Vol. 50, No. 10 November 2007
Barbara Pierce, editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, president
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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. 10 November 2007
We Want Cars that Sound
by Daniel B. Frye
First Step in Adding Accessibility
to Google Books–Was It Enough?
by George Kerscher
Reflections on Becoming
by Rebecca Atkinson
Work, Instruction, and
at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind
by Kirk Adams
Blind and a Peer of the
by Colin Low
A Day in the Life of My
by Konnie Ellis
Taking up the Braille Challenge
by Leslie Stocker
$150,000 for Blind Students
The 2008 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Program
Braille Readers Are Leaders
by Barbara Cheadle
Martinez Aims at Para-Olympics
An Open Letter from Kevan Worley
Copyright 2007 National Federation of the Blind
by Daniel B. Frye
A hundred and fifty members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland and neighboring East Coast affiliates assembled in front of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) on Wednesday, October 3, 2007, to protest the agency’s failure to incorporate blindness-specific modifications in the manufacture of hybrid cars and other low-emissions vehicles in regulations pursuant to the Maryland Clean Cars Act of 2007. Highlighting the real dangers of unmodified quiet vehicles to blind pedestrians, Federationists marched, chanted, and carried signs on the public sidewalk in front of the MDE, in plain view of passing traffic. Shouting slogans like “We want cars that sound like cars,” “Quiet cars give me a run-down feeling,” and “Environmental not detrimental,” protesters made it clear that the NFB, while valuing the environmental benefits of hybrid vehicles, also wants these ecologically friendly products to make a sound sufficient to alert blind—and indeed all--pedestrians of their presence.
Our protest garnered significant press coverage, including an exclusive Associated Press national print article; coverage on WYPR, the Baltimore-based National Public Radio affiliate; and local television coverage from all of the major networks. Jay Leno of NBC’s Tonight Show even made mention of our concerns about quiet vehicles in his monologue of Thursday, October 4, 2007.
By way of background, the NFB of Maryland was the first Federation affiliate in the United States to have language adopted in state legislation requiring an appropriate administrative agency with responsibility for regulating hybrid vehicles to take into consideration the needs of blind pedestrians. Section 6-C of the Maryland Clean Cars Act of 2007 directed the MDE to “consider the needs” of the blind in relation to quiet hybrid vehicles. When the proposed regulations implementing this law were released for public comment, however, they contained not a single word addressing this critical issue. In view of the MDE’s flagrant disregard of their legislative mandate to consider the potential impact of quiet hybrid vehicles on blind pedestrians, the NFB of Maryland determined to make its concerns known to both policymakers and the general public. Having been exasperated by this total disregard of the importance of the quiet car issue, Maryland affiliate leaders decided both to provide public comment on the absence of blindness-specific considerations in the regulations and to escalate the visibility of the organization’s concerns to the general public through a protest.
After demonstrating for almost an hour, designated speakers for the public hearing addressing the pending regulations filed into the auditorium to sign in and take their seats. The balance of the protesters gathered for a little street theater designed to dramatize the potentially deadly threat that hybrid vehicles pose to blind pedestrians. The driver of the silent Toyota Prius, rented especially for this occasion to illustrate the car’s stealthy characteristics, pretended to hit and kill Rosy Carranza, coordinator of program services in the National Federation of the Blind’s Department of Affiliate Action. While onlookers mourned her untimely death, her body was recovered from the street, gingerly placed in a coffin, and loaded into a hearse. Protesters lined up behind the hearse to circumnavigate the MDE parking lot before entering the hearing. MDE security personnel initially declined to admit the hearse to their property (the MDE offices are on privately leased property), but they eventually yielded in response to chants of “Let us in, let us in.” Once they had paid appropriate respects, all demonstration participants entered the building to attend the hearing.
The text of
the Associated Press article about the protest dated October 2, 2007, which
was reprinted with minor variations in at least fifty newspapers across the
Blind People Say Hybrids Are Hazard
by Ben Nuckols
Gas-electric hybrid vehicles, the status symbol for the environmentally conscientious, are coming under attack from a constituency that doesn't drive: the blind. Because hybrids make virtually no noise at slower speeds when they run solely on electric power, blind people say they pose a hazard to those who rely on their ears to determine whether it's safe to cross the street or walk through a parking lot.
"I'm used to being able to get sound cues from my environment and negotiate accordingly. I hadn't imagined there was anything I really wouldn't be able to hear," said Deborah Kent Stein, chairwoman of the National Federation of the Blind's Committee on Automotive and Pedestrian Safety. "We did a test, and I discovered, to my great dismay, that I couldn't hear it."
The tests--admittedly unscientific--involved people standing in parking lots or on sidewalks who were asked to signal when they heard several different hybrid models drive by. "People were making comments like, 'When are they going to start the test?' And it would turn out that the vehicle had already done two or three laps around the parking lot," Stein said.
As gas prices continue to rise--along with concern about harmful emissions--hybrid cars are increasing in popularity. New hybrid vehicle registrations grew more than 49 percent nationwide in the first seven months of 2007 compared with the same period in 2006, according to R.L. Polk & Co., an automotive research firm. Toyota Motor Corp. has sold nearly four hundred and sixty thousand of the most popular hybrid model, the Prius, since it hit the market in 2000, according to the company, which pegs total hybrid sales at just over nine hundred thousand.
Officials with the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind are quick to point out that they're not advocating a return to gas guzzlers. They'd just like the fuel-efficient hybrids to make some noise. NFB President Marc Maurer said he received an email from an environmentalist who suggested that the members of his group should be the first to drown when sea levels rise from global warming. "I don't want to pick that way of going, but I don't want to get run over by a quiet car either," Maurer said.
The NFB--the leading advocacy group for 1.3 million legally blind people in the United States--made pleas to the auto industry and to federal and state agencies, with little concrete success so far. On Wednesday the president of the NFB's Maryland chapter planned to present written testimony asking for a minimum sound standard for hybrids to be included in the state's emissions regulations. But those regulations are crafted by the Maryland Department of the Environment, which has no oversight of auto safety, said Robert Ballinger, a spokesman for the department. He said the department would work with the NFB to press the issue with auto manufacturers and federal transportation officials.
Manufacturers are aware of the problem but have made no pledges yet. Toyota is studying the issue internally, said Bill Kwong, a spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales USA. "One of the many benefits of the Prius, besides excellent fuel economy and low emissions, is quiet performance. Not only does it not pollute the air, it doesn't create noise pollution," Kwong said. "We are studying the issue and trying to find that delicate balance."
The Association of International Auto Manufacturers, Inc., a trade group, is also studying the problem, along with a committee established by the Society of Automotive Engineers. The groups are considering "the possibility of setting a minimum noise level standard for hybrid vehicles," said Mike Camissa, the safety director for the manufacturers' association. Officials with two separate arms of the U.S. Department of Transportation--the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Highway Administration--said they are aware of the problem but have not studied it.
While Stein said she would prefer that hybrids sound similar to conventional engines, other blind people said they'd be fine with any sound that was inoffensive but easy to detect. Both sides agree that it wouldn't be prohibitively expensive to outfit cars with an adequate noisemaking device. "It's cheaper than an air bag or other safety devices," Kwong said. "Any kind of audio device is going to be relatively inexpensive."
The blind, however, will have to win over some hybrid owners as well as advocates for reduced noise pollution. Some think that making hybrids louder won't solve anything. "To further expose millions of people to excessive noise pollution by making vehicles artificially loud is neither logical nor practical nor in the public interest," said Richard Tur, founder of NoiseOFF, a group that raises awareness of noise pollution. Others believe that distracted pedestrians are at greater risk than blind people from quiet cars.
"The only way to function driving any car, forgetting the fact that it's a Prius, is to just be very careful and see who's around you," said George Margolin of Newport Beach, California, who runs a club for Prius owners with his wife. "We have to be as careful as anyone else and perhaps even more so."
are not the only ones who've had close calls. Linda Murphy, fifty-seven, a personal
administrative assistant from San Marcos, California, has 20/20 vision when
she wears her glasses, but she's almost been hit twice by hybrids. "I'm
walking right in back of it and it's moving and I didn't realize it until it
nearly touched me," Murphy said, describing the first of her scares. "I
never realized how dependent I was on my ears until I almost got hit."
At the beginning of the hearing Shari T. Wilson, Maryland’s secretary of the environment, offered a sympathetic and conciliatory statement in general support of the NFB’s identified concerns about hybrid vehicles. Secretary Wilson offered to work with the Maryland affiliate to convey our concerns to hybrid car manufacturers. While experienced Federationists remained skeptical about promises of continued dialogue with traditionally nonresponsive hybrid vehicle manufacturers, it was good to know that our message was hitting home with somebody in a position of authority. The public and political pressure applied in this instance clearly attracted Secretary Wilson’s attention, and to her credit she remained throughout the hearing to listen to the concerns of all twenty-six Federationists who offered testimony condemning the absence of blindness-specific considerations in relation to the manufacture of quiet hybrid vehicles.
legislative chairperson for the Maryland affiliate, was the first person to
address the hearing panel. In addition to delivering the written remarks prepared
by the affiliate and submitted under the name of Michael Gosse, NFB of Maryland
president, she supplemented these comments with technical information on the
ability of blind people to interact with quiet hybrid vehicles provided by Dr.
Lawrence Rosenblum, professor of perceptual psychology at the University of
California, Riverside. Dr. Rosenblum has conducted substantial research on quiet
cars and the blind, and his observations offer a compelling reason to take heed
of our adopted policy positions on this issue. Following is the prepared text
of the testimony submitted to the MDE from the NFB of Maryland:
My name is Dr. Michael Gosse, and I am the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. My address is 603 South Milton Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland 21224, and my telephone number is (410) 558-0616.
The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, one of the fifty-two nationwide affiliates of the National Federation of the Blind and the largest organization of blind Marylanders, is pleased to have the opportunity to comment on the proposed regulations to implement the Low Emissions Vehicle Program mandated by the Maryland Clean Cars Act of 2007. The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland does not oppose the Low Emissions Vehicle Program or its objectives. But we did call to the attention of the General Assembly an unintended consequence of new low-emissions vehicles: they are silent. At present the most popular low-emissions vehicles are gas-electric hybrid cars. When hybrids run on battery power, they make no sound detectable to the human ear. Hybrids are dangerous enough, but it can be assumed that in the coming years even stealthier low emissions vehicles, which may not use gasoline engines at all, will come on the market. Unless steps are taken now to reverse the trend toward vehicles that are silent when operating on the roadways of our state and nation, the blind will lose the only source of information we have about the flow of traffic, resulting in injury and death to some of us and difficulty in traveling safely to work, to school, and to church for many more. Cyclists, runners, walkers, and small children are also rendered vulnerable by the inability to hear the approach of these vehicles.
The National Federation of the Blind has been concerned about the proliferation of silent vehicles since 2003. To address our concerns, we created a Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety. This committee conducted numerous tests with blind volunteers to ascertain if there was any way a blind person can reliably detect these vehicles. The tests, however, repeatedly showed that blind people cannot hear these vehicles until they are far too close. Had any of the test subjects actually attempted to cross the streets or parking lots we employed in the test when they thought it would be safe to do so, they would have been crushed and killed by a Toyota Prius or Honda Civic.
The Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety of the National Federation of the Blind held a conference to determine the best solution to this problem and carefully considered whether there were viable solutions that did not require a continuous sound generated by the vehicle itself. Ultimately, however, the committee concluded that alternate solutions were either too technologically complex (and expensive), difficult to implement, or unreliable to ensure pedestrian safety. Members of the Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety and other officials of the National Federation of the Blind attempted to speak with the manufacturers of these vehicles in hopes of reaching a solution, but the blind of America were rebuffed at every turn. Most of the car companies have simply ignored us; Honda initially agreed to meet with us but canceled the meeting in response to pressure from the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers.
When the Maryland Clean Cars Act was proposed, the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland saw an opportunity for our concerns to be enshrined in the laws and regulations propagated by a state and at least to protect blind Marylanders while the National Federation of the Blind continued to work on the issue at the national level. As I said, it had become clear from our conversations with manufacturers that no action was likely to be taken in the absence of government regulation, so the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland petitioned the General Assembly for a remedy. Pursuant to our request, the Maryland Clean Cars Act specifically required this department to “consider the needs of individuals with visual impairments” when propagating regulations pursuant to the act. This was a step in the right direction, and we eagerly awaited this department’s draft regulations. The draft regulation being considered today, however, contains no mention of our concerns. In fact, the draft states that the only impact of these regulations on persons with disabilities is positive. But while this may be true of persons with respiratory problems, it is certainly not true of the blind, as long as these vehicles continue to operate soundlessly. The Maryland Department of the Environment must comply with the specific direction of the Maryland General Assembly and address the problem of silent vehicles immediately.
We who are blind use the sounds of passing vehicles in a number of ways to help us travel safely, efficiently, and independently in our communities. By listening to cars as they move or idle, we determine whether lights have turned red or green and set our direction as we cross streets with rounded curbs. Sound from traffic tells us how many vehicles are near us and how fast they are moving; whether they are accelerating or decelerating; and whether they are traveling toward, away from, or parallel to us. With all of this information we can accurately determine when it is safe for us to proceed and when we should stop and wait. The sound of vehicles is helpful even when we are walking in relatively quiet residential areas where the streets are not busy, since the sound of a car’s engine alerts us when a driver is leaving the driveway of a home or turning into or out of a side street or parking lot.
Based on the experiences of individual blind people and tests we have conducted at our national conventions, the National Federation of the Blind has proven that hybrid cars (particularly the Toyota Prius, which is currently the most popular of this new family of vehicles) are not audibly detectable when their combustion engines are turned off. This makes these vehicles, as currently designed, dangerous not only to the blind, but to cyclists, runners, walkers, and children. If these vehicles proliferate (as Maryland law now requires) and no action is taken to address the risks to life and limb created by their soundlessness, blind people will not only find our lives routinely threatened but also our ability to travel independently severely curtailed. The problem will only grow more acute when automobile manufacturers produce vehicles that eliminate the use of combustion engines entirely.
The best way
to guarantee the safety of the blind and others is for these vehicles to produce
sound at all times when they are running. We are not demanding increased noise
pollution; we simply demand that vehicles produce enough sound to warn of their
approach in time for us to make intelligent judgments as to whether we should
proceed, or, if necessary, to take evasive action. Toward that end the National
Federation of the Blind of Maryland requests that this department immediately
adopt the following regulatory language:
Motor vehicles must be designed to maintain customary internal combustion engine acoustical characteristics. Accordingly, vehicles shall emit an omni-directional sound with similar spectral characteristics to those of a modern internal combustion engine.
In the event that this sound is artificially generated, the sound and pitch should exhibit distinct variations to indicate whether the vehicle is idling, traveling at a constant speed, or accelerating, to wit:
Idling vehicles shall produce a continuous sound not less than 45 dBa as measured from 10 feet.
Moving vehicles shall produce a continuous sound not less than 53 dBa as measured from 20 feet when traveling less than 10 miles per hour, not less than 60 dBa measured at 60 feet when traveling between 10 and 30 miles per hour, and not less than 65 dBa measured at 60 feet when traveling over 30 miles per hour.
vehicles must conform to the requirements above at the relevant speeds, plus
3 dBa. For these purposes dBa shall mean A-weighted sound level in decibels,
as measured by a general purpose sound level meter complying with the provisions
of the American National Standard Institute, "Specifications for Sound
Level Meter (ANSI SIR 19711)," properly calibrated, and operated on the
"A" weighting network.
The specifications outlined in this regulatory language have no effect on the environmental benefits of gas-electric hybrids or any other low emissions vehicle. The language does not require that cars use internal combustion engines, only that they be made to sound as if they are using them. It does not require that cars become louder, but only that they emit the sounds to which the blind, and all other members of the public, are accustomed. In other words, the language we have proposed simply requires cars to sound like cars.
Opponents of this proposed regulation will no doubt assert that no deaths or injuries are directly attributable to silent automobiles. I submit to the department that it is simply too early to know whether any vehicle-on-pedestrian accidents have been caused by silent vehicles, since the technology is relatively new and accident reports do not usually denote whether the vehicle involved was operating with or without a combustion engine. Anecdotally we know of blind people who have experienced very close calls because of these vehicles, and those of us who have attempted to listen for them in tests conducted by the National Federation of the Blind have, to our own shock, been completely unsuccessful. It is likely that injuries or deaths have already occurred. Even if the pedestrian population has been lucky so far, I hope and pray that this department, as well as other regulatory agencies that will consider this issue in the coming months and years will decide that a proactive response is preferable to waiting for the inevitable tragedy involving a blind person, a cyclist, or a child to shock this state and the nation.
In conclusion, the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland urges the Maryland Department of the Environment to follow the directive of the Maryland General Assembly and to adopt the regulatory language we have proposed in this statement. I thank you again for the opportunity to come before you and speak to this critically important issue.
editor of the Braille Spectator, the publication of the NFB of Maryland
and a member of the board of the Greater Baltimore Chapter of the NFB of Maryland,
also offered comments for agency consideration. Her remarks were representative
of the vast majority of the statements delivered on this occasion, and they
thoughtfully reflect and elaborate on many aspects of the hybrid-vehicles-policy
discussion. The complete text of her testimony follows:
My name is Renee West, and I am a member of the National Federation of the Blind. My address is 3924 Yolando Road, and my phone number is (410) 243-1818. I very much appreciate the opportunity to speak today on behalf of my organization, and I thank you for your time.
As a blind person I hold my independence in great esteem. Having been taught to use a long white cane and listen to the sounds of traffic as my guide, I have been able to traverse the globe, confident in my ability to travel safely. My confidence is waning, however, as an increased number of low-emission vehicles fill the streets. Many other blind people are likewise afraid of the dangers these quiet cars pose to our safety, so we as a group have taken to the streets to alert governmental bodies and the public at large of our alarm at these risks. I ask that in determining regulations to implement the Low-Emissions Program mandated by the Maryland Clean Cars Act of 2007 you give consideration to our deeply felt concern about this issue and act in a manner in accordance not only with our request but also with the directive of the Maryland General Assembly.
Blind people seek freedom unencumbered by fear. The freedom to travel to and from work and play, to visit friends and attend our houses of worship is enjoyed and valued by most ordinary blind citizens as a natural part of our lives. Because we have learned the alternative skills of blindness, we are unafraid of our environment; we rely upon these tools to allow us independence in our travels and expect them to serve us well. We are not afraid to go down stairs because we use our canes to feel the ground as we walk, and we expect that our canes will alert us to the presence of stairs. We are not afraid to cross the street because we have become attuned to the sounds cars make in their traffic patterns and expect that we will be alerted to the presence of a car in or near our path by the sounds it makes. If an approaching car is operating on battery power, however, we are utterly unable to hear its advance and are most likely to begin to walk across the street or intersection believing it is clear. This lack of audible cues to the presence of traffic leaves us without any means by which we can use our skills and safely cross the street, and this inability to expect safe crossing effectively shackles our freedom. We are not free when we fear for our lives and the lives of those for whom we are responsible in our travels. We are not free to become the first-class citizens we know we can be, when factors in our environment put us in jeopardy, so we decide it’s best just to stay at home.
As we become more aware as a citizenry of the benefits of environmentally responsible forms of energy for automobiles, an increased number of cars without the benefit of audible signals will be in use. This increase in quiet cars will serve to further compromise our safety and increase our fear. For a blind person, traveling to work in the morning would be dangerous and terrifying. Walking your small child to visit a friend would be unthinkable. The Maryland Department of the Environment has the authority and the obligation to demand vehicles in our state possess the characteristics we need to ensure that we maintain our independence and our current level of safety.
The Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety of the National Federation of the Blind has determined that low-emission vehicles, which create sounds like cars with a traditional combustion engine, are the best means by which blind people can maintain our current level of freedom. It is important that regulatory language stipulate that the sound emitted by the automobile be akin to the sounds cars currently make when in motion and idling, uniform across make and model, and, critically, that it be intrinsic to the car and not turned on or off by the operator. Drivers distracted by cell phones and other vehicles often don’t signal their intent to turn; often drivers ignore traffic lights and stop signs as well. It would be unwise to ask drivers of quiet cars to bear responsibility for making a sound at a crossing, given such a pattern of unreliability. Neither can we assume the creation of consistent sound is unnecessary, that drivers will simply stop at the sight of a pedestrian, given that drivers of cars with a traditional fuel source hit pedestrians with unfortunate regularity. Some may think that blind people can rely upon audible traffic signals for safe crossing, so the sound of traffic is superfluous in light of these devices. Such audible crossing signals are relatively rare and costly to implement, and the usefulness of such signals is debatable. For blind people the most effective means by which we can safely cross streets or parking lots is listening to the sound of the cars around us.
It is worth noting that the Maryland General Assembly stated in the law that regulations addressing our concerns about the potential risk of quiet cars are of benefit to all Maryland citizens. Most means by which the environment has been altered to assist the disabled have in fact been of use to the general populace. Noises signaling the approach of an elevator or the end of a moving sidewalk alert distracted people to these important factors. Singular taps in sinks originally designed for people with impaired motor skills assist mothers holding babies in one arm. Moms also benefit from wheelchair curb cuts when pushing strollers. In like manner the sound a car makes helps alert everyone to a possible danger. While we of course should be fully engaged when crossing streets, people are often distracted, so the sound of an oncoming vehicle serves as a necessary additional cue when they don’t see the car. Quiet cars not only jeopardize blind individuals, who rely on car sounds as our sole cue for safe crossing, but are highly detrimental to all who use sound as one cue among many.
we appreciate the goals expressed in the Maryland Clean Cars Act. As blind people
we urge the Maryland Department of the Environment to help make certain that
creating laws that benefit Maryland doesn’t harm our ability to enjoy all that
our state has to offer. The language we propose for inclusion in the Low-Emissions
Vehicle Program regulations would serve to ensure that blind people could rely
upon our skills to travel and thus to restore our freedom of movement. It would
indeed be a shame to curtail the progress of blind people who have only just
begun to advance.
Finally, the brief but powerful comments of Maya Redfearn, a recently blinded woman and new member of the NFB of Maryland, served to capture succinctly the overall spirit of the day’s message. She said in part:
“We’ve all heard of the old phrase, stop, look, and listen. Look has been taken from me. Listen may be taken from me. If this happens, all I’ll have left to do is stop. And I don’t want to stop. I want to keep on going, keep on traveling, keep on living.”
The protest and hearing were finished by just after noon, and Federationists left the MDE offices contented in the knowledge that they had done everything possible to raise awareness about the dangers of quiet hybrid vehicles. The complementary remarks, ranging from polished to plain, delivered by the twenty-six speakers, identified the kernel of our concern and reflected the diversity of the Federation’s membership. The humanity of the Federation and the earnestness with which those present were prepared to advocate on this topic reflected creditably on our movement.
Now NFB of Maryland leaders and members must wait to see what impact their efforts will have on the MDE. To be sure, this state initiative, with implications for the entire nation, must be resolved to our ultimate satisfaction, either as a direct result of this campaign or through continued advocacy on this topic. The collective voice of the blind of Maryland and America on the issue of quiet vehicles must ultimately prevail. Our cause is just. Our message is simple. We want cars that sound like cars.
by George Kerscher
From the Editor: On July 5, both George Kerscher, senior officer accessible information, Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, and Dr. T.V. Ramen, a research scientist with Google, Inc., addressed the 2007 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. The topic was online access to books for blind readers. Following the convention Mr. Kerscher wrote an article describing the brave new world of Google Books and explaining where the problems still lie. This is what he says:
On July 3, 2007, Google quietly made what may seem to be a subtle change to Google Books. However, individuals who are blind or have a print disability are going to be both very excited and disappointed. For them it is not a subtle change. A very special hidden link was added to Google Books in the "full view," which is exposed to assistive technology (AT) such as screen readers used by people who are blind or have a visual impairment.
Google Books has been of huge interest to those in the print-disabled community ever since it was announced. It is estimated that fewer than 5 percent of books published in print are ever produced in an accessible format. This scanning project has the potential of being an unparalleled source of books and will be a huge improvement over what is available in the mainstream for people who are blind or print disabled. The DAISY (www.daisy.org) standard, which provides structured and multimedia access to a book, still provides the ultimate in accessibility. Other disability groups as well as the educational community are just now learning about the benefits of DAISY and the multiple projects funded by the DAISY Consortium. Google technology so far does not compete well with the accessible features of DAISY books, but the scanning of millions upon millions of books from libraries around the world marks the serious start of the digitization of the world's print heritage. Now, with Google Books, not only is the Web indexed by the Internet giant, but the wealth of knowledge stored in our libraries can be found and accessed. The search function in Google Books returns titles that have a match in the text of the book. Words found are highlighted on the image of the printed page from the original book. If the title is in copyright, a snippet is visible, but, if it is out of copyright, the full view of the page is displayed.
The very special hidden link available from the full view now allows people who use access technology with their computers to read the text. Before this change it was not possible; the views were images, not text. On July 5 at the National Federation of the Blind's annual convention, Dr. T.V. Raman, who is himself blind and who works for Google, said, "Consider this to be step zero of many steps that will benefit blind and print-disabled persons throughout the world." Indeed this is a significant step; having hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of books available to a population that thirsts for information but is blocked from using traditional mechanisms for reading is without precedent and of extreme importance.
How does the accessible version work? Google inserts a hidden link to the OCR view of the text. With assistive technology in place, it is prominently presented as the first item in the full view. This link takes the reader to a completely accessible interface to the book. Normal keyboard commands that screen readers typically use are all present in this interface. A person with a disability using assistive technology can read the OCR text, move to the next or previous page, go to pages, and use the table of contents.
If sighted users have the loading of images turned off, the link is exposed, but it is very difficult to find. Sighted users have the better option, to "view plain text," which substitutes the scanned text for the image view. The presentation from the new hidden link provides the same functionality but in a much more screen-reader-friendly approach.
However, one inequality must be addressed immediately. Reading off-line is supported by Google Books. There is an option to download a PDF version of full-view books, but because these are only images of the pages, assistive technology can not present the information to the blind reader. This functionality is therefore available only to the sighted community. At present readers who are blind or have some other print disability have no option to download an entire book as a Zip file for off-line reading. Most people who use alternatives to print books use some kind of portable reading device. Very few people do their reading online, and without a download feature we face a glaring inequality between the reading options for sighted users and users who are blind or print disabled. I trust this is one of the many improvements that Dr. Raman referred to.
those unable to see the screen cannot access the limited (snippet) view, and
there are no links to sites where someone who is blind or has a print disability
can go to get an accessible commercial version or a high-quality version with
figure descriptions and other important features from a library serving people
with disabilities like Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) in the
USA or one of the many other libraries that make up the DAISY Consortium and
serve the blind and print-disabled population around the world.
Raman believes that the Google Book search is tremendous for research purposes but that it is not intended to replace traditional libraries or bookstores. Nonetheless, sighted people can download the whole book free of charge. Raman said, "As a blind person I want the same access as anybody else. I hope eventually we can link to a place where blind people can get the accessible version in the format they want with figure descriptions and all, like from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic." Indeed once commercial digital publications become accessible through assistive technology, the Google Book search should lead the reader using assistive technology to a site where the book can be purchased or to a library site that provides the book in the high-quality DAISY format, Braille, or large print, just as it does for sighted readers.
Nevertheless it is a fact that the Google collection contains more titles than are in all the libraries serving the blind throughout the world. One must recognize that the Google content may be the only source for accessing many of these titles. It is not perfect. The OCR errors are quite obvious. These are not normally apparent to sighted readers because they are looking at the image of the page rather than the plain text view. The Google Book search, optimized for scanned materials, still yields outstanding results with the searches. Raman said, "The OCR errors are there, but this will get better over time." By this Raman may mean that the OCR-recognition approaches will be improved by Google and the errors will be corrected through an automated process. I agree that we will have an ongoing need for the alternative versions that have figure descriptions, tactile graphics, and the other important enhancements that the libraries serving the blind provide.
Google is seeking input from blind and disabled users. Raman suggests that people with disabilities sign up for an account on Google (blind people will be able to use the accessible audible Captcha they have developed). They should then sign up for the "accessibility" forum. In this forum you can post messages to firstname.lastname@example.org and share your thoughts about the many accessibility features that Google is introducing, including Google Books.
I applaud the first step that Google has taken. I trust that it is indeed Google's first step toward full access to the information in Google Books. I understand that Google believes in the iterative software-development process. As such this is the first iteration of their accessibility developments in Google Books. I personally believe that in the information age access to information is a fundamental human right. Any newly developed information technology must take into consideration the needs of blind and print-disabled readers from the beginning; doing anything less is simply wrong and a violation of our human rights. Nobody benefits more from Google's first step than readers who are blind or have a print disability. Now let's take more steps towards equality, starting with the download of the full book, just as a sighted reader can do.
by Rebecca Atkinson
From the Editor: On July 17, 2007, the Guardian, one of the most prestigious newspapers in the United Kingdom, published an essay by a woman who is losing her sight from retinitis pigmentosa. In some ways her assumptions and experience of blindness depart startlingly from the American, or at least NFB, presumption that a trained blind person can travel as rapidly and cross streets as efficiently as sighted pedestrians. Yet by and large her experience and attitudes are healthy and articularly expressed. This is what she says:
Rebecca Atkinson is going blind. An experimental therapy could offer her the chance to see again, but would she take it?
Earlier this year doctors at Moorfields Eye Hospital, London, began the world's first gene therapy trials to treat twelve patients who have Leber's congenital amaurosis, a condition that causes progressive sight loss. Following successful animal trials (said to have restored the vision of blind dogs so they could navigate a maze without difficulty), it is hoped that the technique, which involves injecting working copies of faulty genes directly into the retina, will prove equally effective when carried out on humans. The results will not be made public for a year, but, if the technique works, scientists hope it could eventually be used to treat a wide range of inherited sight disorders affecting up to 30,000 visually impaired people in the UK and potentially millions more worldwide.
The first viable treatment for blindness is twinkling on the horizon, and, as one reader said on a national newspaper message board discussing the trials, "The possibility of being able to give improved sight to people with visual impairments is a great development for the human race."
But what of the people we seek to repair? Those who have been born blind and those, like me, who are losing or have lost their vision. Is this what we have been waiting for? Is it "a great development for the human race," or a step forward in the eugenic quest for an über race, free of imperfection and rid of the unease about disability that nestles quietly in society's pocket?
For the past thirteen years I have been losing my sight, due to a genetic and incurable condition called retinitis pigmentosa (RP). RP causes the photoreceptive cells on the retina to die off, causing, in my case, tunnel vision. I liken it to looking at the world down the middle of two toilet rolls. My central vision remains intact, but where once was peripheral vision, now float only my thoughts. In time these loo rolls will shrink to knotholes and then pinholes and then possibly nothing.
In the early years after my diagnosis, blindness remained a repulsive and terrifying concept. Every year I would visit the doctor, and he would say the same thing--that I must live and plan my life with the certainty that blindness was inevitable. And so, slowly over time, that is what I learned to do.
But now the advent of gene therapy has pushed open a chink in the door. Disabled people have long asked themselves the hypothetical "would you be cured if you could?" question. Now for the first time there is a chance, albeit very small, that maybe one day I might actually get my sight back. Hurrah, you cry. I must be thrilled.
Actually I am a bit confused. It is easy to assume that all visually impaired people will be hammering down the doors should gene therapy prove successful. But to say this is to assume that a blind life is lesser and that all blind people really want to be sighted. They don't.
The first blind man I ever met, who also happened to be my boss at the time, is one of them. I recently asked him if he would have gene therapy if he could. No, came his reply. Because, he tells me, regaining sight is more than just seeing again. There are issues of identity and culture at stake too. "As the blind-from-birth son of blind parents, I am, in part of my soul, defined by my blindness," he explains. "It directly equates to ethnic or racial origin. If you give a black person the choice to be white, there may well be significant advantages in such a deal: more access to better jobs; freedom from the shackles of ignorant prejudice; in short, a step closer to equality. But I'd bet most would turn the offer down flat."
But what if, unlike my old boss, you haven't always been blind? What if, like me, you grew up with full vision and have seen all the cliché-ridden things that those born totally blind are pitied for never having seen--the sunset, your own reflection, the look in your lover's eyes. What if your soul is sighted, and then you go blind? You will cry and wonder why. You will hope and pray. You will wish it would all go away. But the longer your sight has been on the slide, the more it seeps into every crack of your psyche until one day you are no longer the "sighted person" who can't see anymore. Somehow, strangely, in the dead of night your identity has rolled over in bed, and you wake up and get out the other side a "visually impaired person," and it feels like part of you.
It doesn't happen overnight, and perhaps it doesn't happen to all who sail the strange seas of sight loss with me. But for me there came a point when impending blindness was no longer my alien, but my friend. I had had my time as a sighted person. I had seen the world through my eyes. Now it was time to touch it and smell it and hear it. When you lose your vision, you have to relearn the sorts of things that will allow you to survive on the planet, such as crossing the road without being flattened. Next you must tackle the real problem and learn to deal with the attitudes of others as they morph around you. Misconceptions start to spout from even your oldest friends' mouths because negative attitudes about blindness permeate us all. You are about to cross over into the dark side and see what wriggles and writhes on the underbelly of society. Folk will see you as the sufferer, the pitiful, the afflicted, the subhuman--that's you, yes, you. If you use a cane or a dog, people will stare as you walk down the street. People will assume you are more lacking in intelligence than your sighted counterpart. People you have never met before will ask if you want children, and if you do, they will ask if the kids will have the same condition that you have, and whether that is right or wrong. Welcome. Your reproductive autonomy is in the docks of the moral courts of the nation's minds.
So if this underbelly is so wretched, surely if the time comes when the doctors are looming forth with a needle containing the working version of my faulty gene and heralding the promise of a new day, one with a bright sunset and me at the wheel of a fast car, I'll take it, right? Anything to escape? No.
Saying yes to seeing again, even for someone who wasn't born blind, isn't easy. The repercussions would ripple beyond my eyes into my friendships, my work, my relationship. Would I retain the unity I have with my disabled brethren if I could see? Or would I have different friends, the type who fall by the wayside now because they are not aware or empathetic, or are too aesthetically obsessed? Would I lose the friends with whom I have nothing in common but who remain in my phone book because they get the blindness thing? And would it be right to dump them just because I can see and don't need their empathy anymore? If I stepped into the pool of "normal people" again, where would my identity go? The kernel of who I am has been sucked into a new body; now it would have to be sucked back into the old one. And what of my relationship? Would we stay together, or would I run off to do all the things I never got to do before? There is a high rate of separation among couples where one person gets a guide dog for the first time. Why? Because suddenly they can do things on their own again. This new-found independence shifts the balance and cracks appear. If this can happen with a dog, think what could happen with a pair of fully working eyes and a car.
Going blind isn't a smooth ride, though. It comes down and squishes you under an insurmountable weight of grief and disbelief. It is limiting and frustrating and changes the way you do many of the things you used to enjoy--now you must dance with the light on and drive from the back seat. But like the affirmation of near death, it affects more than just your physicality. It gives you a unique perspective. It is a grand experiment that most don't get to try: to observe as your brain rewires and watch as the human body adapts in infinite ways. When my vision began to get worse, I bumped into everything in my path because I was still careering down the pavement at the speed of someone who could see. As my mind caught up with my eyes, I changed the way I walked, with more caution and less speed, and the perpetual bumping and tripping stopped. Losing your sight is not like just shutting your eyes.
The loss is so gradual that, as one sense dies, others grow. Suddenly you can smell the world and sense when someone is standing out of your line of vision. Your brain grows on the inside, and things on the outside start to matter less. I get to live my life twice over, in two different bodies (the sighted one I used to have and the partially sighted one I now have), and with that comes the privilege of spying on the world and its intricacies from multiple vantage points. It's a cliché to say that disabled people are nicer. It is incorrect, in fact. But for me vision loss has made me more empathetic and more openminded. I have to take so often that I give more freely. When you rely on friends to take you down Oxford Street or a stranger to get you across the road, you think more consciously about what you give back and battle with the feeling that you need them more than they need you.
But, strangely, I am happier like this than if I had carried on down the middle lane to mediocre city, never having seen or felt real loss and known how to appreciate the good things around me. I have met people I would never have met had I been sighted, and we have been joined together by the common bond of disability (and there is no glue that sets as hard as that squeezed from the pores of a minority). When part of your body starts to die, you feel what it is to be human. You wake up from the slumber of being just another idiot with an iPod because you are forced to work out the bigger questions. Or at least ask them. Why am I here? Why is this happening? You are alert to the immediacy and fragility of your life. You know that the choices of the modern age do not and can not extend into every realm of your life. You can't choose to see (at least not yet). This is it. The upshot? You live in the moment. You settle for your lot and love it.
The concept of sight loss as a positive thing is an elusive one. It is hard to grasp when you have experienced it, and even harder to grasp when you haven't. It is not something I would have chosen, but it is not something I wish hadn't happened.
Would I like to stop it getting worse? Yes, because I'm only human and, sometimes I lie awake worrying how I'll cope when it's all gone. But would I like to have gene therapy and see perfectly again? Five years ago I'd have said yes. Now I'm not sure, because if this experiment of going blind has taught me anything, it is that what you lose in one place, you gain elsewhere, and while a blind life is different from a sighted life, it is not lesser. And ultimately it is better than having no life at all.
by Kirk Adams
From the Editor: We have always maintained that things would be different for blind industrial workers in specialized facilities if those who ran the organizations were themselves blind and committed to demonstrating that blind people can compete. Kirk Adams, incoming president of the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind, confirmed this conviction when he addressed the NFB convention on Wednesday, July 4, 2007. This is what he said:
Good morning. Thank you, Dr. Maurer, for inviting me to speak to the Federation this morning. I would like to talk a little bit about myself; would like to describe the Seattle Lighthouse that currently exists; would like to talk a little bit about the future of my organization and, in particular, technology and Braille; and would like then to speak about the Javits-Wagner-O’Day program, which is undergoing a name change, by the way, to the Ability One program. So if you hear that, that’s the JWOD program.
Myself, my retinas both detached when I was five years old. I became blind very, very quickly over a couple of weeks. My family moved to the state of Oregon, where I attended the Oregon State School for the Blind for first, second, and third grades. If anyone here from Oregon remembers Mrs. Summers, she was my teacher, and she taught me how to read Braille and write Braille, and type, and I learned how to travel independently using a white cane. I began attending the public school in my hometown in fourth grade, where I continued. I was usually the only blind student in my school settings for the rest of my educational career.
I am married. My wife Roz is here. We have a son who is twenty. We have a daughter who is seventeen. When I graduated from college with a degree in economics, I was a Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude. I had a little trouble finding a job. I had lots of interviews. I took the first job I could get, which was working as a stock broker on commission selling stocks and bonds. I did that for ten years. I decided I wanted to do something else with my life. I checked out the Braille copy of What Color Is Your Parachute? from the Talking Book library. I noticed in the Braille Book Review that there is a revised edition. I found it very helpful, and after doing all of the exercises and following the instructions in the book, it told me that I should follow the path to be the CEO of a nonprofit serving people who are blind located in Seattle, Washington. So fourteen years later here I am, and I am doing that.
In 1998, as Dr. Maurer mentioned, I earned a master’s degree in not-for-profit leadership from Seattle University. I received a very generous scholarship from the NFB of Washington, which I greatly appreciate. I have been at the Lighthouse seven years. I was hired originally as the development director to do fundraising and have received four promotions over that seven-year period.
I’d like to talk a little bit about the organization. If anyone in the room flew to the convention on an aircraft made by Boeing, would you give me a little applause? [Applause] Since 1953 every Boeing commercial aircraft has had hundreds of parts made by blind machinists at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind. We currently employ eighty-five blind and deaf-blind machinists in a thoroughly modern computerized machine shop. We make 60,000 parts for the Boeing Company every month. They are incorporated in every Boeing aircraft.
Of our 185 blind employees, thirty-five are deaf-blind, mostly with Usher’s syndrome, born deaf and with retinitis pigmentosa, and we are a leader in employing, training, and supporting people who are deaf-blind. We are a manufacturing company. We have a precision machining operation. We do plastic injection molding. We do assembly. We make eighty-five different products. As Dr. Maurer mentioned, we have about $35 million in sales, so there are lots of different kinds of jobs available in an organization of that size. There’s marketing. There’s IT. There’s quality. There’s production planning. And we strive to have blind people employed at every level of our organization. Talking about wages, we are proud in our state to have the highest minimum wage in the country, $7.93 an hour. Our starting salary for entry-level production is $8.50 an hour. Our average production wage is about $11 an hour. We have twenty-eight blind people currently employed in jobs that are called indirect. They are computer trainers, IT, HR manager, president elect; and the average wage for a blind person in an indirect position right now is at $20.02 an hour, so we are headed in the right direction.
We have a number of supports in place. We have three O&M instructors on staff. We have a Braille production department, which I will talk about later. We have sign language interpreters. Benefits: medical, dental, 50 percent tuition reimbursement, a defined benefits pension plan fully funded by the company, and a 403B (like the 401K).
My job, as I see it, is to create jobs by being the most efficient, effective manufacturing organization we can be, to make sure that every job is accessible for a blind person to perform successfully, and to make sure that we have qualified blind applicants for all of our jobs. In the future I can see us continuing to build on our core capabilities. In the realm of technology we currently have a hundred or so adapted work stations in the building. That includes the machine shop. Manufacturing is becoming computerized. All the machines are controlled by PCs, but we’ve been able to adapt all of the off-the-shelf computerized manufacturing equipment with JAWS so that blind and deaf-blind machinists can be fully independent in doing their work. We see technology becoming increasingly important, and one of our strategic objectives is to raise the general level of technology competence throughout the organization. So we’ve developed a partnership with Carroll Tech out of Massachusetts, that has distance learning programs developed specifically for blind computer users. We offer our employees the opportunity to spend three hours per week of paid work time in our computer lab to increase their technology skills.
Equally important to increasing our competency in technology is increasing our level of Braille literacy throughout the organization. I saw on the agenda Dr. Ruby Ryles had a program for parents of blind children, I believe last evening, entitled “Beating the Odds.” It was about the importance of Braille in employment, and we all know that to be true--that Braille skills are essential to successful employment. Braille is beautiful, and, as an aside, we are a large purchaser of the NFB Braille Is Beautiful kit. For the last three years we have purchased twenty Braille Is Beautiful curricula. We’ve given them to fifth-grade classes in the Seattle public schools, where they work with Braille for a month; then they come in and take a tour and meet some successfully employed blind adults who use Braille in their everyday work. It’s been a great program. There was an article in Future Reflections about that last summer, if anyone wants to reference that.
Among our 185 blind employees, I’d say about fifty are strong Braille readers. Mary Helen Scheiber, who is a longtime Federationist, was recently promoted to become our Braille production specialist. She produces Braille for all our Braille-reading employees. Our blind employees receive their Braille paychecks at the same time that sighted employees receive their print paychecks. So everyone gets to see how much is taken out at the same time. Benefits information, agendas, work orders, anything that a sighted employee would see in print, our blind employees can receive in Braille. Now that I’m in charge, there’s a new rule, and it goes like this: no Braille, no meeting! [Applause]
So we are working to put together a pilot program which will begin October 1 with our new fiscal year. It’s designed to increase Braille literacy skill for all of our employees who are blind. We’ve consulted with a number of people around the country. I’ve talked with Jerry Whittle at the center in Louisiana, and we’ll begin that pilot in October. We’ll be keeping in touch with Mark Riccobono and others at NFB as you move towards your Louis Braille coin program of funding Braille literacy programs. We hope to partner with you at some point. Congratulations, by the way, on the Louis Braille coin. That’s tremendous.
Before I turn to talking a little bit about the JWOD program, Ability One, I just want to make sure people can get ahold of me if you want to. Our Website is <www.seattlelighthouse.org>. My email address is <email@example.com>. My telephone number is (206) 436-2110. I’d like to talk a little about the Javits-Wagner-O’Day program. In a resolution passed last year, July 2006, the NFB called for modernization of the JWOD Act, and you mention in your resolution the original promise of good work, good paying work, respectable work for blind and disabled Americans. I personally, and the Seattle Lighthouse as an organization, fully concur with the need to modernize the JWOD Act. It was passed in 1938, two years before the Federation was born, and 1938 is long ago and far away, and it’s long overdue that the act be modernized. We are working very closely with Jim Gibbons, another blind guy, who is the CEO of National Industries for the Blind (NIB). I believe he is here with us today. So the Seattle Lighthouse is working closely with Jim so that we’re prepared when the opportunity to modernize the program arises. The opportunity is going to take the form of some sort of congressional action. There’s lots of common ground between the Seattle Lighthouse, NIB, and the NFB, where the JWOD Act and modernization is concerned, and I am looking forward to us all working together to advance the opportunities for blind people in our country.
Our focus as we move forward in modernization is four things: to encourage and reward upward mobility, to advocate more effectively on behalf of the blind employees, greater accountability throughout the entire system, and to focus on results, which is namely good jobs for blind people.
Again, I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you. My wife and I will be here through the end of the convention. I hope to talk with many of you in person. Enjoy the rest of your convention. Thank you. [Applause]
by Colin Low
From the Editor: One of the high points of last summer’s convention was the address delivered late on Tuesday afternoon, July 3, by Lord Low of Dalston. The audience was exhausted after the early-morning March for Independence and a full day of convention presentations, but these remarks at the close of the afternoon session were delightfully warm and witty and full of information unknown by most of us. The result was a very attentive and responsive audience. This is what Lord Low said:
I've only ever been to one NFB convention, and that was over twenty-five years ago, in 1979. It was a truly memorable experience. The electricity generated by the largest gathering of blind people anywhere in the world was, and is, palpable--though registration can prove something of a challenge! Anyhow, it's great to be back.
I may not have been back in twenty-five years, but in truth I've felt that the Federation has never been far away. I've made periodic visits to the National Center--to attend Dr. Jernigan's memorial and for the opening of the Jernigan Institute for example. I have maintained regular contact with friends amongst the Federation's leaders, and its work and example have been a constant source of inspiration. I may not always have agreed with it, but five things have ensured that the Federation stood out for me amongst organizations of the blind worldwide.
First there is its philosophy. Everything the Federation does is thought through and solidly grounded in principle. Did not Dr. Jernigan say, "Philosophy bakes no bread, but without philosophy no bread is baked?" and Dr. Jernigan's speeches surely are a wonderful corpus of writing and thought about blindness.
Second, there are the Federation's powers of communication. The Federation has always been extremely good at getting its message across. I am always recommending the Kernel Books, not just for their message, but for the beautifully honed quality of the writing they contain.
Third, there is the caliber of the Federation's leaders—Dr. Jernigan of course, but before him there was Dr. tenBroek, and Dr. Maurer is a worthy successor in this tradition.
is the premium which the Federation places on independence and blind people
learning to stand on their own two feet.
And fifth, flowing from this, the Federation has not made the mistake made by disabled radicals in England of assuming that society is the source of all the problems. The Federation is clear that the demand for equal treatment from society places an obligation on the disabled individual to contribute to the maximum of his or her ability. It is because blind people are capable of making a full contribution that a mean-spirited response from society is so discriminatory.
In the meantime blind organization in the United Kingdom has undergone a lot of change. We haven't followed quite the same course as you. Because of the size and diversity of the USA, services for the blind are that much more fragmented. The dispersion of government amongst the states means that there isn't the possibility of any one service organization coming to the fore and assuming a dominant position in the way that RNIB has done in the United Kingdom. Because that's what RNIB has done, it has been very difficult for blind people to organize with the same effectiveness as in the USA. So we followed a different strategy. We took over the RNIB. This had already started by the time I came to Miami Beach in 1979, but it took some time to come to full fruition. From the mid-1980s all of RNIB's top trustee leadership was blind, but the revolution could not be said to have been completed until the year 2002 when we adopted a new constitution changing the name of the organization to the Royal National Institute of the Blind and requiring that a majority of RNIB's board, assembly, and membership must be blind or partially sighted. We are now embarked on recruiting a mass membership of blind people, but this is proving to be far from easy. This is where a few lessons from the NFB would probably come in very handy.
But to the title of my talk. I will start with the peerage and begin by introducing you to a few of the mysteries of the British peerage. On learning of my appointment, your president wrote to me saying: "We in the United States have a prohibition in our constitution against titles of nobility. This is one of the reasons that we value them so much.” For both reasons I figured I had better give you a quick crash course on the British peerage.
First then, the pecking order: Under the sovereign and any princes of the blood royal you have, in descending order, dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons. The wife of a marquess is a marchioness and of an earl a countess, and they may also be peers in their own right.
Next we come to modes of address: A duke, and an archbishop for that matter, is addressed as "Your Grace," as in "yes, your Grace," "no, your Grace," "three bags full, Your Grace." If you are speaking to him, he remains "Your Grace," no matter what part he is playing in the sentence. So we have "Will Your Grace be taking tea today?" "Sometimes I would dearly love to murder Your Grace," "Shall I fetch Your Grace's slippers?" "Too much whisky will give Your Grace a hang-over," etc. If you are speaking about His Grace it would be "His Grace" rather than "Your Grace" in all the above sentences. Thus, when we are talking about RNIB's president, the Duke of Westminster, we might say, "Do you think His Grace would be willing to do so-and-so?" unless of course we simply refer to him as "The Duke."
All other peers are addressed as "My Lord," so if you're in any doubt how to address me, "a glass of Whisky, My Lord?" might be a good way to start. However, if you're feeling less generous, plain "Colin" will do. The equivalent of "Your Grace" and "His Grace" in the previous examples would be "Your Lordship" and "His Lordship"--"Your Lordships" and "Their Lordships" in the plural. We need to remember these forms of address when speaking in the House of Lords--you begin with "My Lords" and continue with phrases like "your Lordships will be aware," "I would remind your Lordships," etc.
Because peers were originally landowners of some sort, you are usually Lord so-and-so of somewhere, and you have to choose a place for your title. I chose Dalston because it’s the part of London where I live. If you want to write me a letter, put me on a program, introduce me, or refer to me for some reason, "Lord Low of Dalston" will do, and that's what to put on the envelope. You can give me the CBE there too after all the rest if you want. I'll explain that presently. Some people say "The Lord," but that's entirely optional. I don't.
Knights, known as Sir somebody something, are not members of the British peerage, but because they are sometimes confused with the peerage, I'll just mention them. They were also originally landowners, small ones, who would contribute some horsemen to the king’s army. They are now one of the most senior ranks in a number of orders, many based on ancient orders of chivalry, which are used to confer an honor on someone and acknowledge his or her achievement, distinction, or service in some walk of life. The commonest, the Order of the British Empire, which came into being in Victorian times, is not however an ancient order of chivalry. This order, the Order of the British Empire, or should I say the "Most Excellent Order of the British Empire," contains various gradations: so you get Members, MBE; Officers, OBE; Commanders, CBE--I got one of those at the turn of the millennium; and Knight Commanders, KBE. Other orders are the Order of the Bath (that's an older one, usually given to civil servants); the Royal Victorian Order, for courtiers; and the Order of St Michael and St George, which is used for diplomats, generals, and the like. They all have similar gradations--Commander, Knight Commander, and even Grand Commander. Thus, in the case of the Order of St Michael and St George, you have Commanders, denoted by the initials CMG, popularly referred to as "call me God"; Knight Commanders, KCMG or "kindly call me God," and Grand Commanders, GCMG or "God calls me God." But none of these, as I say, are part of the British peerage and should not be confused with it. I hope you're remembering all of this as there's going to be a short test at the end.
All this is of course highly arcane and archaic. It's a load of mumbo-jumbo really, and I would strongly counsel you not to get too hung up on it. The hereditary peerage is a quaint relic of the days of feudalism, of which only a vestige survives. You can see why the Americans wanted to have done with it. It may be of local interest to some people in some rather rarefied circles, but it has largely ceased to signify as a working part of the constitution. In 1958 life peerages were introduced, and now virtually all peers are appointed as barons, the lowest degree of the peerage if you remember, for their life only. In 1999 all but a compromise 10 percent of hereditary peers lost the right to sit as legislators in the House of Lords. Now reform is in the air again, and I do not think the remaining 10 percent can survive much longer.
How do you become a peer? Traditionally you were appointed by the sovereign on the recommendation of the prime minister. He appoints senior politicians--people who have retired from mainline politics or been defeated in an election but still have a contribution to make--recommendations may also come from the leader of the opposition; persons of distinction in their chosen career; or, more murkily, people who have been of service or even given money to the party. In 2000, as an innovation, an appointments commission was introduced with a view to getting greater diversity into those appointed to the peerage. That's how I became a peer. Applications are invited. Some three thousand were submitted when I applied. The great majority were not pursued, including some very good ones. A small number were interviewed, and only about forty people have been appointed via this route to date. It's a very long, drawn-out process. It took me six years and the announcement of at least three lists before the list on which my name appeared. They just rang up one day in November, but I wasn't appointed until the following May because of the desire to avoid the announcement’s being contaminated by allegations of money changing hands in return for peerages, which were being investigated at the time.
What are the criteria of appointment? In actual fact they are rather vague. You have to be able to demonstrate you have a contribution to make. You need to have the time--you can say that again. I'm sure that my position as a leader of the blind who is himself blind had a lot to do with it.
What is the process following your appointment? First of all, you go to see an ancient official called Garter King of Arms to fix your title. After about a month Letters Patent are issued. That's a summons from the Sovereign to attend Parliament as a peer. From that point on you can use your title. During this time you go to the House to be welcomed by the speaker and briefed by more people with fancy titles like the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, known for short simply as Black Rod, who looks after the Parliamentary Estate, and the Clerk of the Parliaments, who is effectively the chief executive of the place. As this official showed me out after one such meeting on 15 May, he asked if I had any further questions. I said, "Well there is one question to which I'll obviously need to know the answer sooner or later: where's the loo [men’s room]?" He replied, "I'll be able to show you that when you come for your briefing on 14 June." I'm afraid I had to say I wasn't sure if I could wait that long.
After about another month, as soon as they can fix a date, you are formally introduced into the House of Lords. You process into the Chamber escorted by a couple of sponsors and take an oath of allegiance to the sovereign. Some time after that you need to make a maiden speech, and then you are off.
A word about the composition of the Lords. Before the 1999 changes, the House of Lords had a membership of over a thousand. It currently has a membership of around 740, 92 of whom are hereditaries--you remember the compromise 10 percent. This is larger than the House of Commons, which has 646 MPs and is one of the largest parliamentary chambers in the world. It is highly unusual for a second chamber to be larger than the first. However, not all members of the Lords attend on a regular basis. For instance, taking the 2005-06 session, the average attendance was around 408, which better reflects the working size of the House. The 740 peers are split roughly equally between government, opposition, and those who sit on the crossbenches, or independents, as I do, having been appointed by the Appointments Commission.
How do things work in the House of Lords? What's it like being a blind peer? The first thing to say is that there are precedents. It was suggested that I was the first, but this is not the case. Lord Kenswood, an early president of the National Federation of the Blind of the United Kingdom, and Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, the chairman of St Dunstan's for many years and founder of Talking Books, both sat in the House of Lords within living memory, and I have been able to trace four more blind peers going back to medieval times, including Lord Lyndhurst, the nineteenth-century Lord Chancellor who faked his own death so that he could read what the obituaries had to say. On the other hand, most of these people seem to have gone blind in later life, so I may be the first peer who was blind from birth.
There have been and are quite a few wheelchair-disabled people in the House of Lords, so I am proud to be able to raise the profile of blind people. I spoke about the need to raise blindness higher up the political and social agenda in my maiden speech, and I make it my business to do that on a regular basis. On the other hand I hardly stick out like a sore thumb. There are so many walking wounded there as the result of strokes and other infirmities of old age that I just feel one of the crowd. On the other hand again, I make it my business to get involved in things other than blindness issues. Disabled politicians sometimes get criticized for not identifying sufficiently with their disability, but I think that's wrong. I suppose it's a matter of degree, but I don't think you want to get typecast as a blind peer. I don't think that does much for your overall credibility.
What of the practical working arrangements? I'm afraid they leave a lot to be desired. I visited the Texas State Legislature the other day, and their working conditions are vastly superior. They sit at an ample desk in an opulently upholstered armchair with all mod cons--phone, mike, voting buttons, buttons to summon messengers, and a place to put your computer--and that's before you get to their offices. We have none of that--just a bench to sit on, which gets very overcrowded when the Chamber is full. I have four other peers in my office plus my Parliamentary assistant, provided by RNIB.
I have a place reserved for me in the Chamber, which is easy to get to. I can write there easily with my BrailleNote on my knee, but standing up to speak from it is more of a problem, so they've constructed a little wooden flap on the back of the bench in front, which I can let down to rest my BrailleNote on whenever I want to speak. I said I hoped that this was something which could be considered as a practical and harmless adaptation and not an act of wanton vandalism in a hallowed place.
How do you know when to speak? Unlike the House of Commons, people are not called by the speaker when they manage to catch his eye. The whips produce a speakers list, which you need to get hold of so that you can get up when it's your turn without being called. Access to the paperwork hasn't proved to be much of a problem either. It's mostly ephemeral, and you can get most of it from the Internet.
I thought identifying who was speaking was going to constitute more of a challenge. They all sounded the same at first. But you soon begin to recognize quite a lot of them, many of whom are well-known figures in British life anyway. As often as not, when I ask someone who is speaking, they don't know either, and I've been able to pick up brownie points for referring to people by name to general amazement.
It may seem rather self-regarding and vainglorious to apply to be honored in this way, but if you think of it as a job rather than an honor, it puts a slightly different complexion on it. And even if you think of it as an honor, a number of people have said to me that it's the only one worth having. I tend to agree with that, as it's an honor you can do something with. It's not really the speaking. I often wonder what difference that makes. But the access and what you can do behind the scenes is phenomenal. Government departments are supposed to reply to peers' letters within two weeks. I will get a side and a half of explanation, where others receive a bare acknowledgement. I was able to get in to see Gordon Brown with David Blunkett, which I think would have been very difficult otherwise. You can personally put a letter into a minister's hand. I did that the other day only to find that he'd been moved a couple of days later. But I was able to do this when the Customs and Excise people threatened to send RNIB a bill for £100,000. I put the evidence into an envelope, sat the relevant minister down, talked him through it, put the letter in his hand, and invited him to go away and sort it out. I hope that's the last we will be hearing of that.
I expect you're beginning to hope that's the last you'll be hearing of me, so I'll stop. I haven't got on to reform, but someone said you should always leave them wanting to hear more. All I'll say is that it is a fantastic honor and a recognition not just of me but of blind people generally--someone said "of every blind person in the world." That may be going a bit far, but I hope you feel able to share in a bit of it with me. I certainly feel I'm working for you. It's also incredibly interesting and a fantastic opportunity, which I'm determined to make the most of for all my brothers and sisters in the worldwide movement of blind people.
Thank you very much.
by Konnie Ellis
From the Editor: Konnie Ellis is a busy wife and mother living in South Dakota. She and her husband Bob are the parents of two active children, Karissa and Justin. Konnie is a trained elementary school teacher. Not only is she homeschooling her own two youngsters, she is teaching four others. In the following article Konnie describes a typical day in her happy and very busy home. This is what she says:
This will be my third year of homeschooling six kids full-time. I thought that Braille Monitor readers might like to know what a typical day is like at my house.
"Miss Konnie, I think I need help with this problem," Auston called from where he sat at the kitchen island.
"Okay, just one second," I replied as I gathered up the papers from the table in the front room where I do most of my teaching. "Roan, you can keep reading on your own for a few minutes while I help Auston," I instructed the seven-year-old girl who was reading on the couch.
"I can't figure out what I'm doing wrong, but my answer doesn't make sense," Auston told me in frustration as I entered the kitchen, abacus in hand. We'd begun a unit on fractions just a couple of days before, so a few snags were to be expected.
"Okay, just tell me what you have written so far, and we'll see what the trouble is," I said, placing the abacus in front of me so that I could do the problem along with him as he described his work to me.
"The problem is 2/3 plus 9/16," he answered. "So first I need to figure out the least common denominator."
"That's right. And how do you do that?" I questioned.
"Well I have to ask myself what the lowest number is that 3 and 16 both go into."
"Good. And did you figure out what that is?"
"I think it's 48," he said hesitantly.
"Yes, it is. So what do you do next?" I asked.
"I say how many 3s are in 48, and then how many 16s."
"And how many 3s are there?"
"Let me see.... Are there 16?"
"That's right. And how many 16s?"
Auston and I continued to work through the problem together until he suddenly stopped himself and said, "Oh, wait a minute! I think I just figured out what I was doing wrong. I didn't multiply by the numerator! All I was converting to 48ths was 1/3 and 1/16 for some reason. Now I get it, though--You have to take the 2 times 16, which is 32, and the 9 from the 9/16 times 3, which is 27. So it's 32/48 plus 27/48, equals 59/48, which is one and 11/48!" he exclaimed triumphantly.
"Good job!" I praised him. "And I didn't really have to help you at all. Now see if you can get the rest of them done before lunch time. Then afterward you can read me your answers, and if they're all correct, I'll be able to send this paper home with you tonight so that your mom will be able to see the great work you're doing with your fractions."
As Auston continued with his work, I couldn't help reflecting on the fact that my students very often catch their own mistakes, just by thinking out loud. They are much more articulate than many of their peers, who are often unable to express themselves without pointing or using other visual cues to demonstrate a point. Even my most visual learners need to be able to describe what they're doing verbally, which ultimately benefits them as much as it does me.
to Roan, I decided to grab an extra minute to be sure my preschoolers were still
engrossed in the Noggin channel on TV. One of the older kids was usually free
to help keep an eye on them, but everyone was occupied at the moment, so I wanted
to be sure the little boys weren't getting up to any mischief. Fortunately all
was peaceful in the living room. Nathan had even fallen asleep on the couch,
and Justin has been given strict instructions not to wake him up when this happens.
Seeing that all was well, I quickly stepped into my daughter's room to find
out how things were coming along with Luke's handwriting. Karissa is nine, and
she loves helping me with the younger kids. Today she was working with Luke
on how to form some of his letters correctly, and I asked how it was going.
"He's doing a really good job with his H’s," Karissa informed me.
I pressed the button on my talking watch and realized that the morning had flown by as usual. "You might as well stop there for now, then," I told Luke, "And you can finish the paper later if there's time."
"I just finished reading the story,” Roan told me as I got back to the front room.
"Great. Tomorrow I'll ask you some questions to see how well you remember the story. Right now, though, it's time for lunch."
"I just have one problem left," Auston said. "Can I try to finish it real quick before we eat?"
"Sure. I'll just have Karissa pour the juice this time, and Roan can set the table."
Anticipating that this morning would be an extra busy one, I had put a casserole into the oven earlier, so no additional preparation was needed on my part now. I pulled the fish sticks from the bottom rack and instructed the kids not to touch them until they'd had time to cool a little. Then I took out the stew and began dishing it into six bowls.
"Whose turn is it to pray?" Nathan asked in a sleepy voice.
"Can Nathan say the prayer today?" Auston asked. "I'm starving, and his prayers are usually the shortest."
I smiled and told Nathan to go ahead. When the amen was said, I reminded everyone that this was chore day and that my husband Bob would be conducting a visual inspection of the house and yard when he got home as he usually did every Friday.
As soon as Auston had put his empty dishes into the sink, he took down the hand-vac from the wall and began cleaning the dining room floor. Karissa got a cloth and started wiping the table. It was Roan's and Luke's job to pick up toys, and they enlisted the help of the little boys in this endeavor as well. (Since toys were scattered throughout our yard and in the playroom downstairs, as well as in the living room, putting toys away was a big job indeed.)
While the chores were being done, I grabbed a few minutes to catch up on some tasks of my own. I ordered a couple of textbooks from Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, a lending library in New Jersey, so that I could have the cassette version for myself to go along with the printed books that my students used. I also spent a few moments at my computer going over my to-do list so I could be sure I wasn't forgetting anything. A reminder for the upcoming field trip to the Children's Science Center popped up, so I wrote myself a note to email a couple of the homeschooling moms in my area to see if they were going and whether they'd mind taking some of my kids with them. I feel blessed to live in an area that has an active homeschool group with folks willing to help each other in ways like this so that the kids in my care can have a well-rounded education in every area of life.
Figuring it was time to round up the troops again, I laid my laptop aside and headed in search of them. The preschoolers were having a great time out in the yard, so I wouldn't disturb them just yet. There was still an hour before nap-time, so I might as well let them enjoy the warm weather while they could. I found the older kids downstairs, where my daughter was teaching the others what she had learned at her jujitsu lesson a couple of days before. The kids had converted the playroom into a gym of sorts, complete with weight lifting, a place to do chin-ups; an obstacle course; a fort made of blankets, boxes, and chairs; and, last, but certainly not least, an adjustable high-jump bar made with a jump rope which they tied to various other items in the room, depending on where they wanted to set the height.
"Okay you guys, time to get back to work," I told them. Auston, your English worksheet is on the island, Roan, you can work on your typing CD on Karissa's computer, and I'll work with Luke in the front room on his Reading Blaster. Karissa, you can use the computer in Justin's room to work on your Spanish CD."
The next hour went by in a flash. Afterward we all gathered in the living room for our Bible story time. After everyone had gotten an apple and was seated comfortably on the couch and love seat, as well as on my lap, I turned on the tape player, and the story began. Today I had selected a story as told by Dan Betser and his puppet Louie. I had enjoyed those tapes as a little girl and was now passing them on to the next generation. This time our story was about Gideon. Everyone listened attentively, and I paused the tape periodically to ask questions in order to be sure that everyone was paying attention. Even the little ones were engrossed in the adventure. I saved the concrete quizzing for them, while reserving the more abstract questions for the older kids. I wanted Auston and Karissa to be able to apply what they were hearing to everyday life, so I asked them things like "Do you think we should ever put out a fleece as Gideon did?" or "Why do you think God used such a small number of Israelites to win the battle?"
After the story ended, I put the younger crew down to rest and worked with Karissa on her AWANA Bible memory and on her piano lesson, while Auston did some keyboarding with the Mavis Beacon typing program.
Before I knew it, Mr. Randolph was knocking at our door, and I quickly woke the little ones with the news that their dad was here to take them home. Hardly were they out the door when my four-year-old, Justin, asked whether they'd be back again tomorrow. He was disappointed when I told him the next day was Saturday, but I assured him they'd be back again the following week. Another wonderful day of school had drawn to a close.
by Leslie Stocker
It is a distinct honor to be invited to address you today, because of a very special partnership the Braille Institute enjoys with NFB. And I do not speak at this moment of the direct relationship we have with the NFB of California [cheers from one corner of the ballroom]--I don’t know what you guys did that you have to sit off in a corner (the California delegation is in the far upper left corner as you face the stage) especially in recent years with the leadership of Nancy Burns and her husband Don, and now with Mr. Robert Stigile. But the partnership I am talking about occurred to me about a week and a half ago at the Sheraton Universal in Los Angeles, Universal City. We were at a banquet honoring and giving out the awards for the 2007 National Braille Challenge. As the winners were being introduced, they were working their way up to the stage to receive the prize. The MC was reading a biographical sketch about each young champion, and I kept hearing one term come back: that this person was a participant in the Braille Readers Are Leaders program of the National Federation of the Blind. Later I asked our vice president of programs and services about that because it hadn’t occurred to me to hear it so often. She said, “Oh yeah, when we get all of these applications, you would be surprised at how many of these contestants have their roots in the Braille Readers Are Leaders program.”
That leads me to conclude an unusual partnership, and I would like to tell you more about it in a moment but, in so doing, tell you about the Braille Challenge. First, very briefly, for those who are not aware, Braille Institute of America was founded in Los Angeles eighty-eight years ago by a totally blind man who developed a Braille publishing house and then later a Braille educational system along with rehabilitation. His name was Robert Atkinson. He was also one of the influential people in bringing about the founding of the National Library Service back in the 1930s. You can find that Robert Atkinson is enshrined today among other great leaders of our field at the Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends at the American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville.
Suffice it to say that Braille literacy has been a part of the warp and weave of the fiber of Braille Institute since its beginning. That’s what we were about. In recent years in our strategic planning we have rededicated ourselves to Braille literacy. Now in this instance I have to explain the Braille Institute has grown over the years, and we are one of the largest direct service organizations in the nation. We serve about 55,000 people annually, primarily in Southern California from our five campuses there in Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Rancho Mirage, and Anaheim. But when it comes to Braille literacy, we decided, wait, with our resources and the fact that so much can be done by distance, we want to have an impact on a national and even international basis. So we created two new programs, and I will share them very briefly with you and then draw to a conclusion what we are talking about today.
Back in 1999 we created a program called Our Braille Special Collection. And the premise behind this is that blind kids who are learning their Braille need to have more than just textbooks to read. They’ve got to have great children’s literature. Now I know there are sources for great literature, and NFB has been instrumental in making that happen as well. But we felt we’ve got to put more out there. We’ve got to flood these kids with stuff to read that they want to read. So we started, and, incidentally, our publishing house is entirely digitized, so all the titles that are in Braille in this children’s literature collection are filed on a major file server, and we have a bank of embossers. When a family calls in from anywhere in the nation or emails in, or however they get to us, and their student is qualified (they have to be registered as a reader with us), we simply, if they want Harry Potter, Volume 2, somebody pushes a button here, and it goes over to the embosser, and it is spun out, and it goes out in the mail that day. It is published on demand.
All of these books, incidentally, are free of charge to the recipients because again our theory here is (and there are pros and cons as to whether you charge or give it away free) our notion at this moment is we’ve got to flood these kids with stuff to read, and our experience shows, when we charged the fee, the use went way down. While sighted kids can go to the library to get a book, the blind kids don’t. So our notion is, give them books. Put books in their hands.
Since 1999 the number of books in that collection on that big file server available to readers anywhere in the U.S. now numbers 994. Those are books from the very modern Harry Potter style to Alice in Wonderland and Charlotte’s Web, and all those great things that we all read one way or another as we grew up. Today we have 3,274 registered readers throughout the United States. These are kids. That’s a big number. I’m especially grateful for that number, given the fact that APH’s registration of Braille readers age eighteen and below numbers only about 4,000. But therein is one of the biggest challenges we have, and that is there should be a whole lot more than 4,000 kids reading Braille.
This past year we sent out about 8,500 titles, and some were multiple volumes, of course, of Braille books to kids throughout the United States. That includes Dots for Tots. I don’t know if you have little kids, but Dots for Tots is a program where we have a Braille book with audio, but also with manipulatives, toys that go along with the storybook. So that’s a Braille Special Collection, and that brings me to the second program. Then we can tie this together. Braille Challenge is really a Braille literacy contest. It’s made up of five grade categories, and I’ll name them for you. The apprentice are little guys that are in the first and second grades. The freshman category are in grades three and four. Those two youngest categories have three contests they compete in. Number 1 is spelling--I bet you enjoyed that when you were in the first grade--reading comprehension, and proofreading. When you get to the third group, we call it sophomores. That’s grades five and six. Junior varsity is grades seven, eight, and nine; and varsity is grades ten, eleven, and twelve. Those three older categories have four contests: reading comprehension, proofreading, spelling, and speed and accuracy. Oh, that’s one they really love--speed and accuracy. They have to get ready for that.
The way the contest works--and this has been evolving--but we began it in the year 2000. Early in the year we send out a preliminary test to any child in the United States who is a Braille reader for their teacher to administer to them. The results of those tests are sent back to us. We grade them, and we end up inviting the top twelve contestants in each of those five categories. This past year--we’ve just completed the 2007 contest--those top twelve in each category, a total of sixty children, are invited to come to Los Angeles to compete for some really neat prizes in a bigger contest. I’ll tell you about those prizes in a moment, but let me give you some numbers. This year in the preliminary contest we sent tests out to a little over nine hundred children throughout the United States in thirty-five states and three Canadian provinces. That number is getting larger each year. Only about half of those students send the completed tests back. At first I was disappointed, but then I realized when we called and queried, we discovered, “Well, Johnny can’t read that well.” At least we have set the bar for them. We’ve shown the parents and the teachers what he or she should be doing. So there is incentive.
When the sixty finalists come to Los Angeles, we have a very festive occasion, and we have the contest itself. The winners receive some really cool prizes. The first-, second-, and third-place winners in each of the categories win U.S. savings bonds ranging in size from the third prize in the apprentice category of $500. The top prize in the varsity is $5,000. But that is not the most significant thing. To me the most significant prize is the awarding to the first-place winner in each of those five categories of a PAC Mate by Freedom Scientific. Now I have to tell you that I cannot be more elated with the partnership we’ve enjoyed with Freedom Scientific, because there’s a very special reason behind it. And it’s not only to have the preeminent access technology companies in the world as a part of this program, but we’re trying to make a statement that there is a direct connection between Braille literacy and technology. To a large extent the future is defined by our ability to interact with technology; there is a direct connection.
Freedom Scientific has been generous in providing these gifts. In fact, after they did this a couple of years, they called us and said, “Well, here’s the deal. We’re going to send you six PAC Mates next year, and we want you to award one to the teacher of the year.” My immediate reaction was, “Great, now how am I going to figure out who the teacher of the year is?” Here’s the secret. We’ve got a national advisory committee made up of some prominent educators throughout the United States and Canada. I flung it to them. I said, “You figure it out.” And they did. They came up with a very creative way of determining who is the teacher of the year. This year the winner of the PAC Mate and a trip to California to receive her award and recognition was a lady named Sandy Serventi, a longtime teacher at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. When I met Sandy and talked to her, she said, “Oh you don’t know this, but this is the fourth time I’ve been here to the Braille Challenge. I’ve come four years in a row accompanying my students.” She said, “I’ve had eleven students make it to the finals now.”
We actually have, I believe, at least two winners of this year’s Braille Challenge in their categories with us here today. Ms. Kyra Sweeney is here and also, Megan Bening from Minnesota. I don’t know, maybe we have more winners in the audience that I don’t know about, certainly with the kind of support NFB has given to Braille literacy over the years.
This brings me to the partnership. When I think about it and I look at what you have been doing with your Braille Readers Are Leaders program for some twenty years, when I see the inter-relationship with the kids we are now connecting with, I cannot miss the partnership. Number one, Braille Readers Are Leaders is a focus on volume reading, and that creates incentive and self-esteem. I am a sighted person, but I think back when I was a boy growing up, I learned how to read by reading, not just by studying about it, but by doing a lot of reading.
The second part of this partnership is the Braille Special Collection and other sources throughout the U.S. for children’s books. We’ve got to flood these kids with books and keep them reading. Number three in this tri-part partnership is our Braille Challenge itself. It has grown and taken on a life of its own. I could not be more elated with it. It has far excelled our expectations, and probably, because many different organizations are now participating, it’s not just Braille Institute. This last year we had seventeen regional contests in the spring leading up to the main contest. They were staged by different organizations, state schools, and even a program up in Calgary, Alberta. They are smaller versions for which we provide testing materials. We provide everything, the rules, all that goes to help prepare these kids to become real finalists. In fact, two winners from Iowa this year, who had never competed before, had a preliminary event in their state that really did a great job.
I kind of feel like, I know Dr. Maurer will share this feeling, like my fellow Californian, General George Patton, in World War II, standing on the shores of Tripoli on the Mediterranean, looking northward to Europe, which at that time was under the complete control of fascism. He was a reader of classical literature, and he mused, “The Elysian Fields lie before us.”--meaning the task has no end. It’s out there. Folks, there are so many kids in this country who need to be learning their Braille, who need to be learning the intellectual skills that are developed through the process of becoming literate. We don’t function without that. It is so important.
I would like to suggest and propose that we do something proactively here. Number one, we need to spread the word more. After I was invited to this occasion and I started going back over the history of how we’ve developed the Braille Challenge, I realized that we have some common resources here. I told my staff from now on we need to tell the growing network of people using our books and participating in our Challenge about the Braille Readers Are Leaders program from NFB. I would hope that NFB will also be advertising books available through the Braille Institute and the Braille Challenge. We need to spread the word as far as we can.
Also I mentioned
that we have these regional challenges throughout the U.S. and one in Canada
this last year. I offer this to any of you state chapters of NFB. If you would
like to participate in something like that in your own state or region, we would
be elated to partner with you, and we provide the materials. You can help further
the skills of your children there. And of course, we always welcome sponsors
to the published book program itself. Again, Dr. Maurer, it has been a distinct
honor to address you this morning and to thank you in person for this unusual
partnership that we enjoy.
Following this presentation, three members of the audience posed questions to Mr. Stocker, who said that he would provide full answers following the convention. Accompanying a letter dated July 17, 2007, the answers to these questions were forwarded to President Maurer. Here is what Mr. Stocker wrote:
1. Question: Is your Braille Special Collection (Brailled children's literature) available everywhere in North America?
Answer: Yes. The 3,274 current participants reside all across the U.S. and Canada.
Can Braille Institute provide more Braille education for its adult students?
Answer: We do provide classes in Braille literacy for our adult students on all of our five campuses. While there may occasionally be a problem due to staff turnover, we seldom have a waiting list. The vast majority of our students are senior citizens suffering from age-related macular degeneration. These are literate people, most of whom are using some kind of low-vision device. Hence, the need for Braille literacy is not as critical for them as we believe it is for blind children. That said, we offer Braille classes for students of all ages.
3. Question: Are you open to hiring orientation and mobility specialists certified by the National Blindness Professionals Certification Board?
Answer: Yes. In fact, we invited Lisa Maria Martinez to speak at an in-service training program for our orientation and mobility staff on April 12, 2007. She is a Louisiana Tech graduate with NOMC certification. We arranged for Lisa through the NFB of California office and specifically asked her to speak about and demonstrate the long cane, which as a result of her presentation, we will now be carrying in the stores on all of our campuses. Lisa's talk also provided an opportunity to explore various approaches to orientation and mobility training.
The National Federation of the Blind will award thirty scholarships and other gifts totaling $150,000 or more to the nation’s top blind college students during its 2008 annual convention. Most notable is the Dr. Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship in the amount of $12,000. In addition to a scholarship, each winner will be brought to the 2008 National Federation of the Blind convention in July at Federation expense, providing an excellent opportunity for high-level networking with active blind people in many professions and occupations.
In order to
1. Must be legally blind.
2. Must be pursuing or planning to pursue a full-time, postsecondary course of study in a degree program at a United States institution in the fall of the 2008-2009 academic year, except that one scholarship may be given to a person employed full-time while attending school part-time.
3. Must be willing and able to participate in the entire NFB national convention and in all scheduled scholarship program activities.
The NFB may award up to three scholarships to men and women who have already received one Federation scholarship in the past if enough strong and worthy candidates apply. Individuals receiving a second NFB national scholarship are recognized as tenBroek Fellows.
Legally blind students, from high school seniors to grad school attendees, are encouraged to go to <www.nfb.org/scholarships> to apply for the 2008 NFB Scholarship awards. Complete the official 2008 scholarship application form online; then print out and mail the completed print copy with the required attachments to NFB Scholarship Committee, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.
If using a computer is not an option, contact the committee chairman for print documents. Please note that all scholarship documentation must be received by March 31, 2008. Students are invited to ask their state NFB affiliates to determine if they are eligible for a scholarship offered to blind students in that state.
NFB scholarship applicants should submit only one application. When the thirty top applicants chosen as winners attend the weeklong 2008 NFB national convention, members of the Scholarship Committee and other NFB leaders will interact with them throughout the week in order to award the specific scholarships based on merit.
of student wins an NFB scholarship? What fields of knowledge have they studied?
Read about past NFB national scholarship recipients in August-September issues
of the Braille Monitor. Many blind leaders throughout the country have
been recipients of scholarships from the National Federation of the Blind. Perhaps
you have what it takes to earn this prestigious honor.
Awards include the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, one scholarship of $10,000; two scholarships of $7,000 each; four scholarships of $5,000 each; and twenty-two scholarships of $3,000 each. Following is a list of the scholarships:
Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship of $12,000--In memory of the man who changed perceptions about the capabilities of the blind in this country and throughout the world, this scholarship is given yearly by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, a nonprofit organization that works to assist blind people. Kenneth Jernigan is viewed by our field as the most important figure in the twentieth century in the lives of blind people. The Action Fund wishes to keep fresh and current in the twenty-first century the understandings he brought to the field and thus has endowed this scholarship dedicated to his memory and to the continuation of the work he began. No additional restrictions.
Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship of $10,000--First established by Charles Owen in loving memory of his blind wife and now, along with a second scholarship in a different amount, endowed by his last will and testament to honor the memory of both. In founding the scholarship, Charles Owen wrote: "There shall be no limitation as to field of study, except that it shall be directed towards attaining financial independence and shall exclude religion and those seeking only to further general or cultural education."
Two National Federation of the Blind Scholarships of $7,000--No additional restrictions.
Hank LeBonne Scholarship of $5,000--Hank LeBonne was a man who loved life and loved the National Federation of the Blind. His last wish was that his remaining assets be used to help young blind men and women have the same opportunities in life he had enjoyed. No additional restrictions.
Jennica Ferguson Memorial Scholarship of $5,000--Given to keep alive the memory of a young woman who dealt with her blindness and terminal illness with a grace and strength she frequently assured others she drew from the Federation and from her faith in God. No additional restrictions.
Michael Marucci Memorial Scholarship of $5,000--Given by Marie in memory of her husband Michael (like Marie, a longtime dedicated and valued member of the NFB of Maryland), the winner of this scholarship must be studying a foreign language or comparative literature; pursuing a degree in history, geography, or political science with a concentration in international studies; or majoring in any other discipline requiring study abroad. The winner's file must also show evidence of competence in a foreign language.
National Federation of the Blind Scholarship of $5,000--No additional restrictions.
Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship of $3,000--Dr. Isabelle Grant endowed this scholarship in memory of her daughter. The winner must be a woman.
Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship of $3,000--This scholarship is given in loving memory of her parents, Charles Albert Kuchler and Alice Helen Kuchler, by Junerose Killian, dedicated member of the NFB of Connecticut. No additional restrictions.
Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship of $3,000--First established by Charles Owen in loving memory of his blind wife and now, along with a second scholarship in a different amount, endowed by his last will and testament to honor the memory of both. In founding the scholarship, Charles Owen wrote: "There shall be no limitation as to field of study, except that it shall be directed towards attaining financial independence and shall exclude religion and those seeking only to further general or cultural education."
E. U. Parker Scholarship of $3,000--Endowed by his wife, who joined him in a lifetime of Federationism, this scholarship honors a longtime leader of the National Federation of the Blind whose participation stood for strong principles and strong support of the Federation's work. No additional restrictions.
Guide Dogs for the Blind Dorthea and Roland Bohde Leadership Scholarship of $3,000--Established in 2006 to promote the independence of blind students, this scholarship is awarded to scholars in any field that requires postgraduate education, with, should other factors be equal, a preference for those who have chosen to use a guide dog as their primary travel aid.
Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship of $3,000--Winner must be studying or planning to study in the field of law, medicine, engineering, architecture, or the natural sciences.
National Federation of the Blind Computer Science Scholarship of $3,000--Winner must be studying in the computer science field.
National Federation of the Blind Educator of Tomorrow Award of $3,000--Winner must be planning a career in elementary, secondary, or postsecondary teaching.
Fourteen National Federation of the Blind Scholarships of $3,000--No additional restrictions.
All scholarships awarded to blind women which are not otherwise endowed are made possible by a generous bequest from the estate of Dorothy R. Olson.
Those requiring additional information about the NFB’s scholarship program may contact the committee chairperson, Anil Lewis, by calling his office in Georgia at (404) 371-1000, or sending an email to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
From the Editor: Barbara Cheadle is president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). In the following article she describes the exciting changes that have been made in the Braille Readers Are Leaders competition this year. Every Monitor reader should take the opportunity to encourage blind elementary and secondary Braille readers to enter this contest as soon as possible. If they register online before December 1, they will receive a free T-shirt. Read on for the details:
If you saw the announcement in last month’s Braille Monitor, you will know that we have made some major changes in our annual NFB Braille Readers are Leaders contest. It all started with conversations among NOPBC and National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB) leaders, Dr. Maurer, and the NFB Jernigan Institute education department. We wanted to streamline the contest, update it, make it more efficient, get the prizes out in a more timely fashion, and do so without diminishing the program in any way.
we wanted to find a way to get the top winners and their parents and teachers
more actively involved in the NFB. We think we have accomplished all this, and
we hope that all our members will be as excited about the changes as we are.
The full details of the contest are on our NFB Website at <www.nfb.org/nfb/NOPBC_Braille_Readers_Are_Leaders.asp>,
but here is an overview.
Let’s begin with what has not changed. The purpose is, as it always has been, to promote the joy of reading for pleasure, to promote a pride in Braille as a viable literacy medium equal to print, and to demonstrate the importance of independent reading in the development of Braille literacy skills. Eligibility for the contest has not changed. All blind or visually impaired Braille-reading students enrolled in an educational program for students from grades kindergarten through twelfth grade in the USA or Canada are eligible to compete in the contest. And competition is still based on reading the largest number of Braille pages of leisure reading material during the contest period as certified by the child’s teacher, parent, or librarian.
So the heart and soul of the contest remains intact. Some of the other details also remain the same. The Braille Community Service Award is still in place, and so are the regular grade categories for competition. And we still give special recognition to residential or day schools for the blind that enroll a significant percentage of their students in the contest and in other ways promote Braille literacy and the Braille Readers Are Leaders program. All participants will get certificates, and different-colored print-Braille ribbons will be awarded to contestants who read 500, 1,000, 2,000, 4,000, 8,000, and 12,000 pages.
So what has changed? Let’s begin with a basic: the time period. The contest is now two months, not three. It begins, as it always has, on November 1, but now it ends on Louis Braille’s birthday—January 4. We believe that the shorter time will eventually encourage more parents and teachers to enter students in the contest. It is a tremendous amount of work to keep track of books and materials read, but of course the more kids read, the better they get. Our goal is to strike the best balance between making the contest long enough to make a difference, but short enough that teachers and parents do not feel overwhelmed by the amount of time it takes to document activity for the contest.
Another change is that this year every participant who registers in advance for the contest will get a special Braille Readers Are Leaders T-shirt. That’s right, we have added a registration process. Teachers and parents have often asked if we could get the certificates and prizes to the students sooner. It currently takes twelve weeks to process the entry forms and get certificates, ribbons, and prizes to the contestants. To get a faster turnaround time, we have instituted an option for early registration. And, to provide extra incentive, we guarantee a contest T-shirt for every contestant who registers for the contest between October 1 and December 1. Students who do not register in advance, but who get the registration and entry form in by the January 21 deadline, will still be eligible for all awards and cash prizes, but they are not guaranteed a T-shirt.
Now let’s talk about prizes. The biggest and most exciting change of all is that this year twelve of the top contestants will win an eight-day, seven-night trip for themselves and a parent (or an adult chaperone) to the 2008 NFB convention in Dallas, Texas. The trip will include transportation, hotel room, and other expenses for eight days, beginning with the parents seminar, continuing through the banquet, and ending on the final day of the convention session. The winners will also have the opportunity to speak briefly at the NAPUB and NOPBC meetings. We couldn’t think of a better way to reward these bright, competitive young Braille readers from all over the country than to offer them the opportunity to join in the excitement, the fun, and the camaraderie of the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled.
Not everyone may elect to compete for the trip, and, while there is no substitute for the trip, one thing that has always worked as an incentive in the contest is cash prizes, and we still offer those. The top three contestants in each of five categories will win a $50 cash prize. The five categories are grades K-1; 2-3, 4-5, 6-8 (middle school); and 9-12 (high school). Every contestant will be automatically considered for an award in his or her age-appropriate grade category. This includes delayed readers and ungraded students.
We have found that even students with delays can be competitive in their grade category because we do not (and never have) put restrictions on the grade level of the materials the contestant reads. For example, we expect that a high school student who reads at a third-grade level will read third-grade-level material, or even below, for the competition and therefore, with motivation and diligence, could beat out an average or even better than average student who reads at grade level. Students with reading delays may also submit information to be considered for the Jennifer Baker Award, one of three special awards that qualified students may choose to compete for.
Two of these three awards replace categories we no longer have. The Jennifer Baker Award replaces the Most Improved Award, and the Twin Vision® Award replaces the Print-to-Braille category. The third award, the Braille Community Service Award, was instituted about three years ago, and is just beginning to fulfill what we hope to accomplish through it. Although it is not new, we are including a brief description of it along with the other two new awards.
Braille Community Service Award. This award most closely reflects the ultimate mission of the contest. Braille literacy enhances the ability of blind children of all ages to demonstrate leadership through service to others. For example, a blind teen may use Braille to read to lonely residents in a nursing home or use his or her Braille skills to organize and conduct a food drive for a school project. The opportunities for service, if you are literate, are endless. The goal of this award is to encourage contestants who have developed good Braille skills to reach out into the community and use those skills for the good of others.
This award is restricted to students in grades six through twelve. To be considered for this award, the student must read a minimum number of pages for the contest and submit a letter of nomination. Up to five students will be selected for this award, and all winners of this award will automatically win a trip to the convention.
Twin Vision® Awards for dual print-and-Braille readers or print-to-Braille readers. Funded by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, the award is for elementary students who have learned and used both print and Braille from an early age, and also for students who were print readers and have switched to, or are in the process of switching to, Braille. No fewer than one student and no more than five will be selected for this award. To nominate a student for this award, a teacher or other individual intimately familiar with that student’s literacy development must write a letter. The student must also participate in the regular competition.
2008 Jennifer Baker Awards. Named after Jennifer Baker, a young woman from Maryland who overcame many severe additional disabilities to become Braille literate and was a frequent national winner in the Braille Readers Are Leaders program. Jennifer was an avid reader who traveled the world in her mind with the help of Amelia Bedelia and other characters from her beloved Braille storybooks. She died of kidney failure shortly before her twenty-first birthday. This award is given in her memory to no fewer than one student and no more than five based on a letter of nomination with information documenting the obstacles the student has overcome to become Braille literate. Examples of those eligible for this award might be students with cognitive or physical disabilities, English-as-second-language learners, students with brain injuries, or students who have been otherwise educationally disadvantaged. To nominate a student for this award, a teacher or other individual who is intimately familiar with that student’s literacy development must submit a letter of nomination. The student must also participate in the regular competition.
If you have been counting the number of possible winners, you know that we offer a minimum of eighteen and a maximum of thirty cash awards, which means that not every contestant will win a trip. If more than twelve of the winners have elected to compete for the trip, then a run-off essay competition will be supervised by Jennifer Dunnam, a longtime leader in the Minnesota affiliate and the manager of Braille Programs in the education department of the NFB Jernigan Institute. Jennifer will also be managing the day-to-day operations of registration, processing entry forms, sending out certificates and prizes, and collaborating with NOPBC and NAPUB to judge the contest and to evaluate the changes we put in place this year.
us back to one very important component that has not changed. The contest, you
notice, is still cosponsored by the National Association to Promote the Use
of Braille and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Those
divisions will continue to work with our national office and state affiliates,
as they have for the past twenty-five years, to promote and build this program
with pride, energy, and all of the creative and financial resources available
Consider a Charitable Gift
Making a charitable gift can be one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Each year millions of people contribute their time, talent, and treasure to charitable organizations. When you plan for a gift to the National Federation of the Blind, you are not just making a donation; you are leaving a legacy that insures a future for blind people throughout the country. Special giving programs are available through the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).
Points to Consider When
Making a Gift to the National Federation of the Blind
· Will my gift serve to advance the mission of the NFB?
· Am I giving the most appropriate asset?
· Have I selected the best way to make my gift?
· Have I considered the tax consequences of my gift?
· Have I sought counsel from a competent advisor?
· Have I talked to the planned giving officer about my gift?
Benefits of Making a Gift
to the NFB
· Helping the NFB fulfill its mission
· Receiving income tax savings through a charitable deduction
· Making capital gain tax savings on contribution of some appreciated gifts
· Providing retained payments for the life of a donor or other beneficiaries
· Eliminating federal estate tax in certain situations
· Reducing estate settlement cost
Your Gift Will Help Us
· Make the study of science and math a real possibility for blind children
· Provide hope for seniors losing vision
· Promote state and chapter programs and provide information that will educate blind people
· Advance technology helpful to the blind
· Create a state-of-the-art library on blindness
· Train and inspire professionals working with the blind
· Provide critical information to parents of blind children
· Mentor blind people trying to find jobs
Your gift makes you a part of the NFB dream!
From the Editor: We first reported on the activities of Lisamaria Martinez when she was organizing elementary-school-age friends to fight litter. It was clear that this young woman was going places, but who would have thought then that one of her destinations was likely to be Beijing? On August 23, 2007, the Union City, California, Argus, Lisamaria’s hometown newspaper, carried a story about her efforts. When she isn’t preparing for the Para-Olympics, Lisamaria is the president of the NFB’s Sports and Recreation Division. She also teaches cane travel as an independent contractor in California. Here is the article:
Blind East Bay Athlete Aiming for Para-Olympics
Judo Champion Hopes to Represent U.S. in Beijing Games
by Matthew Artz
Lisamaria Martinez has chiseled calves, rock-solid quads, and practically no eyesight. She can make out the colors on her certificate for finishing second at the Para-Pan-American games in Rio de Janeiro this month, but can't read the words.
No bother, though. Martinez knows what they mean. Although she hasn't officially qualified, it seems certain she will represent the United States at the Para-Olympics next year in Beijing. "That would be a dream come true," said the twenty-six-year-old Union City resident.
blind at age five, the result of a severe allergic reaction known as Stevens-Johnson
Syndrome. The illness could have killed her, but Martinez doesn't remember being
particularly traumatized. "Honestly, I thought it was all part of growing
up," she said.
Her parents refused to treat her any differently than her younger brother and sister—she still had to make her bed every morning—and Martinez was resolved to do as she pleased. She learned how to ski and rock climb as a girl, ran track in high school, and rowed at the University of California, Berkeley. At fifteen she had her first boyfriend, and at seventeen she placed third at the blind judo world championships.
Judo was her dad's idea. He wanted Martinez and her sister to be able to defend themselves. Fifteen years and countless strained muscles and bruises later, Martinez still is dishing out as much punishment as she takes. "I like it.” As far as martial arts go, judo is tailor-made for blind people because the combatants always maintain physical contact. There's lots of throwing, choking, pinning and armbars, but no punching, kicking or striking.
When Martinez battles blind competitors—who make up only about 5 percent of her opponents—they immediately lock up: gripping each other's lapel with one hand and sleeve with the other. "It's crazy if you're at a tournament," she said. "You can just feel the intensity coming from their arms."
When she's fighting, Martinez can visualize her moves. With her eyes she can get an idea of whether her opponent is taller or shorter, but not much else, she said. "I can't see her face, if she's giving me a dirty look." At five feet four inches tall and 151 pounds, Martinez is among the shorter women in the up-to-154-pound weight class. She works out nearly every day to maintain her weight.
When she isn't training, she's teaching. Not judo, though. Martinez earned a master's degree in educational psychology, specializing in teaching blind people to get around with a walking stick. She has a few students from the Lions Center for the Blind in Oakland, and she expects as much of them as her parents expected of her. "I want them to be as independent as they can be," Martinez said. "Being blind doesn't mean they should stay at home and wait for someone to take them by the arm and tell them when to go."
Next year Martinez plans to retire from judo, marry her fiancé, and teach full-time. But first things first. In addition to her silver medal at the Para-Pan-American games, Martinez placed fifth this month in the Blind Sport Federation Judo World Championships.
A fourth-place finish would have automatically qualified her for the Para-Olympics. She still is comfortably ahead of her nearest competitor for the lone American spot in the tournament but can't rule out the possibility that someone might come out of the woodwork at a major competition next April. "I've been training hard for my spot, and I intend to keep it," she said.
From the Editor: Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants and first vice president of the NFB of Colorado, also serves as chairman of the Imagination Fund. Here is his open letter to all Federationists as we begin the serious work of raising money for the 2008 Imagination Fund:
Greetings, Friends and Colleagues:
I am very fortunate to have been asked by President Maurer to chair our Imagination Fund campaign again this year. With Dr. Maurer’s leadership we have assembled a magnificent planning committee to plan our upcoming March for Independence-The Walk for Opportunity. Working together, we intend to develop a million-dollar Imagination Fund drive.
A few years ago, when this campaign started, Dr. Maurer, Dr. Zaborowski, some others, and I dreamed of a time when the Imagination Fund might raise one million dollars. We thought maybe five or six years. We were wrong; the time has come. This year we are going to do it. Building on last year’s incredibly successful Imagination Fund campaign culminating in another invigorating March for Independence, we set our sights this year on the million-dollar goal and commit to being on the team that reaches this ambitious amount for the Federation and the great work that it does.
This year’s Imagination Fund campaign will culminate in a March for Independence in Dallas on July 2. It will again be one of the high points of our annual convention. In addition to the banquet and the presidential report, our March for Independence will become an event Federationists look forward to each year. Come to Dallas to be a part of the national convention and join us for the March for Independence-The Walk for Opportunity, and raise your money.
When you help raise money by working for the Imagination Fund, you help change lives, yours and mine and the lives of blind kids and of seniors who are losing vision in greater numbers than ever before. You can help fund dreams and possibilities. Everyone can and should get behind this effort. Show the country what you can do. The Imagination Fund is a deserving project. Whether you gather change at your chapter meeting or ask some of your friends to contribute on your behalf to sponsor your entrance in the March, your effort is essential and appreciated.
Remember that this past year every affiliate received its share of $580,000 and a number received even more in grants for special projects. I ask you personally to pledge to raise at least $250 to join our March for Independence-Walk for Opportunity this July 2 in Dallas. A $250 individual goal is not out of reach for any of us who truly care about the vital work we do. Once you get started, you will find that it will be fun and exhilarating.
Did you know that anyone who raises $1,000 or more will be awarded a special collector’s gold medallion? We thank the nearly one hundred Federationists who made it to the medallion level during this past campaign. These medallion NFB support seekers were honored during the ceremony at the 2007 March for Independence. In 2008 we will again have an impressive ceremony, and I hope we triple the number of names we call out in appreciation of great work for the movement. I hope that many of us will set personal goals at the $1,000 medallion level. You can truly do it if you challenge yourself.
Even if you cannot come to Dallas, you can form a team and participate as a virtual marcher. We would be happy to teach you more about team-building, virtual-marching, and fundraising. Build your own personal Webpage at <marchforindependence.org>. Post pictures and tell your personal story for your friends and family to enjoy when they log on. Tell them about the unemployment rate we face, and describe our efforts to expand opportunities for blind students and get more Braille into the hands of blind kids. Assure them that we are the voice of the nation’s blind changing the world. Their donation will make a difference.
NFB members are trendsetters. We are developing extraordinary technology such as the K-NFB Reader. You, your friends, and your family will make the difference. You can proclaim to the world through the World Wide Web why the NFB is important to you and those you know and care about. Then invite friends, family members, colleagues, and others you meet throughout your day to visit your personal page at <www.marchforindependence.org> and to support your goal by contributing right there online. If you are not tech savvy, get in touch with Kristi Bowman or me by phone or email, and we will be glad to help you build your Webpage. Why not make this year’s Million Dollar Imagination Fund quest one of your local chapter’s principal projects? Ask one or two chapter members to take leadership by promoting the campaign at every meeting. They can bring the mini march cards and facilitate the sharing of ideas and success stories. Those in your chapters who can’t come to the convention can certainly become star contributors anyway. Your Imagination Fund team is also asking that at least a few affiliates make this project one of your very highest priorities. Nurture it, promote it, proclaim it! If we do these things, we can be a part of Federation history.
Be a part
of something extraordinary. See how many people you can get to invest in our
Imagination Fund by investing in you. You could be the star fundraiser of the
year. People will invest in you and our cause when they hear from you, but you
must ask them to support you and this exceptional organization. So tell them
about our work and ask for their support. Be the Imaginator of the Year.
Make your commitment today. Let’s work together to make it happen. You can be a part of our first ever million-dollar Imagination Fund drive. You can make the difference. I look forward to speaking with each of you. We can do it together. The National Center can provide literature about the movement to help you. The Center staff can help you create your Webpage and set your personal goal. They can send you Imagination Fund mini march cards to hand out as you seek donations of support. Working together, we can make it happen. God bless you and thank you.
At your service,
Kevan Worley, Chairman
Imagination Fund/March for Independence
This month’s recipes have been collected by members of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska.
by Robert Deaton
Robert Deaton is deputy director of Independent Living Services at the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
2 packages Hidden Valley Ranch Style Dressing mix (buttermilk recipe)
1 pint mayonnaise
1 pint buttermilk
1 head cauliflower
1 head broccoli
3 tomatoes, seeded and skinned
2 white onions
1 bell pepper
1 bunch celery
1 carton mushrooms
1 can sliced water chestnuts
1 can black olives
Method: Mix salad dressing mix, mayonnaise, and buttermilk well and chill. Finely chop and mix the vegetables. Add salad dressing and mix well. Serves twelve to sixteen.
by Amy Buresh
Amy Buresh is president of the NFB of Nebraska and a member of the NFB board of directors.
1 pound lean ground beef
3 to 5 15-ounce cans chili beans
1 15-ounce can tomato soup
2 cups water
1 envelope taco seasoning
1 medium onion, chopped
1 16-ounce can of corn
1 jar Pace Picante Sauce
1 envelope ranch dressing mix
1 8-ounce box mild Mexican Velveeta cheese
Method: Sauté ground meat and drain any fat. Add other ingredients. Cook slowly until heated through. Serve and top with sour cream and tortilla chips.
Beer Cheese Soup
by Shane Buresh
Shane is the husband of Amy Buresh and father of Noah.
8 cups milk
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
4 tablespoons chicken base
1 16-ounce jar Cheez Whiz
6 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup water
1 can beer
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Method: Combine milk, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and chicken base. Bring to a boil, stirring often. Add Cheez Whiz, after warming in hot water or in microwave. Mix in well. Stir cornstarch completely into water and stir into soup, which should thicken immediately. Stir constantly while cornstarch is cooking. Reduce heat a bit and stir in beer. To serve, ladle into bowls and dust with cayenne pepper or top with croutons.
Smooth and Creamy Homemade Ice Cream
by Amy and Shane Buresh
This is a homemade version of Dairy Queen's soft-serve ice cream
2 envelopes Knox unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
4 cups whole milk
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups cream
Method: Soften Knox gelatin in cold water. Heat milk, but do not let it come to a boil. Remove from heat and add gelatin, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. Cool and add cream. Chill five to six hours. Pour into a 4- to 6-quart ice cream freezer can. Process following manufacturer's instructions.
Oreo Cookie Balls
by Barbara Loos and Hannah Lindner
Barbara Loos is a longtime Federation leader and president of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. She has been serving as a mentor for Hannah Lindner in Nebraska’s mentoring program. Here is the note that Barbara sent along with this recipe:
and I would like to submit this recipe as a mentor/mentee partnership. We made
them last year but left out one key step. Instead of using toothpicks for dipping,
we rolled the balls in the almond bark with our fingers. It was very messy,
and one outspoken teenage member of my family referred to them as "Bird
Bombs" based on how they allegedly looked. No one else accepted that description
of their appearance, and some suggested it may have been an attempt to scare
off other would-be consumers. Whatever be the case, while "Oreo Cookie
Balls" might work for everyone else, to us they will most likely forever
remain "Bird Bombs."
1 pound Oreo cookies
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 pound white almond bark
Method: Using a food processor or blender, grind cookies (filling and all) to a ground coffee texture. Knead cream cheese and crumbs together until thoroughly mixed. Shape into a large ball and refrigerate for forty-five minutes. Roll into walnut-size balls and place on wax paper. Place in freezer for forty-five minutes. In double-boiler or microwave melt white almond bark. Using a toothpick to skewer each ball, dip them in white almond bark and coat thoroughly. Place on wax paper and allow to cool. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. This recipe makes approximately twenty-five walnut-size candies.
by Jeff Altman
Jeff Altman is first vice president of the NFB of Nebraska. He says that you should use a teaspoon from your tableware rather than a measuring spoon for this recipe.
1 teaspoon white sugar
3 heaping teaspoons sweet relish
1 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard
7 spritzes of soy sauce
7 heaping teaspoons of mayonnaise
1 can of tuna, packed in water, having drained all but a small amount of water
10 soda or Ritz crackers, finely crushed into crumbs
Small amount of milk, just enough to help moisten the mixture
Mix first four ingredients well Method: , then add remaining ingredients. Mix thoroughly and serve over lettuce and tomato salad, on crackers, or in sandwiches. Serves two to three people.
by Jeff Altman
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1 16-ounce container sour cream
1 pound spaghetti, cooked
1-1/2 pounds ground meat
1-1/2 28-ounce jars spaghetti sauce
1 can mushrooms (optional)
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
Method: When spaghetti is cooked and drained, add cream cheese and sour cream. Place mixture in a greased 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Brown ground meat and drain. Add sauce and mushrooms. Allow to cool. Spread meat mixture across spaghetti and either chill overnight or finish cooking it on the same day. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.
by Jeff Altman
1 3-ounce package cream cheese
1/2 cup chopped green onion or regular onion
1/4 cup mild or medium Pace Picante Sauce
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon oregano leaves or 1/8 teaspoon ground oregano
2 cups monterey jack and colby cheese blend
2 whole chicken breasts, cooked and diced
6 or so flour tortillas
Additional cheese and Pace Picante Sauce
Method: In a large frying pan over low heat, combine all enchilada ingredients except chicken and cook until cheeses melt. Then add diced chicken breast and continue cooking until heated through. Fill flour tortillas with the chicken mixture and top with more Pace Picante and cheese as desired. Bake fifteen minutes at 375 or microwave for one to two minutes to heat through. Serve with sour cream. To double the recipe, use five large chicken breast halves and double other ingredients, except that you should use eight ounces of cream cheese. Doubled, this recipe makes about thirteen enchiladas.
by Jeff Altman
1 can diced (or crushed) tomatoes
1 can crushed tomatoes (or 1 can tomato puree)
1 pint ketchup
2-1/2 cups water
3/4 cup brown sugar
2-1/4 teaspoons garlic powder (You may want to reduce that amount a little.)
1 envelope spaghetti sauce mix
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2-1/4 teaspoons Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
1/4 cup oil
1 cup chopped onion
Method: Sauté onion in oil until tender. Add all other ingredients. Bring to boil, then simmer covered over medium low heat for approximately one hour. Stir occasionally to keep sauce from sticking. The length of time you simmer the sauce and the amount of liquid you add from the tomatoes will determine the consistency of the finished product.
Honey Orange Oatmeal Bread
by Nancy Oltman
Nancy Oltman is NFB of Nebraska second vice president. She is a very experienced cook. She reports that this recipe was one of her most popular products at the farmers market this summer.
3-1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup rolled oats (quick cook variety)
1 envelope Fleischmann’s RapidRise Yeast (I have also used regular yeast.)
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
2-1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups water
1/2 cup honey
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup chopped dates or pitted dates, snipped (I prefer golden raisins.)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Method: In large bowl combine one cup flour, oats, undissolved yeast, and orange peel. Heat water and butter until very warm (120° to 130°F). Add to dry ingredients. Mix two minutes at medium speed in an electric mixer, scraping bowl occasionally. Add salt. Mix two minutes at high speed. Using a spoon, stir in dates or raisins and enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead on lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, about four minutes. Cover and let rest for ten minutes. Roll dough into a 13-by-9-inch rectangle. Roll up from short end as for jellyroll; pinch ends and seam to seal. Place loaf, seam side down, on greased baking sheet; flatten slightly to form oval. Cover; let rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about thirty to forty minutes. Brush with beaten egg. With a sharp knife make three diagonal slashes on top of loaf. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for thirty minutes or until done. Remove from baking sheet and cool on wire rack. Makes one loaf.
Note: I usually
make the slashes before allowing bread to rise. I also have made this bread
in a 9-by-5-inch bread pan or two smaller pans. When baking in pans, I do not
roll out dough but shape loaves and put them in the well-greased pan. I much
prefer the smaller pans. I would bake it just as long in smaller pans and probably
a little longer in the 9-by-5-inch pan. This bread is great toasted.
Pecan Praline Cheesecake
by Nancy Oltman
3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup Heath Bar chips, divided
3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 14-ounce can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Ingredients for Pecan Praline Topping:
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
Method: Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In bowl combine cracker crumbs, pecans, brown sugar, and butter; mix well. Press mixture firmly on bottom of 9-inch springform pan. (I prefer to use a 10-inch springform pan instead.) Bake for eight to ten minutes. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of Heath Bar chips.
In large mixer bowl beat cream cheese until fluffy. Gradually add sweetened condensed milk; mix until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. (Note: Beat lots of air into cream cheese, but after adding the eggs, limit beating to just enough to combine.) Pour mixture into prepared pan.
to sixty minutes or until center is set. (If using a 10-inch spring form pan,
check toward the fifty-five-minute time.) Cool ten minutes; carefully loosen
cheesecake from side of pan with a thin knife. Sprinkle top of cake with a quarter
cup of Heath Bar chips. Cool completely. Top with Praline Topping and chill.
Method for Pecan Praline Topping: In heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, combine 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar and 1/3 cup whipping cream (unwhipped). Cook stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Simmer five minutes or until mixture is thickened. Remove from heat; stir in a half cup chopped, toasted pecans. Spoon evenly over cheesecake.
Note: I use this basic recipe for all cheesecakes, topping with fruit, fudge topping, etc. It is the best I have ever made.
Breaded Ranch Chicken
by Audra Kramer
Audra Kramer is one of the most successful fundraisers in the NFB of Nebraska. She was active in the affiliate’s student division.
3/4 cup crushed corn flakes
3/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 envelope ranch salad dressing mix
8 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Nonstick cooking spray
Method: In shallow bowl thoroughly combine flakes, cheese, and dressing mix. Spray chicken breast with oil, then roll in corn flakes mixture to coat. Place in a single layer in a greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish and bake uncovered for forty-five minutes at 350 degrees.
News from the Federation Family
We regret to report that in the convention issue we omitted the name of Christine Brown from the list of March for Independence Medallion winners. Everyone who worked to raise $1,000 or more should most certainly have been given credit, and we regret the oversight.
First Call for Washington Seminar:
Circle the dates of the 2008 Washington Seminar, Monday, January 28, to Thursday, January 31. Once again this year we will be headquartered at the Holiday Inn Capitol, 550 C Street SW. The great gathering in will take place at 5:00 p.m. Monday, and we will conduct briefings Tuesday and Wednesday evenings to share information and ask questions. As usual, several divisions will undoubtedly conduct meetings and seminars in conjunction with the Washington Seminar, but we do not yet have the details of these.
We do have
the information for making room reservations. The room rate for one to four
in a room is $144 a night plus 14.5 percent tax. Reservations should be made
before December 27 with Diane McGeorge, who is again in charge of seminar arrangements.
You can reach her by calling (303) 778-1130, ext. 219. You can also make reservations
by emailing her at <email@example.com> or Lisa Bonderson at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
If you wish to make arrangements for any group activity at the hotel during
the Washington Seminar, email Lisa for a copy of the form you must complete
and submit by December 27. Consult the NFB Website and later issues of the Braille
Monitor for further seminar details as the fall unfolds.
Hymns Plus Volume 2 Now Available:
Dr. J. Webster Smith is first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio. His new CD, entitled “Hymns Plus, Volume 2,” is now available featuring thirteen songs, including "Precious Lord," "Lord I Want to Be a Christian," "Yes, God Is Real," and "Peace in the Valley." These are just a few of the thirteen vocal selections and one instrumental arrangement of "Go Tell It on the Mountain." The CD also includes four oratorical pieces highlighted by "The Art of Storytelling" and "The Ultimate Love Letter." Fans of J.W.’s previous work will be interested to know that he considers these eighty minutes of inspiration and contemplation to be the best work he has yet done.
This CD sells
for $10, including shipping and handling, and can be ordered by sending Dr.
Smith a money order to Lasher Hall, 43 West Union, Athens, Ohio 45701. No personal
The New Lakes Region Chapter of the NFB of New Hampshire conducted elections on September 23, 2007. The new officers are Ed Meskys, president; John Parker, vice president; and Jane Flanders, secretary. Sandy Meskys remains treasurer.
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.
for Light 2008:
Do you cross country ski? Do you want to learn? If you are a visually impaired adult who would like to spend a week skiing or learning to ski, join us in Bend, Oregon, for the thirty-third annual Ski for Light International Week, February 10 to 17, 2008.
Each year nearly three hundred skiers and guides gather together for a week of recreational skiing, fun, friendship, and fellowship. Skiers and guides come from all over the U.S. and various other countries and from a wide variety of occupations and interests. Visually and mobility-impaired skiers are matched with sighted guides and ski together for the week, working to develop skills and techniques.
In 2008 we will stay at the Riverhouse Hotel in Bend, Oregon, a small but vibrant city near Redmond, Oregon, and we will ski on nearby Mount Bachelor. The center there has fifty-six kilometers of Nordic trails and an alpine ski area. Last season there were 398 inches of snow, so we expect to have fantastic ski conditions.
Ski for Light Webpage at <www.sfl.org> for more information. The cost
for the week is $775 double occupancy and includes meals, ski passes, and transportation
to the ski area. For more information contact Dave Thomas at (303) 298-0672
or <email@example.com>, or Lynda Boose, VIP applications coordinator at (906)
370-7541 or <Lyndab@sfl.org>.
Telephone Voice Service Available:
Jim Black is the owner of the Ultimate System, which he explains is set up to allow blind people to communicate by voice in a community forum. Several other systems on the market do the same thing; however, the monitoring and control of the system set this one apart. Mr. Black closely monitors the content of the Ultimate System and maintains some simple ground rules for control and order so that everyone can enjoy the services. Other features include voicemail; community bulletin boards; news, weather, and information; live radio stations; conference chatrooms; and much more. The partner carrier also provides local access numbers throughout the U.S. and Canada which are included in the service fee. This system also allows members to take advantage of contests that earn prizes. The cost of the service is $5 a month for all the features mentioned. The owner is not making money with this service. To sign up or to ask questions or tour the system, call (603) 580-9403.
The Selective Doctor, Inc. is a repair service for all IBM typewriters and Perkins Braillewriters. Located in Baltimore, the service has done work for the Maryland School for the Blind and a number of other organizations in Maryland. They accept Perkins Braillers sent to them from around the country.
The cost to repair a manual Perkins Brailler is $55 for labor (flat rate), plus parts. Because of technical complexity the cost to repair an electric Perkins Brailler is $60 for labor (flat rate), plus parts. The Brailler will be shipped back to you by U.S. mail, Free Matter for the Blind and insured for $400. The cost of this insurance ($5.50) will be added to your invoice. This listed insurance charge may fluctuate due to rate changes by the postal service.
To mail Braillers
using the U.S. Postal Service, send your Brailler(s) to the Selective Doctor,
P.O. Box 28432, Baltimore, Maryland 21234-8432. If you care to use UPS or Federal
Express, please send Braillers to the Selective Doctor, 3014 Linwood Avenue,
Baltimore, Maryland 21234-5821. With your Brailler(s) please include your name
and organization (if applicable), shipping and billing addresses, telephone
number, and a brief description of your Brailler's needs. Should you require
additional information, please call (410) 668-1143, or email <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Hadley School for the Blind Launches New Program for Blindness Professionals:
In January 2008 The Hadley School for the Blind will launch the Hadley School for Professional Studies (HSPS). The program consists of twenty-four distance education courses, twenty of which offer continuing education units. A modest tuition ranging from $99 to $139 will be charged for most courses. The tuition, a new policy for Hadley, will cover a portion of the cost of each course and allow the school to continue to meet the needs of its professional students. Courses for visually impaired students and their families will continue to be offered free of charge.
the number of Hadley professional students has grown from three hundred to three
thousand served annually. This growth is due in part to the dwindling number
of continuing education courses for professionals in the field and recertification
Enrollment in HSPS begins January 7 and will be conducted online only at <www.hadley.edu/hsps>. Students currently enrolled in Hadley’s professional education program may complete their current courses tuition-free but will need to complete a new application for courses they enroll in after December 20, 2007. Tuition may be paid by VISA, MasterCard, or money order in U.S. funds. For information on HSPS policies and procedures, visit <www.hadley.edu/hsps>, email <email@example.com>, or call (800) 323-4238 (U.S., Puerto Rico, Canada) or (847) 446-8111.
Invitation to Participate in a Research Study:
Blind people are invited to participate in a survey on built environments’ influences on people’s activities.
Funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Department of Education, a research team from the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Universal Design and the Built Environment at the State University of New York at Buffalo is conducting online surveys examining how designed environments affect individuals’ activities. The environments being studied are public buildings, streets, and residences. Although the study is interested in everyone’s experiences, it is especially interested in the experiences of individuals with various sight conditions. Their participation is very important to the goal of this study to identify environmental design features that are usable by everyone.
If you think
you might be interested in participating or would just like additional information,
go to the research study’s Website at <http://www.udeworld.com/research/index.php>.
The surveys will be available online through January 2008.
Change What It Means to Be Blind:
The Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University is looking for people seeking a meaningful and rewarding career in the field of blindness. We offer competitive scholarships to qualified applicants for the MA in educational psychology with concentration in orientation and mobility (O&M), the MA in teaching blind students (TBS), and the MS in curriculum and instruction with cognate in teaching blind students.
Are you looking
for an exciting opportunity? We invite anyone who would like to teach cane travel
or Braille to blind children or adults to apply for our programs. Contact us
today to find out more: Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness,
(318) 257-4554, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, a partnership with
the Louisiana Center for the Blind.
Assistance for Macedonian Students Needed:
I am a teacher of English working in a school for the blind in Macedonia. Because teaching and learning resources here are not easy to come by, I would welcome any books, magazines, games, or other items designed to help teachers and students of English. I would also welcome any blindness items in good condition, such as white canes or anything else that is no longer needed but that others could use. To send these items, you can use Free Matter for the Blind, but please consult with the post office first about the requirements for sending such items abroad. My address is Adrijana Prokopenko, bul. Jane Sandanski, 43 5 / 6, 1000-Skopje, Macedonia. Thank you.
The notice in this section has been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the product for sale.
Braille Note mPower BT-32, Version 7.2, with SMA upgrades. Unit has Braille keyboard with 32-cell display. Comes with all accessories and manuals in original packing plus wireless network card, wired Ethernet card, RJ-45, and storage cards. Service contract expires January 31, 2008. Asking $4,000 or best offer. Contact Harold Snider at <email@example.com> or at (301) 460-4142.
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.
Quiet Car Song
Written by Sandy Halverson
To the tune of “Found a Peanut”
I was walking down the sidewalk
Thinking of what I would eat
When I got up to the restaurant
And the friends I was to meet.
I was so close I could smell it.
Didn't have to go that far
When my life was quickly altered
By that sneaky quiet car.
I approached my destination
When my cane broke at my feet.
Never heard the car approaching--
I was lying in the street.
Heard the siren of the ambulance
As it carried me away.
Lost my hunger in the ER.
Guess we'll meet another day.