to go. My immediate goal is to become a mathematics teacher for secondary and my long-term is to pursue a Ph.D. in applied mathematics. I am very happy to be part of these programs, and I thank the committee for selecting me. Thank you.
Skylar Covich, California, California: Good morning. I am enjoying my junior year at St. Mary’s College of California, majoring in politics. My goal is to become a political science professor. I have learned a lot from my experience in the National Federation of the Blind, including about political action. I am very glad to be here.
Brian Dulude, Utah, Louisiana, Arkansas: Thank you for this opportunity to speak. This journey started in 1999 here in Atlanta. I am grateful for the Federation. After Atlanta I went to Louisiana and graduated with a master’s degree in educational psychology with an emphasis in teaching O&M. I have my NOMC and I am very proud of that. I am grateful for this opportunity. I am going to be attending the University of Arkansas. I will be studying rehabilitation education and research. I want to do good research, and I want to be a good administrator. Thank you.
Cody Greiser, Montana, Montana: I’d like to start by thanking the Scholarship Committee. I’m beginning my third year of college at the University of Montana Western, where I am majoring in biology secondary education. My long-term goal is to become a high school biology teacher.
Lora Ireland, Idaho, Idaho: I would like to thank my fellow Federationists and also the Scholarship Committee. I am going to be a freshman at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho. I want to be a speech pathologist and help people like the Federation has helped me. Thank you.
Carol Jenkins, Nebraska, Nebraska: Thank you. Hello everyone. When I decided to become an elementary teacher, I thought it would be a really great idea to brainstorm and collaborate with other blind elementary teachers in the state of Nebraska. Downside is I couldn’t find any. So I came here, where everybody here at the national convention has been more than willing to help me, and I very much appreciate that. I am very happy and proud to have paved the way for future blind elementary teachers in the state of Nebraska. I am also proud because education is my passion, and education for all is something I hold very near and dear to my heart. I look forward to help fighting the battle for blind literacy. Thank you.
The next person is the first of three tenBroek fellows. We call people who have won a scholarship in a previous year and successfully competed and won the second scholarship--we call these people tenBroek fellows. The first tenBroek fellow, her first scholarship was in 2000--
Lisa Hanson-Johnson, Wisconsin, Wisconsin: It is truly an honor to be back as a tenBroek fellow. I am a seventh grade English teacher in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. It was at the NFB conference in 1999 that I met my first blind teacher, and it has truly been an inspiration to me. I have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education. In the fall I will be pursuing a doctorate in education and an administrator’s license at Hamline University in Minnesota. I also do research in accessible science, teaching materials, and techniques to the visually impaired and was recognized by USA Today for my work. I hope to continue helping the education world all that I can. Again thank you so much for this opportunity.
The next scholarship winner is also a tenBroek fellow, having won her first scholarship in 2001.
Jennifer Kennedy, Ohio, Louisiana: Good morning, fellow Federationists, my Federation family. Michael J. Fox once said during an interview, “This is not something that I have the luxury of saying `I don’t care to participate in this today.’” While he was referring to Parkinson’s disease, I believe this pertains to blindness. However, as we all know, the Federation family is one of the biggest luxuries we have ever found. Since my winning in 2001, I completed my undergraduate degree at Kent State University in communication studies, have held numerous positions on the Ohio board, and will be pursuing my master’s degree at Louisiana Tech University. I apologize, I’m getting choked up. It’s such an honor to be here. I’ll be receiving my master’s degree in educational psychology with a concentration in orientation and mobility. I hope to go out and change what it means to be blind. Thank you.
Sarah Leon, Ohio, currently in Minnesota, moving with her family to Maryland, and going to school in Indiana: Good morning. When I was thirteen years old, I ran into a tree. The tree was hard, and it stopped me in my tracks. But then I recovered from that experience and moved on. A few years later I ran into my blindness, and that was harder than the tree. It stopped me in my tracks because at a time when my world should have been opening up to new directions, I didn’t know how to work a computer or cross an intersection, and I was a junior in high school. College looked scary. I decided to attend BLIND, Inc., to get the skills that I needed. What I didn’t realize is that my training would also transform my attitude about myself and about blindness. Now I can look forward with a lot of excitement to entering Grace College as a freshman this year, where I will be majoring in social work and minoring in missions. I know that I will face difficulties in the future. I also know that I’ll be able to master those circumstances and move on. Thank you.
Josh Loevy, Missouri, Illinois: Hello, everyone. I am going to be a sophomore at Illinois Wesleyan University in the fall. I am studying political science and history. I intend to get into law or broadcasting, maybe a little bit of both. I just want to take this opportunity to thank everyone here. This is my first experience with the Federation; it’s my first convention. It’s pretty much everything. Already in the first forty-eight hours, or so, I have learned so much about myself, about what I can do, and about what anyone with blindness can do. Thank you all. I appreciate the opportunity to show me that I have potential beyond what I even thought, and to challenge myself to live up to that potential. Thank you.
A. Z. Martinez, Texas, Texas: Good morning. I’m a senior at Texas State University studying public relations with a business administration minor. I’m a firm believer that you learn something new every day, and the NFB has taught me a very valuable lesson. Throughout my life I have been able to learn how to be a better leader, and this will be very beneficial to me when I become a marketing director. I will have the experience of being a public role model, and with that I will also be able to influence other blind individuals as I was influenced by the Federationists here today. I am very grateful for everything that I have gotten from the NFB. I have done a lot of work before the scholarship, and I will continue to do a lot more work for you all. Thank you very much.
J. J. Meddaugh, Michigan, Michigan: Good morning, fellow Federationists. Just a few years ago I was a college drop-out and had a very pessimistic view and outlook about my life. Soon after that I met the Federation and began living surrounded by positive role models and successful blind adults. Now I am attending Western Michigan University majoring in telecommunications management. I soon hope to have a job leading an assistive technology company. I’m also the program director at Camp Tuhsmeheta, a camp for blind kids in Michigan because I find it vitally important that we teach kids at a young age about independence and opportunity just as it has been taught to me. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
Dick Morris, Oklahoma, Indiana: Good morning, Federation family forever. Like many of you I grew up being told, “You can’t,” and being told, “Recognize your limitations and live within them.” In 1978 I came to the Federation and found out that the only limitations I had were those that I imposed on myself. I am in the final year of classes for the degree of doctor of business administration at Anderson University. My emphasis is marketing, and my interests are marketing for nonprofit organizations and, until we get the car invented, marketing for public transit. I’ve served on the Missouri board and now on the Oklahoma board, and all I can say is, as some of the others said, this is the biggest thing that has happened to me since I’ve been in the Federation. Thank you.
Sachin Pavithran, Utah, Utah: Good morning, Federationists. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a meeting where I saw the energy of all the students, and I have to tell you, the energy was so high that I didn’t even think the election would ever get done. I’d like to quote something that I hold dear. It’s by Mahatma Gandhi. He said, “Become the change that you wish to see in the world.” I see that change happening in this organization, and I see people in this organization making changes and being an example to people out there. I really believe this organization can help the blind people, and that’s why I am proud to be a part of this organization, this family that we call the National Federation of the Blind.
Kevin Pitchford, Mississippi, Mississippi: Good morning. I am majoring in business, attending the Mississippi State University. Most of all, I’d like to say it is an honor to be part of this scholarship class. I am very proud to stand up here before you as part of this class, and I will do everything I can to help the NFB because my main goal beyond getting a good job is to change the perception of what it means to be blind. Thank you.
Anna Roberts, Oklahoma, Oklahoma: Thank you, Peggy, and thank you to all of you that belong to the NFB; you are all a part of being able to give this great opportunity to all of us. I’d like to thank you all. I am a junior at the University of Oklahoma. I am a double major in women’s studies and philosophy, where I hope to become a professor in women’s studies and educating people in gender issues, things that affect women and children directly, but also work in nonprofit organizations that help assaulted and abused women and children. I’m also a green belt in Tai Kwon Do and Akido, and I assist in seminars in which I teach self-defense to women and children. This is my first convention, and I can already tell that I have been welcomed with open arms. I’d also like to thank all of you for that. I want to leave you with a quote that has greatly affected my life, being someone who is totally blind and is not having these resources or knowing anyone else who was blind until this week. A famous quote by esteemed science fiction author Joanna Russ that said, “Let’s be reasonable and demand the impossible.”
Terri Meas Rupp, California, Nevada: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I want to share with you a personal motto that I live my life by: “A smile is contagious, and a laugh is infectious.” While I was going to college, I needed smiles, so I found the NFB. Now I’ve been infected, and I look forward to working with the NFB. Just yesterday I was elected first vice president of NABS. So let’s work together and smile and laugh and infect the rest of our world with our positive blindness attitudes.
Paul Shepardson, Kentucky, Kentucky: Good morning, everybody. I’ll be starting as a freshman this fall at the University of Louisville, majoring in business administration and minoring in education. I just want to say the same: “Federation family forever” is important. I want to thank all of my family back home, my family in the NFB, and my family at the Louisiana Center for the Blind for all the help and encouragement and support realizing my potential. Thank you.
Kallie Smith, Iowa, Iowa: Kallie is the third and final tenBroek fellow this year, having won her first scholarship in 2004. Good morning, fellow Federationists. I would like you all to think back about someone who has impacted your life in the NFB. For me this person is standing right next to me, Peggy Elliott. She has taught me the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. She attended numerous IEP meetings, in which she helped me acquire proper Braille instruction, and wasn’t that a fight! She even taught me how to shuffle a deck of cards. Now I am a senior at the University of Northern Iowa, earning a bachelor’s degree in leisure, youth, and human services, with an emphasis in program services administration. Some say you have to learn to play the hand you’ve been dealt; thanks to Peggy Elliott and many other Federationists like her, I can deal my own deck of cards. Thank you.
Helen Stevens, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts: Good morning, fellow Federationists. This fall I will be a freshman at Harvard University, where I plan to major in international relations with minors in Arabic and German. Over the past two years the National Federation of the Blind has truly changed my life. Through meeting many successful blind people in this organization, I have learned to accept my blindness, and I have been encouraged to want to make a difference with my life. I look forward to meeting many of you at this convention and in years to come. I hope that I can make a difference in the lives of other people and in this organization with my life. Thank you.
Glenn Stewart, originally New Jersey, and now New York: It’s a pleasure meeting everybody, all NFB members. It’s an honor to be here, welcomed into such a wonderful family. Since I have met everybody, it has been such a confidence builder and a contribution to my goals in striving to reach excellence. I am currently earning a dual master’s degree at Syracuse University in rehabilitation counseling and community counseling. I also have a bachelor’s in business. My goal is to continue assisting the veterans of America. I just completed an internship at a VA, and I found my place—it’s to assist the veterans and soldiers coming home who have acquired a disability, not just blindness, but other disabilities. It gives me great pleasure to serve the soldiers of this wonderful country. It’s just a remarkable experience, and being here is just as much a remarkable experience. It’s my first convention, and I hope many, many more to come, where I will continue to meet such wonderful people, such professionals and remarkable individuals. Thank you.
Ali Watkins, Georgia, Georgia: Good afternoon, everyone. I will be an upcoming freshman at the University of Georgia this fall. I’m going to be majoring in English and Spanish, and I want to be an editor or writer for a newspaper or novels. Even though I do enjoy English and Spanish a lot, I love science also, especially biology. I am going to be attending the Youth Slam program at the end of the summer. I have been to at least five NFB conventions, and I am really happy to be back. I hope that I am going to learn a lot this week. Thank you very much.
Meghan Whalen, Wisconsin, Wisconsin: Growing up, there were two words I never heard: “You can’t.” I guess that is not entirely true, because I did hear, “You can’t go outside until you clean your room,” or “No, you can’t make a mess of everything in life, you know.” “You can’t trash the house.” Growing up, I had the same expectations as my sighted brother, and I learned that everybody in my life believed in me, except for me; so there was one place I did hear, “You can’t,” and that was in my heart and my mind. But I couldn’t let other people know I didn’t believe in myself, so I always did all I could to make it look like I had faith in myself, and somehow everyone believed it. So when I came to convention for the first time last year, I finally was able to tell myself, “I can.” I plan on going to the Louisiana Center for the Blind next May after my sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Thank you so much, everybody.
Chad Wilburn, Utah, Utah: Good morning, fellow Federationists. A wise leader once told me, “A teacher’s domain is the future, and what you do with that future means the difference between leaving a track record and leaving a legacy.” I am receiving a master’s degree at the University of Utah in education and visual impairments. As a future educator of our blind and visually impaired children, I will leave a legacy of literacy and equality for all children. Thank you and have a wonderful convention.
Lindsay Yazzolino, Washington State and Rhode Island: Hi, everybody, and thank you so much for this opportunity. I am going to be attending Brown University this fall and would like to concentrate in a field of math and science. In my opinion there are just so many interesting fields in those areas, but yet I am thinking that at this moment I would like to major in mathematics and/or computer science. Eventually I’d like to get my Ph.D. and work at a university as a professor. I’ve always had a passion for science and math ever since I can remember, and, when I attended the NFB Rocket On! Science Academy in 2004, I discovered that a lot of blind students didn’t have all the opportunities that I have had in school to pursue any field in math and science that I have wanted to. One of my goals for the future, although I don’t want to necessarily do this professionally, would be to really advocate for the involvement of blind people in math and science and help further the Federation’s goal of making it happen. One of the ways I will be doing that is by participating as a mentor in the Youth Slam coming up. I would just like to thank you guys once again for this opportunity.
Peggy Elliott: There, Mr. President and fellow Federationists, is the 2007 scholarship class. [applause]
After Sachin Pavithran’s name was announced as the 2007 winner of the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, he briefly addressed the banquet audience on Thursday evening, July 5. This is what he said:
First of all I would like to thank the Scholarship Committee for the confidence that they have in me, for all the mentors I had all this week, and for all the inspiration they have given me. It’s been a great convention so far, and I would like personally to thank one mentor who has meant a lot to me in the last two years, who has shown me what the NFB stands for, who is training me and who has shown me what I can do with this wonderful organization. I’d like to thank Mr. Ron Gardner. [applause]
One more thing
I’d like to say is directed to the students of this organization. Last Sunday
I attended the student division meeting, and I saw a lot of energy and a lot
of enthusiasm. We are the future of this organization, and we have leaders in
the NFB such as President Maurer and others who are showing us the way. Let
all students join together and show them that we can follow their lead and make
a difference, and we can show what it really means to be blind. We will do this
because we are the members of the National Federation of the Blind family. Thank
Here is the complete list of 2007 scholarship winners and the awards they received:
Federation of the Blind Scholarships: James Brown, Bill Casson, Theresa Chinheya,
Skylar Covich, Lora Ireland, Lisa Johnson, A. Z. Martinez, Dick Morris, Kevin
Pitchford, Glenn Stewart, and Alexandria Watkins
$3,000 Guide Dogs for the Blind Dorthea and Roland Bohde Leadership Scholarship: Meghan Whalen
$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Educator of Tomorrow Award: Cody Greiser
$3,000 NFB Computer Science Scholarship: Charles Black
$3,000 Rickie and Tena Eevers Memorial Scholarship: Karen Anderson
$3,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship: Anna Roberts
$3,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship: Trevor Attenberg
$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Lindsay Yazzolino
$3,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship: Joshua Loevy
$3,000 E. U. Parker Scholarship: J. J. Meddaugh
$3,000 Nicholas R. Schmittroth Memorial Scholarship: Jennifer Kennedy
$3,000 Joan Bills Memorial Scholarship: Chad Wilburn
$5,000 Michael and Marie Marucci Scholarship: Terri Rupp
$5,000 Jennica Ferguson Memorial Scholarship: Brian Dulude
$5,000 Sally S. Jacobsen Scholarship: Sarah Leon
$5,000 Hank LeBonne Scholarship: Paul Shepardson
$7,000 Rickie and Tena Eevers Memorial Scholarship: Carol Jenkins
$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship: Helen Stevens
$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Kallie Smith
$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship: Sachin Pavithran
at the Banquet of the Annual Convention
of the National Federation of the Blind
July 5, 2007
Proceeding to a specific location is a journey; progressing to an unidentified destination is adventure. In other words, if you know where you’re going, it’s travel; if you don’t, it’s exploration.
Traveling often requires determination, energy, fortitude, and resourcefulness; but exploration also demands intuition, faith, a tolerance for uncertainty, the willingness to embrace change, and the recognition that the object being sought cannot always be defined with precision and will sometimes lead to unpredictable consequences.
When the exploration is pursued with passion and faith, the process not only produces knowledge but also stimulates the development of the explorers as well. Is exploration a matter of discovery, or is it the process of creation? T. S. Eliot said, “We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.”
without criticism the revealed knowledge enunciated by our predecessors is to
be frozen in a pattern of the past, although the capacity to build upon discoveries
made in former times is one of the elements essential for creating civilization.
However, to reject judiciously those thoughts that do not accord with our observations
is to express an independent capacity for imagination and judgment and to assert
a faith in ourselves. Exploratory endeavors are vital to the development of
the pattern of human knowledge, which is a prelude to the attainment of freedom.
To explore is to accept tacitly that a body of knowledge remains to be created
As Richard Cecil, an Anglican clergyman, said, “The first step towards knowledge is to know that we are ignorant.” Therefore the first step in achieving freedom is to admit a measure of ignorance, to seek intuition, to exhibit courage, and to have faith. The second step is to act within our faith.
One of the more frustrating elements of daily life for the blind is that those we meet very often think they know everything there is to know about blindness. Much of the presumption of knowledge is, of course, incorrect. To break through the wall of preconceived notions about the blind requires persistence, ingenuity, and skill. As the Greek philosopher Epictetus put it almost two thousand years ago, “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”
Added to this frustration is the irritant of theoretically educated arrogance. Sometimes the putative experts in the field of blindness who have received an educational credential or been appointed to positions of prominence believe that they now have the right to tell us, who live with blindness every day, that they know what’s good for us. When we challenge the assumptions of these so-called experts, they seem astonished. They tell us that they have only been thinking of our welfare. When we respond to them that our welfare is our business, not theirs, they seem to believe that we have usurped their authority, belittled their professionalism, and rejected their superior intellectual comprehension of our condition—all with a healthy dose of ingratitude added to our insolence. They never seem to comprehend that they should be listening to us rather than demanding that we listen to them. Yes, I do have somebody in mind—somebody who receives a government check and works in Washington, D. C., but we will return to the Department of Education a little later. In the meantime it is well to remember two ancient sayings attributed to the Chinese, “Rotten wood cannot be carved,” and “An ignorant man is never defeated in an argument.”
Throughout most of history, before the time of the establishment of the National Federation of the Blind, others have told those of us who are blind what we should think, how we should act, how we should feel, and what we should know. But we have accepted the challenge of exploration, we know our minds, and we will follow them. We do not always know precisely what the outcome will be of the explorations we undertake, but we know for certain that we will explore. We are the blind. We will control the development of the pattern of knowledge about us, and our sighted colleagues will welcome us for the joyous people we are. We will seek to increase our knowledge and to expand our own capabilities, and we will share what we learn. We have the faith to trust in our own future; we have the courage to strive for what we aspire to know. We will speak for ourselves with the clarity that comes from experience. Hear us, and believe!
When Dr. Jacobus
tenBroek and a few others gathered in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1940 to
form our Federation, the principles of our movement were adopted as one of the
elements of our founding. We the blind have a right to speak on our own behalf,
to create our own destinies, to participate fully in our society on terms of
equality with others, to gain an education, to work in the professions and common
callings, to establish families, to raise children, to engage in political action,
to invent new products, to originate innovative conceptions of thought, and
to join in all forms of endeavor available to the citizens of our nation. These
principles remain as valid today as they were when first adopted more than six
decades ago. However, some of our expectations of our own capabilities have
During an early period of the Federation, some of our leaders believed that blind people could learn as much as the sighted, but that the learning would take longer for the blind than it would for sighted students. Today we would not make such a broad generalization. Some kinds of study do require more time for the blind than may be needed for the sighted. However, many do not. Sometimes blind people are more efficient in the methods used for learning than the sighted are.
In the early days of the Federation, according to Mrs. Hazel tenBroek, the wife of our founding president, many blind people were convinced that they could not adequately raise children. The number of children born to blind parents in those days was smaller than it has come to be today, she said. Also in the early days of the Federation, blind people often traveled by following one another in long trains or lines, each person holding to the shoulder of the person ahead, with a sighted escort in the lead. Although this sometimes still occurs, it is much less common today than it was fifty years ago. A very substantial portion of the blind population expects to learn to travel independently.
In my own case I often travel alone throughout the United States. When I fly to an unfamiliar airport, I walk off the plane and wonder where my connecting gate might be. I expect to travel independently. When I meet the agent outside the jetway door, I ask for directions to the next gate. The agent says, “Wait over here. I’ll get somebody to help you.” Sometimes the agent won’t even tell me the gate number for my connecting flight. When I respond by saying that I want directions, the agent repeats the previous instruction. Once in a while I actually get directions, but not often. After I have been through the question-and-answer exercise two or three times, I abandon the effort to extract information. Usually only two routes are available in departing from an airline gate. I start out in one of them. Very often the gate agent says, ”You’re going the wrong way.” I think to myself, “Good, now I know which way to go.”
What I find particularly annoying in these exchanges is that airline personnel assume an attitude of superiority—they believe that they are responsible for me and that I am not. If I move from the place where I have been deposited without their permission, they resent it. They have a procedure, and they want me to follow it, whether it serves my interests or not and whether I like it or not. Because I expect to be responsible for my own behavior and because I object to anybody’s interfering with my freedom of movement, I find myself in conflict with officious airline personnel who think that I should ask permission from them to do virtually anything except breathe. I don’t want the airlines to care for me. I want them to fly the planes and see that my luggage gets there when I do. If I need help, I’ll ask for it, and I’ll expect airline officials to give me full and courteous answers to the questions that I ask.
Of course not all blind people have either the training or the bullheadedness I possess. Many blind travelers will need assistance, which should be freely given. Sometimes I ask for it myself, and, in the early days of my traveling, I assumed that I needed it. Whether a blind person asks for help or not is a matter to be decided by the blind person. Asking for an escort is one of the decisions to be made by a blind person traveling from place to place. That some blind people now decide not to make this choice is an indication that our expectations for ourselves have changed.
I remember the incident that started the transformation—at least for me. A number of us were having a discussion about air travel with Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, the second great president of the National Federation of the Blind. Most of us had been students in the orientation program Dr. Jernigan was then directing in Iowa. We were talking about how blind people get through airports. Some of us maintained the opinion (I was part of this group) that blind people needed escorts; others believed that moving through airports could be approached in much the same way as traveling through city streets—taking cane or dog in hand, the blind traveler seeks out landmarks, asks for directions from individuals along the way, and puts one foot in front of the other. We devised an experiment. During our next excursion through an airport, some of us asked to be escorted by airline personnel, and some of us stepped out on our own. The non-escort group arrived at the departure gate ahead of those who had sought assistance from the airline. This surprised me. I wondered, how did you manage to get this done faster than I did when I had assistance and you did not? One incident does not create a pattern, but it does offer food for thought.
Although our expectations have expanded through the decades, our objectives are clear and unaltered; we expect equality for the blind with all that this implies. Exactly how much more potential exists within blind people depends on our ambition and our imagination. Some would regard this as a frightening thought, but we do not. We do not avoid a challenge; challenge is requisite to progress. The power to decide belongs to us, and we glory in the possibilities we intend to bring into being.
Are blind people as smart as sighted people? A goodly number of articles have been written about a goodly number of studies which purport to shed light on this question. In the July 2004 issue of the Review of Optometry, published by Jobson Publishing, LLC, an article appeared entitled, “Does Cataract Surgery Restore Intelligence?” It says:
The intelligence level of the average adult decreases with age. The same is true of visual function, which also decreases as we get older. A review of published literature shows vision impairment corresponds with cognitive deterioration and aging. So German researchers set out to see whether a link between the two existed. Specifically, does restricted vision at least partially explain age-related reduction of intelligence?
The article continues:
The researchers conducted a controlled, longitudinal study among five groups of senior citizens who have cataracts. The participants were divided into two categories, those who would undergo cataract surgery and those who would not. Intelligence testing prior to surgical intervention showed that cataract patients achieved lower than “normal” levels of mental efficiency when compared with the average population.
But a few weeks after IOL [intraocular lens] implantation, these patients showed statistically significant increases in tested intelligence levels, while the control group showed no change. The researchers concluded that surgical removal of cataracts may have a considerable effect on the patient’s (sic) I.Q.”
There you have it. A scientific study has examined the facts. The restoration of vision increases intelligence. The deterioration of vision does the opposite. In the process of becoming blind, human beings also increase in stupidity. Have you noticed your intellect decreasing? But of course, if it is decreasing, you wouldn’t notice.
What a ridiculous bunch of nonsense! How could such a study have been performed? I do not know what testing methodology was employed to reach the astonishing conclusion that those who lose their vision also lose their brains. However, the testers in this so-called scientific study have a great deal to learn, and we intend to do the teaching. Our long-term longitudinal study, based upon the experiences of tens of thousands of blind people, demonstrates conclusively that blindness does not equal lack of intelligence. We say to these so-called scientists, “Meet us on the field of debate. Match your intelligence against ours. Let us devise the study to determine the intellectual prowess of the participants, and we have no doubt of the outcome. Your conclusions are false. However, we have a suggestion for you. When you try again, perhaps you should seek insight about testing blind people from those who have the knowledge to teach you—perhaps you should talk to the blind. If you do, you may get closer to the truth.”
A report dated July 19, 2006, from the Nation, a newspaper published in Bangkok, Thailand, gives an account of an incident involving a blind passenger seeking to fly from Thailand to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The passenger involved was a blind person who was refused transportation because he was unaccompanied. Airline officials said that, because they were operating a low-cost service, they did not have personnel to care for the blind passenger. Monthian Buntan, president of the Thailand Association of the Blind, protested the action of the air carrier, declaring that the refusal to accept this passenger was discriminatory. Despite the arguments, the blind passenger was forced to take a different airline.
This report of discriminatory treatment of a blind air traveler (even though it happened less than a year ago) may seem remote. The incident occurred in Thailand, half a world away. The concept of civil rights for the blind has been discussed and pursued in the United States for well over half a century, but in many other nations it is less well known. Monthian Buntan is a very strong advocate for the rights of blind people and is himself blind. However, although he and the other members of the Thailand Association of the Blind have staged public protests to protect the rights of blind people, self-organization of the blind in his country is comparatively recent. Furthermore, a report from so far away might suggest that the blind person in question had little training in the specialized skills and techniques used by the blind or perhaps only limited experience with travel.
The matter is put into perspective when we contemplate the individual who was denied access to air travel. His name is Fred Schroeder. Perhaps a better-trained blind traveler can be found in the world, but Dr. Schroeder possesses a master’s degree in teaching the skills of travel to the blind as well as a doctorate in educational administration. He has directed the New Mexico Commission for the Blind and has served as the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, the federal agency responsible for all rehabilitation in the United States. He has traveled independently all over the world. Fred Schroeder was rejected by an air carrier for only one reason—pure, unadulterated, despicable discrimination based on blindness. It happened in a foreign country, where the writ of American jurisprudence does not run. However, it happened in our world, and it must stop.
Most of the time we in the National Federation of the Blind pursue legislation to protect the rights of the blind in our own country. However, within the past few years we have been participating in the drafting of an International Convention at the United Nations to protect the rights of blind people in all countries. Ironically enough, the person designated to serve as our representative in these negotiations is Dr. Fredric Schroeder. Discrimination does not stop at our borders, and we are seeking partners throughout the world to ensure that legal protection does not either. The voice of the blind will be heard throughout the world, and we will be doing the speaking.
At one time the American Foundation for the Blind, a private agency based in New York, proclaimed that it served as the clearinghouse for information about blindness to the professionals and to the government. Publications produced by the American Foundation for the Blind sought to set the tone and establish the agenda for programming throughout the United States and in some cases throughout the world. However, the Foundation did not work in partnership with the organized blind. As a result, the American Foundation for the Blind became known for distributing such sterling volumes as A Step-by-Step Guide to Personal Management for Blind Persons, a document which included such items as step-by-step directions for taking a sponge bath or brushing teeth.
After an excoriating review of this step-by-step guide by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, then president of the National Federation of the Blind, the American Foundation for the Blind has become more careful in its writings. Although it still does not cooperate very much with the organized blind movement, the American Foundation for the Blind has sometimes joined with us in conducting research projects or developing joint statements of principle, and sometimes personnel within the Foundation have been very warm in their admiration for some of the work of the National Federation of the Blind. Nevertheless, its president, Mr. Carl Augusto, who appeared on the program at the convention of the National Federation of the Blind a couple of years ago, refused to answer questions put to him by members and leaders of the organized blind movement. This refusal to respond has meant that our capacity to work with the American Foundation for the Blind is diminished.
One of the purposes of the National Federation of the Blind is to serve as a watchdog over agencies for the blind. With the Federation’s willingness to review and criticize documents published about blindness and programs established to serve the blind, the arrogance and conceit that were once common in programming for the blind have diminished. However, the dehumanizing phrase and the belittling assumption can still be found.
The Jewish Guild for the Blind, a private agency located in New York City that has occasionally considered working in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind, distributes a sixteen-page booklet entitled “The Sighted Guide Technique: An instructional guide for sighted people when assisting a person who is blind or visually impaired.” The text contained in this booklet demonstrates that any partnership considered with the organized blind movement has never developed to any substantial degree.
The service mark used by the Jewish Guild for the Blind to produce this book is “SightCare.” Though it may have been unintended, the opinion of the Jewish Guild for the Blind is readily discernible from this service mark. Blind people need care, and sight is required to provide it. Although blind people may not be completely helpless, they do not have the capacity for independence of action that the sighted take for granted. This is the implication of the text in the booklet, and SightCare is a most appropriate epithet to be used to express the tone and purpose of the publication.
Keep in mind
that the blind, the intended beneficiaries of this booklet of helpful suggestions,
are not addressed directly at all. The helpful suggestions in this booklet are
directed toward the sighted caregivers who will interpret this advice for the
benefit of the blind.
Contained in this brief little book are instructions about how sighted people should make contact with a blind person, offer an arm to help lead a blind person, take the proper body position in assisting a blind person, take the proper steps to seat a blind person, help a blind person get through doorways and other narrow spaces, assist a blind person in proceeding up or down stairs, help a blind person get into and ride inside automobiles, and be of help to a blind person traveling indoors. One of the noteworthy observations that can be made in contemplating this list of activities is what has been omitted. The sighted person is not expected to help the blind client find a job, locate the nearest casino, or identify a suitably interesting person of the opposite sex. In other words, the potential possibilities offered by the Jewish Guild to blind people are limited and dull. Consider the item concerning assistance to the blind in using a chair. This is what the book says. Listen to these instructions from the experts; you may need them so that you can help a sighted person learn to help you to sit down.
visually impaired person until her knees touch the front of the chair. Describe
the chair, and place the person’s free hand on the chair’s arms or the seat.
Alert the person if the chair is positioned against a wall, so she will not
hit her head as she sits down.
The person will feel the arms or seat of the chair, turn around and sit. Stabilize the chair with your free hand so it will not slide backward when the person sits. In all cases maintain contact with the visually impaired person until she is seated.
I interrupt to ask, can you imagine what dire consequences might occur if contact with the visually impaired person were broken? The blind person might bump into the chair without the guidance of the SightCare-giver, perish the thought, or, she might be so delighted at being away from her keeper that she would hightail it out of the room, seeking more congenial companionship. The SightCare-giver would be left all alone with nobody to boss. Psychological injury might occur. The heightened imaginary feeling of superiority might crumble away, leaving the SightCare-giver with no purpose.
As you reflect on the passage of instruction about being seated in a chair, imagine what might actually be helpful. In unfamiliar surroundings it is nice to know if an empty chair is nearby. However, for somebody else to assume that we have to be maneuvered into it until our legs are touching the seat and that we need somebody else to steady the thing while our posteriors approach the appointed place is to assume a measure of superiority and condescension which cannot be borne. But there is more. The Jewish Guild wants sighted people to know how to help us get into an automobile. The directives in this complex maneuver may not be as difficult as certain yoga postures or as complicated as some acrobatic moves, but getting into a car, according to the Jewish Guild, is not the simple process you might have thought. This is what the Guild says:
Open the automobile door. Stand behind the visually impaired person and place one of her hands on top of the door to show which way it opens, and the other hand on the roof to provide a sense of the height of the vehicle.
The visually impaired person will turn toward you so that her back is toward the door opening. She will then sit down on the car seat and bring her legs into the car. Hold one of your hands along the roofline to protect her from bumping her head, and offer your other arm to assist the person as she sits.
Pull the seat belt out of the retractor and hand it to the person. Ask if she would like assistance in finding and securing the buckle. Always confirm that the seat belt is properly secured. Alert the person when you are going to close the door. Check that she is safely inside the vehicle, then shut and lock the door.
These are statements from the guide distributed by the Jewish Guild. I ask you, is it always necessary to lock the blind person inside the car? Do the SightCare workers have child locks on their doors to prevent the blind person from escaping before the sighted person decides it is time to get out? Maybe the names of these locks should be changed—maybe they should now be known as “blind locks.” Without these locks maybe the blind person would get away. Is it permitted to let the SightCare-giver ask the blind person if she wants to be locked inside, or is the locking procedure mandatory?
They are talking
about you and me. I have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles (sometimes
with a sighted guide and sometimes without one); I have guided thousands of
blind people and been guided by many. I have ridden in hundreds of automobiles
(some of them my own, but most belonging to other people). I cannot imagine
why anybody would believe that such advice is necessary.
We are not willing to be victims of somebody else’s condescension; we are not willing to be patronized by those who believe that they should take charge of our lives; we are not willing for this attitude to be imposed upon any of us. Is there any wonder that the organized blind sometimes feel a sense of betrayal when seeking to interact with agencies for the blind?
If this book had been drafted by a high school student for a term paper, perhaps it would be forgivable, although most high school students with any sense would know better. However, the people at the Jewish Guild for the Blind purport to be experts. They say that they know what they’re doing. Consequently, all of the damage, all of the hurt, all of the sorrow, all of the failed hope, and all of the missed opportunity created by the degrading and demeaning language of this book is chargeable to them.
However, their tactics will not work. The imbecility of what they have done will backfire on them. We the blind will insist that our talent be recognized, and we will bring reform to the thought processes of those who live in a bygone era. We want service providers who will work with us as partners, but we are not willing to sell our souls in the process. No agency can run our lives, for we will not let them. We will decide what our future will be, and there is no force on earth that can prevent it. Hear us, and believe!
The Rehabilitation Services Administration, the federal agency in the Department of Education charged with managing federal appropriations for rehabilitation, has a budget of just under three billion dollars, a substantial portion of which is designated for rehabilitation services for blind clients. Because this agency has statutory responsibility for providing rehabilitation to the blind and because properly conducted rehabilitation can have such dramatic results and because the track record of the National Federation of the Blind in devising successful rehabilitation programs for the blind is the most productive in the United States if not in the world, it might be anticipated that officials of this agency and senior policy makers within the Department of Education would want to work with us to give greater emphasis to this vital service. We begin with the assumption that those responsible for rehabilitation want blind people to receive a good education, want blind people to become successfully employed, want blind people to know the excitement of hope, and want their programs to be effective. However, the assumption of competence within the Rehabilitation Services Administration and the Department of Education may be unwarranted.
In October of 2005, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions conducted a hearing on the Randolph-Sheppard program, which is located within the Rehabilitation Services Administration to assist blind vendors in obtaining vending opportunities on federal property. A report circulated about the program prior to the hearing contained massive misstatements of fact. For some time officials operating sheltered workshops for the severely handicapped have been trying to take lucrative contracts away from blind vendors and to diminish the priority for the blind contained within the Randolph-Sheppard Act. This priority protects the right of blind vendors to operate vending facilities on federal property. Assistant Secretary of Education John Hager was invited to participate in the Senate hearing. He declined to appear; he declined to suggest that anybody else appear; and he took no steps to seek to protect the priority for blind vendors contained within the law even though the Department of Education has the responsibility for supervising this program.
The 2007 fiscal year budget for the Rehabilitation Services Administration is approximately 2.8 billion dollars. The law requires that a cost-of-living increase be included in the budget each year. Senior officials of the Department of Education have proposed that the budget for rehabilitation in 2008 not include this cost-of-living increase despite the statutory provisions requiring it.
In negotiations with the Department of Defense and the Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled, the Department of Education agreed to set a standard for granting food service contracts to blind vendors in military installations which is so restrictive that it jeopardizes the opportunity for the blind to participate in vending operations in these federal locations despite the legal priority contained within the Randolph-Sheppard Act. The Department of Education officials failed to consult with groups affected by these negotiations before reaching an agreement, and comments from department personnel strongly suggest that those conducting the negotiations did not consult with experts within the department itself and did not understand the agreement they made. When asked directly, department officials declined to reveal which people negotiated the agreement.
The Rehabilitation Services Administration has had regional offices throughout the United States for more than half a century. Officials in the Department of Education said they were unnecessary and closed them. In the process of closing these offices, Education Department officials cut the staff of RSA by approximately 40 percent. This is how they showed support for the rehabilitation programs in the United States. They said it would be cheaper to operate the program without these offices and without this staff. It might be pointed out that the cheapest program possible would be no program at all. Of course, the cost in terms of human potential and in terms of dollars wasted in support of those who might be working would be enormous. Properly conducted, rehabilitation always pays for itself. As we in the National Federation of the Blind have often said, those who work do not receive support from public funds and do pay taxes. Despite all of the evidence showing that well-run rehabilitation more than pays its way, Department of Education officials have cut the staff, closed the offices, and proposed to cut the budget.
Officials at the policy-making level of the Department of Education have not come to this convention. Although it would be tempting to criticize these officials for failing to interact with the largest organization of blind people in the nation, this failure to appear is more than simply an indication of lack of judgment—it is an admission that these public officials don’t know what they’re doing and that they don’t have the ability or guts to talk about why they’re not doing it. They admitted as much in October of 2005 when they failed to come to the Senate hearing about programs for the blind. They admitted it when they cut the staff and closed the offices. They admitted it when they accepted a proposal that would diminish the right of blind people to work in vending facilities on military bases. They don’t even know how to talk to us. Are they evil or incompetent? As Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the founding president of the National Federation of the Blind, put it, “Is well-intentioned folly better or worse than knavery?”
If officials in the Department of Education will not hear us, others will have to be told, and we will set forth the facts. We are not prepared to have government officials diminish our lives because they lack the capacity to comprehend the future that can and must be ours. We would like to support the programs of rehabilitation within the Department of Education because the potential exists within them for such substantial contribution to the independence of the blind, but the hand of partnership has been refused. Consequently, we must take the argument into another arena. We will carry our message to the public; we will march in the streets; we will fight with our bare hands if we must to ensure that the rights we have fought so hard to secure are not misinterpreted, ignored, or reversed. We know our minds, and we will follow them. Hear us, and believe!
When I think of the work we do in the National Federation of the Blind and when I think about our interaction with programs intended to support blind people, I reflect that what we are doing has an impact upon the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals—each life distinctive, made up of the hopes, fears, and aspirations that flow from the heart. Not long ago I received a letter which said, “My name is __, and I am thirteen years old. I would like to be a mechanic when I grow up, and I would like to take mechanic courses when I get to high school (I’m in seventh grade now). I like to work with small engines and tools. I have a problem, though; my mom and my Braille teacher don’t think a blind person can be a mechanic. Do you have any ideas on how I could convince them that I am serious and that blind people can be mechanics? My grandmother says that I have lots of time to decide what I want to be and that I may change my mind a lot before I’m grown. But I would really like to take mechanic courses in high school. Also, could you give me any tips on how to organize my tools and such? Thank you.”
This is the dream expressed in a letter of a blind boy who, in a few short years, hopes to have an occupation and hopes to earn a living with it. Will the rehabilitation system know that his ambition can be achieved? Will the Department of Education know?
Of course, on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind, I responded with encouragement. Dozens of blind people have been mechanics—some of them with extraordinary skill. With the new technologies used in automobiles, the tools are more complex than they were in the past, and many of them are built with electronic visual displays. Nevertheless, with imagination and faith we can help this blind boy to reach his dreams. We can, that is, if we are willing to share our imagination and experience with him; if we are willing to join him in bringing understanding to others; if we are willing to have as much faith in his intellect, fortitude, and drive as we have in our own.
Such dreams do not come into being by happenstance; they must be nurtured and cherished and supported. We must be prepared to fight for them. If the rehabilitation counselors or the teachers or the personnel in the automobile repair shops want to know if a blind person can be a mechanic, the answer is an unequivocal, resounding “yes!” We will do what we can to help this blind boy, and we feel certain that he will succeed.
The nature of exploration is seeking to comprehend the unknown, which presupposes risk. The quality or extent of the risk cannot be evaluated until it has been confronted. Sometimes we will demand of ourselves more than we currently know how to deliver, and sometimes the risk we face will be more than we know how to manage—this is the nature of exploration.
Sometimes the assumptions we make about the capacity we have will be mistaken. However, we will learn from our errors as well as from our successes, and we will incorporate our knowledge into the next set of explorations. Blunders always hurt—even if only a little. But those who fail to make them are sufficiently insulated from the rough and tumble of adventure that they never discover the ways of altering the pattern of understanding. Consequently, we must maintain a healthy respect for risk when we explore, but regardless of how we do it, we must explore.
Furthermore, we must avoid the errors that we urge others not to make. We must not believe that we know all of the answers to the questions that are raised—we must be open to new ideas—we must be ready to examine new methods of thought. We must be able to change our behavior when our minds tell us that what we have previously believed is better understood in a new way. We must not become obnoxious know-it-alls unwilling to engage in discussion and reflection. And above all we must have faith in ourselves and in each other.
Some will be daunted or dismayed by the prospects for our future. They will observe that the technology does not exist today to give us equal access to information; that the officials of governmental programs established to serve the blind do not comprehend the laws that have been adopted to create opportunity for us and do not believe in our abilities to be successful; that the administrators of agencies for the blind sometimes belittle us and tell the members of the public that we have almost no capacity for independence; that the scientists think that our mental capacity diminishes with our loss of sight; and that airline officials tell us we cannot fly unaccompanied on airplanes because we are unable to care for ourselves. However, our experience has shown us that we can attain an education, work in most jobs, fight to secure passage of legislation to protect us, expand the range of information available to us, create programs to serve our needs, devise technology of use to us, and speak with dignity and assurance to an ever-widening audience about the ability we possess. Those who explore take the risks, set the boundaries, determine the program of tomorrow—and we are the explorers.
We do not know what the possibilities are for us, for we have not explored all of the elements that constitute the pattern of what we are and what we will become. However, we know more about the pattern than anybody else, and we have decided to explore it all, to reach as far as anybody can, to dream as much as anybody will, and to build in a way that will bring into being possibilities for us beyond anything that has ever previously been imagined. What are the limits, and where will we stop? Nobody can say. Perhaps the limits expand along with our knowledge, our imagination, and our courage.
What we have
decided to do is change forever the prospects for the blind of this generation
and those that come after us. The hundreds of thousands of blind people who
have planned and labored and believed in our potential in the generations preceding
us stand with us at this banquet tonight. We want nothing less than the full
integration of the blind into society on the basis of equality with the sighted
and the complete recognition of the talent we have. And we will never stop until
the recognition has come and the equality is ours.
Our goals will demand the best that we have in imagination and resources and judgment and effort. But whatever the costs, we will pay them; whatever the requirements, we will meet them; whatever the challenges, we will reach beyond them. The future belongs to us, and it will respond. We are the National Federation of the Blind, exploring tomorrow with unquenchable fire. Join me, and we will make it all come true!
by Fredric K. Schroeder
From the Editor: On Thursday, July 5, 2007, NFB First Vice President, Past Commissioner of the U. S. Rehabilitation Services Administration, and Research Professor at San Diego State University Dr. Fred Schroeder addressed the Convention. This is what he said:
On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress of the thirteen United States of America unanimously declared independence from the British Empire, severing ties between the colonies and the Crown. Today the Declaration of Independence is the nation's most cherished symbol of liberty. Every school child in America is familiar with the Declaration of Independence and the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Once independence had been declared, the new nation needed to agree on a constitution that would give structure to the principles articulated in the Declaration of Independence, "in Order to form a more perfect Union," that would offer the protection of a centralized government and, at the same time, would safeguard individual freedom. Yet freedom was not for everyone. The Constitution included several provisions that explicitly recognized and protected slavery. Of course the framers of the Constitution knew that the equality of all men was the foundational premise of the Declaration of Independence, but it was understood that it had not been intended to grant rights or equal status to slaves and other so-called inferior people.
This is why, nearly a century later, on November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln invoked the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, at the dedication of the military cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. His words are familiar to us all:
"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Powerful, inspiring words, but Lincoln's words did far more than honor the dead and memorialize their sacrifice; by invoking the Declaration of Independence, he challenged the Constitution's protection of slavery. He placed morality above the Constitution; he claimed the authority of a higher law, the law of right and wrong, to denounce the oppression of one race of people by another.
In the early 1970s the courts ruled that the right of blind children and other children with disabilities to be educated is guaranteed under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. As a result, in 1975 Congress adopted Public Law 94-142, assuring a “free appropriate public education” for children with disabilities across the country. 1 But what does that mean? What is an appropriate education for a blind child? The legal standard has two parts: a program is considered appropriate if the school district has observed all procedural requirements in developing the child's Individualized Education Program (IEP) and if the district's IEP is "reasonably calculated to confer educational benefit." 2 Said more plainly, blind children and others with disabilities are not entitled to the best education or to an education that will maximize their potential or, for that matter, even to a good education. They are only entitled to an education that is "sufficient to confer some educational benefit upon the handicapped child."
The Constitution guarantees blind children the right to an education, but not necessarily to an equal education. As in earlier times the Constitution has been interpreted to apportion equality in different measures to different classes of people. For blind children the courts have said that they only have the right to an education that is sufficient to confer some level of benefit. That is the law. Yet in 1863 President Lincoln placed the Declaration of Independence and its "proposition that all men are created equal" above the law--above the Constitution--and so must we. We must declare our equality and place it above public opinion and the laws and interpretation of laws that flow from stereotype and prejudice.
It is estimated that as many as 80 percent of all blind people are unemployed: eight out of ten blind people--an entire class of people oppressed by virtue of a single defining characteristic. What can be done to change this condition? The link between literacy and employment is well known and well documented. So what is the literacy rate among the blind? Of the estimated 55,200 legally blind children in America, only 5,500 use Braille as their primary reading medium—fewer than 10 percent. 3 But does this mean that the other 90 percent are illiterate? Haven't advances in low-vision technology offered access to print to more and more low-vision children, making Braille unnecessary? Aren't most low-vision children doing well using print--going on to college, pursuing challenging careers? Don't print readers end up doing better than Braille readers? The short answer is no.
While only 10 percent of blind people read Braille, as many as 90 percent of employed blind people are Braille readers. 4 In a landmark study by Dr. Ruby Ryles, she found that children who grew up reading Braille had a 44 percent unemployment rate as adults compared to a 77 percent unemployment rate among low-vision children reading print. 5 That means that while four out of ten early Braille readers will still find themselves unemployed as adults, nearly eight out of ten low-vision print readers will face unemployment. Said another way, Braille readers are nearly twice as likely to find work as the general population of blind adults, while low-vision print readers have essentially the same unemployment rate as the general population of blind people.
But only 10 percent of blind children are taught to read and write Braille. Why? If Braille offers literacy and literacy doubles a blind person's chance of becoming employed, why aren't more blind children--the majority of blind children--being taught Braille? Some of the reasons are practical in nature. There is a shortage of trained teachers. Many teachers of blind children have so many students assigned to them they can only spend a few minutes a week with each child. Many teachers did not learn Braille well in college, and very, very few know the technical codes, and the list goes on and on. So what have we done, and more to the point, what should we do from here?
In 1997 we succeeded in amending the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to include a presumption of Braille for all blind children. 6 Nevertheless, in spite of the clear requirement that blind children receive Braille instruction, the U. S. Department of Education has taken the position that the amendment made no change, since blind and visually impaired children already receive assessments to determine the most appropriate reading medium. 7 With this logic the Department totally dismisses the statutory presumption of Braille for blind children and goes on to take the position that, when a parent disagrees with the IEP team, the district may continue to provide instruction in print while the parent and child wait for years as the formal appeal process drags on. 8
Why would the Department of Education take such a position? Why would the Department side with the local district, allowing print to be taught instead of Braille, knowing that the district has a vested interest in providing print instruction? If a child needs Braille, the district has to find a trained teacher, has to make the teacher available several hours each week, has to make provisions to acquire and produce materials in Braille, and will be pressed to buy expensive Braille technology. If the child has any sight at all, print is the easier, the cheaper, the less complicated option. It is also the option that has the greater risk of leaving the child illiterate and unemployed, and this is not just hyperbole.
Without the opportunity to become literate, blind children will face a lifetime of poverty--real poverty. A blind person receiving Supplemental Security Income from the federal government must survive on $623 a month and may not accumulate more than $2,000 in total assets to remain eligible for benefits, although the law does allow a blind person to put aside some money in a designated "burial account."
So there you have it. According to the courts, according to the U. S. Department of Education, blind children have no right to literacy, only the right to receive instruction "sufficient to confer some educational benefit." In place of equality, a check from the federal government--$623 a month, provided you do not accumulate more than $2,000 in assets (not usually a problem), and when you die, no money to help with burial expenses, unless during your lifetime you had found a way to put some money aside from your government check.
When the thirteen colonies declared independence from England, they asserted that "all men are created equal." Yet when the Constitution was ratified, equality was reserved to white men only. But the law was wrong. And the court's interpretation that a blind child's right to an education is limited to instruction "sufficient to confer some educational benefit" is wrong. Equality is a fundamental right; it cannot be parceled out according to society's view of the relative worth of a class of people, be it based on race or blindness. We must declare our equality and the right to learn and work and live a full, productive life; and that means we must have access to Braille, not just for 10 percent of us, not just if the school district finds it easy or convenient, but for all blind children. The stakes are too high and the consequences too great to do anything less.
We must begin
by helping parents learn to believe that true literacy is possible for their
children and that Braille is the best way to insure the development of good
reading and writing skills. We must make parents aware that there is no downside
in teaching their children Braille at a young age but that there is a serious
risk in waiting until the child is having trouble keeping up in school. We must
make parents aware that Braille readers routinely achieve reading speeds comparable
to those of sighted children reading print and with no fear of eye fatigue.
We must press local school districts to hire trained teachers to provide blind
children with a good education. We must press for high standards to insure that
teachers of blind children are well trained and well prepared and know Braille,
including Braille music and the technical codes. We must make sure that blind
children have the tools and resources to support the development of literacy.
They must have materials in Braille, including technical materials. They must
have access to electronic notetakers, and not just with speech output, but with
Braille displays. And above all we must bring blind children and their parents
into the National Federation of the Blind. We must offer them our collective
experience, our collective encouragement and support, and our belief in the
ability of blind children to pursue their individual dreams. We must make them
a part of our collective declaration of equality--a declaration rooted in the
proposition that all men are created equal, including blind people; the declaration
of our equality that has sustained our resolve, hardened our sense of purpose,
and guided our efforts for nearly seventy years and that will carry us into
1. The right of every child with a disability to be educated is grounded in the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Two federal court decisions are commonly cited as having inspired the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. They are the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Citizens v. Commonwealth (1971) and Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia (1972).
2. Hendrick Hudson School District Board of Education vs. Rowley, 458 U. S. 176; 192 S. Ct. 3034; 73 L. Ed. 2d 690 (1982) was the first special education case heard by the U. S. Supreme Court. The Rowley Court said, “The statutory definition of `free appropriate public education,’ in addition to requiring that states provide each child with `specially designed instruction,’ expressly requires the provision of `such . . . supportive services . . . as may be required to assist a handicapped child to benefit from special education.’ We therefore conclude that the `basic floor of opportunity’ provided by the Act consists of access to specialized instruction and related services which are individually designed to provide educational benefit to the handicapped child.”
3. In 1998-99 approximately 55,200 legally blind children lived in the United States. Of these, approximately 5,500 used Braille as their primary reading medium. American Printing House for the Blind (APH), 1999. APH maintains an annual register of legally blind people in educational settings below the college level.
4. While estimates vary, somewhere between 80 and 93 percent of employed blind people report using Braille on the job. According to the Louis Braille Bicentennial–Braille Literacy Commemorative Coin Act, P.L. 109-257 (109th Congress), “Braille literacy aids the blind in taking responsible and self-sufficient roles in society, such as employment: while 70 percent of the blind are unemployed, 85 percent of the employed blind are Braille-literate.”
5. Ryles conducted a preliminary study in the state of Washington evaluating the correlation between adult literacy skills and employment. There she studied seventy-four adults who were born legally blind and were patrons of the Library for the Blind. Ryles discovered that 44 percent of the study participants who had learned to read in Braille were unemployed, while those who had learned to read using print had a 77 percent unemployment rate. Those results prompted her to conduct an in-depth study exploring the childhood reading education of legally blind high school students. Research Study: Early Braille Education Vital, (Ryles, R.) Future Reflections, Special Issue, 2004.
6. In 1997 the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was amended making Braille the presumed reading medium for legally blind children. Specially, the law stated, "(iii) in the case of a child who is blind or visually impaired, provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless the IEP team determines, after an evaluation of the child's reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the child's future needs for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille), that instruction in Braille or the use of Braille is not appropriate for the child;..." 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(3)(B)(iii)
7. Specially, with regard to the 1997 IDEA statutory provision creating a presumption of Braille, Attachment 2, Summary of Potential Benefits and Costs, to the 1999 Final Regulations implementing the ’97 Amendments states:
Clarifying that the team must consider a number of special factors to the extent they are applicable to the individual child. The statutory changes that are incorporated in Sec. 300.346 do not impose a new burden on school districts because the factors that are listed should have been considered, as appropriate, under the IDEA before the enactment of IDEA Amendments of 1997. These include: behavioral interventions for a child whose behavior impedes learning, language needs for a child with limited English proficiency, Braille for a blind or visually impaired child, the communication needs of the child, and the child's need for assistive technology. Federal Register, Vol. 64, No. 48, p. 12657 (March 12, 1999).
Attachment 1, Analysis of Comments and Changes, to the 1999 Final Regulations
It should be emphasized that, under prior law, IEP teams were required to consider these special factors in situations where such consideration was necessary to ensure the provision of FAPE [Free Appropriate Public Education] to a particular child with a disability. Therefore this new statutory provision makes explicit what was inherent in each child's entitlement to FAPE under prior law. Federal Register, Vol. 64, No. 48, p. 12588 (March 12, 1999).
Contrary to a suggestion of commenters, a regulatory provision making it mandatory for Braille to be taught to every child who is legally blind would contravene the individually oriented focus of the Act as well as the statutory requirement that the IEP team must make individual determinations for each child who is blind or visually impaired based on relevant evaluation data. Federal Register, Vol. 64, 48, p. 12589 (March 12, 1999).
Thus, in its analysis of the statutory changes, the Department of Education essentially negates the creation of a presumption.
8. Specifically, Attachment 1, Analysis of Comments and Changes, to the 1999 Final Regulations implementing the ’97 Amendments states:
If there is
disagreement between the parents and school district over what constitutes an
appropriate program for a child who is blind or visually impaired, when the
IEP team has determined that instruction in Braille would not be appropriate
for the child, the parents of the child would have the right to request a due
process hearing and mediation. In addition, parents have available to them mediation
and complaint resolution by which they can file a complaint with the SEA under
the State complaint procedures in these regulations.
Although the LEA would not be required to provide instruction in Braille while the dispute is being resolved, the LEA would be required, both by Part B and Section 504, to ensure that the child receives instructional materials in an alternative medium to enable the child to participate in the LEA's program. Federal Register, Vol. 64, No. 48, p. 12590 (March 12, 1999).
This interpretation is more onerous, given the decision in Schaffer v. Weast, 546 U.S. (2005). On November 14, 2005, the U. S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Schaffer v. Weast, a lawsuit to determine the burden of proof in special education cases challenging a student's Individualized Education Program. The Court held that the party seeking relief, whether it is the student and/or family or the school district, has the burden of proof.
by James Gashel
From the Editor: At the close of the 2007 convention, a long and productive chapter in Federation history came to a close. Most active Federationists today have always counted on the fact that Jim Gashel, NFB director of Governmental Affairs and in recent years executive director for Strategic Initiatives, was hard at work, first in Washington, D. C., and since 1980 or so in Baltimore, educating public officials, helping to craft public policy on matters concerning blind people, and shaping NFB initiatives. He came to work for the NFB on January 1, 1974, and he closed his distinguished working career with us on July 6, 2007. When Jim entered his Washington office for the first time on January 1 of ’74 to look around, the NFB had fewer than ten employees, including those who published the Braille Monitor in California. When he left the staff to become an NFB volunteer in early July, the NFB had a payroll of just about a hundred. We had grown from renting a small office in Berkeley, a suite in the Randolph Hotel in Des Moines, and space in an office building on DuPont Circle in Washington to owning 370,000 square feet of prime real estate at the National Center for the Blind and the NFB Jernigan Institute today.
Making such comparisons is one way of measuring what has happened during these past thirty-three-and-a-half years, but reviewing the highpoints of Jim’s career with the National Federation of the Blind is another. That is what Jim did for us on Thursday afternoon, July 5. Here is what he said to the convention:
Thank you, Dr. Maurer, and thank you fellow Federationists, and welcome to the NFB house. I certainly want to thank you, Dr. Maurer, for the kind comments you just made and your remarks about me in the presidential report. I very much appreciate that. Representing the National Federation of the Blind at the national level for me has been the joy of a lifetime. As you pointed out, over a third of a century. That’s the thing I’ve done most in my life, representing the National Federation of the Blind. And I don’t think that’s ever going to change.
I also want to thank you, my fellow Federationists, not only for the last thirty-three years, but also for the last four months. As you know, on February 28 my wife Betsy Zaborowski was diagnosed with a serious condition. Our lives have changed since that time, and they will be changed for a while to come. We don’t know the full course of that yet, but we will. The strength, the power, and the love that have come to us from all of you is something that we can never repay. I want to thank you for reaching out to us and for all that you have done. We will never forget it. We can never repay it. We promise you our dedication, our energy, and everything we can do for our movement in the future.
Various people have asked me if this is my farewell address. I said, “You don’t know James Gashel.” This is not a farewell address, and I’m not leavin’. Dr. Maurer, I am going off the payroll, but I am not leaving. You can’t take the National Federation of the Blind out of James Gashel.
We’ve been planning a transition for some time. You know, if you’ve worked for an organization as I have for over thirty-three years, you don’t just turn in your keys one day. Part of your responsibility, as Dr. Jernigan taught us, is to plan the transition. Even before 1986 he was talking to some of us about the transition, and then at the 1986 convention he recommended that we elect Marc Maurer as our president. It was probably the greatest decision he ever made. That decision initiated a transition. It meant that Dr. Jernigan would no longer be president of the National Federation of the Blind, although he could have been until he died. But he chose wisely; he taught us that to everything there is a season. And it was his time to step aside from the presidency of the National Federation of the Blind.
In the same manner it is my time to step aside from the leadership in our Governmental Affairs and Strategic Initiatives departments. It doesn’t mean that I’m leaving the National Federation of the Blind. It means that I’m going to do something else on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind. It means that, just as Dr. Maurer has been able to stand on the shoulders of Dr. Jernigan and Dr. Jernigan stood on the shoulders of Dr. tenBroek, John Paré will stand on my shoulders. I know that. I just hope that the shoulders are broad enough. But I’ll tell you one thing: I will stand like a rock for John Paré and for all of you. Together we will help him succeed. Representing the National Federation of the Blind, I’ll just say to John, is a challenge. We have a huge commission. We’re moving a people from second-class status to first-class citizenship. It’s not easy, but I want to tell you something--it’s a lot of fun.
Let’s just review a few points in the history. In 1974, as Kevan Worley pointed out, when I first got to Washington, the first thing I got to work on was the Randolph-Sheppard Act amendments, which passed later on in 1974 and for the first time brought cafeterias in the ambit of the Randolph-Sheppard Act and brought an arbitration process unequaled by any other to protect the rights of people in federal programs. A lot of work had been done on that before I got to Washington, but I was honored to lead the final effort. One thing I know for sure: you provided the power.
In 1977 and many, many years before, we worked on Social Security amendments. Congress was working on legislation to shore up the Social Security system and make it financially sound for the next seventy-five years. I think they pretty much accomplished what they were trying to do, but not quite. I well remember standing in the halls outside of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Joe Wagner of Louisiana, a member of Congress at that time, came up to me and said, “I’ll handle your bill in committee.” This was the bill that was going to eliminate the earnings limit for blind people under Social Security, and Joe said, “I’ll handle your bill in committee.” Unfortunately in the House that fall in the Ways and Means Committee, we came up one vote short, and that bill didn’t pass in the Ways and Means Committee. Later on, in November, in fact on November 4, 1977, as one of his last acts before he died, Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota sponsored our amendment to remove the Social Security earnings limit for the blind, and it passed the U. S. Senate.
In December Carl Curtis of Nebraska came to me and said, “We’ll get this through the conference committee. We may not get everything you want, but we’ll get something.” And Bill Archer of Texas stood tall and helped us. When the Social Security amendments of 1977 were signed, we had a statutory earnings limit for the blind, not one that the Social Security Administration could take away by regulation. We moved the earnings limit from what was at that time $200 by Social Security regulation to $1500 today, and it goes up annually by law. I was honored to lead that effort, but you provided the power. I heard someone in another organization remark just a few days before the passage of the 1977 Social Security amendments, “The time has come when you can’t pass any special legislation that is targeted on the blind anymore.” Three days later we did it. I was proud to lead that effort, but you provided the power.
In 1978, when the rehabilitation amendments were passed, we created the Older Blind Program. Before that time it was just a discretionary-grant program; now it’s a formula grant program. Every state has an older blind program. It needs to be bigger, but it exists.
We made that happen, and I was proud to lead that effort, but, make no mistake about it, you provided the power.
In 1978 the
FAA said to blind people, you can’t fly with your canes. These are dangerous
missiles, they said. Jim Omvig and I were on a plane, and we were arrested because
we wouldn’t give up our canes. We were making good trouble. On that day I was
proud to be arrested. You provided the power. Not only that, the FAA backed
down, and we have our canes, and we keep them with us at our seats.
In 1982 Barbara Kennelly stepped up to the plate from Connecticut. She sponsored a bill, which we now call the Kennelly amendment. It provides spending opportunities for blind people in recreation and safety areas along the interstate highways. I remember, just like it was happening today, sitting in her outer office writing the legislation. It came to pass when the Highway Bill for 1982 was passed. I was proud to lead that effort, but you provided the power.
In 1985 we faced a postal-rate crisis. Ronald Reagan wanted to cut the budget. He thought we should cut Free Matter for the Blind. He also thought we should cut out nonprofit postal rates, which the National Federation of the Blind depends on. When the smoke cleared, Ronald Reagan’s budget had zero, but the Congress passed a billion dollars, and both programs continued. By now you know the phrase: I was honored to lead that effort, but you provided the power.
In 1990 they said they wanted to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was going to require--because it was premised on this philosophy--that the disabled are different, so we would always need accommodations. Well, when the smoke cleared on that law, we have the right to refuse accommodations, and it is an act of discrimination for anybody to deny our right to refuse. I was honored to lead that effort, but you provided the power.
In 1992 the idea surfaced that there should be a blindness commission that would speak for the blind, but we have a blindness commission—they’re right in this room. We said we didn’t want it. A woman on the staff in the House of Representatives said, “I don’t care what you want; we’re going to have a blindness commission.” I said, “Let me tell you something. There are 435 members of the House and a hundred members of the Senate. You aren’t one of them, and I’m not one of them. Start right now and get as many votes as you can for the blindness commission, and I’ll start right now and get as many votes as I can against it, and we’ll see in the end if there is a blindness commission.” There is no blindness commission.
We in the National Federation of the Blind speak for ourselves. In 1992 we said there ought to be choice in rehabilitation, and the staff on the Senate side said, “Over my dead body there’ll be choice.” Well when the bill passed that fall, there were six references to choice in rehabilitation, but mostly it was a matter of philosophy, and Section 102 of the Rehabilitation Act said that the IWRP must include the words of the client which describe the client’s role in choosing the rehabilitation services. We got the word “choice” in, but we didn’t get much beyond that. In 1998 we made the right of choice in rehabilitation part of the law, and, though that staff member hasn’t died yet, he no longer works in the Congress. I was proud to lead that effort, but you provided the power.
In 1995 (this was part of the Gingrich revolution) they said, “We have to change rehabilitation.” Well we agreed they had to change rehabilitation. But they came up with a bill they called “CAREERS.” (I don’t remember what CAREERS stood for anymore, but it stood for something.) I used to get these faxes from a person over at the rehab services administration that said, “This will be the end of rehabilitation as we know it.” I thought, well maybe it should be the end as we know it. If she had just left off the “as we know it.” They wanted to end rehabilitation and have us stand in welfare lines along with others, and we would probably be at the end of the line. The agencies didn’t know what to do. They adopted the philosophy for a while of “go along and get along,” but the National Federation of the Blind adopted the philosophy, “Just say no.” And we did say, “No.” And once we said, “No,” the NCSAB (National Council of State Agencies for the Blind) and the CSAVR (Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation) stood with us. The megacharities involved in rehabilitation such as Goodwill, ARC, Easter Seals, and others, stood against us. But when the House of Representatives considered the CAREERS bill in September of 1995, we succeeded on the House floor in passing an amendment which said very simply, “Nothing in this act shall apply to Title I of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.” End of story. And when the House passed the CAREERS bill, it did not affect the rehabilitation program. We licked the House Education and Workforce Committee on the House floor, and they’ve never forgotten it. When the Workforce Investment Act was signed a few years later, rehabilitation was retained as a separate program. I was honored to lead that effort, but you provided the power.
In 1997 we said that, when you have an IEP for a child in special education, if the child is blind, there should be Braille. Other people said, “You can’t do that.” The IEP is supposed to be a blank slate, and we said, “No, not if you’re blind.” What we are going to have on the IEP is, if you are blind, the default will be to provide Braille, and then the only thing you can possibly do is rule it out. When the IDEA amendments of 1997 were passed, we had a Braille provision that requires “provide,” not silence. That’s the law. Of course we have to get it enforced, but that’s what the National Federation of the Blind is here to do. I was proud to lead that effort, and I know you provided the power.
In 1998 we found on a Friday afternoon that an amendment on a veterans’ healthcare bill was going to go to the House floor on Monday afternoon of the following week under suspension of the rules. That means that it would not be debatable and it would pass the House almost certainly. Ask any lobbyist in Washington, and they’ll tell you that that’s true. “You can’t lay a glove on it” would be the conventional wisdom. Well we set to work. We organized over the weekend to make telephone calls, and we hit the Capitol switchboard as hard as we possibly could as soon as it opened on Monday morning. At noon I was standing in line at the bank to cash a check when the staff director of the Veterans Subcommittee called me and said, “We’re pulling the bill. We’re going to strip out the amendment and send it to the floor without the amendment that would be adverse to the Randolph-Sheppard Act. We had no idea that this would adversely affect you, and we’re not going to do the wrong thing.” We made history that day when a House bill was going to the floor under suspension of the rules and we changed it. It impressed the heck out of me. But that’s the power of the National Federation of the Blind. I was proud to lead the effort, but you made it happen; you provided the power.
In 2000 you may remember that we had trouble electing a president of the United States, and many people say that we didn’t. Enough. Enough. Sorry, Dr. Maurer, for the politics. But a year later, when the Help America Vote Act (because Americans need help voting) was considered, we knew that new technology would be needed to vote, that computers had come on the scene, that the time had come when blind people would be able to cast a secret ballot. By that time we had James McCarthy as director of Governmental Affairs. I sent him over to Washington when the markup for the Help America Vote Act was happening in the House, and I said, “Listen, unless you get a provision in that bill relating to nonvisual access and saying that the blind are going to get accessible technology, just keep heading south.” Well he returned, and when the Help America Vote Act was passed, we had a law that requires every polling place in America to have technology that provides for nonvisual access--not just disability access, but nonvisual access. In 2006 that law was fully implemented in the fall election, and I voted for the first time privately and independently. One of the proudest moments in my life was to be listening on CSPAN when Bob Ney got up on the House floor and, in the midst of thanking the people who worked on the bill, thanked James McCarthy. It’s time to pass it on—I’m glad he didn’t thank James Gashel. I had something to do with it, but it’s time to pass it on.
In 2004 we worked on a law that now provides the mechanisms to have textbooks on time. And the publishers told us, “No.” They told us “No” for many, many years and we said, “Yes,” and we negotiated and worked hard, and we came up with a common bill. When the IDEA amendments of 2004 were signed, we now have a law that requires the publishers to provide accessible texts that can be turned into Braille, and the books should be provided to students on time. We made that happen. I was proud to have a part in leading that effort, but you made it happen. You provided the power.
There are lots of other initiatives. I can think of thousands, or hundreds, at least, of Social Security cases, rehabilitation appeals, Randolph-Sheppard appeals, creation of Jobline (the only accessible technology to help people find jobs twenty-four-seven. The Department of Labor is closing down America’s Job Bank, so Jobline will go away, but new technology will come along. We created NFB-NEWSLINE® during this period. I don’t need to talk to you about the benefits of that. I was proud to have a part in putting some of these programs together, but I have no illusion about this; you provided the power to make it happen and the resources.
Now just a few comments about the future. I’m going to go to work for a different company. On Monday I will be fully engaged as vice president for business development for K–NFB Reading Technology. Now this means that I’m not going to occupy an office down at the National Federation of the Blind. I’m not going to have a telephone extension at the National Federation of the Blind. I’m not going to have an email address at the National Federation of the Blind. I’m not going to get a paycheck from the National Federation of the Blind. But the National Federation of the Blind is in my soul. I’m not really going anywhere. We have a company. It’s called K–NFB Reading Technology. K stands for Kurzweil. That’s Ray. Ray will be here, and he will talk to us. You all know Ray. NFB, well I’m not presumptuous enough to say NFB stands for me, but I can absolutely assure you that I stand up for the NFB. So we have K–NFB Reading Technology, and that company will go forward and flourish and develop the technology of the future. We have one of the greatest futurists in the whole wide world heading that company, Ray Kurzweil. We have a wonderful team to develop the products and bring them to you. We promise that we will do that. We will give you the technology of the future. Our first product is the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader, but there will be many, many more as we go forward.
As for the National Federation of the Blind, I believe the future is really, really bright. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be going to the new position I’m going to. But I believe it is. Another proud moment I had this spring was to watch John Paré and Jesse Hartle and others go to work on the crisis that we’re having with the digital Talking Books program, where the Library of Congress asked for $19.1 million. The House of Representatives Committee said, $7.5 million, and when the smoke cleared, they had to add back another 5 million dollars. That happened. I know it’s not the full amount, but before we get done one day, it will be. I don’t know exactly how, but I know it will be, because we have great leaders who are leading the effort, but you have the power. I know it will happen. I was proud to watch that happen.
We have made history over these last thirty-three years. We truly have made history, but we’ve done more than that; we’ve made the United States of America the best country for blind people to live in anywhere in the world. We’re the envy of all the world, and we’ve done it because we collectively have the power, and together we will continue to build the future. Thank you very much.
by Betsy Zaborowski
From the Editor: Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, who has addressed the last three conventions as the executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute, came to the podium Tuesday afternoon, July 3, following President Maurer’s announcement that she was stepping aside from that position and will assume other duties as she is able. Though she has been fighting cancer aggressively since the end of February and is still engaged in that battle, she made clear to her audience that her commitment to the NFB and the Institute programs she has directed is as strong as ever. This is what she said:
Fellow Federationists, your prayers, your support, your best wishes have brought me here, and I thank you. I am very blessed in so many ways, but to serve as the first executive director of the Jernigan Institute has been a remarkable privilege and gift. And to work with the people that have come our way in the last three and a half years has been a very, very special gift. In thinking about what to talk about today, I reflected on the words that we used as we were first developing the Institute. Remember we used this phrase, “We have dreamed, we have planned, we have built, and we will now create a future full of opportunity.” I say to you we are doing that. We have done that, and we’ve done it through innovation, through influence, and through inspiration.
The Institute is not simply a group of programs, it is a reflection of the heart of the National Federation of the Blind. We have made great progress in the last three and a half years. Let me review quickly what has happened in three-and-a-half years. First of all, before that we raised twenty million dollars in record time, and we established the first research and training institute of cutting-edge innovations in the field of blindness developed and operated by an organization of blind people. This has never happened before; we did it. We all did it. Over 19,000 people, foundations and corporations, the state of Maryland, and the federal government contributed to that capital campaign. We didn’t have a highfalutin, high status individual chairing our campaign; we had the president of the National Federation of the Blind, President Marc Maurer, chairing that campaign.
So we built this fabulous building, and then we began to develop the programs. Let’s reflect on some of that. You heard a lot about it in President Maurer’s report. In the area of technology we continue to expand the work of the International Braille and Technology Center. We installed all of the accessible voting machines in our National Center. The HAVA project has been going on for three years. We’ve focused on consumer electronics by developing the first Accessible Home Showcase, now adjacent to the IBTC in the Center and with a presence on our Web site, helping us understand where we can find accessible appliances. Our nonvisual access Web certification continues to expand. Our work with NLS and the digital Talking Book--it was the National Federation of the Blind that did the testing to develop the Talking Book machine that is going to come out of NLS. And of course the development of the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader would not have happened without our input.
Our access technology team led by Anne Taylor consults with all kinds of technology companies, both access technology and regular technology. They come to us all the time, as well as researchers, and all kinds of other folks working in this field. We have established and fully equipped the first fully accessible technology training lab, now available in the Institute. This will lead to all kinds of training efforts in the future. We have eighteen fully accessible work stations thanks to a lot of our sponsors and access technology companies. The Jacobus tenBroek Library is now furnished. Remember the grand opening? It was a great big room with about twenty restaurants in it. Now it’s full of thousands of books in Braille and print.
We also have displays. We have a growing number of displays that help people who come to visit our Center understand the real issues of blindness. We also have our new Independence Market, located in the library. It’s a real state-of-the-art gift shop, which displays all our aids and appliances, but also our literature in a browsing room, where you can simply pick up any of our free literature.
We also are
categorizing and archiving the tenBroek papers and planning this law symposium
that you heard about in the presidential report. There are so many things going
on in our library, it’s hard to even measure. But our library director Dawn
Stitzel has been an incredible asset to our organization, and I want to thank
her for her leadership. We will soon be establishing the very first fully accessible
library management system that will be accessible both from the user and the
staff side, another first that the Jernigan Institute will bring.
Our outreach department is an exciting department, always creating new and innovative things. Our Imagination Fund is supported through the staff of our outreach department. They are also responsible for our senior fair. Jerry Lazarus has done a wonderful job with our senior fairs over the last few years. Our celebration has become an annual event with attendance of over five hundred every year. Meet the Blind Month with hundreds and hundreds of activities all over the country that you all make work very successfully. And more and more outreach efforts will continue.
Of course our education department, what a shining star! Mark Riccobono has led the development of some of the most exciting education innovations that the field of blindness has seen in a very long time. Our Science Academy: who would have dreamed that for three years in a row a group of blind high school students mentored by blind adults would launch a rocket with the help of NASA engineers? Our science portal, BlindScience.org, is a growing resource for teachers, for educators, for parents, and for blind youth to learn about science, technology, engineering, and math. That will only continue to be a stronger and stronger resource.
transition programs, headed up by Mary Jo Thorpe, have taught us how to reach
out to high school students and help them get ready for the world of higher
education and employment. The career fair that we have done for the last couple
of years is beginning to be replicated in other states around the country. And
of course what’s coming up at the end of July will be a real cornerstone. Two
hundred blind kids and seventy blind mentors marching all over the campus of
Johns Hopkins University: they’ll never be the same!
I also want to commend Jennifer Dunham and her work with our Braille transcribing and proofreading program. In just a few months look at the progress that has been done with that program.
So what is the Institute really? What is this Jernigan Institute that we have developed? I say to you all that it is an extension of the work of the National Federation of the Blind. The mission of the Institute is the same as the mission of the National Federation of the Blind. We have said our mission and our purpose in lots of ways, but all of us understand that the real mission of this organization is to change lives. And that is what we do. We do that in the Institute, but we do it in every activity back in your home states. They are all connected. For example, at the Science Academy we change lives of young teenagers who didn’t think they could take calculus, so they couldn’t dare to dream to be a NASA engineer. But they go through our experience, and they say, “Ah, I can take calculus. I can be a NASA engineer.” The same thing happens when you set up a seminar for blind kids in your home community connected with your state convention, and they see blind mentors, and they talk with blind people, and the parents and the kids understand that, “Yes, I can do it. Yes, I can reach out. Yes, I can use my full potential.”
The seniors who come to our senior fairs--we call them up after the senior fair, and we ask them. “What’s the most important thing you got out of it?” They learn about their resources and they learn about all kinds of things. But they say, “The most important thing is that we saw blind people moving around and doing things, and we were inspired that we too can do things.” It can happen at any age, and you can do it in your own communities. The Federation goes to talk to seniors, and we inspire, and we make sure that they know what can happen.
The Independence Market offers all kinds of aids and appliances and resources and literature, and we answer the phone hundreds and hundreds of times every day. But you too in your local community do what the Institute does when you give a person a piece of literature, when you tell them what the Independence Market has to offer and you give them the phone number so that they can order their first cane. It’s the same; we’re all working on changing lives.
The library inspires people when people come to visit because it’s an exciting place. But when you sit next to a person on an airplane and you tell them about the National Federation of the Blind and what our philosophy is and what our mission is, you too also inspire and change lives. It’s all connected. It’s all the same. We are the Federation family forever.
We are now in a time of transition. As Dr. Maurer mentioned, I will be stepping down as executive director of the Jernigan Institute. Marc Riccobono will be taking over, and I have the utmost confidence in this young man. When I became ill in March, it happened very suddenly, and I had to be away from work. Mark took over supervising all the people, running the programs, and he was knee-deep in planning this Youth Slam at the same time. I kept calling him saying, “How are you doing? Are the balls all in the air?” And he said, “Yeah, none of them are rolling down the hallways yet.” We’re getting it all done. He has wonderful management skills, a wonderful spirit, and a great history in this organization, and he will be a wonderful asset.
As you all know, I am a clinical psychologist by profession, so occasionally I like to refer to the field of psychology. There has recently been an emphasis on a new field called positive psychology. It talks about the ingredients for happiness and fulfillment in life.
Researchers have talked about three different ways of living your life. You can have a pleasant life. You can have an engaged life. Or you can have a meaningful life. When you are a part of the National Federation of the Blind, we know which one is going to make the difference for us. All the research in the world shows that people who have a strong sense of meaning and purpose and dedication to something bigger than themselves have a higher level of happiness, contentment, and purpose. I have shared that, and I thank you for that. I want to ask you to join with me as I move into new roles in the Federation with optimism and as I continue with you to have a meaningful life. Thank you. [applause]
by Mark A.
From the Editor: When Betsy Zaborowski finished her remarks on Tuesday, July 3, she introduced Mark Riccobono, who has just become the executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute. This is what he said:
Mahatma Gandhi once said, "We must become the change we want to see." This quote identifies the critical element that makes our Jernigan Institute uniquely effective. Our institute is the dreams of the blind turned into actions for change. Gandhi's quote also touches a deeper level—the effect the Federation has on each of us. I want to discuss the institute, our education initiative, and my own experience, in the context of becoming the change.
I first came to an NFB national convention in 1996. I came to the convention with a great deal of uncertainty about my future. The experience of the convention and the successful blind people I encountered caused me to consider new possibilities for my future. Earlier that spring I had completed my sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin. That summer I was living in a tiny apartment while working at the university. I knew few people outside of work, which meant my evenings were mostly free. I found myself using that time to read the large pile of NFB literature I had brought home from the convention. The literature resonated with me in ways I had not expected. I already had a drive to help change society, but for the first time I began to understand that change in myself needed to occur.
In my final years at the university, I underwent a significant period of change. I learned Braille and began using it; I started using the long white cane; I thought about and discussed my attitudes toward blindness; and I learned nonvisual techniques for many daily tasks from my Federation friends. I was changing my outlook and beginning to dream of new possibilities.
Upon my graduation I was fortunate to secure a job with Sears in their national executive trainee program. I had it all figured out. At least that was my thinking until a friend suggested that I attend the Colorado Center for the Blind in the months between my graduation and the start of my job in the fall. I did, and I took advantage of every moment of training I had at the CCB. Through my empowering experience at the center, I learned the importance of continually challenging myself to go beyond my comfort zone. I also began to realize that one more step was necessary for me to become the change I wanted to see.
While working for Sears, I was spending much of my free time doing activities for the Federation. I became particularly interested in educational issues and concerned about the lack of educational innovation that existed. My own educational experience had been difficult, and I wanted to ensure that higher expectations, better training, expanded opportunities, and access to role models were more available to the next generation. My experience in the Federation taught me that changing opportunities required becoming a more significant part of creating them—so I did.
In June of 2000 I began this pursuit full-time when I accepted a position directing services for blind youth in Wisconsin. In that position I learned a number of firsthand lessons about the educational system, but I was troubled by patterns that frequently emerged—truths that are still in evidence today. First, there is a great lack of innovation in the education system, and, when it emerges, it tends to be short lived and is rarely replicated. The education system does not embrace change. Second, this is true in all parts of the country although everybody believes that their effort is better than that found elsewhere.
The perfect opportunity for me to become the change came when I was asked to work on educational programs for the NFB, shortly before we opened the Jernigan Institute. I remember walking through the Institute building with Dr. Maurer after we discussed my coming to Baltimore. The building was still very much under construction. At that time I thought of the Institute as a place—another part of our National Center. Working at the Institute, I have learned that the change we want to see in society, in education, in the next generation, is not a place, a technology, or a program. Our Institute represents those things, but, more important, it represents a different perspective—an adventurous, imaginative approach to empowering ourselves in a way that only we could engineer. In essence, through the Jernigan Institute we have become the change we want to see.
This can be observed throughout the programs of our Institute. Let me offer one powerful example to make the point. From the Institute's beginning we resolved that greater opportunities for the blind in science, technology, engineering, and math were needed. We became the source for opportunities and innovation in those areas by creating our Science Academy and a series of projects under our National Center for Blind Youth in Science initiative.
But the objective has always been broader than creating a program that, if done in isolation, would be just another brief moment of innovation. Our intention is to raise a whole generation of blind youth who have the advantage of our collective experience from the past, the opportunities we have created in the present, and the power of their own dreams for the future. We are becoming the change we want to see by challenging our previous assumptions and empowering the next generation of the blind to expand what we have started.
In order to advance this end specifically, we envisioned the NFB Youth Slam, which we first announced at this convention last year. The Youth Slam is an example of the way we become the change through our Institute. We began by identifying a Youth Slam coordinator in each of our affiliates in order to establish a strong link between local communities and the NFB Youth Slam event. Then we went out and found partners who understood the significance of our plan and who would become the change with us. Johns Hopkins University, NASA, and others have contributed to thinking up new ways of infusing innovation into the system through the Youth Slam. Yet some believed we could never get two hundred students to come, that we would never find enough positive blind mentors, and that we could not manage the logistics of such an endeavor. I am here to tell you that we have done all of those things and we are just beginning a new era of innovation.
In the past six months I have spoken with dozens of parents and educators who have expressed what a tremendous void the NFB Youth Slam is filling—parents who say their children face low expectations in the education system, parents who want to encourage their child's dreams but are unsure about the possibilities, educators and rehabilitation professionals who are desperate for something innovative and empowering as opposed to the typical summer programs available in some communities. Furthermore, I have spoken with blind people from all parts of the country. They all express the same sentiment--the Federation has done so much for them and their generation that they absolutely have to be part of the Youth Slam to give back. Blind role models from energetic college students to experienced baby-boomers have joined in the effort to empower the next generation with the gift of becoming the change.
At the end of this month blind youth will come together to launch rockets and weather balloons, engineer new inventions, program robots and chatbots, investigate distant astronomic marvels, and learn how to apply structured discovery to the dissection of sharks. Moreover, they will be making history and reporting on it through Web updates and podcasts. They will make friends and gain a network of role models through the Federation. They will celebrate their achievements and their future by following in your footsteps with the first ever Youth March for Independence, taking them through South Baltimore to the Institute that we have built and they will lead in the future. They will become the change. Only our Institute, the Institute of the Blind, is imaginative enough, believes in blind people enough, and is willing to change enough, to build such a program from the ground up.
In the coming
year we will innovate opportunities to expand the circle of empowerment and
change. We are planning new outreach models for our chapters to empower youth,
new programs to engage blind youth in employment experiences, new research efforts
to provide meaningful data in areas where change is most needed, and new partnerships
that will deepen the impact of the work we are doing. And it is important that
each of us become that change and participate actively in the mission of the
Becoming the change is the same element that we have always applied to the work of our organization. From Dr. tenBroek articulating a new philosophy on blindness and Dr. Jernigan engineering innovative rehabilitation methods, to Dr. Maurer leading us through the visionary undertaking of constructing and implementing a research and training institute, we have always worked on being the change that we want to see in the world. That is the foundation of our Jernigan Institute, and change will continue to drive our success in the future. By changing ourselves, we will change the world.
In closing, I wish to say that I am deeply humbled and honored to have the opportunity to serve as the next executive director of our Jernigan Institute. I have been blessed with a great mentor in Dr. Zaborowski. The effect of her work will be reflected in the innovation of the Jernigan Institute and throughout the Federation long into the future. More important, her work is not done, and I, for one, look forward to many more opportunities to carry out new endeavors with her. I also want to express my deep appreciation for the faith and leadership of our president, Dr. Maurer. It is truly a privilege to serve under his watch and to share in the joy of the work we do at the National Center for all of us each day. Finally, I deeply appreciate the honor of being charged with the task of turning our collective dreams into reality. Your dreams, your willingness to act when called upon, your belief in the Institute, your passion to be the change—these make the Jernigan Institute a dynamic source of inspiration and innovation.
Today we have
completed our first March for Independence. An early civil rights leader, Howard
Thurman, once said, "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself
what makes you come alive, and then go do it, because what the world needs is
people who have come alive." Thank you because you, the members of the
Federation, helped me change my direction and come alive in ways I had never
imagined. Let us continue our march together; let us expand our Institute; let
us become the change.
by Sharon Maneki
From the Editor: Sharon Maneki chairs the Resolutions Committee. She and Marsha Dyer, this year’s Resolutions Committee secretary, worked hard to ensure that the Convention could hear and understand the various resolutions presented to it on Friday afternoon. Here is Sharon’s description of the resolutions considered this year:
Since its inception the Federation has always sought ways to enable blind people to foster and maintain our independence. Although this convention was unique because we conducted our first March for Independence, independence is really a basic part of our philosophy. In “The Nature of Independence,” Dr. Jernigan described independence as coming from within: “We are achieving freedom and independence in the only way that really counts: in rising self respect, growing self confidence, and the will and the ability to make choices. Above all, independence means choices, and the power to make those choices stick.”
It is no accident that our resolutions seek actions that will foster and maintain independence. According to long-standing tradition, the Resolutions Committee at national convention meets during the first day of registration. This year the thirty-member committee, which represented people of all ages, walks of life, and sections of the country, met on Sunday, July 1. We discussed, debated, and approved sixteen resolutions that will help blind Americans maintain our independence.
Before a resolution can become the policy of the organization, it must be voted on by the Convention because the Convention is the ultimate authority of the Federation. Resolutions come to the Convention floor in either of two ways: from the Resolutions Committee or from the national board of directors. This year the board passed one resolution. Therefore the Convention considered seventeen resolutions.
On Tuesday, July 3, the Convention adopted Resolution 2007-101, which came from the NFB board of directors. In this resolution we urge Congress to fully fund the Books for the Blind program. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped needs $19.1 million in FY 2008 to begin the conversion to digital Talking Book players. Since this resolution will affect our ability to continue to read books and periodicals, we passed it early in the week so that we could immediately send this important message to Congress.
The Convention adopted sixteen resolutions in total. Although Resolution 2007-15 received a favorable vote from the committee, it failed on the Convention floor. Naysayers should recognize that Federationists are independent thinkers. The Convention is not a rubber stamp for the committee. There was considerable debate on this resolution, which sought greater accountability from vocational rehabilitation agencies. Everyone agreed that these agencies need to improve their performance and should be held more accountable. The resolution proposed that accountability be achieved by creating a new funding formula with bonuses for high-achieving agencies. The resolution failed because a majority believed that it was a good idea in theory but would be difficult to achieve in practice. I am sure that future Conventions will debate evolved versions of this resolution.
One of the greatest barriers to independence and equality for the blind is public attitudes. Full integration of the blind into society is prevented by the myths and misconceptions of the public. Fred Schroeder, first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind and president of the NFB of Virginia, proposed Resolution 2007-09 to reduce public misconceptions about blindness. In this resolution we condemn and deplore “the negative, damaging, and distorted description of blindness and blind people contained in the novel Blindness by Jose Saramago.” Plans are underway to make a movie based on this novel. In this resolution we further urge the movie director Fernando Meirelles to abandon this project. We also intend to urge financial backers of the film to withdraw their support because of the serious harm that would result from such a demeaning and degrading portrayal of blind people.
If blind people are to maintain our independence, we must have full opportunities to education and employment. The convention passed four resolutions regarding education and four resolutions regarding employment and training, which means that half of the resolutions dealt with these two important subjects.
Resolution 2007-01 states that the Federation will explore partnerships with educational institutions to develop model education programs for blind students to enhance the quality of education available to blind Americans. The current education system leaves the majority of blind students throughout the country ill prepared to meet the challenges of the real world. Thus more research and new approaches are needed in the education of blind students. This resolution was sponsored by Dr. Joanne Wilson, director of affiliate action for the National Federation of the Blind.
Access to textbooks is a key ingredient in receiving a quality education. Readers should not be surprised that we have a resolution on nonvisual access to textbooks for students in higher education because we have been working on this issue for many years. Steve Decker, who is president of the Iowa Association of Blind Students and who won a national scholarship in 2005, sponsored Resolution 2007-03. In this resolution we commend Congressman Raúl Grijalva for his efforts. He plans to introduce legislation to ensure access to textbooks for blind students and faculty in higher education. Because of its critical importance to the blind, we also call upon Congress to take prompt action to pass this legislation with or without the support of the publishing community.
One of the trends in education today requires students to demonstrate capabilities by passing standardized tests. These tests are also used to measure school performance to achieve accountability. The Convention adopted two resolutions dealing with the testing of blind students. Peggy Elliot, second vice president of the National Federation of the Blind, sponsored Resolution 2007-08. The U. S. Department of Education should enact regulations that incorporate a testing bill of rights for blind Americans. This resolution outlines the numerous problems that blind people face in receiving testing accommodations. The resolution states: “Standardized testing brands blind victims as underachievers when they are merely being scored for taking a high stakes test under adverse and often adversarial circumstances.”
Janice Jeang, who is first vice president of the Texas Association of Blind Students and who won a national scholarship in 2003, was a summer intern with the Strategic Initiatives Department at the National Center for the Blind. She proposed Resolution 2007-14. Students in grades K-12 are required to take tests periodically under the No Child Left Behind Act. This resolution clearly states that blindness should not be used as a reason to exempt students from this testing. However, in the resolution we call upon Congress “to require creators of assessments under No Child Left Behind to develop all test questions so they can accurately be completed without reliance on vision.”
With a 70 percent rate of unemployment and underemployment among the working-age blind, it is no surprise that the Convention would pass four resolutions to broaden employment opportunities. Employment is critical in maintaining independence.
Sarah Leon, a 2007 national scholarship winner who just graduated from high school and plans to attend Grace University in Indiana, sponsored Resolution 2007-05 regarding eligibility for transition services. Transition services are provided by vocational rehabilitation agencies. These services can include such things as adjustment-to-blindness training or any other service that would help a teenager transition to adulthood and the world of work. Students who receive training early have a better chance for successful employment. In Resolution 2007-05 we call upon Congress to mandate that vocational rehabilitation agencies begin transition services for blind teens at age fourteen.
Many blind Americans have enjoyed successful employment because of the opportunities created under the Randolph-Sheppard program. In the Defense Reauthorization Act of 2005 Congress created a committee to make recommendations for resolving conflicts between the Javits-Wagner-O’Day program and the Randolph-Sheppard program concerning military food service contracts. This committee, known as the Joint Committee, was composed of representatives from the U. S. Department of Defense, the U. S. Department of Education, and the Committee for Purchase from People who are Blind or Severely Disabled. In Resolution 2007-02 we call upon Congress to reject the Joint Committee recommendations and to take immediate steps to expand opportunities for blind entrepreneurs. Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, sponsored this resolution.
Sometimes government policies have restricted our independence by creating work disincentives. The Convention adopted two resolutions to eliminate these barriers. Jeff Thompson, treasurer of the Metro Chapter of the Minnesota affiliate and an instructor at BLIND, Inc., one of the three NFB training centers, introduced Resolution 2007-12. Blind people who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are discouraged from returning to work because they cannot afford to lose benefits. In this resolution we urge Congress to remove the earnings limit for blind beneficiaries and allow them to keep their benefits.
Terri Uttermohlen, first vice president of the Greater Baltimore Chapter of the Maryland affiliate, sponsored the second resolution involving a disincentive to work. If a blind person applies for and receives SSDI benefits, he or she must wait two years after the first month of receiving SSDI before being eligible for Medicare benefits. The lack of affordable medical care during this period may cause the disabling condition to worsen, further disconnecting the individual from the workforce. In Resolution 2007-10 we call on Congress to make Medicare entitlement begin at the same time that SSDI benefits start.
Mike Freeman, second vice president of the Diabetic Action Network and president of the Washington affiliate, proposed two resolutions to promote independent self-care for blind diabetics. An insulin pump is an alternative to multiple daily injections of insulin by insulin syringe or an insulin pen and offers better control of diabetes. In Resolution 2007-04 we call on manufacturers of insulin pumps to include nonvisual access features in all models of pumps.
Resolution 2007-11 promotes the development of accessible glucose meters by urging the U. S. Food and Drug Administration to expedite the approval of Senso Card Plus, an accessible glucose meter popular in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Europe. The resolution also states that this organization will “establish nonvisual accessibility certification standards for diabetes technology to promote the development of truly accessible products.”
Our level of independence increases as we gain greater access to information. The Convention passed three resolutions concerning access to information. Carrie Modesitt, a national scholarship winner in 2006 and vice president of the Missouri Association of Blind Students, was the proponent for Resolution 2007-07. Blind people find it nearly impossible to purchase items online because more and more merchants are using security measures that cannot be read by screen readers. These security measures require the ability to recognize patterns of characters or numbers that change quickly. In this resolution we urge online merchants to find solutions that do not block access to blind users yet still enhance security.
Ryan Strunk, who completed his term as president of the National Association of Blind Students at this convention, sponsored Resolution 2007-13. The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (the Access Board) is proposing to require city buses to use automated bus stop announcement systems. In Resolution 2007-13 we heartily endorse this proposal. However, in the resolution we also recommend two important additions to the proposal. First, turning off the automated bus stop announcement system should be defined as a violation of the guidelines. Second, the guidelines should require regular maintenance of the automated bus stop announcement system.
Blind cable television customers pay the same rates for these services as everybody else. Yet we cannot use many of the digitally based interactive services offered by cable companies. Paul Kay, a longtime leader in the D. C. affiliate, and Curtis Chong, president of the NFB in Computer Science, sponsored Resolution 2007-16. In this resolution we call upon cable companies to take immediate steps to remove the nonvisual-access barriers to their services.
The last resolution
that I will discuss in this article reflects the importance of choice in maintaining
independence. As blind people we have the right to choose which accommodations
we want and need. Verizon communications has a department to serve the needs
of disabled customers. Once a blind customer has received services from the
disabilities department, he or she is always automatically referred to this
department no matter what services have been requested. For instance, blind
customers with bill disputes are referred to the disabilities department, even
though the department cannot resolve the dispute. Aloma Bouma, a longtime leader
in the Maryland affiliate, introduced Resolution 2007-06. In this resolution
we demand that Verizon immediately stop this practice.
This brief summary is merely an introductory description of the resolutions considered and passed by the Convention. Readers should study the complete text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects. The complete texts of all resolutions approved by the Convention follow.
Urging Congress to Restore Full Funding to NLS
WHEREAS, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress (NLS) has provided reading materials for the blind for over seventy-five years, largely through the use of record discs and cassette tapes, which assure access by the blind to these materials without providing the ability to copy and distribute books in violation of copyright law; and
WHEREAS, cassette tapes and players have become obsolete, leading the NLS to engage in a long-running consumer outreach and research initiative that will result in a transition from analog to digital Talking Books, creating new flash memory cartridges and players; and
WHEREAS, the chairman and ranking members of the House Appropriations Committee sought a study from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an investigative organ of Congress, which was conducted and resulted in the release of a report that inaccurately suggested that the NLS could effect a less expensive conversion to digital media using off-the-shelf technology; and
WHEREAS, the suggestions made in the GAO report are neither feasible nor legal, since they do not take into account the varying physical and technological needs of the NLS user population and, more important, do not adequately provide for the copyright protection which the U. S. Copyright Act and the law authorizing the creation of the Talking Book program require; and
WHEREAS, the NLS seeks $19.1 million for fiscal year 2008 and a similar amount for the subsequent three fiscal years to support the critical transition from analog to digital players and cartridges, which will assure that eligible blind people receive these new machines and players, but for FY 2008 the House of Representatives has agreed to $12.5 million only, and the Senate Appropriations Committee has included only that amount; and
WHEREAS, the Senate can and certainly should seek the entire $19.1 million amount, which would result in different appropriation amounts approved by the Senate and House of Representatives, thereby requiring the matter to be reconsidered in a House-Senate conference committee: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this third day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon the Senate to fund the NLS fiscal 2008 request for the full $19.1 million to support the creation and distribution of digital books and players; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the House of Representatives to recede to a $19.1 million request for the transition from antiquated cassette tape technology to the flash memory format designed by NLS with considerable consumer input from blind patrons; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED
that this organization urge Congress to fully fund the entire project to convert
to new digital players and flash memory cartridges to insure that patrons are
not forced to wait for, or perhaps never to receive, the reading materials which
are so important to blind Americans.
Regarding the NFB Role in the Education of Blind Students
WHEREAS, the current educational system is grossly under-serving an alarming majority of blind students throughout the country, leaving them ill-prepared for real-world challenges and crippling them from pursuing their dreams; and
WHEREAS, the failure of the educational establishment to address the true needs of blind students is evidenced by both the national crisis in Braille literacy and the staggering 70 percent unemployment rate among blind people; and
WHEREAS, without being taught proper blindness skills during a student’s early education, he or she will face additional challenges in acquiring the skills necessary to succeed in future educational, employment, and social endeavors; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind is the leading force in the field of blindness, possessing the collective experience of thousands of blind people, an accumulated body of knowledge about blindness education, and an unwavering will to improve educational opportunities for all blind students: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National
Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007,
in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization adopt policies to establish
partnerships with educational institutions, governmental agencies, or other
entities that are conducting research on effective educational models for blind
students in such institutions as charter schools, public and private educational
settings, or any other nonresidential or residential programs of an innovative,
cutting-edge nature, provided that satisfactory arrangements can be made, and
that this policy shall include, at the discretion of the president, investing
our money, personnel, time, energy, and imagination, consistent with our organizational
goal of enhancing the educational experience of all blind students in America.
Regarding the Status and Future of the Randolph-Sheppard Program
for Blind Entrepreneurs
WHEREAS, the Randolph-Sheppard program is the nation's only program to assist persons with disabilities in becoming entrepreneurs and business owners and has facilitated development of tens of thousands of successful small businesses owned and operated by blind entrepreneurs; and
WHEREAS, policy questions regarding relative priority of the Randolph-Sheppard Act and the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Act have largely been settled by the courts; and
WHEREAS, Congress, acting under the mistaken impression that serious policy questions regarding application of the Randolph-Sheppard Act and the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Act persist, mandated in the Defense Reauthorization Act of 2005 the creation of a Joint Committee of the Department of Defense, the Department of Education, and the Committee for Purchase from People who Are Blind or Severely Disabled, to make recommendations for resolving conflict between the programs in military food service contracts; and
WHEREAS, the Department of Education was charged by Congress to represent the interests of blind entrepreneurs in the deliberations of the Joint Committee; and
WHEREAS, the Department of Education was the only member of the Joint Committee to develop its position and negotiate with other Joint Committee members in complete isolation from its stakeholders; and
WHEREAS, the Department of Education shut out its own internal program experts in the negotiations over the Joint Committee’s recommendations and left representation on the Joint Committee of Randolph-Sheppard and blind entrepreneurs to officials with little understanding of or appreciation for the intended and unintended consequences of the policy decisions under discussion; and
WHEREAS, Department of Education officials have stated publicly that it is their job to “administer” but not “advocate for” the Randolph-Sheppard program; and
WHEREAS, the Joint Committee ignored recommendations by the blind community to address any lingering confusion regarding implementation of the law by codifying current law, policy, and court decisions in the Federal Acquisition Regulations; and
WHEREAS, the Department of Education failed in its responsibility to blind entrepreneurs by agreeing to multiple recommendations that are contrary to the Randolph-Sheppard Act and, if enacted, would effectively eliminate the Randolph-Sheppard priority; and
WHEREAS, there is no justification in the Randolph-Sheppard Act for applying different criteria to contracting in different federal departments, suggesting that, if enacted, the Joint Committee's policy changes would create competitive disadvantages for blind entrepreneurs in competition for contracts not only with the Department of Defense, but also with the General Services Administration, U. S. Post Office, and other federal agencies which constitute the largest numbers of available contracting opportunities; and
WHEREAS, the threat to the Randolph-Sheppard Act is so serious that all of the diverse organizations representing the blind unite in a heretofore unseen manner to oppose the recommendations of the Joint Committee Report and preserve the Randolph-Sheppard program; and
WHEREAS, Congress has already
moved to legislate several of the
Joint Committee's recommendations, while the Department of Education is drafting regulations to implement the others; and
WHEREAS, the recommendations of the Joint Committee Report are fatally flawed, and their implementation would destroy the Randolph-Sheppard program and opportunities for blind entrepreneurs and precipitate widespread challenges and litigation, which will be costly, and time consuming and will not ultimately further the best interests of either persons with disabilities or federal agencies: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National
Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007,
in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization urge the Department
of Education, the Office of Management and Budget, and the United States Congress
to reject the recommendations of the Joint Committee and instead reaffirm the
priority in federal food service contracting for Randolph-Sheppard; amend the
Federal Acquisition Regulations to reflect current policy and court decisions;
and take immediate steps to expand opportunities for blind entrepreneurs in
public and private sector food service contracting.
Regarding Access to Higher Education Textbooks
WHEREAS, federal law requires publishers of books used in elementary and high schools to provide standardized electronic files to a national repository for rapid cost-effective conversion into Braille and other formats, but no similar requirement exists for books used by students in higher education; and
WHEREAS, digital technology is rapidly changing the way that materials are published, making provision by publishers of electronic files for use by blind students and faculty easy and inexpensive; and
WHEREAS, blind students devote hours searching for existing accessible versions of the books they need through sources including Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic and Bookshare.org and, when not otherwise available, more hours seeking others to scan and correct the books for their use or scanning the books themselves, all before studying can ever begin; and
WHEREAS, advocates for the blind have sought a national consensus on the best method for providing access to textbooks for blind participants in higher education, but neither individual publishers nor the Association of American Publishers has chosen to join and create such a consensus despite the fact that several states have insisted on passing state legislation, establishing a pattern of differing requirements in different states; and
WHEREAS, Congressman Raúl Grijalva, a Democratic Congressman from Arizona's 7th congressional district believes the time has come to mandate access for blind students and faculty to textbooks used in higher education and plans to introduce legislation to accomplish this objective: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization commend Congressman Grijalva for his determination to bring digital books to America’s blind students and faculty in higher education; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge the Association of American Publishers to represent its constituent members assertively by working with us and Congressman Grijalva to craft a positive, mutually agreeable solution that insures access to textbooks for students and faculty in higher education; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED
that this organization call upon Congress to take prompt action to pass Congressman
Grijalva’s bill with or without the support of the publishing community because
of its critical importance to blind higher education students.
RESOLUTION 2007- 04
Regarding Development of an Accessible Insulin Pump
WHEREAS, many diabetics find that using an insulin pump results in superior control of diabetes, thus assisting them to remain healthy and to reduce their risk of diabetic complications; and
WHEREAS, currently available insulin pumps lack accessibility features for the blind; and
WHEREAS, notwithstanding this lack of accessibility, many blind diabetics successfully use insulin pumps although they may require sighted assistance to use the advanced features of such pumps; and
WHEREAS, new insulin pumps are constantly being introduced, employing increasingly complicated and sophisticated functions, including complex programs to administer bolus insulin doses, functions to predict correct insulin dosages based upon carbohydrate intake, and the like, yet the blind are unable to use these advanced functions independently; and
WHEREAS, miniaturization of electronics and advances in synthesized and digitized speech technology may make it possible to produce an insulin pump with all functions accessible by the blind using speech; and
WHEREAS, many insulin pumps can communicate with personal computers using programs that can change pump settings, display pump performance parameters, etc., yet such programs are not accessible to screen-reading software for the blind; and
WHEREAS, making such programs accessible using screen-reading software would provide another method to make insulin pumps accessible by the blind: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon manufacturers of insulin pumps to make these pumps accessible by the blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED
that the National Federation of the Blind stand ready to work with insulin pump
manufacturers to achieve this goal.
Regarding the Age for Transition Services Eligibility
WHEREAS, blind children are often the only blind individual in their families and in their schools; and
WHEREAS, this isolation is often enhanced by loving families and hard-working professionals who assure the child that he or she is better than other blind people while at the same time seeking to provide what the child needs without having any idea of the vast experiential knowledge and the positive can-do spirit of blindness that we in the Federation have developed over nearly seventy years; and
WHEREAS, the Federation has demonstrated that residential immersion experiences focusing on a positive philosophy of blindness provide the greatest chance for blind individuals to become confident, capable, independent adults, an approach that is validated daily in the lives of thousands of blind Americans who have benefited from the three Federation training centers or from graduates of those centers; and
WHEREAS, the vocational rehabilitation services to blind teens who are moving toward adulthood are called “transition services” because these services help the teen transition to adulthood and, when done correctly, ready the teen for successfully taking on the challenge of being a productive, tax-paying citizen; and
WHEREAS, funds from the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (as amended) rather than funds from educational sources are best suited to support this comprehensive approach to blindness training, but many adult rehabilitation agencies far too often postpone commencement of such services to blind teens still in school as long as they can, although the rehabilitation act expressly provides for transition services, and there is no minimum age for these services; and
WHEREAS, the Workforce Investment Act that includes the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (as amended) awaits, as it has now for several years, congressional reauthorization, giving a perfect opportunity for Congress to make changes, especially when members of Congress have expressed interest in enhancing the involvement of state rehabilitation agencies in transition services: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon Congress during its reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act to establish age fourteen as the appropriate age for commencement of transition services to blind teens.
Regarding Disability Services from Verizon Land-Line Telephone Company
WHEREAS, Verizon Communications, one of the nation's largest tele-communication service providers, has a department dedicated to serving the needs of disabled customers, a practice other regional or national land-line telephone service providers may also follow; and
WHEREAS, one blindness-related service is the ability of a customer to request an exemption of the fee-for-call to obtain telephone numbers through Verizon directory assistance services in order to make telephone numbers available to blind customers on an equal basis with the sighted public who receive print telephone listings via their phone books without charge; and
WHEREAS, blind customers who have requested this fee exemption and then subsequently contact Verizon for non-disability-related service issues such as a bill dispute, a change of services, or a response to special offers are now automatically sent to the disability services department when the account telephone number reviewed by the Verizon representative indicates the caller has a disability through an account notation of the fee exemption; and
WHEREAS, this segregation of services not only constitutes a violation of the customer's privacy, but may lead to a degradation of the equality of service provision and identifies all blind customers choosing the exemption as a special class of individuals who always require special treatment, whether it is applicable or not; and
WHEREAS, under the Americans with Disabilities Act blind people have the right to accept or reject accommodations; and
WHEREAS, we the blind cannot and must not permit this pretense, separate-but-equal treatment to push us into an exceptional class of telephone users and must maintain the right to select the blindness-related services that we do or do not want: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED, by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization demand that Verizon stop this inappropriate and illegal treatment of blind customers by putting an immediate end to the policy of referring all blind customers with this exemption who are requesting non-disability-related information or services to the disability services department; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge Verizon Communications to refrain from implementing any policies affecting the blind without discussing them with the National Federation of the Blind, the nation's experts on blindness-related needs.
Regarding Elimination of Barriers Created by Online Security Measures
WHEREAS, an ever-increasing number of financial transactions are taking place online, including bill paying, stock trading, account management, and the purchase of almost every imaginable kind of merchandise; and
WHEREAS, the vast sums of money now moving over the Internet tempt the unscrupulous to develop schemes and scams to steal this money as Internet users are painfully aware from the all too familiar emails pretending to be from various banks and institutions, which are not actually sent by them; and
WHEREAS, online merchants, financial institutions, and others recognize the growth potential of the Web, but also realize that this growth will be thwarted if individuals are concerned about the security of their transactions; and
WHEREAS, for security reasons banks are rapidly adopting systems using the method known as “visual CAPTCHA” because so far it cannot be circumvented by computerized means, but requires a human to enter numbers displayed on a screen; and
WHEREAS, visual CAPTCHA is impossible for blind people to use, and online entities are developing yet other systems, also impossible for blind people to use, such as credit and debit cards whose security numbers change visibly in accordance with a particular pattern; and
WHEREAS, all these security systems to eliminate fraud may also eliminate blind people from engaging in financial transactions online; and
WHEREAS, security systems that prevent fraud and do not prevent blind users are achievable and should be mandated by our country’s laws requiring access for the disabled: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon online merchants to find solutions that enhance security but do not block the access of blind users to these extremely important online services; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization seek congressional or regulatory solutions to this access barrier if online merchants choose to protect security only by closing out blind Americans.
Regarding Accommodations for High Stakes Testing
WHEREAS, Americans encounter high-stakes testing in at least four pivotal contexts: gateway testing, which determines admission to undergraduate and graduate school; K-12 standardized-progress testing, which assesses both schools and individual performance and, among other results, determines high school graduation in some states; mastery-of-skills testing, used most often to ascertain a student’s mastery of a subject for correct placement in or satisfaction of college course requirements; and licensure testing, through which numerous professions grant or withhold permission to practice a profession; and
WHEREAS, all four types of tests are standardized and administered under rigid security and advance or admit successful test takers to a desired and desirable result; and
WHEREAS, blind citizens of all ages share the dread and the hope of their sighted counterparts when approaching any high-stakes test, but blind citizens carry an extra and onerous burden because our methods of reading and writing do not fit into the definitions of standardization and the parameters of security of the high-stakes testing industry; and
WHEREAS, each blind citizen who approaches one of these test contexts does his or her best with inadequate tools, manages some solution, and moves on, leaving the context unchanged for the next blind victim since the testing context itself is rigidly individualized and demands that each participant enter and leave alone; and
WHEREAS, standardized test providers and administrators range from large private companies to state governments to professional associations to combinations of any two or three, rendering the solution of one person’s testing difficulties irrelevant to a different person struggling at the same time in the same city with a different set of owners, providers, and administrators; and
WHEREAS, a partial list of these difficulties includes no access to practice materials and tests in alternative media; unnecessarily complex and burdensome procedures for testing in an alternative medium, which often results in postponing a key testing event to the disadvantage of the blind person; refusal of test owners and/or administrators to allow testing in a medium commonly used by blind people; refusal of test owners and/or administrators to design computer testing to include blind test takers; demands by test owners and/or administrators for administration in outmoded alternative media; and refusal of test owners and/or administrators to recognize that not all human readers are good readers and that meeting and pretraining a human reader is an appropriate accommodation; and
WHEREAS, these broad failures and the many quirky variations upon them experienced by an ever-growing line of blind test victims are almost impossible for a single test taker to combat and overcome due to the complexity of ownership and responsibility, the time-sensitive nature of most high-stakes testing, and the smokescreen raised by all too many test owners and administrators that accommodations for the blind will, they say, breach test security or invalidate standardization; and
WHEREAS, the result for blind people of this sprawling high-stakes testing mess is that high-stakes testing of the blind tests the stamina, perseverance, determination, and creativity of every blind test taker before the testing day is ever reached and then all too often tests his or her ability to train a human reader under stressful conditions or to use an unfamiliar reading medium under stress rather than the purported purpose of the test itself, leading to scores often wildly at odds with the student’s potential or the professional’s routine performance, an outcome that allows standardized testing to brand blind victims as underachievers when they are merely being scored for taking a high-stakes test under adverse and often adversarial circumstances; and
WHEREAS, modern methods of production of materials, including tests, in alternative media have long since eliminated any rationale for the lack of high-stakes tests in the medium to which a blind test taker is accustomed; and
WHEREAS, most testing unfairness victimizing blind students could be eliminated by the careful crafting of requirements governing the use of high-stakes testing in educational contexts by the U. S. Department of Education (DOE), which could by regulation adopt a Testing Bill of Rights for the Blind in cooperation with high-stakes testers and the National Federation of the Blind which would mandate the use of modern production methods for practice and test materials, the elimination of unnecessary delays in achieving routine accommodations for blind citizens, and the abandonment of prejudices concerning alternative media along with requiring test authors to test subjects or mastery rather than the ability to see or to train a reader; and
WHEREAS, the U. S. Department of Education has regulatory authority that reaches from K-12 through graduate schools and is also concerned with licensure testing for teachers, meaning that its regulations would cover most high-stakes testing, and the areas not specifically covered by DOE regulations would soon be positively affected by a resolution of this problem with which all test owners and administrators ineffectually wrestle: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization forcefully draw to the attention of the U. S. Department of Education the urgent need for a Testing Bill of Rights for the Blind and the Department of Education’s responsibility and opportunity to solve the high-stakes testing challenge so frightening and yet so important to America’s blind citizens in a way very different from the testing difficulties of other citizens; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization use all persuasive and legal means at its disposal to bring about a regulation which can be known as and which can function in reality as a Testing Bill of Rights for the Blind.
Regarding a Screenplay Called Blindness
WHEREAS, the book entitled Blindness, by Jose Saramago, has now been adapted as a screenplay to be directed by Fernando Meirelles, the filming beginning this summer with an anticipated release of next spring; and
WHEREAS, the plot of the book perpetuates society’s fears and misconceptions of blindness in the worst possible manner: the premise of the novel is that an epidemic of blindness is sweeping through a city; the blindness is extremely contagious, though it is unclear exactly how it is transmitted; the people simply, very suddenly, become blind; the blindness is described as a white "sea of milk" known by some as "the white evil" the blind are placed in an abandoned medical facility gated and guarded by armed military personnel to limit their contact with the populace; and
WHEREAS, the book depicts blindness as tragic and hopeless: “If I have to stay like this, I'd rather be dead”; and
WHEREAS, the story involves explicit images of those confined losing all civility—stealing from one another; relieving themselves in hallways and other public areas; using extortion to secure food and sex; committing adultery and murder; and engaging in repeated gang rapes, all of which is graphically detailed; and
WHEREAS, the characters are further dehumanized by not having any names and are repeatedly alluded to as like animals: “It was too funny for words, some of the blind internees advancing on all fours, their faces practically touching the ground as if they were pigs”; and
WHEREAS, Saramago’s book includes countless stereotypes about blindness such as: “They had not been without their sight long enough for their sense of hearing to have become keener than normal”; and
WHEREAS, the only person who does not become blind is the caretaker for a small group of people who are described as better off than the others since they have someone with sight to fend for them; and
WHEREAS, numerous passages discuss the presence and smell of human waste, furthering the degradation of the blind characters—“It was not just the fetid smell that came from the lavatories in gusts that made you want to throw up, it was also the accumulated body odor of two hundred and fifty people whose bodies were steeped in their own sweat, who were neither able nor knew how to wash themselves, who wore clothes that got filthier by the day, who slept in beds where they had frequently defecated”; and
WHEREAS, reviews of the book confirm the destructive consequence of this unfortunate work with comments such as: “The novel Blindness really illustrates the difference between sighted and non-sighted,” and “Hard to know what to make of it. Are we better off learning to live with our blindness or glorying in what little we can see?”; and
WHEREAS, the presumed primacy of sight is further emphasized by comments of reviewers: “The doctor's wife somehow remains sighted, and she is able to give this small group the advantages that allow it to survive when others could not,” and “She alone seems to understand the true scope of what is happening in the story, and she alone sees the full scale of the horror that occurs”: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization condemn and deplore the negative, damaging, distorted description of blindness and blind people contained in the novel, Blindness by Jose Saramago, for playing on society’s fears and deepening prejudice against the blind, leading to lost opportunities in employment and social acceptance; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge Fernando Meirelles, director of the screen adaptation of Blindness to abandon filming in order to limit the damage this misguided novel has already caused; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization use every means at its disposal to bring to the attention of the film’s financial supporters the serious harm that would result from demeaning and degrading blind people in such an irresponsible manner and urge them to withdraw their support of the project.
Regarding the Medicare Waiting Period
WHEREAS, blind people may become eligible to receive Social Security disability if certain non-disability-entitlement conditions are also met; and
WHEREAS, these individuals must wait for two years after the first month of entitlement to cash benefits to receive Medicare; and
WHEREAS, they often need medications or costly, protracted medical treatments involving the reason for their loss of sight that can cause missed work or loss of a job and mounting debt; and
WHEREAS, without affordable medical care the conditions may unnecessarily worsen, further disconnecting the individual from the workforce; and
WHEREAS, other insurance alternatives such as COBRA or Medicaid may be either prohibitively expensive or not available; and,
WHEREAS, having affordable health insurance would help newly blinded individuals to take the extended time necessary to acquire comprehensive adjustment to blindness training, enabling them to return to the workforce with the blindness skills and confidence they need to succeed; and
WHEREAS, Congress alone has the power to reverse the decision made long ago to establish the twenty-four-month qualifying period for Medicare and instead make Medicare available when applicants are first entitled to disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization lend its powerful voice to those who call on Congress to make Medicare entitlement begin at the same time as Social Security disability benefit entitlement, thus permitting blind people and people with other disabilities to access essential health care when they most need it--at the time when their disabling conditions cause them to stop or reduce work.
Regarding Access to Blood Glucose Meters
WHEREAS, diabetics need to measure the level of glucose in their blood accurately in order to control their diabetes and to reduce the risk of diabetic complications; and
WHEREAS, tens of thousands of diabetics need nonvisual access to blood glucose meters because diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among adults of working age in the United States with thousands losing their vision each year; and
WHEREAS, the need for nonvisual access is even greater because many blind and visually impaired senior citizens become diabetic and many diabetic senior citizens lose vision, either temporarily, or permanently, from causes other than diabetes; and
WHEREAS, the ultimate solution to this impediment to independent self-care is to create affordable, accessible meters by adding speech technology and accessibility features to all new blood glucose meters developed for sale in the United States; and
WHEREAS, diabetics with vision have access to a dizzying array of state-of-the-art glucose-testing technology with advanced features such as shorter test times, smaller blood sampling requirements, and portable size; and some such as products in the Prodigy line made by Diagnostic Devices, including the Basic and the AutoCode, are even making use of voice technology to speak the blood glucose level immediately following a test, but are nevertheless not truly accessible to blind diabetics; and
WHEREAS, Roche Diagnostics, the leading provider of accessible diabetes-testing technology available to blind and visually impaired diabetics in the United States for nearly a decade, recently took a disrespectful and cavalier approach to the needs of their loyal blind customers by discontinuing their decade-old VoiceMate system before introducing another accessible alternative; and
WHEREAS, in contrast, Diagnostic Devices, Inc., maker of the Prodigy line, took a more positive approach by seeking guidance from blind diabetics in the National Federation of the Blind in the development of an even more accessible meter called the ProdigyVoice; and
WHEREAS, BBI Health Care, distributors of the SensoCard Plus, a talking meter popular with blind diabetics in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Europe, where it has been available for years, has recently applied to the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval to market the SensoCard Plus in the United States: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization applaud and commend the developers of the ProdigyVoice for their exemplary commitment to making affordable and accessible blood glucose meters, their willingness to seek input from blind consumers, and their success in integrating this advice to create a glucose meter that blind people can use independently; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, consistent with best practices and safety standards, this organization urge the U. S. Food and Drug Administration to expedite the approval of the SensoCard Plus for marketing in the United States, in addition to any other blood glucose meters that enhance blind users’ access; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization establish nonvisual accessibility certification standards for diabetes technology to promote the development of truly accessible products.
Regarding SSDI Earnings Limits for Blind Beneficiaries
WHEREAS, the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI) is our nation’s safety net, designed to catch and support adults who become disabled, but for blind citizens SSDI has turned into a trap that holds blind working-age Americans out of the workforce with a combination of cash benefits and medical coverage worth far more than a beneficiary is allowed to earn before all benefits are abruptly terminated if the beneficiary works and earns more than a prescribed earnings limit; and
WHEREAS, this safety net was intended to catch and does catch an employee losing sight, allowing for time to become accustomed to life as a blind person and to learn how to function capably when blind; and
WHEREAS, at the point when the SSDI recipient is ready and willing to re-enter the workforce, the trap aspect of SSDI emerges, making going to work unaffordable and thus functioning as a work disincentive that many believe is the largest single cause of unemployment in the blind community; and
WHEREAS, the current annualized earnings limit for SSDI beneficiaries of $18,000 is a work disincentive because the blind beneficiary determined to go back to work must risk financial hardships while stepping from SSDI and eventually from Medicare to the amount of annual taxable salary needed to replace SSDI income and Medicare coverage; and
WHEREAS, a single blind person with no dependents receiving $11,700 in annual SSDI benefits must make nearly $20,000 in gross pay to replace the value of SSDI benefits ($2,000 over the current earnings limit), thus creating a disincentive to work, never mind the value of the Medicare coverage that will be lost; and
WHEREAS, a blind beneficiary with two dependents receiving $17,500 in annual SSDI cash benefits must earn a gross income of nearly $32,000 to replace the value of all the SSDI benefits lost by going to work, thus radically restricting the decision to work of parents with dependent children; and
WHEREAS, several years ago Congress dropped earnings limits for our nation’s senior citizens, recognizing the negative impact of an earnings limit, instead creating an incentive for seniors to work if they choose; and
WHEREAS, annually increasing the earnings limit for blind people in graduated steps over five years and eventually linking it to the limit for those of retirement age would create a work incentive for over 100,000 blind beneficiaries and eliminate the current financial penalty now unnecessarily imposed on those wanting and willing to work; and
WHEREAS, an increase in the earnings limit would increase the number of taxpayers and introduce a positive incentive for SSDI beneficiaries to work, thus reducing the shockingly high unemployment rate of 74 percent among America’s blind working-age citizens; and
WHEREAS, an increase in the earnings limit for blind beneficiaries in 2008 to $21,600, in 2009 to $26,400, in 2010 to $30,000, in 2011 to $34,200, and in 2012 to the amount applicable to individuals who attain full retirement age in that year would substantially reduce the work disincentive now posed by SSDI; and
WHEREAS, gradually implementing this work incentive in place of the current work disincentive would encourage and enable beneficiaries to continue working or to re-enter the workforce, would remove the financial risk of going back to work, and would ease the profound restrictions currently limiting the choices blind people can make while supporting themselves and their families: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization urgently call upon Congress to enact legislation amending Title II of the Social Security Act by immediately mandating increases in the level of the earnings limit allowed for blind individuals to achieve removal of the negative impact, limited choices, and restrictions that encourage blind people not to work and replacing them with a work incentive to unlock the trap and free America’s blind citizens to work, earn, and pay taxes without financial risk.
Regarding Automated Bus Stop Announcement Requirements
WHEREAS, on April 11 of this year, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (the Access Board) published in the federal register a proposal to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act Guidelines to require city buses to have an automated stop announcement so that blind passengers routinely hear information about the bus’s location without having to ask the driver or fellow passengers, information that is found useful by sighted passengers as well; and
WHEREAS, this is a significant improvement over current Department of Transportation regulations that require drivers personally and audibly to call major stops because this requirement is more often than not ignored and because its violation is almost impossible to establish for enforcement purposes; and
WHEREAS, blind bus passengers familiar with automated stop announcement systems uniformly agree that these are a vast improvement over bus drivers calling stops but also report that bus drivers all too often render the system inoperable because they claim the noise is distracting; and
WHEREAS, automated stop announcement systems rely on global positioning technology and other complicated software and hardware that must be regularly maintained to perform properly, so that routine maintenance must be mandated along with the systems themselves to achieve the goal of information for bus passengers: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization heartily endorse the proposal to require automated stop announcement systems on buses used for metropolitan transportation; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge the Access Board to revise its proposal in two ways: to define as a violation of the guidelines turning off or otherwise rendering useless the automated stop announcement system, and to require regular maintenance of the system in order that blind passengers can rely upon it.
Regarding No Child Left Behind Testing
WHEREAS, the federal legislation known as “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) revised the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and, among other provisions, required periodic testing of K-12 students to assess progress of students and progress of schools as a whole; and
WHEREAS, re-authorization of NCLB is now before Congress, which will undoubtedly make changes throughout existing law; and
WHEREAS, under current NCLB, states have significant flexibility in the development of tests used to measure student progress; and
WHEREAS, a primary goal of NCLB was to improve the educational progress of historically disadvantaged populations, a focus that should include blind students as a population, a goal this organization fully supports because we are acutely aware of the devastating consequences of denying real educational progress in limiting opportunities in adult life; and
WHEREAS, though test administrators and educators give lip service to the requirement that reasonable accommodations be provided to blind students for these assessments, reality in the testing room denies opportunity to blind students since current tests often rely upon purely visual input and output by students for successful completion of all too many test questions such as requiring one to draw a picture or express a point of view based only on a picture--questions to which blind students cannot successfully respond using accommodations; and
WHEREAS, the NFB wholeheartedly supports participation in assessment tests and demands that blind children fully participate in all assessments just as their sighted peers since these tests are intended to measure the progress of the child or the school, but no NCLB requirement exists to assure that test questions can be answered using nonvisual means, leading to exclusion of blind children from some tests and artificially lowered scores on others; and
WHEREAS, unfortunately, some education professionals, in fear that their schools will score poorly on these assessments if they include children with disabilities in the measures, all too often use a provision in NCLB allowing them to sideline some students or weight scores differently, leading to lessened inclusion of blind students and the consequent postponing of discovery that a particular student is not progressing; and
WHEREAS, educators too often excuse the poor performance of blind students as inherent to blindness instead of working to include them in education and personal progress, and the NCLB emphasis on assessments encourages exclusion of scores, creation of tests that discriminate against blind test subjects, and tolerance of low scores rather than creating pressure to teach blind students to excel; and
WHEREAS, when freed from prejudice and educated in the skills of blindness, blind students can and do compete successfully among their sighted peers for top honors and pride of place, but NCLB’s emphasis on testing and allowance of false testing based on vision undermine the opportunity that education should be providing to blind children; Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon Congress to require developers of assessments under NCLB to develop all test questions so they can be accurately completed without reliance on vision; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge Congress to make unequivocally clear that blindness cannot be a factor used by educational professionals to provide alternate assessments or alternate measures of their educational progress.
Regarding a New Funding Formula for Vocational Rehabilitation
This resolution failed
Regarding the Inaccessibility of Digital Cable Services
WHEREAS, cable television companies such as Comcast, Time Warner, Mediacom, and others are offering a growing number of digitally based and interactive services through their networks such as video on demand; digital video recording and playback; and on-screen, interactive program guides; and
WHEREAS, none of these services can be used without the ability visually to read menus and prompts that are displayed on the television screen, thus rendering them inaccessible to the blind; and
WHEREAS, given that technologies now exist to make computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices fully accessible to the blind, and given that synthesized speech is now available for hand-held devices, this regrettable lack of nonvisual access is difficult to understand, let alone accept; and
WHEREAS, blind cable customers pay as much as everybody else for the cable services they receive, even though some of these services are not fully available to them: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon cable companies such as Comcast, Time Warner, Mediacom, and others to take immediate steps to remove the nonvisual access barriers they have created for their blind customers through the adoption of digitally based, interactive services; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge these same companies to work with the blind themselves, through the National Federation of the Blind, to design, develop, and implement specific solutions that will allow their blind customers to use the same digitally based, interactive services as their sighted peers.
From the Editor: In accordance
with court instruction, we publish the following notice of interest to all legally
blind users or would-be users of automatic teller machines (ATMs):
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS
CIVIL ACTION NO. 03-11206-MEL
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS, et al.,
E*TRADE ACCESS, INC., et al.,
NOTICE OF CLASS DETERMINATIONS, PROPOSED SETTLEMENT AND
HEARING TO BE HELD ON DECEMBER 4, 2007
TO ALL BLIND PATRONS OF AUTOMATED TELLER MACHINES (“ATMs”) OWNED OR OPERATED BY EITHER CARDTRONICS, INC., OR CARDTRONICS, LP (collectively, “Cardtronics”)
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the National Federation of the Blind (“NFB”), and several individual blind persons have brought claims against Cardtronics in the class action lawsuit Commonwealth of Massachusetts, et al. v. E*TRADE Access, Inc., et al., No. CV-03-11206 (the “Lawsuit”), pending before the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts (the “Court”). The lawsuit concerns, among other things, the accessibility of ATMs owned or operated by Cardtronics to blind patrons under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Massachusetts state laws.
The Court has certified a nationwide class in this lawsuit that consists of patrons of ATMs owned or operated by Cardtronics who have total blindness or central vision acuity not to exceed 20/200 in the better eye, with corrective lenses, as measured by the Snellen test, or visual acuity greater than 20/200, but with a limitation in the field of vision such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle of not greater than 20 degrees (the “Class Members”).
CARDTRONICS HAS AGREED TO A SETTLEMENT THAT WILL PROVIDE BENEFITS TO ALL MEMBERS OF THE SETTLING CLASS DESCRIBED BELOW, IF THE SETTLEMENT IS APPROVED BY THE COURT. THE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT WILL ALSO RELEASE ALL CLASS MEMBERS’ CLAIMS FOR INJUNCTIVE RELIEF RELATING TO THE ACCESSIBILITY OF CARDTRONICS’ ATMS TO BLIND PEOPLE AS WELL AS ALL CLASS MEMBER CLAIMS AGAINST E*TRADE BANK FOR REASONABLE ACCOMMODATIONS.
Cardtronics, without admitting any liability, has agreed to settle the lawsuit by, among other actions, ensuring that most ATMs owned by Cardtronics will offer voice guidance through a standard headphone jack located on the face of the ATM by no later than December 31, 2007. Cardtronics will also sell or otherwise make available to merchants or other third parties who own ATMs currently serviced by Cardtronics ATMs that are voice-guided and provide audible instructions to ATM patrons through a standard headphone jack located on the face of the ATM. Finally, Cardtronics has committed that, by July 1, 2010, at least 90 percent (90%) of all transactions at covered ATMs shall occur on ATMs that are voice-guided or otherwise accessible to blind people. A full copy of the settlement agreement is available on Cardtronics’ Web site: <www.cardtronics.net/news/nfb_settlement.asp>. The locations of the existing ATMs covered by the settlement agreement can be obtained through Cardtronics’ ATM locator feature, available at <www.cardtronics.net/about/atmlocator.asp>.
Cardtronics has agreed to make a contribution of $100,000 to the Attorney General’s local consumer aid fund of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and, subject to Court approval, to pay the amount of $900,000 in attorneys’ fees to the attorneys representing the class. These amounts will not detract from Cardtronics’s duties to provide accessible ATMs to the class. The Court will conduct a hearing on the motion of class counsel for their attorneys’ fees at the date and time set forth in the following paragraph.
YOU ARE HEREBY NOTIFIED, pursuant to Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and an Order of the Court dated July 26, 2007, and as thereafter amended, that a Final Approval Hearing will be held on December 4, 2007, at 11:00 a.m., before that Court in the United States Courthouse, One Courthouse Way, Boston, Massachusetts 02210. The purpose of this Final Approval Hearing is to determine whether the proposed settlement of the lawsuit should be approved by the Court as fair, reasonable, and adequate, whether the application for awards of attorneys’ fees, contribution to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s local consumer aid fund, and reimbursement for expenses should be approved, and whether this action should be dismissed on the merits and with prejudice.
Class Members who wish to object to the proposed settlement must provide notice of and explanation of their objection in writing to the Court at the address above, with copies to Counsel at the addresses provided below, no later than October 31, 2007. Only Class Members filing timely objections may request to present their objections at the Final Approval Hearing.
Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General Attn: Patricia Correa
Assistant Attorney General
100 Cambridge Street, 11th floor
Boston, MA 02108
Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP Attn: Daniel F. Goldstein, Esq. 120 E. Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
Douglas P. Lobel
Cooley Godward Kronish LLP
One Freedom Square
Reston Town Center
11951 Freedom Drive
Reston, VA 20190
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION VISIT <www.cardtronics.net/news/nfb_settlement.asp>. OR CONTACT COUNSEL FOR THE PLAINTIFFS:
Commonwealth of Massachusetts Office of Attorney General, Disability Rights Project, (617) 727-2200, www.ago.state.ma.us/sp.cfm?pageid=1195
Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP, (410) 962-1030, <www.browngold.com>
EXCEPT AS INSTRUCTED IN THE NOTICE, PLEASE DO NOT CONTACT THE COURT.
Dated: July 26, 2007 By Order of the
United States District Court
For the District of Massachusetts
News from the Federation Family
March Medallion Recipients:
As described in the lead photo story in this issue, everyone interested in taking part in the NFB March for Independence on July 3 was welcome to join our march, and a number did so. Lisa Hamilton, president of the UPS Foundation, and several officials from Coca-Cola joined the ranks of convention attendees who were marching. Those who had raised $250 or more wore March T-shirts. Baseball caps went to those who raised at least $500, and those responsible for contributions of at least $1,000 received handsome medallions on red-, white-, and blue-striped ribbons for wearing around the neck. The medallions measure two inches in diameter. The front bears the March logo of marching Whozits with the words, “NFB March for Independence 2007.” The figures 2007 also appear in Braille. The reverse contains the words “National Federation of the Blind,” a picture of Whozit, and the letters “NFB” in print and Braille. Here is the alphabetical list of medallion recipients:
Cintra Booth Calder
Mary Ellen Jernigan
Eileen Rivera Ley
The following are the results
of division elections and other brief division information sent to us by press
The following officers and board members were elected at our annual meeting: president, Robert Leslie Newman (Nebraska); first vice president, Loraine Stayer (New York); second vice president, Jerry Whittle (Louisiana); secretary, Tom Stevens (Missouri); treasurer, Helen Stevens (Missouri); and board members, Chelsea Cook (Virginia), Lucille Hemingway (South Carolina), Sean Moore (Georgia), and Kasondra Payne (Utah).
A change in leadership
with its new blood is often a good thing. Since 1982 the Writers Division has
had four presidents: the first was R. Plumstead, then Pam Taylor, Nancy Scott,
and Tom Stevens, who is now retiring after years of faithful and dedicated service.
National Association of Blind Veterans
At the convention about thirty-five interested people gathered in the Affiliate Action Suite on Tuesday evening, July 3, to form the newest division of the NFB, the National Association of Blind Veterans, a division of the National Federation of the Blind. Officers were elected, and the group is meeting by email to write a constitution and get it to the national board for approval by September 1. The officers and board are as follows: president, Dwight D. Sayer (Florida); first vice president, Kirk Waters (Louisiana); second vice president, Leslie Bledsoe (Texas); secretary, Leslie Fairall (Connecticut); treasurer, Don Srail (North Carolina), phone (704) 638-5714; and board members Kirk Harmon (Florida), Deborah Waters (Louisiana), Allen Bornstein (Florida), Ken Mitchell (Georgia), Clarence Huggins (South Carolina), and Edwin Jackson (Maryland). We will have complete contact information for board members on our Web site, as well as a myriad of veterans’ resources as soon as it is up, but for now, if anyone wishes to join the NABV, please call treasurer Don Srail at the number listed after his name to give your personal contact information and get his address for sending your dues of a whopping $5 a year. The National Association of Blind Veterans is on the move and going to change what it means across the USA to be a blind veteran.
The Diabetes Action Network
The 2007 DAN board members are president, Lois Williams (Alabama); first vice president, Ed Bryant (Missouri); second vice president, Mike Freeman (Washington); secretary, Bernadette Jacobs (Maryland); treasurer, Joy Stigile (California); and board members Maria Bradford (Washington), LeAnne Mayne (Illinois), and Minnie Walker (Alabama).
The National Association of Blind Students
Ryan Strunk, retiring NABS president, reports the following election results: president, Tai Tomasi (Utah); first vice president, Terri Rupp (Nevada); second vice president, Arielle Silverman (Arizona); secretary, J.J. Meddaugh (Michigan); treasurer, Darrel Kirby (Iowa); and board members, Yolanda Garcia Texas), B.J. Sexton (California), Domonique Lawless (Tennessee), and Jennifer Kennedy (Ohio).
National Organization of Blind Educators
NOBE conducted elections with the following results: president, Sheila Koenig (Minnesota); vice president, Priscilla McKinley (Virginia); second vice president, Paul Howard (Indiana); secretary, Lisa Johnson (Wisconsin); and treasurer, Cheralyn Creer (Utah).
National Federation of the Blind Senior Division
The National Organization of the Senior Blind (NOSB) held its annual meeting during the NFB convention. Our not-so-silent auction raised over $500, and over a hundred people paid their dues. Our big news is that we are changing our name. We will now be known as the National Federation of the Blind Senior Division. Competition was hot and heavy in our election. We elected two board members, and our officers will serve for another year. Our board is as follows: president, Judy Sanders (Minnesota); first vice president, Ray McGeorge (Colorado); second vice president, Roy Hobley (Nebraska); secretary, James Willows (California); treasurer, Paul Dressell (Ohio); and board members, Marie Cobb (Maryland) and Don Gillmore (Illinois).
Don't forget that you can purchase our senior book from the Independence Market to share with seniors and their families in your community. It is called So You Don't See as Well as You Used To and costs $5 in 16-point print or on standard cassette.
Steve Benson of Illinois reports the following event and recollection from this convention:
During this year’s national convention one of my Illinois colleagues picked up and read a print copy of Over the Top in Darkness, the biography of Jacob Bolotin, MD, at the NFB literature table. She shared some of the text with me. The name “Bolotin” was familiar to me, for Jacob Bolotin founded Boy Scout Troop 300, a Scout troop for blind kids. Upon his death his brother Fred took over the troop and served as Scoutmaster into the early fifties.
I joined Troop 300 in 1952. Fred J. Bolotin taught us Morse code. He showed us how to build a crystal set and one-tube radio, which we had to build on our own, and they both had to work. He was the first blind adult I ever met. He retired shortly after I joined the troop, but his presence was definitely felt. In 1955 I received the Fred J. Bolotin Memorial Award for leadership and all-around Scouting activity.
I feel a strong connection with Over the Top in Darkness; the goals Jacob Bolotin set for the troop were still conveyed to us in the 1950s. We learned everything about camping: how to pack a pack frame or knapsack, erect a tent, and build a fire and cook over it. Moreover, we were expected to perform these tasks as well as our sighted peers. The ideas of independence and self-sufficiency were strongly etched in our minds. Some of us accepted all that was taught; others didn’t, and the difference between those who accepted the principles and those who didn’t was, and still is, stark.
For me Scouting was a wonderful experience, and it all dates back to a blind man who had the courage, the drive, the perspective, and the brilliance to become a successful doctor and blaze a well-defined trail for those who followed in his footsteps.
Presentation of the Fredric K. Schroeder Award:
The officers and directors of the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB) were pleased to present the 2007 Fredric K. Schroeder Award for outstanding contributions to the field of travel training for the blind. This honor is not automatically presented each year but only as often as it has been earned through exemplary service in the field of work with the blind. The board felt that such a candidate was deserving this year, so the 2007 recipient was Dr. Edward C. Bell.
Dr. Bell earned a bachelor’s degree in human development with a concentration in children's services from California State University, San Marcos, a master’s degree in educational psychology with a concentration in orientation and mobility from Louisiana Tech University, and a Ph.D. in rehabilitation education and research from the University of Arkansas. He also holds a certificate in educational statistics and research methods and certification as a rehabilitation counselor (CRC) and as an orientation and mobility instructor (NOMC).
Currently Dr. Bell directs the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University. In this capacity not only does he administer the overall operations of the Institute, but he is also the coordinator of the orientation and mobility program, which prepares professionals to work as cane travel instructors. In addition to these responsibilities, Dr. Bell has also been instrumental in developing the National Orientation and Mobility Certification (NOMC). He has conducted significant research in the field of rehabilitation of the blind and lectured extensively on the subject.
This award was presented to Dr. Bell at the recent National Blindness Professional Certification Board luncheon in Atlanta, which was held immediately before the NFB national convention. The plaque was presented by Fred Schroeder, which made the honor that much greater, and reads as follows:
National Blindness Professional
Fredric K. Schroeder Award
Edward C. Bell, Ph.D., NOMC, CRC
For excellence in furthering Structured Discovery Cane Travel Methodology and the National Orientation and Mobility Certification. Because of your pioneering, dedicated, and exemplary contributions to the field of orientation and mobility, the blind of tomorrow will be enabled to walk independently through life with faith justified by self-confidence.
National Blindness Professional Certification Board
June 30, 2007
Preparing for Meet the Blind Month:
Has your chapter begun to make plans for its 2007 Meet the Blind Month activities? A number of folks received the following good advice in detail at a workshop during the convention. You still have time to find opportunities to locate meet-and-greet venues and arrange to be at various retail locations, community fairs, or other neighborhood events; but you must begin preparation now. Planning and action equal success.
Many communities have fall festivals that provide an excellent opportunity for your members to talk to their neighbors about blindness. Sometimes festival organizers provide tables and signage for the exhibitors. If this is the case, your members just show up with handout literature. If you must bring your own table and chairs, ask a church friend or relative, Lions Club member, UPS volunteer, or coworker to provide assistance with set-up. Chapter members can do the rest.
An attractive sign with the NFB logo will help generate attention. Contact the national office for an electronic version of the logo or ideas to discuss with your local sign maker.
Meet the Blind Month chapter organizers have found Wal-Mart or other big-box stores to be an excellent weekend location to meet-and-greet hundreds of their neighbors in a short period of time. Saturdays and Sundays are the best days at these locations. Families come out together. There you have a chance to get the attention of both young and old to change their misconceptions about blindness and reshape the thinking of the next generation of employers about the abilities of the blind. At these venues a fundraising component can also be added to make the day both educational and profitable for your chapter. If you have Krispy Kreme in your area or a local bakery, speak with them about selling some of their specialties.
Our Braille Is Beautiful program is designed to be shared with a class of students or at a service club meeting like the Lions or Rotary. The Braille Is Beautiful video set is available at no cost to chapter leaders who make arrangements for members to present the program to children or adults.
Whatever setting you choose, remember to provide an opportunity for your members to demonstrate techniques that show how you accomplish everyday tasks, just in a slightly different way. Assistive technology such as the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader or electronic notetaker can also be demonstrated to add a high-tech component to your display.
This year it is easier than ever to share your plans with the national office and order free literature at the same time. NFB materials, including Braille alphabet cards, are available again in predetermined packets to speed up the order process. Find 2007 Meet the Blind Month information and order forms on our Web site <www.nfb.org>.
Because of the popularity
and continued growth of Meet the Blind Month, the literature order shipment
cutoff date this year is Friday, September 14. To guarantee your delivery of
materials for October activities, be sure to place your order by that date.
In addition, for more information or to brainstorm about activities you can plan, contact our director of special projects, Jerry Lazarus, by calling (410) 659-9314, extension 2297, or by sending an email to <email@example.com>.
Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.
HumanWare Victor Reader Talking Book Player for NISO and DAISY Books Available:
One of the most exciting pieces of new technology unveiled at this year’s convention was HumanWare’s Victor Reader Stream. At this writing (late July) it has not yet shipped, but everyone who ordered it is anxiously awaiting its arrival. Gerry Chevalier, HumanWare Victor Reader product manager, explains here just what this exciting pocket-size player can do:
At the NFB convention in July 2007 HumanWare, supplier of the Victor Reader line of CD-based digital Talking Book players, launched its first flash-based portable Talking Book player, the Victor Reader Stream. The Stream is the result of an NFB and HumanWare partnership in which the NFB participated in the design, usability, and user testing of the new player. The NFB also participated with HumanWare in the design of the new National Library Service (NLS) Talking Book player. The Stream is designed to play NISO Z39.86 2002 books, DAISY books, and MP3 books and music. NISO Z39.86 is the format that will be used for the new NLS digital Talking Books.
As Federationists know, NLS is transitioning its four-track cassette Talking Book service to a new digital format. At our convention NLS announced that in late summer 2007 it plans to expand its trial of downloaded digital Talking Books to include all NLS patrons who are registered with their local libraries and who have a computer and high-speed Internet connection to download the books. They must also have an NLS-authorized digital book player capable of playing the NISO books downloaded from the NLS server.
Only residents of the United States or American citizens living abroad who are unable to read or use standard print materials as a result of a temporary or permanent visual or physical limitation may receive NLS audio book services. Each individual must be certified first before accessing the NLS audio book services.
The new Victor Reader Stream will be able to play downloaded NLS NISO books as soon as NLS authorizes the player to do so. NLS NISO books are encrypted, and any digital player must be authorized by NLS with a decryption code to play the NLS books.
HumanWare has discussed the player-authorization process with NLS. The development of the Web form and NLS operational procedures is currently underway. As soon as NLS concludes this process, Victor Reader Stream users will be able to register for NLS download book service through a simple Web form on the NLS Web site. Once the patron is registered for NLS download book service, HumanWare will be able to supply the patron with the required software decryption code to install on the Stream. The decryption code will be sent from HumanWare in a simple email attachment.
NLS also announced that it will further expand its digital service in 2008 to begin sending digital recorded books on special cartridges mailed to its members. Included in the Stream package is a short USB cable to allow the future book cartridges to be connected to the Stream and copied to the Stream’s SD memory card. For users who prefer to play the cartridge directly on the player, HumanWare will sell an optional book cartridge holder that will clip to the back of the Stream. As with download books, the cartridge books may be played only on an authorized Stream player equipped with the decryption code.
As the newest member of the family of Victor Reader digital Talking Book players, the Stream offers the same powerful and simple-to-use user interface made popular by the Victor Reader Classic+ and Wave players used by thousands worldwide. Stream users will find the well-known four-arrow navigation keys of the Classic+ and Wave, allowing book navigation by chapter and section without the need to memorize complex key combinations. As well, the Stream’s telephone-style keypad provides advanced book navigation functions such as entering bookmarks or jumping directly to a specified page or heading. The Stream also has the popular Key Describer feature of other Victor Readers allowing you to press a key anytime to announce its function.
The Stream is an ideal companion to the future NLS player because it does everything the NLS player will do but in a pocket-size package. Once the player is authorized, not only will you be able to play and navigate the NLS books on cartridges, but you will also have access to the NLS download books. The Stream has a USB port to connect to your computer so you can transfer download books from your PC to the Stream’s SD flash memory card.
In addition to the ability
to read NLS books, Stream will also play recorded DAISY 2.02 books from other
DAISY producers, including RFB&D. However, every day more and more books
and content are becoming available in nonrecorded, electronic text formats.
Stream also has built-in computer text-to-speech to listen to the text portion
of full text/full audio books or the text-only books such as those from Bookshare.
The built-in speech also provides access to text files transferred from your
computer. Indeed, the Stream combines the best features of the NLS player together
with the award-winning Victor Reader CD and software players to make Stream
the most powerful NISO and DAISY player in the HumanWare family. As an advanced
player for recorded audio, e-text NISO and DAISY, and plain computer text, Stream
is truly the complete solution in the palm of your hand for all your work-,
school-, or leisure-reading needs.
But what about MP3 books and music? As an MP3 player, not only will Stream play your books and music but, using the built-in text-to-speech, it will also announce the book, album, and track names. And rounding out its versatile book-reading capabilities, Stream will support the popular commercial recorded books from Audible.
Weighing in at only six ounces and measuring 4.5-by-2.75 inches, this little player does it all. Consider a player that is not much bigger than a pack of cards that will have the ability to play NLS-downloaded books and book cartridges and will also play RFB&D books, Bookshare books, MP3 books, Audible books, computer e-text, and MP3 music files.
Finally, the Victor Reader Stream also has voice-recording capability for students and professionals who may want to record audio notes, meetings, or lectures. Recording is possible using a built-in microphone or external microphone connection. For listening versatility the Stream will allow the user to vary the playback speed and listen through headphones or a small built-in speaker.
The best news of all--priced at only $329, the Stream is your best buy for a NISO and DAISY player offering so much performance and functionality at such a low price. And don’t forget all NFB members receive a 5 percent discount. Visit <www.Humanware.com>. This site has complete product information and the opportunity to be first in line to purchase your Stream. Product and sales information is also available by calling HumanWare toll-free at (800) 722-3393.
HumanWare is confident that you will find the Victor Reader Stream is one of the most exciting products introduced in recent years.
And Away We Row!
Aerial Gilbert, outreach manager at Guide Dogs for the Blind, provided the following report of one of the more physically demanding activities at this year’s convention:
Though no water was in sight, Dr. Marc Maurer and his son David rowed as though their lives depended on it. They were engaged in a friendly father-son competition on stationary rowing machines at the NFB convention. Although still in their white shirts and ties, they gave it their all. To the delight of spectators, David emerged victorious. Ever the good sport, Dr. Maurer commented that this was a great opportunity to promote exercise and activity. It was a way for blind people of all ages to compete on an equal playing field with those who have sight.
For Guide Dogs for the Blind it was an opportunity to introduce participants to an active lifestyle, as well as an active guide dog lifestyle. Guide Dogs for the Blind coordinated efforts with the NFB Sports and Recreation Division as well as with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children to host the successful three-hour rowing event and tournament. The event drew over a hundred participants and spectators.
The guide dog lifestyle workshops gave people of all ages the opportunity to have a hands-on experience with a guide dog and get their questions answered about our free services. We were thrilled to speak with interested family members about our school and give people an understanding of the responsibilities and rewards of having a guide dog.
In addition we unveiled our new GDB Swiss Guide Dog harness. The sleek design provides a good physical connection and communication between the dog and person. As the dog pulls, its movements are transmitted from the strap on the dog’s chest to the handle. The white handle is a good safety feature; it also removes in a snap to make travel in confined spaces easier and more comfortable for the dog.
We were honored to be a
part of this year’s convention, and we look forward to attending again in 2008.
A Word of Thanks to Our Sponsors:
The National Federation of the Blind once again thanks our many sponsors of this year’s national convention. Your continued support and interest in our work are important to us and deeply appreciated.
Sponsors of our 2007 national convention included the following:
Platinum—Independent Living Aids, Intel, UPS
Silver—Guide Dogs for the Blind, IBM, Marriott Global Reservation Sales
Exhibit Hall—Diagnostic Devices, Inc., GW Micro, Optelec, Sendero Group, Solutions Radio, Tenacity, Inc.
We appreciate the wide variety of services and products offered by these fourteen sponsors. Most participated in our annual special evening for sponsors in the exhibit hall, at which their products only were displayed and demonstrated. In addition, quite a number of our members became raffle winners of prizes donated by sponsors.
A number of representatives from these organizations participated with us in our first March for Independence. These sponsors' support for our efforts to achieve equality in the workplace, independence in the voting booth, and the general use and availability of Braille encourages us in our struggle for equality. Thank you again to all the sponsors for your financial support, your continued efforts to provide the latest technology and services to blind people, and your strong commitment to the National Federation of the Blind. We salute you.
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.
The following three songs were among those sung at the banquet on July 5. The final one was brought to the 2007 Washington Seminar by the Louisiana delegation.
Words by Angela Cummings
Para-transit, para-transit, para-transit,
I did ride.
You have hurt my heart and soul, but most of all you hurt my pride.
Had a rendezvous with my sweetheart set the time for half past eight.
By the time it finally got there, it was almost three hours late.
Then the driver when arriving took away my long white cane.
So I missed a step or two. Now I’m in a searing pain.
So I boarded paratransit looking for an empty seat.
Then another person’s wheelchair caught and tripped me off my feet.
Though my port of destination only was a mile away,
Yet I had to cross the Interstate, and the driver took all day.
My return trip I requested from a clerk who could not write.
They forgot where they had left me, so I camped out overnight.
Para-transit, para-transit, you have left me sad and blue.
For the sweetheart whom I once loved is now seeing someone new.
Oh this means of transportation has caused me such a fuss
I’ll give up on para-transit, and I’ll ride the public bus.
The Library Song
Words by Curtis Willoughby
Tune: Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys Are Marching
At the mailbox I sit thinking of the book I need,
And the library so cold and far away.
And the tears they fill my eyes ‘spite of all that I can do
When I think of what the library will say.
“Wait, wait, wait, your book’s not in yet.
We’ll try to have it next year without fail.
We are not your corner store. We cannot do any more.
After all, we know just one percent read Braille.”
‘Cause they’re running out of space. “For your book there is no place.
The demand for it, you see, is far too low.
How about a light romance or a novel set in France,
For we mostly serve the elderly, you know.”
So at home and on the job I am waiting for the day
When the mail man will come up to my door
With the book that I have sought and not the one they thought
That my profile showed I should be asking for.
The White Cane
Tune: As the Caissons Go Rolling Along
Over hill over dale we will hit
the concrete trail
As our white canes go tapping along,
Down the block, across the street, walking on our own two feet,
As our white canes go tapping along,
On the job or at home, wherever we may roam, yes, independent and free, NFB!
We will find our way at night or in the day as our white canes go tapping along.
On a bus, on a train, even flying on a plane as our white canes go tapping along,
As we board, find our seat, no great danger shall we meet as our white canes go tapping along.
We’re the able blind, so leave your carts behind. Don’t put us in your holding tank, no thanks.
We’ll meet no harm; don’t view us with alarm as our white canes go tapping along.
On we go at full speed no contraptions do we need as our white canes go tapping along.
No rough tiles for our feet, nor the traffic signals’ tweet as our white canes go tapping along.
No Ph.D’s, just skillful travelers please, teaching blind people to be free, NFB!
And the rehab snobs can go and find real jobs as our white canes go tapping along.
As our white canes go tapping along.
The Blind Go Marching
Words by Louisiana Center for the Blind Students
The blind go marching one by one,
The blind go marching two by two, hurrah hurrah.
The blind go marching three by three,
We're making NFB history,
As we all come together at Washington Seminar.
tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap
The blind go marching four by four,
The blind go marching five by five, hurrah hurrah.
The blind go marching six by six,
We're shaping national politics,
As we all come together at Washington Seminar.
tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap
The blind go marching seven by seven,
The blind go marching eight by eight, hurrah hurrah.
The blind go marching nine by nine,
We're keeping Jernigan's dreams alive,
As we all come together at Washington Seminar.
tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap
The blind go marching ten by ten,
The blind go marching ten by ten, hurrah hurrah.
The blind go marching ten by ten,
And next year we'll be back again,
As we all come together at Washington Seminar.
tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap
The blind go marching all as one,
The blind go marching all as one, hurrah hurrah.
The blind go marching all as one,
And we won't give up till the job is done,
As we all come together at Washington Seminar.