Braille Monitor August/September 2007
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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.
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.
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