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Braille Monitor

Vol. 50, No. 11                                                      December 2007

Barbara Pierce, editor

Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by

The National Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, president

 

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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES

        ISSN 0006-8829

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Contents

Vol. 50, No. 11                                                      December 2007

 

Convention Bulletin 2008

Avoiding a Big Testing Headache
by Peggy Elliott

Resolution 2007-08

Attorney Parnell Diggs Set to Improve Attitudes
by Jan A. Igoe

Parnell Diggs
Attorney, Musician, Family Man

The Fear Factor
by Mark Stracks, MD

Federationist Gets New Job

Pointers to Help VR Counselors
by the NFB of Ohio Board of Directors

Blind Penn State Graduate Chemist Developing Lab Equipment for Disabled Students
by Bekka Coakley

Spotlight on Affiliate Action

Ask Miss Whozit

Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award for 2008
by Sharon Maneki

The 2008 Blind Educator of the Year Award
by David Ticchi

Holiday Hints and Helps, Part 2
by Barbara Pierce

A Blind Sherlock Holmes: Fighting Crime with Acut Listening
by Dan Bilefsky

Social Security, SSI, and Medicare Facts for 2008
by James McCarthy

Recipes

Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2007 National Federation of the Blind

 

Convention Bulletin 2008

It is time to begin planning for the 2008 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. This year we are returning to Dallas and the beautiful Hilton Anatole Hotel, site of the 2006 convention.

Once again our hotel rates are the envy of all. For the 2008 convention they are singles, doubles, and twins, $61; and triples and quads, $66. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 15 percent. No charge will be made for children fifteen and under in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested. Please note that as of November 1, 2007, the hotel became a no-smoking facility.

For 2008 convention room reservations you should write directly to the Hilton Anatole Hotel, 2201 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, Texas 75207, or call (214) 761-7500. The hotel will want a deposit of $60 or a credit card number. If you use a credit card, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately, just as would be the case with a $60 check. If a reservation is cancelled prior to June 1, 2008, $30 of the $60 deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.

Guest-room amenities include cable television, coffee pot, iron and ironing board, hair dryer, and high-speed Internet access—this last for a fee. Guests can also enjoy one indoor and two outdoor pools as well as a fully equipped health club and tennis courts.

The Hilton Anatole has six restaurants, several bars, and even a disco. Nana, open only for dinner, offers a five-star dining experience with panoramic views of the city and prices to match. La Esquina Restaurant and Tequila Bar, with luncheon buffets and full dinners, offers south-of-the-border fare with a Texas flair. At Common Ground in the atrium you will find light breakfast and lunch fare. The Rathskeller Sports Bar provides a basement hideaway for lunch or dinner. The Gossip Bar is open for light breakfasts and lunch and is an evening hot spot. The Terrace is an open-air café open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. See later issues of the Monitor for information about tours and other attractions in the Greater Dallas/Ft. Worth area.

The 2008 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will be a truly exciting and memorable event, with an unparalleled program and rededication to the goals and work of our movement. Make plans now to be a part of it. The schedule this year is a departure from what many of us think of as the usual one. Preconvention seminars for parents of blind children and other groups and set-up of the exhibit hall will take place on Sunday, June 29, and adjournment will be Saturday, July 5, at 5:00 p.m. Convention registration and registration packet pick-up for those who registered online will begin on Monday, June 30, and both Monday and Tuesday will be filled with meetings of divisions and committees, including the Tuesday morning annual meeting, open to all, of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind.

Immediately following the NFB March for Independence—the Walk for Equality to Victory Plaza, the general convention sessions will begin on Wednesday, July 2, and continue through the afternoon of Saturday, July 5. The annual banquet will take place on Friday evening, July 4. To assure yourself a room in the headquarters hotel at convention rates, you must make reservations early. The hotel will be ready to take your call or deal with your written request by January 1.

Remember that as usual we need door prizes from state affiliates, local chapters, and individuals. Once again prizes should be small in size but large in value. Cash, of course, is always appropriate and welcome. As a general rule we ask that prizes of all kinds have a value of at least $25 and not include alcohol. Drawings will occur steadily throughout the convention sessions, and you can anticipate a grand prize of truly impressive proportions to be drawn at the banquet. You may bring door prizes with you or send them ahead of time (identifying the item and donor and listing the value in print and Braille) to Denise Hopper, 3726 Dutton Drive, Dallas, Texas 75211, phone (214) 339-3697.

The best collection of exhibits featuring new technology; meetings of our special interest groups, committees, and divisions; memorable tours arranged by the Texas affiliate; the most stimulating and provocative program items of any meeting of the blind in the world; the chance to renew friendships in our Federation family; and the unparalleled opportunity to be where the real action is and where decisions are being made--all of these mean you will not want to miss being a part of the 2008 national convention. We'll see you in Dallas in 2008.

 

Avoiding a Big Testing Headache

by Peggy Elliott

From the Editor: The following article and resolution deal with the topic of standardized testing for blind people, a subject of immediate personal interest to many of us and our families, and general interest to those of us who sometimes advocate for blind students and job seekers. To the careful reader they teach several important lessons. One is that blindness accompanies us into every facet of life and that, the more complex the setting, the more complex must be any solutions that include blind people. Another is that even the most complicated settings can be modified to be blind-user-friendly if blind people apply enough knowledge and advocacy. Yet another lesson is that our path to solutions is always made immeasurably smoother by finding and partnering with people of good will.

The Educational Testing Service (ETS) looms large in the standardized testing field, and Federationists have been immensely lucky in finding a person of vast good will at ETS, Ruth Loew, who has been coming to the student meetings at the Washington Seminar and the national convention for a number of years now. While her responsibilities at ETS include handling all disabilities, she has been wise and clever enough to understand the Federation’s position that blind people are largely an identifiable and routinely handled subgroup of the broader disabled community. Through her attendance at Washington Seminars and the focus groups and field-testing of ETS products that she has conducted at national conventions, she has come to know many capable blind people and has applied what she has learned and observed to her professional work.

The following article grew out of a talk Ruth gave several years ago at the Student Mid-Winter Seminar at which she mentioned a little-known method allowing blind students to achieve standard blindness accommodations simply and with relatively little bother. Through further conversations with Federationists on the subject, Ruth has clarified and strengthened this simplified route for ETS test takers to such an extent that it is now routine at that company. The biggest problem blind test takers now report is their inability to apply for accommodations in ETS testing at more or less the last minute. Through Ruth’s interaction with the Federation, the ETS application process has been greatly simplified. The article below describes this process and contains important information for potential ETS test takers. More important, in this sense ETS serves as a role model for other test owners and administrators, whose processes for achieving standard blindness accommodations are much more complicated and difficult. The 2007 resolution reprinted after the following article defines as Federation policy an approach with all test owners and administrators for establishing a simple, clear path like the one ETS is already using.

Peggy Elliott is second vice president of the National Federation of the Blind. She has spent countless hours grappling with the access problems blind people face in taking standardized tests of all kinds. The good will and clear understanding established between Peggy and Ruth Loew are responsible for the signal progress that ETS and we have made on behalf of all blind test takers. Here is Peggy’s explanation of what we have accomplished together:

The Educational Testing Service (ETS) is one of the names about which most blind people have come to feel less than warm. There are two reasons for this lack of warmth, only one of which blind people share with the rest of the country. The first is that most people seeking to attend college or graduate school or enter professions—blind and sighted alike--have encountered an ETS test at the gateway of admission either to school or to a profession. The role of ETS as the keeper of the gate through which we must successfully pass to achieve our goal causes anxiety in most of us, blind and sighted alike. The second reason for coolness we share with other disabled students only: the stress involved in seeking and acquiring accommodations for taking the test.

With ETS tests, however, it turns out that many blind students actually can avoid this second cause for headaches, leaving us, like our sighted counterparts, with merely the universal anxiety to account for our feelings about ETS. To describe this headache-avoidance technique, I’m going to use simplified terms. I’ll add the ETS technical terms in a few places and Website information at the end of the article so that potential test takers can find the desired information in ETS online or printed material.

Let me also specify that this technique works only for tests in which accommodations are administered by ETS. These include the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations), the Praxis teacher licensure series, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the Test of Spoken English (TSE), the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), and the TExES Teacher Licensure series. Other testing agencies such as ACT and the Law School Admission Council (for the LSAT) administer other standardized tests, and their approaches to accommodations may or may not mirror those of ETS. And, although ETS creates the tests for many of the College Board’s programs, such as the SAT and AP tests, the College Board, not ETS, itself establishes the accommodations policies for its tests. People planning to take a non-ETS test should carefully check the rules of the agency handling the test they are facing.

The headache-avoidance technique takes advantage of a poorly understood ETS method for requesting accommodations known as the Certification of Eligibility (COE). I call this the “short route” to distinguish it from a full documentation review by a panel of experts retained by ETS, which I call the “long route.” In a nutshell, for blind test takers the short route provides a method for establishing eligibility for accommodations because of blindness and then choosing and being granted routine accommodations normal for blind people, but only if the potential test taker carefully follows very specific rules. The payoff for following the rules with care is that the set of required documents is small and precisely defined, and the ETS response is much quicker and more predictable.

To use the short route, a potential blind test taker recruits an official familiar with him or her, such as a vocational rehabilitation counselor or college disability services provider, to certify that the person is blind and routinely uses the requested accommodations in college or work. ETS recognizes certain accommodations as typical ones for blind people: Braille, recorded audio, large print or screen magnification, scribes, and human readers. ETS also treats time and a half or double time to complete a test as routine for a blind person. To trigger the short route, the applicant submits the certification from one official, the applicant’s choice of medium, and the request for extra time, if desired. Submitting anything else may divert the application to the long route with all the time and frustration this longer route can occasion. Please note that this explanation is simplified for readers of this article and that the details for the short route are specifically provided by ETS in its online and printed publications. And, please, please note that providing any document beyond those specified for the short route can divert the application into the long route, with its much longer timelines and its paperwork requirements.
It’s my guess that most blind students qualify for the short (COE) route and accidentally drop themselves into the long (documentation review) route by adding paperwork not required by the short route, adding to the stress of the pre-test time. This accidental move to the long route arises out of the ETS policy of examining everything the test taker sends. The ETS legal staff has laid down a very firm rule that the short route is available only to an applicant who specifically follows the short-route rules and who does not offer any additional information. If an applicant intends to use the short route but nonetheless adds a letter from an eye doctor or the results of the last vision assessment or a stack of forms from a college documenting blindness and the accommodations used, ETS legal staff has ruled that ETS must assume that this documentation was provided because the applicant wants this additional material to be evaluated. The result is sometimes that the application cannot be considered as a short-route application and must be moved to the long route, which entails external review by ETS consultants.

This internal processing rule may trip up a lot of blind students. Blind students ourselves, along with parents, teachers, and college officials working with blind students, are very used to explaining a lot. If someone asks a question or challenges a proposed method or wants to discuss an alternative, we and those working with us explain and explain and explain. It becomes a way of life, which is understandable, since blindness is a low-incidence disability. In other words, few people know very much about blindness, so we are forever explaining how we do things and why we do them in certain ways. We have all long since learned that most people not only don’t know anything about blindness; they make assumptions about us that we have to anticipate and explain away, or the assumptions will cause substitution of wrong or ineffective solutions assumed necessary by uninformed members of the public in place of our carefully thought-out plan. It is this explaining that can get us in trouble with the ETS short route and can bump the applications of blind people into the long route.

That route is long because ETS contracts with professionals in various fields to provide individual professional opinions on the disability diagnosis and the appropriateness of the requested accommodations. These can be granted in full, granted in part, or denied, based on this individual, file-by-file professional review. Such a review is essential in many cases of learning disability, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, psychiatric disability, and traumatic brain injury. These disabilities are invisible and very, very individual. The long route gives ETS a professional judgment about the exact nature of the disability, the resultant functional limitations, and the reasons the requested accommodations are justified.

This long-route-review process is also necessary for blind people who have additional disabilities, whose blindness is recent, who are requesting unusual accommodations (for example, specialized computer equipment), or whose requests present other complexities. Those blind applicants who wish to use an accommodation or combination of accommodations other than the typical ones should recognize that they must build in a longer time between application and the accommodations decision because their applications will be submitted to the document-review process by experts in the field, referred to in this article as the long route. The task of such applicants is to show that the accommodations they request are the ones they customarily use and that they do so for reasons specifically rooted in their disability and often the length of time they have been disabled. People who have been blind longer have usually had more time to master ways of doing things than people who have lost their sight more recently. Of two blind applicants, one may be able to take advantage of more of the standard options than the other. Thus for many blind students the expert review is not needed or wanted while for others documentation review is the only way to take a high-stakes test the way they are used to studying or working.

As a side note, blind people can more readily understand some of the questions asked of all disabled applicants by ETS in light of this potential for individual file review by professionals. Much of the information is sought to allow the file reviewer to assess the disability and the methods the individual customarily uses to deal with that disability. We’ve probably all read those questions and thought to ourselves: “Why do they need to know that? Isn’t it obvious that I’m blind and just need Braille or a human reader?” The answer to these questions is that, for most blind ETS test applicants, ETS knows perfectly well that it doesn’t need a stack of documentation, so they have created the short-route application process for this very reason.

Some blind people are triggering file review when it is not really necessary. For others, the file review may be necessary due to the presence of additional disabilities or due to recent onset of blindness. But, if recent onset is explained straightforwardly enough and other short-route rules are followed, recently-blinded applicants may reach the short route as well. Please remember: the applicant should ask for only the accommodations he or she actually wants to use. There is folklore in the disability community that it’s best to ask ETS for more accommodations than are actually needed because then, even if ETS denies some of the accommodations, it will still grant some others. This is bad advice for blind applicants. A straightforward request for Braille will very likely be approved without delay, but a request for Braille, audiocassette, reader, and a CCTV magnifier will cause processing delays because no one test taker could use all those media simultaneously. If an applicant needs a combination of accommodations and the reason for such a combination might not be obvious because it is rooted in the applicant’s own personal situation and not blindness in general, then the applicant should provide a few lines of explanation. Please remember to keep the explanation simple and straightforward such as “I need both Braille and a reader because, though I prefer Braille, I have only been using it for about two years, and I’m not 100% fluent. I may need a reader for backup.”

Even if you qualify for and carefully design your application to take advantage of the short route, plan to register for the test and apply for accommodations as soon as possible. The need to take ETS and other standardized tests can be anticipated well in advance by most test takers, and applying for accommodations even months in advance is a good strategy in case the test owner or administrator is slow. At least at ETS some commonly requested tests are already on the shelf in alternate formats while others, usually those less frequently requested, are not. So if a blind student needs a test in Braille, it is possible that the test will have to be produced to order, which can add weeks to the time between requesting accommodations and being scheduled for a test date. Also a request for a reader may mean that ETS needs time to prepare test materials for the requested test, since ETS often creates scripts so that readers are told exactly how to describe graphics or present other nonprose material. Time can also be required for preparation of tactile graphics for blind test takers working with readers. All these circumstances suggest applying and seeking accommodations months in advance if possible and accepting any test date provided, even if it is not the same date as that issued to one’s sighted peers. It’s more important to pass the gatekeeper than to do things just like one’s sighted peers, who do not need to request accommodations or wait for production of Braille.

Here are a few additional tips that may speed up processing or avoid unnecessary delays for some ETS test takers: particularly for Praxis II tests, be sure to request the correct test number. A surprising number of accommodations requests are delayed because the test taker was using out-of-date information and requested a test that is no longer offered or is no longer required by his or her state. For those blind and low-vision test takers who do need to use the long route and are planning to submit documentation for review, ETS now has a form for your optometrist or ophthalmologist to fill out indicating exactly what information is needed to evaluate the request. And for all applicants for ETS tests: if in doubt, check ETS printed or online resources, and, if the answer is not obvious or clear, ask. For example, if you’re not sure what provision will be made for handling graphics if a reader reads you the test, ask a customer service representative: <stassd@ets.org>, (866) 387-8602.

Here in slightly more detailed language is a step-by-step description of the short route, loosely taken from the ETS Website describing the Certification of Eligibility (COE):

(1) The blind applicant has a track record of accommodations used in the workplace or in college;

(2) The blind applicant’s DSS provider, VR counselor, or HR representative has documentation on file that meets ETS standards and will vouch for this fact; and

(3) The only accommodations the test taker requests are certain typical ones (Braille, recorded audio, large print or screen magnification, reader, scribe, or time and a half or double time).

Under these circumstances the approval of accommodations is generally simple and, relatively speaking, quick. However, as has already been mentioned, if the applicant adds any information not specifically named in the short-route rules, then that application may be moved to the long-route pile.

For most of us testing is a fact of modern life with which we must deal, like it or not. For blind students the added necessity of getting exceptions from the standard method of administration can add another layer of stress and pressure. For all blind students who can take advantage of the ETS shortcut (COE) accommodations application procedure, following the rules meticulously can result in this step’s being handled with a minimum of stress. Now we can all look forward to ETS and other test owners and administrators’ adding access to tests by computer to that list of typical options for blind test takers on at least some of its tests. There are strong indications that ETS is working hard on this urgently needed and surprisingly complex approach to test administration, and all blind people should cheer on an organization working to identify computer testing as appropriate for them.

Resources:
Disability information on the ETS Website: <http://www.ets.org/disability>

Specific information on how to apply for accommodations, including all necessary forms, is in the “Bulletin Supplement for Test Takers with Disabilities,” available in pdf format at <http://www.ets.org/Media/Tests/GRE/pdf/0708_hed_bulletin_supplement.pdf>. This publication is also available in plain text format for screen reader compatibility at <http://www.ets.org/Media/Tests/GRE/pdf/0708_hed_bulletin_supplement.txt>.

 

RESOLUTION 2007-08
Regarding Accommodations for High Stakes Testing

WHEREAS, Americans encounter high-stakes testing in at least four pivotal contexts: gateway testing, which determines admission to undergraduate and graduate school; K-12 standardized-progress testing, which assesses both schools and individual performance and, among other results, determines high school graduation in some states; mastery-of-skills testing, used most often to ascertain a student’s mastery of a subject for correct placement in or satisfaction of college course requirements; and licensure testing, through which numerous professions grant or withhold permission to practice a profession; and

WHEREAS, all four types of tests are standardized and administered under rigid security and advance or admit successful test takers to a desired and desirable result; and

WHEREAS, blind citizens of all ages share the dread and the hope of their sighted counterparts when approaching any high-stakes test, but blind citizens carry an extra and onerous burden because our methods of reading and writing do not fit into the definitions of standardization and the parameters of security of the high-stakes testing industry; and

WHEREAS, each blind citizen who approaches one of these test contexts does his or her best with inadequate tools, manages some solution, and moves on, leaving the context unchanged for the next blind victim since the testing context itself is rigidly individualized and demands that each participant enter and leave alone; and

WHEREAS, standardized test providers and administrators range from large private companies to state governments to professional associations to combinations of any two or three, rendering the solution of one person’s testing difficulties irrelevant to a different person struggling at the same time in the same city with a different set of owners, providers, and administrators; and

WHEREAS, a partial list of these difficulties includes no access to practice materials and tests in alternative media; unnecessarily complex and burdensome procedures for testing in an alternative medium, which often results in postponing a key testing event to the disadvantage of the blind person; refusal of test owners and/or administrators to allow testing in a medium commonly used by blind people; refusal of test owners and/or administrators to design computer testing to include blind test takers; demands by test owners and/or administrators for administration in outmoded alternative media; and refusal of test owners and/or administrators to recognize that not all human readers are good readers and that meeting and pretraining a human reader is an appropriate accommodation; and

WHEREAS, these broad failures and the many quirky variations upon them experienced by an ever-growing line of blind test victims are almost impossible for a single test taker to combat and overcome due to the complexity of ownership and responsibility, the time-sensitive nature of most high-stakes testing, and the smokescreen raised by all too many test owners and administrators that accommodations for the blind will, they say, breach test security or invalidate standardization; and

WHEREAS, the result for blind people of this sprawling high-stakes testing mess is that high-stakes testing of the blind tests the stamina, perseverance, determination, and creativity of every blind test taker before the testing day is ever reached and then all too often tests his or her ability to train a human reader under stressful conditions or to use an unfamiliar reading medium under stress rather than the purported purpose of the test itself, leading to scores often wildly at odds with the student’s potential or the professional’s routine performance, an outcome that allows standardized testing to brand blind victims as underachievers when they are merely being scored for taking a high-stakes test under adverse and often adversarial circumstances; and

WHEREAS, modern methods of production of materials, including tests, in alternative media have long since eliminated any rationale for the lack of high-stakes tests in the medium to which a blind test taker is accustomed; and

WHEREAS, most testing unfairness victimizing blind students could be eliminated by the careful crafting of requirements governing the use of high-stakes testing in educational contexts by the U. S. Department of Education (DOE), which could by regulation adopt a Testing Bill of Rights for the Blind in cooperation with high-stakes testers and the National Federation of the Blind which would mandate the use of modern production methods for practice and test materials, the elimination of unnecessary delays in achieving routine accommodations for blind citizens, and the abandonment of prejudices concerning alternative media along with requiring test authors to test subjects or mastery rather than the ability to see or to train a reader; and

WHEREAS, the U. S. Department of Education has regulatory authority that reaches from K-12 through graduate schools and is also concerned with licensure testing for teachers, meaning that its regulations would cover most high-stakes testing, and the areas not specifically covered by DOE regulations would soon be positively affected by a resolution of this problem with which all test owners and administrators ineffectually wrestle: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization forcefully draw to the attention of the U. S. Department of Education the urgent need for a Testing Bill of Rights for the Blind and the Department of Education’s responsibility and opportunity to solve the high-stakes testing challenge so frightening and yet so important to America’s blind citizens in a way very different from the testing difficulties of other citizens; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization use all persuasive and legal means at its disposal to bring about a regulation which can be known as and which can function in reality as a Testing Bill of Rights for the Blind.

 

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!

 

Attorney Parnell Diggs Set to Improve Attitudes

by Jan A. Igoe

From the Editor: The following story appeared on October 18, 2007, in the Myrtle Beach Sun News. Parnell Diggs is president of the NFB of South Carolina and the newest member of the National Federation of the Blind board of directors. The story is exactly the message that we hope Meet the Blind Month media and public education efforts will carry. Here it is:

As a child, Parnell Diggs's parents wouldn't cut him any slack. He was expected to excel in school, do his share of the chores, and take out the trash just like every other kid in his Charlotte, North Carolina, neighborhood, sighted or not.

Diggs, thirty-eight, a Myrtle Beach attorney who has been blind since birth, wouldn't have wanted it any other way. He views blindness as a neutral characteristic with no more intrinsic significance than blond hair or olive skin. As president of the National Federation of the Blind for South Carolina, he's out to challenge any other perception, especially during October, which is Meet the Blind Month. "I don't think it's all that bad to be blind. Blindness is not what it used to be," he said. "In the olden days we had to hunt and gather, be good with a bow and arrow. Now we go out and buy frozen dinners."
Diggs suspects that those who equate misery with blindness simply don't know any blind people.

Even his parents, who raised Parnell to be "the exception to the rule" didn't realize what normal lives and aspirations most blind people have, he said. Technology has opened up new worlds for those without sight. People who are blind or vision impaired have become craftsmen, professors, scientists, computer whizzes, entrepreneurs, and even medical doctors. But of an estimated ten million Americans who have significant sight impairments, less than 50 percent are employed, according to the American Foundation for the Blind. Diggs thinks that unemployment figure is actually closer to 75 percent.

"There is a presumption that blind people will not be able to do the job as well. The struggle is not blindness. The struggle is attitudes," he said. "If you're choosing sides for baseball, the blind person is handicapped. If you're choosing sides for a quiz show, it's equal." He recalls graduation day from the University of South Carolina when "they sort of stopped me. They wanted to present me: 'Look what we've done. We got a blind guy graduating,'" he said. "But they wouldn't have hired me." Diggs said he couldn't even land a job with his dad's law firm, where his father was one of three partners. So father and son ventured out together.

Today Diggs shares an office with his assistant, Tracey Weiland, who handles most of the paperwork and all of the driving. A photo of his wife Kim and seven-year-old son Jordan is the only ornament on his orderly desk. His royal blue notebook, thick with client records, lies at his fingertips. Diggs doesn't sweat much about confidentiality because everything's written in Braille.

His computer communicates through a speech synthesizer in JAWS for Windows, which also outputs to Braille displays. He uses the keyboard to input data. Weiland said he can touch-type faster than she can. Email and Web access are no problem. "I start drafting letters and rely on Tracey to make the margins wide enough. I hate it when you leave one word on the next page," he said. "That's kind of tacky. The only thing I can't do is check her work. That puts me at a little disadvantage. I want to make sure it's visually and aesthetically pleasing."

How he senses these things may baffle sighted people, but Diggs said people have been explaining the difference between stripes and polka dots to him since preschool. "People tell me how something looks. They take my hand, move it across the fabric," he said. "I have to care about it. Whether you're sighted or not, you want to look presentable."

Diggs's practice is about 60 percent Social Security and disability work, with a sprinkling of criminal cases, such as last month's murder trial. Everything from drafting wills to handling divorces is fair game, but disability cases he accepts on contingency are trickier. "If [my client is] blind, it's a slam dunk. If you're sighted, walking and talking, it's harder to prove you're disabled," Diggs said. "It's a situation where someone can't work anymore, you have to win. When you win a case, they tend to refer you. Guess they wouldn't if you lost all the time."

Deidre Edmonds, Horry County probate judge, has known Diggs for about four and a half years and holds his work in high regard. "He really does a good job representing people in the probate court," Edmonds said. "He represents everyone to his fullest ability, whether he's been retained by the client or appointed by court for an indigent client. He's certainly doing a service to the people in this county."
Seeing Diggs navigate hallways with his white cane is pretty familiar to people around the courthouse, Weiland said. Prospective clients are another matter. "If we have a new client who doesn't know he's blind, they'll be taken aback," Weiland said. "But as soon as they meet him and realize how capable he is, they're fine with it."

Diggs insists that he's a pretty normal guy, though Weiland said he routinely commits complex client records to memory without breaking a sweat. "I don't have a better memory. I'm not smarter. I don't have better hearing," Diggs said. "My wife will tell you that I don't hear her 95 percent of the time." Diggs met wife Kim in high school, when she was a senior and he was a sophomore. It took him four hours to convince her to date him. "I didn't want her to think about it. Girls always want to think about it," he said. "She is one of the most intelligent people I've ever met. She can solve complex problems in life with relative ease."

When Diggs isn't working on behalf of clients or his blind brethren, he's practicing for his upcoming tenor solo performance with the Master Chorale. He learns the music by recording it at practice and having the lyrics read to him. "When we sing in a foreign language, I'm in the same boat as everyone else," he said.

"Given the choice of $1 billion or 20/20 vision, I'd take the money. What would I do with 20/20 vision? I'm married. I'm self-employed. I have a child. The sky's the limit. I just can't drive myself."

 

Parnell Diggs
Attorney, Musician, Family Man

From the Editor: This seems a good place to print the biography of Parnell Diggs that appears on the NFB Website as part of the online version of the publication, “Who Are the Blind Who Lead the Blind.”

Parnell Diggs was part of the initial generation of Braille-reading students to enter first grade in the public schools of Charlotte, North Carolina. It was 1975, and the president of the United States had just signed into law the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, known today as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the landmark legislation guaranteeing all disabled children the right to a “free, appropriate, public education in the least restrictive environment.”

Diggs had been born blind because of detached retinas, and two things were absolutely certain. First, public school officials in Charlotte at the time did not want to admit him into a classroom with sighted children, and second, they had no choice but to do so if the school system was to qualify for public funding. Further complicating the matter was the fact that Bill and Nancy Diggs simply refused to accept the limitations for their son that society ordinarily placed on blind children.

Young Diggs did not disappoint. He unequivocally demonstrated that he could acquire the skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic alongside his sighted peers. But he always looked forward to the end of the school day. In the yards, woods, and streets of his childhood, he climbed trees, rode bikes, shot BB guns, and played quarterback on the neighborhood Pop Warner football team after his family relocated to Columbia, South Carolina.

He taught his younger brother Holland how to play first base, how to step out of the batter’s box until he was ready for the pitch, and how to wrestle. Holland was sighted, and he taught Parnelli--his family called him Parnelli--the things in life most of us take for granted: how to dance, shrug his shoulders, and give the thumbs-up sign. They remained close until Holland’s untimely death in 2005 at the age of thirty-three.

In high school Diggs participated on the varsity wrestling team and made the South Carolina Honors All-State Chorus, and, while his friends were earning spending cash bagging groceries, he was earning good money singing and playing the guitar in Columbia area restaurants.

In 1989 Diggs met Kenneth Jernigan and Donald Capps, two leaders who had dedicated their lives to helping their blind brothers and sisters. Jernigan and Capps shared a message of promise and achievement for the blind and talked about how the blind could accomplish more through collective action. Diggs quickly embraced their reasoning and passion.

Before long Diggs recognized that the full integration of blind people into society would be his life’s work; and though he was busy double majoring in political science and religious studies, working, and maintaining a social calendar, it seemed to him that the best way to help himself as a blind person was to become a member of the National Federation of the Blind.

In 1991 Diggs was invited to participate in an NFB leadership seminar, where he received intensive instruction from NFB President Marc Maurer. Diggs was strongly influenced by Maurer’s leadership style and has put much of what he learned during that seminar into practice in carrying out his own leadership responsibilities since that time. It was also in 1991 that Diggs attended his first National Federation of the Blind convention during the week of July 4. Before arriving in New Orleans that summer, he had read Dr. Floyd Matson’s eleven-hundred-page history of the first fifty years of the National Federation of the Blind, Walking Alone and Marching Together, in its entirety and any other related materials he could find.

Diggs was learning that other blind people thought as he did: that blind people could exceed society’s expectations. But the key to full integration was acceptance by society into the places where sighted people lived and worked. In short, he came to know that complete social acceptance of the blind lies at the intersection of training and opportunity.

By the summer of 1992 Diggs had completed his first year of law school and was working as a law clerk at the South Carolina Office of Appellate Defense, the state agency responsible for handling criminal appeals and post conviction relief applications for indigent defendants. There he acquired the skills of legal research and oral argument and learned to interact with clients in the facilities of the South Carolina Department of Corrections. Walking into the Edisto Unit of the Broad River Correctional Institution was perhaps the most memorable experience for Diggs during his time at Appellate Defense.

This was where they housed death row inmates in the early nineties, recalls Diggs. “There is nothing like walking through five or six sets of heavy metal electronic doors, each set slamming behind you as you move deeper into the facility, and never more than one set is open at a time. It created the feeling that any attempt to escape would be futile.”

Diggs accepted a position as a law clerk in a private firm in 1993 and continued to hold this position after he was hired as a page in the South Carolina Senate. At one point in 1994 Diggs, a newlywed, was juggling his final semester of law school with two part-time jobs. He had married Kimberly Dawn Gossett (his high school sweetheart) on May 22, 1993. The couple relocated to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in 1995 when he accepted a full-time position with the South Carolina Commission for the Blind. Diggs was given the responsibility of administering rehabilitation programs for the agency in a four-county area. In 1997, at the age of twenty-eight, he opened a private law practice in Myrtle Beach, where he remains in practice today.

Diggs was first elected to the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina board of directors in 1992, and he has been reelected every two years since. He was appointed by Governor Jim Hodges to the governing board of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind in 1999 and again in 2002 and was twice confirmed by the State Senate. This appointment made him the only person ever to have been a client, an employee, and a member of the governing board of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind.

In 2000 Donald Capps announced that he would not seek reelection as president of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina and recommended that Diggs be elected in his stead. Diggs was elected unanimously and has held the presidency ever since. In 2007 the nation’s blind community elected him unanimously to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind.

As a private practitioner Diggs has argued before the United States Court of Appeals in the 4th and 8th Circuits and has represented some three hundred clients in federal administrative proceedings. While he is no longer playing requests in local restaurants, music continues to be an important part of his life. He sings first tenor in the Carolina Master Chorale in Myrtle Beach and serves on the organization’s board of directors. Diggs sang the role of Remendado in the Carolina Master Chorale’s production of Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen in June of 2006.

The Diggses have one son, Jordan, born on January 12, 2000. As he pondered his son’s future, Diggs made the following observation: “Jordan will be told that he is less fortunate than other children are because his dad is blind—but, thanks to the National Federation of the Blind, he won’t believe it. Blindness is not a tragedy. With proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to the level of a physical nuisance. I am determined that this is the message of blindness that my son will hear most.”

 

The Fear Factor

by Mark Stracks, MD

From the Editor: Dr. Mark Stracks is a member of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania. He and his wife Kristen are active members of the Happy Valley Chapter of the Pennsylvania affiliate. He delivered the following address at the NFB of Pennsylvania’s 2006 convention.

The story is told of a homeless man who sought refuge and shelter inside a rail car in a large, urban train-yard at the end of the day. He apparently attempted to close the door, either to conceal himself or to fend off the elements. To his surprise the door locked, and it was only then that he realized that he had shut himself inside a refrigerator car with no way out.

He must have yelled, he might have pleaded, and perhaps he prayed. What is clear, however, is that he managed to write down his thoughts as he felt his demise approaching. He wrote of getting colder and colder, he wrote of finding it harder and harder to breathe. His last words trailed off as he slipped from consciousness. In the morning, when attendants opened the car door, they found the homeless man dead inside. Apparently he had succumbed to the cold and lack of oxygen. But had he? Authorities calculated that he had had an ample supply of air to survive the night. Moreover, the refrigerator car was broken; the temperature outside never dipped below the midfifties Fahrenheit.

I heard this story told at a business conference some years ago. The speaker was trying to make the point that our thoughts are powerful and that they can drive our destinies. I’ve thought about this story a lot over the years. What lessons can we take from this tale?
In the practice of psychiatry, my profession, I often spend a great deal of time with clients trying to help them understand why they act in certain ways or think about things with certain preconceptions. While it may be considered an oversimplification from a technical standpoint, I have come to believe that people think, feel, and act out of two basic constructs. These are the fear of something or the desire for something. Sometimes the thing that is feared is desired, and sometimes the thing that is desired is feared. Neither is a logical process; this is very important to understand. We are, by nature, emotional beings, and, if we do not train ourselves to avoid it, by default we will react with emotion.

Why should we choose to think about this topic in the context of blindness? After all, we are gathered here this weekend, the membership of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania affiliate of a national organization and a movement that for more than fifty years has defined the upward mobility of blind people. We come here to convene in friendship and brotherhood. We come here to unite on issues important to us. We come here to debate the pathways to our horizons and beyond. Why talk of fear?

I have been an active member of this organization since 1992, and I have been an advocate concerning blindness for nearly twenty-five years. In following all of our legislative, technological, and social achievements as a group, I remain puzzled by one fact. The more we demonstrate that the blind can achieve security, equality, and opportunity, the more obvious it becomes that a number of those who could and should achieve these goals do not. Now I am not referring to those individuals who strive for their goals but are stymied in their pursuits by inept bureaucracies such as Pennsylvania’s own beloved state agency. I am not referring to those who are the victims of deliberate and calculated discrimination. I am referring to those who never make it out of the starting gate, to those who don’t dare to think beyond where they are to what they want. I would suggest that fear plays a role.

What do we know about fear? Fear is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “anxious concern,” or “reason for alarm.” When it is dramatic, we are aware of the cause. Many of us have had the experience of walking along a street when suddenly a car horn honks behind us or a car alarm goes off nearby. We are startled, we get concerned about what caused the car to honk or the alarm to go off, and we react. The one thing that is always true about fear is that something causes it. Nothing in the definition of fear, however, says that any particular thing must cause it, and in fact we find that what evokes fear in one individual often does not in another.

It is the nondramatic causes of fear, the little things that lead us to question inwardly our abilities, our desires, our very goals that I wish to talk about today. I would suggest that consideration of this subject is relevant for those of us who struggle to advance ourselves in the setting of our own blindness and those who work to help others. It is an important subject for those who are blind and those related to those who are blind. It is important for those who lead in our chapters and affiliates, and this means it is important for all of us because in one way or another every member of the National Federation of the Blind leads.

The one binding and universal fact of human interaction is that we interact as humans. That is, we bring the entirety of our experiences, beliefs, successes, and failures to the table when we interact with another person. Each experience that we have, good or bad, leaves an impression upon us, and the succession of experiences that we have through a lifetime builds one upon the other. We easily understand the simplest examples. My three-year-old daughter counted to twenty-four this weekend. Several weeks ago she couldn’t count to twenty without skipping fourteen and sixteen. It even became a joke after a while. But my wife and I would always approach the joke with a giggle and encourage her to keep trying, and lo and behold, she even got past twenty. Let us consider a more subtle example, however. I once saw a Vietnam veteran in therapy for nearly a year. This man was isolated from his family; he hadn’t seen his grown children in years. He had grown up a practicing and devout Catholic, and he hadn’t gone to church for years longer than he hadn’t seen his children. As I came to know this man, it became clear to me that this was not the way he always had been. He had considered himself a family man, as I said, a devout Catholic, and he enjoyed being with people in general. As with many veterans of war, it was his time in war that had affected him. But he was not a combat soldier; he was in charge of entertainment and helping to orient incoming troops to the culture of Vietnam.

With time and work we both came to understand that it was one tragic experience that this man had had in wartime that had scarred him. Now this is the key point. This man had not forgotten the experience; he remembered it clearly. What he had never done was to make the association between what he had gone through and the way he had changed. He had never made the association because he had been afraid to make it. What had happened to him caused such guilt, such shame, and such self-reproach in his own mind that, in the more than thirty years since the Vietnam War had ended, he had been completely unable to deal with the incident on his own. At first glance this may not seem as dramatic as the honking car, and certainly it is far more convoluted. The only real difference, however, when you get right to it, is that we understand what makes us fearful when we consider a honking car. This man did not understand, and he paid dearly for that for many years.

This is an extreme example, but I make it for a reason. In order to understand what drives fear, we must understand ourselves. If I want to achieve a goal and if time goes on and on and I do not reach that goal, it would be good for me to ask myself what is holding me back. I should make the point here that I believe that people are capable of achieving anything that they want to. It may not be easy, it may not happen quickly, but I see no reason why any person cannot achieve any goal. So, if I am capable and I am not achieving, why is that? Assuming that no system is holding me back, assuming that I can navigate any bureaucracy that might want to hold me back, the only thing left standing in my way is myself. I would suggest, then, that, if we come to a point where we think that we are holding ourselves back, it is quite possible that this is occurring out of fear.

We in the National Federation of the Blind are in a unique position. We stand at the forefront of an ongoing revolution that is moving blind individuals, once relegated to economic and social obscurity, to the forefront of the possibilities of achievement. We have the tools to navigate the bureaucracies. We have the expertise to fight wanton discrimination, and we have the knowledge to educate and raise up any individual who is blind. We have these things, and we have used them every day for more than fifty years in our organization. But I return to a question that I raised early on. Why does it seem like so many do not get out of the starting gate? Why do we still seem to leave so many behind?

To give an explanation of every cause of fear is beyond the scope of my talk today. Nor would I suggest that everyone needs to run home and set up an appointment with a therapist to ensure that he or she has mastered any underlying fears. I would suggest the following. It is important for all of us to take a long and hard look inside if we are not achieving all that we want to do. It is important to think about the things that we have been taught by individuals or groups who may have reacted to our blindness out of fear. Certainly society as a whole has done this. Witness the idiocy of truncated domes--millions upon millions of dollars spent to allay the fears of sighted people who don’t understand the value of appropriate mobility tools, mobility training, and the confidence that use of these bring to blind people.

Witness the attempts of organized education to hold blind people back for fear that they cannot manage the rigors of regular education, or the fear of those educators who suggest that not every blind child need learn Braille because they don’t want the child to look different or feel different. Worse, some fear that their power as educators might be threatened! They don’t apparently worry about the difference that people without high school diplomas feel, or the difference felt by those who can’t find employment because they cannot read effectively. Witness parents of blind children who, albeit out of love, try to protect their children from the bumps, bruises, and lessons of life that sighted children learn in order to grow and prosper? Isn’t it at least possible that, as we are exposed to these influences over and over again, some of the fears that drive these individuals and groups will rub off on us? Might we start to believe some of the things that they say? Do we see anything in our experience that suggests another possibility?

The best antidote to fear is understanding, and the best source of understanding comes from association with those with a proven track record in the area of interest. When it comes to blindness, no one understands it better than we do. When it comes to overcoming blindness, no one does it better than we do. When it comes to setting an example for future generations for achieving their goals and dreams, no one creates an example better than we do. We, therefore, are the response to fear. Our vision, our passion, ourselves: we are the cure, but we must be attuned to the problem. We must understand that surely those outside of our ranks and many within our ranks still carry the fears fostered by sometimes well-meaning, but unknowing people--fears fostered by people influenced by their own fears, a vicious and perpetual cycle that we in the National Federation of the Blind work hard to break every day. It is not a question of whether we will have to help others deal with their fears; it is just a question of who and when. Probably someone did the same for each of us in the past, perhaps on multiple occasions. Fear is not something to be ashamed of; it is something to be recognized and addressed. When the car honks, fear can protect us. When we let fear of stepping out and being all that we can be rule our destinies, then fear hurts us.
I have been privileged to be a part of and to work in this organization for many years. God willing, I will continue for many more to come. I do so because I believe that we are the best at what we do and that no one has the ability to help more blind people in a more complete way than we do. This organization helped me to understand myself more than I did before I came to it, and I am certainly not the only one to make that claim. As we move forward in our quests for security, equality, and opportunity, let us bear in mind that part of our job is to make the fear factor a null factor.

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You gain strength, experience, and confidence by every experience where you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you cannot do." Andrew Carnegie once said, “If you want to conquer fear, don't sit at home and think about it. Go out and get busy." And, as quoted from Wordsworth:

What are fears but voices airy?
Whispering harm where harm is not.
And deluding the unwary
Till the fatal bolt is shot.

It was true during times of great crisis for our country; it was true for my client who fought in Vietnam. It is true for each of us here today. Let us decide once and for all to make the fear factor go away.

 

Federationist Gets New Job

From the Editor: The Rev. Sam Gleese is a member of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind and president of the NFB of Mississippi. Now he is also the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) coordinator for the city of Jackson. He began his job on October 1, and the Jackson Daily News published the following story by Vicky King about the appointment on October 14, 2007:

For the first time in more than a decade, the city of Jackson has an employee dedicated to improving government services for disabled residents.

"If people with disabilities are going to finally be a part of the city, they have to be at the table where decisions are made," said Sam Gleese, who was hired by the mayor on October 1. "The public, in general, has not taken the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) very seriously. The message is, for us, the ADA is the same as the Civil Rights Act of 1964."

Gleese, who is blind, has been an advocate for the disabled community since the late 1980s. He is a National Federation of the Blind board member and has worked as a project director for Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities and for Living Independence for Everyone of Mississippi, Inc.

As the city's ADA coordinator Gleese, a Jackson resident, is responsible for ensuring that the city follows federal laws when designing public buildings, planning public events and meetings, and making other decisions that may affect disabled residents. Not only is the coordinator position helpful for the disabled community, it also is required by federal law. During the years Jackson had no ADA coordinator, it was in violation of the law and could have been subjected to federal mediation had it not come into compliance.
Mayor Frank Melton said he wanted someone from the city's disabled community to fill the position. "I want to go to the source and get as much help as possible because they live it every day," he said. "This was something that was really important to me because I haven't been there."

But Gleese also faces an uphill struggle. Because the city has not had an ADA coordinator for years, Gleese will have to forge his place in city administration. He said his first goal will be to learn the details of the Americans with Disabilities Act. "I have a broad knowledge of the ADA law, but I need to be somewhat more familiar," Gleese said. "I won't be memorizing all the statutes, but I need to review them so I know where to go to find what I may need." Gleese said he also wants to set up a system for evaluating where the city has shortfalls, starting with public transportation and employment of people with disabilities.

Complaints against the city's bus service flared up again a few months ago among disabled riders who claim many of the regular buses are ill equipped to carry passengers in wheelchairs. Riders also said the Handilift bus service, which is strictly for disabled riders, was not adequate because it is too difficult to schedule.

In late September more than two dozen disabled residents protested outside City Hall until the mayor came out to speak with them. Sitting outside on the steps, Melton promised to hire a coordinator. Melton also said he supported improving JATRAN, though he cut JATRAN's budget for the upcoming year by more than $200,000. After hiring Gleese, Melton said he wanted the Public Works Department to fix bus stops that are not accessible to riders with disabilities. But he did not give a timeline in which the improvements would be done.

Gleese, whose position is full-time, will earn $40,000 a year. The money will come from the mayor's office budget.

Christy Dunaway, executive director of Living Independence for Everyone, said besides better public transportation the city also needs to improve its housing stock. "I don't think we have enough accessible and affordable housing," she said. "We've heard about some of the poor conditions of HUD housing. The city could improve on that."

The hiring of an ADA coordinator is a "great first step" toward solutions, she said. However, many wonder whether the mayor will make good on his promise to work with Gleese and the disabled community. "The disability community will be watching and monitoring (the mayor's office) closely to ensure that there is follow-through," Dunaway said. "The committee we want to see created will help with that."

The committee, which has yet to be appointed, should consist of disabled residents from each of the city's seven wards, Gleese said. The committee would hear grievances from residents concerning services and work with city administrators to fix problems. Melton told the group of disabled residents during their meeting outside City Hall that he was open to working with a committee. "Whenever they want to set a meeting will be fine with me," Melton said.

 

Pointers to Help VR Counselors

by the NFB of Ohio Board of Directors

From the Editor: The following document is the product of brainstorming by the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio. We kept hearing complaints from blind people whose vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselors regularly treated them with casual rudeness or complete obliviousness to the tenants of simple courtesy when working with blind people. At the invitation of the state blindness agency director, Mike Hanes, we prepared this document, which was then circulated throughout the agency. It seems to have been well received, so we thought it might be helpful to affiliates and state agencies in other parts of the country as well. Here it is:

This document is intended to be of use to VR counselors with little or no previous experience dealing with blind people. Part of your job is to minimize blindness as an issue in your interactions with customers. The painful truth is that people seeking assistance from the state agency for the first time may be very far from comfortable with their disability. In fact, you may be the first person they come in contact with who knows anything about blindness. Being made to feel awkward or not in command of their physical situation will distract the consumer and make your job harder. So here are some tips for coming to terms with blindness yourself and helping to put your customers at ease.

The First Visit to the VR Office

Consumers who come to your office for the first time are already at a disadvantage. They may well not know how to travel confidently with a cane, and they are unfamiliar with the layout of the VR offices and the configuration of the furniture.

When you enter the room, walk straight to the consumer and speak directly to him or her. Introduce yourself. Note whether the person extends a hand to shake yours. Most adults meeting for the first time or in a business setting, which this is, shake hands. You can initiate a handshake by saying, “Let me shake your hand.” Blind people will then usually extend the right hand so that you can grasp it. Even if you have to lean forward and take the person’s hand, this is probably worth doing. It communicates the message that you consider that you are dealing with an adult who is your equal. Never leave the customer standing with a hand extended while you ignore the gesture. Even if you are uneasy, stifle the impulse to pace around the room. A person who is trying by ear to follow your movements and look in your direction will have difficulty fixing on a moving target. If you do need to change your position in the room, speak as you move so that the other person has a chance to follow your movement by ear. When you are concentrating on doing something, it may be difficult to remember to generate enough sound to provide audible notice of where you are and what you are doing. But remember that for a blind person silence is like having a fog bank roll down, leaving him or her isolated and uncertain of what is going on and whether others are still in the room. It should go without saying that, when you step out of the room, you should mention this little fact to the blind person.

Make every effort to address the blind person directly rather than anyone else who may have accompanied him or her. You can glance at the sighted person from time to time, but your attention should remain on the consumer, even if you question whether your message is getting through.

When the time comes for the customer to sign forms or agreements, you can do several things to be considerate. No responsible adult should be expected to sign a document without knowing what it says. You can read it aloud to the customer, or, if he or she has an accessible computer or other means of reading a document before the meeting, you can send a paper or electronic copy to the person’s home address. But, if you are sending an electronic file, be certain that the document is a file that a screen reader will be able to open and read. For safety sake this means no PDF and certainly no TIF or GIF files. You should make it your business to know which kinds of files will work with a screenreader and which will not. When the time comes for a signature to be written, discuss how best to enable the customer to write his or her name most easily: signature guide, crease in the sheet on the signature line, the edge of a card, indication with a finger where to begin. Communicating impatience or ignoring the constraints of blindness on the consumer’s ability to sign on the dotted line or even to tell where the dotted line is is never acceptable.

From the beginning of coming to terms with their disability, blind people must learn to speak for ourselves and command the respect of being addressed as adults. However, some blind people have been so oppressed by their experience of the disability and personal or family reaction to it that they do not actually expect to be treated as adults. This is one reason why your modeling ordinary respect and courtesy for a blind adult is very important. We hope these suggestions seem painfully obvious; they are. But we can assure you that we frequently hear tales of VR counselors who have overlooked them. Sometimes new customers don’t even know why they feel uncomfortable in the presence of their counselors. Only we hardened old-timers have the experience and nerve to command and insist upon the attention and information we require and deserve.

Traveling with a Blind Consumer

You have no doubt been instructed in the fine points of acting as a human guide. Assuming that you have successfully offered your arm for the person to grasp above the elbow, you can begin walking. In a first meeting this is probably only to another room and a chair. When you reach the consumer’s chair, reach out with the arm he or she is using and pat the chair back or arm while saying something like “Here is a chair.” Most people will rapidly figure out that they can contact the chair by sliding their hand down your arm to your hand and thence to the chair. From there it is easy to figure out how to move around to the seat and sit down. Occasionally you may have to pat the seat while identifying it before the person figures out how to get there and sit down. If the customer seems uncertain how to get from standing at your side to taking the seat, suggest sliding a hand down your arm to find the chair back or arm or seat, whatever you are patting. With newly blind or obviously inexperienced people, watch carefully to be sure that the customer is following through correctly and will in fact land on the chair seat. You can further set the scene for the meeting by explaining that you are going around the desk to sit in your chair, or you are going to sit over here in a chair on the other side of the doorway.

Blind people should be encouraged to assimilate information about their surroundings. Many of us are poor at building these mental maps because we get little practice doing it and we are not expected to know where we are, so it is surprisingly easy to fall into the habit of allowing other people to haul us around, we know not where. You can help to fill the information void. Don’t make a production of it, but, as a matter of course, introduce everyone in the room at a meeting and have each speak so that their position in the room or around the table is obvious. In a matter-of-fact tone you can begin the meeting by explaining where the rest room is and how to get there. This establishes the expectation that the customer might make that trip independently. Even if it doesn’t happen, you have established the concept that some blind people do this independently and that this person could learn to do it too.

When walking with a consumer, call attention to landmarks within cane’s reach of your passing. Encourage the person to build a mental map and use the cane to gather information. Anything you can do in passing to help him or her bring these skills together will demonstrate effective cane use. When you reach a car door, again extend your hand and tap the door to give the person the reference point. With a bit of practice most people can seat themselves in a car with very limited information from you. In the name of future independence, tactfully encourage the consumer to bring the cane along and use it as much as possible even when you are prepared to serve as a guide.

Conclusion

You should make a practice of sizing up your customer’s skill and experience quickly and accurately. Those who are comfortable with their blindness will convey that fact to you quickly and easily. These people know more about what to expect from the agency and want to know that you will treat them with dignity and respect. Ask them to identify their needs. They are likely to know what they want, and the two of you can decide whether or not their goals are practical or even possible. Newly blind consumers generally have no idea what is feasible for blind people to do. They can best be thought of as sighted people who can no longer see because they have not yet learned how to be blind, and they often assume their lives are over. At first your job may be to raise their sights and offer them the possibility of hope for the future. Putting positive information into their hands like the NFB’s Kernel Books recorded by NLS or the monthly publications of the consumer organizations can be very useful. In this way you don’t have to take meeting time to deliver pep talks.
Your long-term job is to develop an equal partnership with the customer. You can accomplish this if respect, courtesy, and common sense are part of your relationship from the beginning.

 

Blind Penn State Graduate Chemist Developing Lab Equipment for Disabled Students

by Bekka Coakley

From the Editor: On Tuesday, October 9, 2007, the following story appeared on Penn State Live, the online news source at Pennsylvania State University. It describes from the university’s point of view what Federationist Cary Supalo is doing to increase blind student access to science education. Here is the story:

In high school, chemistry wasn't something that interested Cary Supalo. In fact he hated it. As a blind student he wasn't allowed to conduct any experiments--his lab partner did the work, then reported the results to Supalo. His attitude toward the science changed in college. Fulfilling a chemistry general education requirement at Purdue University, Supalo met some graduate students who spent a lot more time with him in the lab, sparking his interest in chemistry.

Today Supalo is a Penn State student working on his doctorate in chemistry education and is developing tools to replicate that extra help he got in the lab so that other visually impaired high school students will have a better appreciation for the sciences. Supalo's latest project, funded by a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Research in Disabilities Education program, was given to his adviser, Tom Mallouk, DuPont professor of materials chemistry and physics. It is called "Independent Laboratory Access for Blind and Low-Vision Students in Mainstream High School Science Classrooms."

"There's a big difference working one-on-one with someone who will explain the concepts to you," Supalo said. "It was great being able to talk about chemistry and get answers. Chemistry gives you the potential to discover something new that can change the world."

Mallouk, who is sighted, understands. "Most chemists are fascinated by the results of an experiment but find it much less fun if someone does it and tells them what happened," he said. "So that's how we started out on this project--developing new tools, taking lab procedures, modifying them slightly, and making them more accessible--all while working with high school students."

Supalo completed his undergraduate degree with a double major in chemistry and communications because he thought "a scientist should be able to communicate." He then came to Penn State in August 1999 to get his PhD in inorganic chemistry. When he began his doctoral degree program, he ended up taking a different route than he originally intended.

"Cary was doing a research project, but as a blind grad student he was having difficulty--research labs aren't really designed for blind people to work independently," said Mallouk. "A lot of chemistry is visual. It took him a while to finish his master's degree, and we thought it would be a more useful thing if his PhD research involved developing enabling tools for blind people."

Mallouk and Supalo's first grant from the NSF also was for $300,000 and was awarded in 2004. It allowed them to work with students from the Indiana School for the Blind, testing software with a computerized voice that narrates each step of the experiment and instruments that essentially do the same, which they developed with Rodney Kreuter in the chemistry department's electronics shop at Penn State. The focus of that work was to improve the way blind students participate in the chemistry laboratory. The work they did with the first grant was a success. However, Supalo said 75 percent of blind students are mainstreamed in public classrooms, and he felt the tools he, Mallouk, and Kreuter created could have a greater impact on more students. Also new tools were needed to enable a broader range of experiments and to extend the project to physics and other laboratory sciences.

Supalo is well connected in the national community of blind people, Mallouk explained. He received emails from parents and teachers of students in public schools who were interested in their work. Thus came the idea of the second project--to mainstream the tools and instruct willing teachers on how to use them through several online training modules. The goal is to make the tools available as widely as possible, by posting the programs online for free use and by making inexpensive instruments.

"There's a real push to get people with disabilities in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) professions," said Supalo. He explained that people with disabilities have spent their lives problem-solving challenges to adapt to their surroundings. He thinks the skills they've developed to do so will enhance a career in one of the STEM fields.

In addition to helping students who are blind, Supalo said the instruments will even help sighted students in lecture settings because everyone can hear the experiment being described, regardless of whether or not their seats will allow them to see what their professor may be doing. Supalo will spend his next three years visiting the schools that are implementing the instruments in the classroom, collecting feedback from students and teachers, sending newsletters, and encouraging online interaction between the students and teachers using the instruments.

 

In the Spotlight: Affiliate Action

Fundraising Suggestions

Local chapters and state affiliates of the National Federation of the Blind must raise funds in order to support and carry out the programs essential to our mission. They can choose any of dozens of fundraising projects to meet their needs. As protection for chapters and affiliates, the NFB has an organizational policy against contracting with professional fundraisers until planners have conferred with the national president; however, almost any other project you can imagine may well be a successful fundraiser for you. A reasonable definition of a good fundraiser is something the members get excited about and are motivated to work on.
Recently representatives from several states who enjoy fundraising got together and compiled a list of some of the fundraisers they knew one or more chapters have carried out. With imagination and energy any chapter can do several of these projects a year and raise thousands of dollars.

Drawings:
For handmade items: quilts, afghans, sweaters, scarves; appliances; donated merchandise from stores; baskets of gifts; or money (50/50 pot divided between winner and organization, or specific amount).

Sales:
Sales of specially designed items such as T-shirts, canvas bags, hats, etc.
Bake sale, garage sale, candy sale, craft sale; sell NFB jewelry, NFB art calendars; coupon books, used books; donations of products sold from restaurants/stores, or percentage of sale donated (e.g., coffee sales in restaurant on White Cane Safety Day or book sales in book stores on January 4, Louis Braille’s birthday). Other product sales (e.g., evergreen wreaths available from Frank Likar before Christmas, stuffed Christmas stockings, or ice cream at an ice cream social).

Ticket Sales:
To dances; barbecues; luncheons; banquets; spaghetti, chili, Italian, etc. dinners; concerts; gospel extravaganzas; talent/variety shows; etc.

Memorial Gifts:
Invite people to make memorial gifts to the chapter or affiliate when members or members’ loved ones die.

Entry Fees, Business Sponsors, Pledges:
Walk-a-thon, bowl-a-thon, dance-a-thon, bike-a-thon.
Collect Change at Meetings

Staff Booth/Table at Fairs, Festivals, Conventions, Shopping Malls, Etc.:
Sell items such as food, beverages, helium balloons, senior books; collect donations while you distribute free literature and write names in Braille. Booths may have both free items and items for sale.

Auctions:
Traditional auctions, silent auctions, Chinese auctions, art auctions, or auctions combined with a meal or concert.

Sell Advertising:
In state convention agendas or other special events.

Grants:
Apply for general grants or grants for specific purposes such as scholarships, NFB-NEWSLINE®, equipment, helping to send new people to convention, providing Braille Is Beautiful kits to schools, Scout troops, etc.

Write Something to Sell:
Cook books, activity books, etc.

Promos:
Some businesses offer special opportunities to nonprofit organizations. We know of Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, and Outback Steak House. Contact store managers for more information.

Items Group Can Make for Sale:
Candy wreaths, Hershey’s Kiss roses, wooden crafts, greeting cards, etc. Use your imagination.

Member Pledges at State Conventions:
To state treasury, Imagination Fund, SUN, PAC, Jernigan Fund, or tenBroek Fund.

Car Wash

Chapters and state affiliates should plan to share income with the national treasury. We all benefit from the activities that are coordinated at our national headquarters, and we need to participate in supporting them financially. Consider the Braille Monitor and Future Reflections, NFB-NEWSLINE®, the Independence Market, the International Braille and Technology Center, the Department of Governmental Affairs, advice on discrimination cases, the Records Management Center, the Kernel Books, to say nothing of the new National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. These and other activities benefit every blind person in the country, and they could not happen without the kind of national headquarters we have.

As a chapter or a committee within a chapter gains experience with the kinds of fundraisers mentioned in this list, the group may wish to take on even bigger projects. The national president can help you make contact with groups that are already doing large and complex fundraising events. Not every chapter will want to or need to organize big events. Fundraising–from the little projects to the huge ones–can be challenging, stimulating, strengthening to individuals and chapters, and very rewarding. Of course we need the money, but the benefits of fundraising beyond the income are every bit as important and exciting as the money itself.

 

Ask Miss Whozit

From the Editor: From time to time Miss Whozit answers reader questions about etiquette and good manners, particularly as they involve blindness. If you would like to pose a question to Miss Whozit, you can send it to the attention of Barbara Pierce, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, or email me at <bpierce@nfb.org>. I will pass the questions along. Letters may be edited for space and clarity. Here are the most recent letters Miss Whozit has received:

Dear Miss Whozit,
You may think this is an odd request, but I wish you would talk about the location and use of napkins in restaurants. I regret to say that my family did not use napkins when I was a child, so I sometimes forget to find and use my napkin when I am in public. But part of my problem is that the wait staff put napkins in such odd places. So please review napkin etiquette.

Napkin Challenged

Dear Napkin Challenged,
Congratulations on recognizing that dealing with your napkin is important. You are quite right that the first challenge is to locate it. If it has been wrapped around your knife and fork, you have an obvious reminder about placing it in your lap. After all, when you unwrap your tableware, you have to do something with the paper or cloth napkin after it has been unrolled. Form the habit of placing it across your lap even before you place your fork or forks to the left and the knife and spoon to the right of your place at the table. If you wish to tuck the napkin into your waistband, that is probably acceptable. But Miss Whozit discourages the practice of using the napkin as a bib by tucking one corner into your collar.

At a fine restaurant the waiter may offer to place the napkin across your lap for you. Simply lean back as soon as you are seated so that this service can be performed. If the napkin does not materialize in your lap, you must go looking for it. You can place your fingers gently along the edge of the table to identify any flatware that is in place. If you find none, it is safe to hypothesize that it is rolled up in a napkin someplace on your side of the table. It is wise to make a surreptitious investigation. The left side of your place, perpendicular to your edge of the table, or across the top of your place setting (if you only had one) are the first two places to touch. If you do not encounter a rolled napkin either place, it is likely to be anywhere. On the pretext of identifying and adjusting your water or wine glass and your butter plate, you can search a bit further. If this reconnaissance fails, quietly ask a dinner companion or server for directions. It is always possible that your napkin and silver are missing altogether or at another diner’s place.

If in your investigation you discover that flatware is lined up together at your place, it may well be lying on your napkin. You should rearrange it, placing forks on the left, knives to the immediate right of where the plate will be set, and spoons to the right of all knives. It is perfectly appropriate to carry out this reorganization since the wait staff have clearly been excused by management from setting the table properly.

If organizing your place setting does not uncover your napkin, it may be fanned out or otherwise folded at the top of your place, where sometimes dessert fork and spoon are laid parallel to your edge of the table. The napkin is sometimes displayed folded decoratively where your plate will be placed when you are served—all the more reason to find and dispose of it properly before someone has to prompt you to remove it so that your meal can be placed before you.

If your napkin is absent from all of these locations, check your water glass. This has become a popular place for servers to tuck napkins, but you must remove it soon after being seated because one of the first visitors to the table is likely to be the bus boy pouring water.
Do not be discouraged if searching in all these locations is unsuccessful. Quietly ask a sighted dinner companion or the server where your napkin is lurking. The answer may be in a dispenser on the center of the table, or you may not have been given one. In either case your query will result in your receiving the missing napkin or at least the information you need to find one yourself. Once you have it, just remember to place it in your lap and use it appropriately.

Before leaving this subject altogether, I think a few remarks are in order on the subject of disposing of your napkin either temporarily in the middle of the meal or at the close of the meal. If you leave your seat for any reason, fold your napkin with the soiled side tidily out of sight in the center. Place it on the seat of your chair. This indicates that you intend to return. When you are leaving the table, place the napkin, soiled-side-in, to the left of your plate. One school of thought advocates dropping the napkin in the plate as a definitive statement that you are finished. Let us have none of that nonsense. Servers face sufficient unpleasantness clearing tables without being asked to dispose of gratuitously soiled napery or dripping paper napkins.

Dear Miss Whozit,
I am a blind mother of sighted children. My older child has recently started asking to have other children come play at our house and sometimes stay the night. I am delighted by this request of course, but quite often, rather than letting their children come to my house, the other parents ask if my child can come to theirs. I can't help wondering if this is partially due to my blindness and their assumption that I will not be able to look after the children properly.

Along the same lines, as my daughter gets older, I find that complete strangers often comment that she must be a big help to me and that it must be nice to have my own personal guide. How do I handle these ridiculous and quite erroneous comments? Similarly, picking up on the comments of strangers, my daughter has begun to try to lead me around and make comments about how she can show me where to go. How do I gently yet definitively set the record straight?

In Charge but Uncertain

Dear In Charge,
I fear that I know of no indirect, tactful, and sure-fire method for solving your various difficulties. I agree with you in suspecting that they all stem from the fact of your blindness. Nothing but dealing directly and effectively with this issue will educate other parents, strangers, and even your daughter. This said, Miss Whozit believes that honesty and tact are not incompatible goals in resolving such matters. For example, when you call another parent to work out a play date, only to encounter an invitation for your daughter to go to the other child’s home to play, you might say, “I understand that you may have reservations about my ability as a blind person to provide a safe and well-supervised environment for your child. The fact that my children have never had anything more than the usual mishaps that occur with all children can hardly reassure you without knowing me better. But it is also true that my daughter wants to be hostess sometimes, and it is important to me to shoulder my part of the responsibility for supporting the girls’ friendship. Perhaps you could come with Cindy this first time, and we could get to know each other over coffee. I think you may be much more comfortable once you see how things work at our house.”

Unless the other parent is beyond hope, the combination of honesty, maturity, and understanding in a comment like this will require her to accept your invitation. Then it will be up to you to convince her by your competence and good management that her fears are groundless. You might give her a copy of Mary Ellen Gabias’s article, “The Play Date,” from the January 2005 issue of the Braille Monitor. It speaks directly to the problem you are having.

Dealing with the attitudes of strangers and your own daughter requires less tact and more clarity. Rudeness in your response is certainly uncalled-for, but in both these situations you aren’t seeking permission for something you wish to do, simply telling others how things are and are going to be: “In our family the adults make the rules and take responsibility.” You could go on to say to your daughter, “I may ask you to read a street sign or building number from time to time, but I will keep us safe as we walk.” If you are pleasant, faintly amused at the idea that a child should be in control, and firm in your rejection of a topsy-turvy world in which children are in control, you will calmly demonstrate being in charge and gently reject as absurd the notion that you are dependent on your child. The more clearly you project this attitude, the less other people with sense will make silly assumptions. It will not silence all the fools, but it should arm you against their nonsense.

 

Distinguished Educator of Blind
Children Award for 2008

by Sharon Maneki

From the Editor: Sharon Maneki chairs the committee to select the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for 2008.

The National Federation of the Blind will recognize an outstanding teacher of blind children at our 2008 convention next July. The winner of this award will receive an expense-paid trip to the convention, a check for $1,000, an appropriate plaque, and an opportunity to make a presentation about the education of blind children to the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children early in the convention.

Anyone who is currently teaching or counseling blind students or administering a program for blind children is eligible to receive this award. It is not necessary to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind to apply. However, the winner must attend the national convention. Teachers may be nominated by colleagues, supervisors, or friends. The letter of nomination should explain why the teacher is being recommended for this award.

The education of blind children is one of our most important concerns. Attendance at a National Federation of the Blind convention will enrich a teacher's experience by affording him or her the opportunity to take part in seminars and workshops on educational issues, to meet other teachers who work with blind children, to meet parents, and to meet blind adults who have had experiences in a variety of educational programs. Help us recognize a distinguished teacher by distributing this form and encouraging teachers to submit their credentials. We are pleased to offer this award and look forward to applications from many well-qualified educators.

Please complete the application and attach the following:

National Federation of the Blind
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
2008 Application

Deadline: May 15, 2008

Name:_______________________________________________________
Home address:_________________________________________________
City:________________________________________________________
State, Zip:____________________________________________________
Phone: (H)____________________(W)____________________________
Email:______________________________________________________
School:______________________________________________________
Address:_____________________________________________________
City, State, Zip:_________________________________________________

Use a separate sheet of paper and answer the following:

Attach the three required letters to this application, and send all material by May 15, 2008, to Sharon Maneki, chairwoman, Teacher Award Committee, 9013 Nelson Way, Columbia, Maryland 21045; (410) 715-9596.

 

The 2008 Blind Educator of the Year Award

by David Ticchi

From the Editor: Dr. David Ticchi is president of the NFB of Massachusetts and an experienced educator in his own right. He was named Blind Educator of the Year in 1998. He chairs the 2008 Blind Educator of the Year Award Selection Committee. This is what he says:

A number of years ago the Blind Educator of the Year Award was established by the National Organization of Blind Educators (the educators' division of the National Federation of the Blind) to pay tribute to a blind teacher whose exceptional classroom performance, notable community service, and uncommon commitment to the NFB merit national recognition. Beginning with the 1991 presentation, this award became an honor bestowed by our entire movement. The change reflects our recognition of the importance of good teaching and the impact an outstanding blind teacher has on students, faculty, community, and all blind Americans.

This award is presented in the spirit of the outstanding educators who founded and have continued to nurture the National Federation of the Blind and who, by example, have imparted knowledge of our strengths to us and raised our expectations. We have learned from Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, and President Marc Maurer that a teacher not only provides a student with information but also provides guidance and advocacy. The recipient of the Blind Educator of the Year Award must exhibit all of these traits and must advance the cause of blind people in the spirit and philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.

The Blind Educator of the Year Award is presented at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Honorees must be present to receive an appropriately inscribed plaque and a check for $1,000. Nominations should be sent to Dr. David A. Ticchi, Newton North High School, Adams House, 360 Lowell Avenue, Newtonville, Massachusetts 02460. Letters of nomination must be accompanied by a copy of the nominee's current résumé and supporting documentation of community and Federation activity. All nomination materials must be in the hands of the committee chairman by May 1, 2008, to be considered for this year's award. For further information contact David Ticchi, (617) 559-6253.

 

Holiday Hints and Helps, Part 2

by Barbara Pierce

In the December 2005 issue of the Braille Monitor we published an article that discussed holiday baking and included several of my favorite recipes. Periodically someone asks me to write a similar article passing along some of the recipes that I only mentioned in the first one. So, in response to popular demand, here is part two of Holiday Hints and Helps:

I try hard to contain the holiday season so that it begins the day after Thanksgiving and ends on Twelfth Night, January 6. No matter which of the major American religious and cultural holidays your family celebrates, this five weeks or so includes them. The one exception I often make to this self-imposed limitation is to bake my fruit cakes as early in November as I can manage. If you do not have a constitutional bias against all fruit cake, you might try making this moist fruit-and-nut-filled cake.

White Fruit Cake

Ingredients:
1 pound candied fruit
1 pound red or green candied cherries
1 pound raisins
1 pound walnuts, coarsely chopped
2 cups granulated sugar
2 sticks butter or margarine
6 eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups flour, divided
1 scant cup orange juice
Brandy

Method: Day ahead, in a large bowl or pot with a tight-fitting lid, combine fruits and nuts and pour about one cup of brandy over them. Stir to coat all the fruit and nuts. Cover and allow to stand for about twenty-four hours. Stir several times. Before assembling the cake, sprinkle a cup of flour over the fruit and stir it in well. Set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer combine sugar and butter and cream well for several minutes, until mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Then beat in the lemon and vanilla extracts, baking powder, and salt. Alternately add the remaining two cups of flour and the orange juice. When batter is combined, fold in the fruit and nuts and be sure that all the flour and brandy are well mixed in.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Prepare a 10-inch tube pan or three 9-by-5-inch loaf pans by greasing the pans and then lining them with foil paper. Then grease and flour the foil. If using loaf pans, divide the batter evenly among the pans. Arrange pans in a larger pan and pour an inch of water into the outer pan. Bake cakes on the center rack of the oven until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center of the cake. Halfway through baking, remove the cake or cakes from the hot-water bath and finish baking them dry. Cakes usually take from three to six hours to bake, depending on the size of the cake. Remove baked cakes to a cooling rack. Allow to stand for about ten minutes before loosening cake edges by running a thin knife blade around the perimeter of each pan. If you are using a tube pan to bake one large cake, remember to loosen the cake from the center tube as well. Invert cake on a plate. Remove foil from bottom and sides and replace cake, right-side up, on the rack to cool completely. When cakes are room temperature, wrap them in fresh foil or slide them into plastic zip-lock bags and pour more brandy over them before tightly closing the packaging. Store in a cool place. You may sprinkle on additional brandy each week before slicing the cake during the holidays. You don’t want it to get soggy, but brandy will keep it from drying out. I double this recipe and use the cakes as Christmas gifts for special friends who appreciate fruit cake.


If the December holidays mean any single, universal thing, it is probably entertaining. We plan parties and spontaneously invite others over to visit. Families get together, and friends drop in bearing gifts. It is always a great idea to have refreshments on hand to offer guests. Some years ago David Andrews, who faithfully keeps NFB-net and many of our listservs up and running, gave me the following delicious nonalcoholic recipe that is actually comforting to the sore throats of cold sufferers. It can be served hot or cold and keeps in the refrigerator for a month. It is tasty with both sweets and savories.


Cranberry Tea

Ingredients:
1 pound fresh cranberries
10 whole cloves
2 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup red hot candies
Water
Juice of three lemons
Juice of three oranges

Method: In a covered saucepan bring cranberries and cloves to a boil in one quart of water. Reduce heat and simmer long enough for the berries to pop and the water to be well colored. Pour the water through a sieve to remove cloves and berry seeds and skins. In another bowl combine red hots and sugar and pour a quart of boiling water over them. Stir to dissolve. Combine cinnamon sugar water and cranberry water and add the lemon and orange juices. This is the tea concentrate. Store it in the refrigerator. To serve, add two more quarts of water and heat or serve cold. I dilute the concentrate by guess and by golly by just adding a bit less than an equal amount of water to the concentrate I need for my guests.


During this past year we have published a number of recipes in the Monitor that would make wonderful holiday gifts for friends and neighbors. Here is a spectacular bar cookie suitable for serving to your own guests or giving to neighbors as part of a platter of homemade treats.


Chocolate Highlander Bars

Ingredients:

1 cup butter
1/2 cup confectionery sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
4 eggs
1 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2-1/2 cups chocolate chips, melted
1/3 cup confectionery sugar

Method: Using a food processor fitted with its knife blade or two knives scissor-fashion, combine first four ingredients to make a crumbly dough and pat into the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for fifteen minutes. Meanwhile beat four eggs well and add sugar, melted butter, baking powder, salt, and flour with mixer on low. Stir in melted chocolate chips. Pour batter over crust and bake at 350 degrees for twenty-five minutes. When cookies are done, sprinkle with 1/3 cup confectionery sugar and cut into small bars before chilling. If you like chocolate, these are unforgettable.



Lots of blind people feel insecure about decorating for the holidays. You can make your decorating dollars go further if you gather pine cones in your yard or the woods. To get them to open wide, line a cookie sheet with foil and arrange the cones in a single layer. Then dry them in a very slow oven, perhaps 200 degrees, for several hours. The pine cones will gradually open and stay open. You can pile them in a pretty glass bowl or large hurricane shade and add a bright loop of ribbon and large bow, and there you have an instant arrangement for coffee table or buffet. You can also work a six-inch length of twenty-eight-gauge green or brown wire around the base of the pine cone and twist one end around the shank of the wire, leaving a tail that you can use to fasten the cone to a pine wreath or a branch of real or artificial greenery. Add berries or glass balls to the arrangement and perhaps some little bells or silk flowers, and you are well on your way to creating a memorable table or door decoration. You can also wind gold, silver, or sparkly garland or strings of tiny lights into a wreath or length of pine roping, real or artificial, for use on your door or to festoon your staircase.

By the time I have made it to Christmas Eve each year, for better or worse I figure that I have made it through much of the stress of holiday preparation: the cards are in the mail, the house is decorated, the packages for out-of-town friends and family are on their way, and almost all the rest are wrapped and under the tree. Holiday meal preparation is my one mountain left to climb. Since the children were small I have been baking Stolen (German Christmas bread) for Christmas and New Year’s morning breakfasts. I usually double the recipe to make four loaves so that I can give some away to special friends and still have enough to enjoy fresh before we open gifts on Christmas morning and still have a loaf to freeze for a week as well.



Stolen

Ingredients:

2/3 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups bread or all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1/3 cup raisins
1 cup candied cherries
1 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Confectionery sugar icing

Method: Heat milk and butter just until butter melts and mixture is comfortably warm to the touch—about 110 degrees. Stir in the sugar. Dissolve yeast in water and stir into the milk mixture. Be sure that it is not too warm. Cover the pan and allow to rest in a warm place for about ten minutes. If the yeast is lively, the mixture will be bubbly. In a large bowl measure two cups of flour. When yeast mixture is bubbling well, carefully pour all of it into the flour. Begin beating the flour mixture with an electric mixer. You can do this with a wooden spoon if you enjoy exercise. Add the three eggs, beating well after each. Add salt and a half cup of flour. This will make a thick batter.

Gradually work in the remainder of the flour. Eventually you will have to turn the dough out onto a floured board to knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about ten minutes. Clean and butter the bowl and return dough to it, turning once to butter the top side. Cover the dough with a clean damp towel and place bowl in a warm (eighty-five degrees), draft-free place to rise till dough doubles in bulk.

Punch it down and release all the air from the dough. Work in raisins, cherries, and slivered almonds. You can then divide the dough into three equal pieces and roll each into a 12-by-7-inch oval. Fold each lengthwise and place on a greased cookie sheet. Cover loaves with a damp towel. Allow to rise in a warm place till again doubled in bulk.

Those are the instructions from my original recipe, but I now divide the dough in half and divide each half into three equal pieces. I then shape ropes and braid them, three strands in each, to make two loaves that will fit into a greased 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Again, brush the tops with melted butter and cover with a damp towel. Allow to rise in a warm place until double in bulk. Bake loaves at 350 degrees for twenty-five to thirty-five minutes, till loaves sound hollow when tapped. Remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Serve warm or reheat to serve. Before serving, combine confectionery sugar and a teaspoon or so of rum extract. Then slowly stir in just enough milk to achieve spreading consistency for the icing. If you add too much milk, add more sugar. Quickly spread icing over top and down sides of loaf. Slice and serve with butter.



Every year, when we have finally packed away the holiday decorations, entered the changed addresses from the cards we have received, and settled down to shed the extra pounds that holiday feasting has saddled us with, I marvel anew at just how much all of us accomplish during these shortest days of the year. May your holiday season this year be filled with laughter and good cheer, and may the year ahead bring challenge and opportunity to you and yours, wherever you live.

 

A Blind Sherlock Holmes: Fighting Crime with Acute Listening

by Dan Bilefsky

From the Editor: The following story appeared on Monday, October 29, 2007, in the International Herald Tribune. The view of blindness it expresses is in some ways startlingly different from American expectations of normal competence for blind people, but despite the limitations accepted by everyone as part of being blind, a new job for blind people seems to have been established in Belgium. Here is the story:

Sacha van Loo, thirty-six, is not your typical cop. He wields a white cane instead of a gun. And from the purr of an engine on a wiretap, he can discern whether a suspect is driving a Peugeot, a Honda, or a Mercedes.

Van Loo is one of Europe's newest weapons in the global fight against terrorism and organized crime: a blind Sherlock Holmes, whose disability allows him to spot clues sighted detectives don't see. "Being blind has forced me to develop my other senses, and my power as a detective rests in my ears," he said from his office at the Belgian Federal Police, where a bullet-riddled piece of paper from a recent target-shooting session was proudly displayed on the wall. "Being blind also requires recognizing your limitations," he added with a smile, noting that a sighted trainer guided his hands during target practice "to make sure no one got wounded."

Van Loo, a slight man who has been blind since birth, is one of six blind police officers in a pioneering unit specializing in transcribing and analyzing wiretap recordings in criminal investigations. An accomplished linguist who taught himself Serbo Croat for fun, he laments that he is not entitled to carry a gun on the job or make arrests. But such is his acute sense of hearing that Paul van Thielen, a director at the Belgian Federal Police, compares his powers of observation to those of a "superhero."

When police eavesdrop on a suspected terrorist making a phone call, van Loo can listen to the tones dialed and immediately identify the number. By hearing the sound of a voice echoing off a wall, he can deduce whether a suspect is speaking from an airport lounge or a crowded restaurant. After the Belgian police recently spent hours struggling to identify a drug smuggler on a faint wiretap recording, they concluded he was Moroccan. Van Loo, who has a library of accents in his head, listened and deduced he was Albanian, a fact confirmed after his arrest.

"I have had to train my ear to know where I am. It is a matter of survival to cross the street or get on a train," he said. "Some people can get lost in background noise, but as a blind man I divide hearing into different channels. It is these details that can be the difference between solving and not solving a crime."

Grappling with his handicap, he says, also has given him the thick emotional skin necessary for dealing with the job's stresses. "I have overheard criminals plotting to commit murder, drug dealers making plans to drop off drugs, men beating each other up. Being blind helps not to let it get to me because I have to be tough."

The blind police unit, which became operational in June, originated after van Thielen heard about a blind police officer in the Netherlands and was looking at ways to improve community outreach. He made the connection that blind people could prove more adept than the sighted at listening to and interpreting wiretaps. That idea, he says, was given added impetus after the Belgian government passed a law a few years ago giving the police extended powers to use wiretaps in the investigation of thirty-seven areas of crime, including terrorism, murder, organized crime, and the abduction of minors.

The police also recognized that blind officers like van Loo could be particularly valuable in counterterrorism investigations because wiretap recordings--derived from a phone tap or bug placed in the safe house of a terrorist group--are often muffled by loud background noise, requiring a highly trained ear to discern voices. Alain Grignard, a senior counterterrorism officer at the Brussels Federal Police, notes that wiretaps proved instrumental in the recent arrests of a large terrorist cell in Belgium recruiting for the insurgency in Iraq.
Beyond his keenly developed ears, van Loo is also a trained translator who speaks seven languages, including Russian and Arabic--a skill Grignard said makes him indispensable, since his knowledge of accents can help him to differentiate between, say, an Egyptian or Moroccan suspect. "You need every edge in a terrorism investigation, and a blind officer with languages could be a powerful weapon."
The Belgian police say they were amazed at the number of qualified blind applicants for the posts. Scoring high marks on a hearing test was a prerequisite for the job, as was being at least 33 percent blind. Van Thielen, the police chief, says he was forced to turn away dozens of applicants whose sight was too good, including one so-called blind man who shocked police recruiters by arriving at his interview in a car.

Recruiting blind people posed other challenges, van Thielen recalls. Because they would be used almost exclusively for wiretap investigations and the force did not want to expose them to dangerous situations, they were given special status under a 2006 law tailored for forensic work that grants civilians some police powers, but forbids them from making arrests or carrying guns.

Van Thielen, a no-nonsense police veteran, also faced some resistance from other veterans on the force, who feared that having blind colleagues would be a burden. Others felt awkward about how to behave in front of blind people and wondered if saying "au revoir"--literally "see you again"--would cause offense. To assuage their concerns, van Thielen arranged for sensitivity-training sessions with blind volunteers. One hint: don't leave computer cables trailing on the floor since blind officers could trip on them.

"At first, when members of the police heard that blind people were coming to work here, they laughed and told me that we were a police force and not a charity," said van Thielen. "But attitudes changed when the blind officers arrived and showed their determination to work hard and be useful."

It wasn't only attitudes that needed updating. In addition to installing elevators with voice-activated buttons at the police station, the force issued each blind officer with a special €10,000 computer equipped with a Braille keyboard and a voice system that transmits visual images into sound.

As van Loo transcribed a wiretap recording on a recent day, he wore earphones and passed his index finger over a long strip of Braille characters on the bottom of the keyboard, whose characters altered to replicate whatever was on his computer screen, which was turned off. When he goes outside, he carries a compact police-issued global positioning system device, with a voice that directs him to his destination, street by street.

A father of two, van Loo attributes his success to having parents who taught him at an early age to be independent. He recalls that, as a young child, his father, a film buff, took him to watch movies. His father also taught him to drive a car by hoisting him on his lap and guiding his hands on the steering wheel. His ability to adapt, he says, was further reinforced by his attending a regular high school. He also attended a special school for the blind, where he learned how to maneuver with a cane and to read Russian in Braille. To relax, he skis, rides horses, and plays the Arabic lute.

"My parents accepted my blindness, which also helped me to accept it," he said. "That they were not risk averse also helped."
Cindy Gribomont, head of training at the Brussels-based Braille League, an institute for the blind that helped the police with recruiting, says that overcoming employers' prejudices is her greatest challenge. "Employers need to be encouraged because they are afraid of employing handicapped people."

Van Loo, for his part, says he remains determined not to let his handicap overwhelm him. "Being blind isn't always very easy," he said. "I don't focus on it. I don't deny it. But it is rather tragic that a blind policeman is still viewed as an exception."

 

Social Security, SSI, and Medicare Facts for 2008

by James McCarthy

From the Editor: Jim McCarthy is a Government Programs Specialist for the National Federation of the Blind. Here is his annual Social Security summary:

Once again it is that out with the old, in with the new time of year. Along with the inevitable best-of lists and retrospectives, this regular passing of time brings with it annual adjustments to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicare programs. The changes include new tax rates, higher exempt earnings amounts, SSDI and SSI cost of living increases, as well as alterations to deductible and coinsurance requirements under Medicare. In 2007 upper-income Americans began facing larger Medicare Part B premiums than the majority of us. Below are the updated facts for 2008.

Tax Rates

FICA and Self-Employment Tax Rates: The FICA tax rate for employees and their employers remains at 7.65 percent. This rate includes payments to the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Fund of 6.2 percent and an additional 1.45 percent payment to the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund, from which payments under Medicare are made. Self-employed persons continue to pay a Social Security tax of 15.3 percent, which includes 12.4 percent paid to the OASDI Trust Fund and 2.9 percent paid to the HI Trust Fund.

Ceiling on Earnings Subject to Tax: During 2007 the ceiling on taxable earnings for contributions to the OASDI Trust Fund was $97,500. For 2008 the maximum amount of taxable earnings rises to $102,000. All earnings are taxed for the HI Trust Fund.

Social Security Disability Insurance

Quarters of Coverage: Eligibility for retirement, survivors, and disability insurance benefits is based in large part on the number of quarters of coverage earned by any individual during periods of work. Anyone may earn up to four quarters of coverage in a single year. During 2007 a Social Security quarter of coverage was credited for earnings of $1,000 in any calendar quarter. Anyone who earned $4,000 for 2007 (regardless of when the earnings occurred during the year) received four quarters of coverage. In 2008 a Social Security quarter of coverage will be credited for earnings of $1,050 during a calendar quarter. Four quarters can be earned with annual earnings of $4,200.

Trial Work Period Limit: The amount of earnings required to use a trial work month is subject to annual increases. In 2007 the amount was $640, and in 2008 it rises to $670. In cases of self-employment, a trial work month can also be used if a person works more than eighty hours; this hour limit remains the same each year unless expressly adjusted.

Exempt Earnings: The monthly earnings exemption referred to as Substantial Gainful Activity for blind people who receive disability insurance benefits was $1,500 of gross earned income during 2007. In 2008 earnings of $1,570 or more a month, before taxes, for a blind SSDI beneficiary, will indicate substantial gainful activity once any unearned (or subsidy) income is subtracted and all deductions for impairment-related work expenses are applied.

Social Security Benefit Amounts: All Social Security benefits are increased by a cost of living adjustment (COLA) of 2.3 percent beginning with checks received in January 2008. The precise increase will vary based upon the amount each individual now receives.

Supplemental Security Income

Standard SSI Benefit Increase: Beginning January 2008, the federal payment amounts for SSI individuals and couples are as follows: individuals, $637 a month; couples, $956 a month. These amounts are increases over the 2007 level of $623 a month for individuals and $934 a month for couples.

Student Earned Income Exclusion: The Student Earned Income Exclusion is adjusted each year. In 2007 the monthly amount was $1,510, and the maximum yearly amount was $6,100. For 2008 these amounts increase to $1,550 a month, and $6,240 a year. The SSI program applies strict asset (resource) limits, which Congress alone can change, of $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for couples.

Medicare

Medicare Deductibles and Coinsurance: Medicare Part A coverage provides hospital insurance to most Social Security beneficiaries. The coinsurance payment is the charge that the hospital makes to a Medicare beneficiary for any hospital stay. Medicare then pays the hospital charges above the beneficiary's coinsurance amount.

The Part A coinsurance amount charged for hospital services within a benefit period of not longer than sixty days was $992 during 2007, with an increase to $1,024 in 2008. From the sixty-first day through the ninetieth day there is a daily coinsurance amount of $256 per day, up from $248 in 2007. Each Medicare beneficiary has sixty lifetime reserve days, which may be used after a ninety-day benefit period has ended. Once used after any benefit period, these reserve days are no longer available. The coinsurance amount to be paid during each reserve day used in 2008 is $512, up from $496 in 2007.

Part A of Medicare pays all covered charges for services in a skilled nursing facility for the first twenty days within a benefit period that follows a three-day in-hospital stay. From the twenty-first day through the one-hundredth day in a benefit period the Part A coinsurance amount for services received in a skilled nursing facility will be $128 a day, up from $124 a day in 2007.

Most beneficiaries have no monthly premium charge for Medicare Part A coverage. Those who become ineligible for Social Security Disability Insurance cash benefits can continue to receive Medicare Part A coverage without paying premiums for at least ninety-three months after the end of a trial work period. After that time the individual may purchase Part A coverage. The premium rate for this coverage during 2008 is $423 a month. This is reduced to $233 for individuals who have earned from thirty to thirty-nine quarters of Social-Security-covered employment.

In 2008 the Medicare Part B (medical insurance) deductible rises to $135. The amount for 2007 was $131. This is an annual deductible amount. The Medicare Part B monthly premium rate charged to each beneficiary for the year 2008 rises to $96.40 from the $93.50 amount for 2007. For those receiving Social Security Benefits, this premium payment is deducted from your monthly benefit checks, so while 2008 Social Security benefits are adjusted upward, a portion of the increase goes toward the higher Medicare Part B premiums, though the increase is more modest than those in many recent years. Individuals who remain eligible for Medicare, but are not receiving Social Security benefits because of working, must pay the Part B premium directly on a quarterly basis—one payment every three months. Like the Part A premiums mentioned above, Part B is also available for at least ninety-three months following the Trial Work Period assuming an individual wishes to have it and, when not receiving SSDI, continues to make quarterly premium payments.

Americans with higher incomes now pay higher Part B premium amounts based on their income. For singles the 2008 income threshold for higher premium amounts is income that exceeds $82,000, and for couples filing jointly the 2008 threshold is $164,000. It has been estimated that 4 percent of Americans are affected by these higher premium amounts mandated by the Medicare Modernization Act. If you believe you may be affected, you should contact the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). (The contact information is given below.)

Programs That Help with Medicare Deductibles and Premiums: Low-income Medicare beneficiaries may qualify for help with payments. Assistance is available through two programs—QMB (Qualified Medicare Beneficiary program) and SLMB (Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary program).

Under the QMB program states are required to pay the Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance) premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance expenses for Medicare beneficiaries who meet the program's income and resource requirements. Under the SLMB program states pay only the full Medicare Part B monthly premium ($96.40 in 2008). Eligibility for the SLMB program may be retroactive for up to three calendar months.

Both programs are administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in conjunction with the states. In order to qualify, the income of an individual or couple must be less than the poverty guidelines currently in effect. The guidelines are revised annually and were last announced early in 2007. New guidelines will be issued next in February or March of 2008. The rules vary from state to state, but in general the following can be said:

A person may qualify for the QMB program if his or her income is less than $871 a month for an individual and $1,161 a month for a couple. These amounts apply for residents of forty-eight of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. In Alaska the income threshold used to define poverty is less than $1,085 a month for an individual and $1,447 a month for a couple. In Hawaii income must be less than $1,000 a month for an individual and $1,333 a month for a couple.

For the SLMB program, income cannot exceed $1,041 a month for an individual or $1,389 for a couple in forty-eight of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. In Alaska the income amount is $1,297 for an individual and $1,732 for couples. An individual in Hawaii qualifies if income is less than $1,195 a month; for couples the amount is $1,595.

Resources--such as bank accounts or stocks--may not exceed $4,000 for one person or $6,000 for a family of two. Resources generally are things you own. However, not everything is counted. The house you live in, for example, doesn't count, and generally one car also does not count.

If you qualify for assistance under the QMB program, you will not have to pay:

If you qualify for assistance under the SLMB program, you will be responsible for the payment of all of the items listed above except for the $96.40 monthly Part B premium.

If you think you qualify but you have not filed for Medicare Part A, contact Social Security to find out if you need to file an application. Further information about filing for Medicare is available from your local Social Security office or Social Security's toll?free number (800) 772-1213.

Remember, only your state can decide if you are eligible for help from the QMB or SLMB program. So, if you are elderly or disabled, have low income and very limited assets, and are a Medicare beneficiary, contact your state or local Medicaid office (referred to in some states as the Public Aid Office or the Public Assistance Office) to apply. For more information about either program, call the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on its toll-free telephone number (800) 633-4227 or go online to <http://www.cms.hhs.gov/ContactCMS>.

 

Recipes

This month’s recipes come from members of the National Federation of the Blind of Nevada.

Jeanine Mooers is president of the NFB of Northern Nevada. She is a recently certified Braille transcriber and proofreader. Music is another of her passions. She has been involved with singing, composing, or playing the keyboard all her life. This recipe was handed down to her by her maternal grandmother. She, her mother, and her grandmother make it every Christmas season.

Corn Flake Holly

by Jeanine Mooers

Ingredients:
1 box of corn flakes
1 bag of marshmallows, miniature or regular
1 stick margarine (or more, depending on how much candy you are going to make)
Red cinnamon candy
Green food coloring

Method: Before you start, tear off long pieces of wax paper and arrange on counter or table because, as you make the holly, the pieces have to dry on wax paper before you can freeze them (they freeze really well). In a large microwaveable bowl melt about four tablespoons margarine. Coat the bowl thoroughly with the melted margarine. Add marshmallows and microwave for thirty seconds at a time, stirring until they are melted. Add green food coloring and stir. Then add corn flakes and thoroughly but gently coat flakes with the marshmallow mixture. (The flakes must be on the sticky side.) Melt the remaining half of the stick of margarine and coat your fingers with it. Pick up a clump of corn flakes. Place the cluster of flakes on the wax paper. Each time you pick up a clump of flakes, make sure your fingers are generously coated with margarine or the flakes will stick to your fingers. Press about three cinnamon candies on each holly cluster to represent berries. Be sure to press candy down firmly to make sure it sticks. Let candies dry before turning them over to dry on the other side. Then freeze—these freeze quite well. When adding the corn flakes, do so a little at a time so that they get well coated with marshmallow. Keep adding flakes until they are all coated and just sticky enough to ensure that the candies will stick. The more you make these, the more you get a feel for the way you want them to be. Enjoy.

Fresh Apple Cake
by Jeanine Mooers

Ingredients:
1 3/4 cups (3 or 4 small) apples, peeled and chopped (I use Granny Smith)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, beaten (1/4 cup egg substitute works well for those who are watching their cholesterol)
1/2 cup oil (you can use a little less)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (chopped pecans are really good in this cake)

Method: Combine sugar and chopped apples in a small bowl and let stand ten minutes. Sift together remaining dry ingredients. Add the well-beaten egg and oil to apples and sugar mixture, then add flour and spices all at once and mix together until well moistened. Then add nuts and raisins and mix well. Batter will be thick. Place in a lightly greased eight-by-eight-inch pan. (You can use any of the cooking sprays if you wish.) Usually when I make this, I double the recipe and then put it into a 9-by-13-inch or 10-by-15-inch baking dish. Bake in 375-degree oven for approximately twenty-five to thirty minutes. Baking time varies depending upon your altitude and oven. When done, it will be a deep golden brown. This cake is good plain or really good topped with vanilla ice cream or Cool Whip. The original recipe recommended a cream cheese frosting, which is very good, but really rich. Hope you enjoy it.

Date Nut Loaf
by Jeanine Mooers

This recipe came from Jeanine’s paternal grandmother.

Ingredients:

1 cup boiling coffee
1 cup chopped dates
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups flour
Pinch salt
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method: Place chopped dates in a small bowl. Combine boiling coffee and soda and pour over dates. Set aside. In a large bowl mix remaining ingredients together. Blend in the date mixture and mix well. Pour batter into a greased and floured 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Bake in a preheated 300-degree oven for up to an hour and a half--check after first hour; if it is firm to the touch, it is done. If it needs a little more, keep checking at ten-minute intervals. Place on a cooling rack and remove from pan after cooling slightly.

Persimmon-Raisin Cookies
by Jeanine Mooers

Ingredients:
1 cup persimmon pulp
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter or shortening
1 egg
1 cups flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg (I use less than a half teaspoon)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (I use a little less)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I use a little more)
1 cup nuts, chopped (You can use a little more)
1 cup raisins
1/4 teaspoon salt, optional

Method: Beat persimmon pulp with electric mixer until thoroughly pulverized. Mix in soda. In another bowl cream sugar and butter; add egg and mix thoroughly. Sift together dry ingredients and mix into creamed mixture. Then work in the reserved persimmon mixture. Drop cookie dough by teaspoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake fifteen to twenty minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven. Cherries or coconut may be substituted for raisins. Yield: two to three dozen cookies.

Soft Pretzels
by Jeanine Mooers

Ingredients:
1 cake yeast
1 1/2 cups water, a little warmer than body temperature, about 110 degrees
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
4 cups flour
1 egg, beaten
Coarse salt

Method: Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the salt and sugar. Blend in the flour and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. Immediately cut it into small pieces and roll them into ropes. Twist the ropes into shapes and place the pretzels on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Brush pretzels with beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake immediately in a preheated 425-degree oven for twelve to fifteen minutes or until browned. Serve with mustard if you like. These will not keep long; best to eat them the same day. It is fun for kids to make their own shapes, adults too.

Tuna Casserole

by Frida Aizenman

Frida Aizenman is the diligent and dedicated secretary of the Northern Nevada Chapter. She was born in Columbia.

Ingredients:

1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 cup milk
1 can tuna, drained
1 cup uncooked macaroni
1 cup frozen green peas
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Method:
Mix soup and milk in a two-quart microwave-safe bowl until blended. Stir in remaining ingredients, except that you should reserve a quarter cup cheese. Cover and microwave on high for fifteen to seventeen minutes, until bubbly. Sprinkle on remaining cheese. Let stand uncovered five to seven minutes before serving. Serves three or four hot or cold.

Chicken and Chinese Sausage Rice Hot Pot
by Alan Chao

Alan Chao is the treasurer of the NFB of Nevada. His family comes from Taiwan and is of Asian Pacific Islander descent. He says that their food is a mix of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Mongolian. His recipes are all written in Mandarin, which he did not feel equal to translating. He found this American recipe that is quite similar to one of his favorites.

Ingredients:

3 boned chicken thighs with skin, cut in 1/2-inch dice
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 cup sliced scallions
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, minced
1 lapchang (Chinese sausage), cut in 1/4-inch disks
3 cups Chinese long grain rice, washed until water is clear and drained
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon peanut oil
6 cups chicken stock

Method: Combine the chicken, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, scallions, cornstarch, ginger, and sausage and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least fifteen minutes. In a clay pot (or saucepan) combine the rice, salt, and oil. On high heat sauté briefly, then add the stock to Fuji (1 1/4 inches above the rice). Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium heat and simmer until the stock has evaporated to the level of the rice. Add the marinated chicken mixture and cook uncovered in a preheated 350-degree oven for twelve to fifteen minutes before removing from oven. Stir well, cover, and cook on high for one minute, then reduce heat to very low. Cook for an additional ten minutes, then turn heat off. Let stand five minutes before serving.

 

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

Time to Register for the March for Independence:

We will be marching for independence, walking for opportunity on July 2 in Dallas. The route is set. We welcome and appreciate your ideas about building a program.

Let’s get every chapter and chapter member on board. Why not make this Imagination Fund drive a priority project for your chapter? Learn about how to build teams for fun, camaraderie, and fundraising effectiveness. We have now started a quest for our first million-dollar Imagination Fund campaign. If you haven’t reregistered on our March for Independence Website, don’t wait--register today.

Chapters should register all members. As a result of our last Imagination Fund campaign, we were able to award thirty-two Imagination Fund grants this fall totaling over $145,000 to help with state and local projects. Moreover, dollars raised through the Imagination Fund helped support our successful 2007 Youth Slam.

Start now. Find neighbors, friends, and family members who will invest in the work we do in the National Federation of the Blind. We have established an incentive contest to encourage early registration and fundraising for the 2008 March for Independence--The Walk for Opportunity. A drawing for two Victor Reader Streams, the new commercially available digital Talking Book reader from HumanWare (developed with the NFB’s assistance), and three dinners for two at an upscale Washington restaurant will be conducted during the Washington Seminar in late January 2008. Federationists who have registered for the March and secured at least one contribution by Friday, January 4, 2008, will be eligible for the drawing.

For questions, or to get help with registration and building personal pages, call Kevan Worley at (866) 543-6808. Imagine raising one million dollars, which means a half million to support innovative programs at the Jernigan Institute, a quarter of a million split equally among our fifty-two affiliates, and a quarter million available for special project grants to our states and divisions. With your help we can do it.

Elected:
The NFB of California held elections for four board positions at its annual convention, which took place October 25 to 28, 2007. The following four board members were reelected: Juliet Cody, Geraldine Croom, Jason Holloway, and Diane Starin.

Last 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 conduct meetings and seminars in conjunction with the Washington Seminar, but we may not yet have the complete list of these. This is what we now know about division plans. The National Association of Blind Students will conduct its usual day-long seminar on Sunday, January 27 with a reception and auction in the evening. On Monday the National Association of Blind Merchants is planning a workshop on building a better business. Also on Monday the National Blindness Professional Certification Board will conduct a workshop on orientation and mobility from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Finally, Kevan Worley says that three hour-long training sessions for March for Independence participants will take place at various times in our headquarters hotel.

Here is 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 <rmcgeorge@comcast.net> or Lisa Bonderson at <lbonderson@cocenter.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.

Once again Affiliate Action and Governmental Affairs will partner to present a seminar for first timers, though all are encouraged and welcomed to attend. The seminar takes place Monday afternoon with a review of the issues we are taking to the Hill and an opportunity to practice presentations through role-play. Jim McCarthy pledges that fact sheets will be available online at least two weeks before Washington seminar, and he urges attendees to study them and come with their questions to the Monday afternoon seminar. We look forward to seeing you on Monday, January 28, ready to advocate for the legislative priorities of blind Americans.

Elected:
The Kalamazoo Chapter of the NFB of Michigan just held elections, and the following officers were elected president, J.J. Meddaugh; vice president, Jackie Hosey; secretary, Matt McCubbin; treasurer, Tim Paulding; and board members Corda Moss, Leanne Merren, and Faith Meadows.

Performing Arts Division CD Available:
The Performing Arts Division is proud to announce the release of its first-ever compilation CD, titled Sound In Sight–Volume 1.
Eighteen songs, performed by blind artists, were selected through an open-submission process and carefully reviewed by the Division’s board of directors. Highlights of the genre-spanning collection include Nashville-based songwriter JP Williams’s “Tongue Tied,” Brooklyn folk-pop stylist Brooke Fox’s “Cinematic,” Pennsylvania folk-rock songwriter Donna Hill’s “The Edge of the Line,” and hip-hop duo Got Kemistry’s “Let Me See You Move.”

“This album is full of talent from across the nation. With great vocals combined with a wide variety of music, there is something for everyone,” said Dennis Holston, president of the Performing Arts Division.

The album was unveiled at the Division’s general membership meeting as part of the National Federation of the Blind’s national convention. The compilation is now available for purchase. Visit <www.padnfb.org> for more information. Plans for digital download will be announced shortly.

Performing Arts Division President Dennis Holston recently appointed Seria Chatters (Florida) to fill an unexpired term on the division board. Ms. Chatters is one half of the hip-hop music group Got Kemistry and has a song on the 2007 Sound in Sight album released by the division. She has a long history in music as well as acting, and she also works as a school guidance counselor. She brings skill to the division’s leadership.

President Holston also appointed Mindy Jacobsen (New York) to finish Mary Anne Parks’s term following Mary Anne’s tragic and untimely death in late August from injuries sustained in an automobile accident (see the obituary in the October 2007 issue of the Braille Monitor). Division leaders are grateful to have Mindy’s experience and talent on the board, but they report that they will miss Mary Anne’s eagerness to assist with anything that needed to be done and most of all her intelligent and cheerful countenance.

Elected:
The Michigan Association of Blind Students just elected the following officers: president, Matt McCubbin; vice president, J.J. Meddaugh; secretary, Chelsea Henrizi; treasurer, Michael Torrez; and board members Tim Paulding and Jackie Hosey.

Elected:
The National Federation of the Blind of Michigan has elected its 2007-2009 board. At-large board members elected were Dave Robinson, Jackie Hosey, Tim Paulding, and Donna Posont.

In Brief

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


Bookshare.org Receives Five-Year, $32 Million Grant From U.S. Department of Education:
The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Benetech’s Bookshare.org project $32 million over five years to expand the availability of accessible electronic books and the software for reading those books. Bookshare.org is the world’s largest accessible library of scanned books and periodicals. Working with state and local education agencies, schools, teachers, and students, Bookshare.org will give all K-12, postsecondary, and graduate students in the United States with qualifying print disabilities access to this library without charge.

The funding for this project was authorized under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and was awarded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) of the U.S. Department of Education. According to OSEP, the purpose of the award is to provide free educational materials, including textbooks in accessible media, for use by students with visual impairments and other print disabilities in elementary and secondary schools and in postsecondary and graduate schools.

The award will allow Benetech to add more than 100,000 new educational books to the existing Bookshare.org collection of over 34,000 titles. Bookshare.org will coordinate with state education agencies, schools, and publishers to deliver the best quality content possible and lower costs to help meet their shared obligation to serve every qualified disabled student in the nation. The project expects to make extensive use of textbook files provided by publishers in the recently mandated National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS), to create high quality student-ready materials in digital audio, large print, or Braille.

“We are going to reach out to every student, every family with a disabled student, and every school in the U.S. to offer them a chance to join the Bookshare.org community for free and transform the practice of making books accessible,” said Benetech CEO Jim Fruchterman. “We expect to deliver millions of books to students through this new program over the next five years using our cost-effective online production and delivery systems.”

Bookshare.org is an online community that allows people with print disabilities legally to download books and periodicals to be read as Braille, large print, or synthetic speech. Those with print disabilities include the blind and those with low vision, severe dyslexia, or a mobility impairment that prevents them from reading a traditional printed book.

Kim Christiansen Designs Still Doing Business:
Kim Christiansen of Christiansen Designs created the world’s first line of Braille jewelry in 1989. One of his pieces has been placed in the permanent collection of the American History Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

He now has studios in England and the United States and divides his time working and shipping from both locations. Kim has informed us that his communications and Website have been down because of changes made necessary by enormous amounts of spam email. Some people have concluded that he is no longer in business, but he certainly is. He has begun to focus on his line of personalized pendants and cuff bracelets. Kim has received awards for the creative way he uses Braille and has done much to make the general public aware of its beauty. He has named his line of Braille Jewelry "Secrets" because so many people have told him that they love placing private thoughts on their pieces. To learn more about Kim's work, visit <www.christiansendesigns.com>. There you will find contact and ordering information using PayPal. You can also reach him at <kimc38@gmail.com>, where you can place an order by credit card or check. He can also return a call to get the credit card number if you don't feel comfortable sending it in an email. He reports that he has never had security problems with credit card numbers. His cell number is (802) 738-3846.

Target in the Crosshairs:
On Tuesday, October 2, 2007, U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel issued two significant rulings in the NFB Website accessibility lawsuit against the Target Corporation. First the court honored our request to certify this case as a class action for injunctive relief under the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on behalf of blind Internet users throughout the country. The court also granted our motion to certify a California subclass for both injunctive relief and statutory minimum damages. Second, the court held that California law, broader in its scope than the Federal ADA, requires that Websites such as Target.com be accessible.
Our lawsuit charged that Target had failed and refused to make its Website accessible to the blind and therefore violated the ADA as well as two California civil rights statutes: the California Unruh Civil Rights Act and the California Disabled Persons Act. In rendering its decisions, the court denied Target’s request for summary judgment, a petition that a decision favorable to their interest be made on a strictly legal basis without further hearing.

Both NFB President Marc Maurer and our cadre of lawyers hailed these preliminary victories as successes that bode well for a positive resolution to this dispute. President Maurer said, “This is a tremendous step forward for blind people throughout the country who for too long have been denied equal access to the Internet economy. All e-commerce businesses should take note of this decision and immediately take steps to open their doors to the blind.” Dan Goldstein, longtime friend and attorney for the NFB, observed, “The blind of America seek only the same rights and opportunities as others take for granted. This case should be a wake-up call to businesses that their services must be accessible to all.”

Readers of the Braille Monitor should stay tuned for further developments in this precedent-setting case. Judge Patel’s recent rulings give us cause for considerable optimism about securing a successful outcome for all blind Americans. The more liberal access standards adopted by California legislators promise to benefit all Website users across the country, because Internet pages never cater to a particular state audience alone. Access is our goal. Access we shall have.

Braille Fortune Cookies Available:

Lucky Touch Fortune Cookie Company is a student-operated business specializing in special-order Braille and large-print fortune cookies. The company can customize your order to fit your event, whether it's a birthday, anniversary, convention, holiday, wedding, etc. Place your order by phone. If items are in stock, allow two weeks from the receipt of payment. Customized orders require a week longer. Contact California School for the Blind Parents and Friends Association, 500 Walnut Avenue, Fremont, California 94536; phone (510) 794-3800, fax (510) 794-3993; email <ssung@csb-cde.ca.gov> or <jlesner@csb-cde.ca.gov>. Cash, check, and money orders accepted. Make checks payable to CSB Parents and Friends Association.

New Free Service for the Blind:
ReadThisToMe is a free reading service, powered by volunteers and Internet collaboration. It allows blind and low-vision people to have printed documents read to them over the phone. All the blind person needs is a phone line and a fax machine (no computer is required). Here's how it works. The blind person faxes the document to be read to the ReadThisToMe toll-free fax number, (877) 333-8848. The first page of the fax must be a cover page that includes the client's first name and call-back (voice) phone number. The document itself can be just about anything: a handwritten letter, a bill, a label from a can of food, a multipage magazine article--just about anything that can be faxed. Then one of ReadThisToMe's volunteer readers will call the client back and read the document aloud.

The service is available throughout the United States and is absolutely free, though donations and business sponsorships are accepted. More information is available at <www.ReadThisToMe.org>. You can also listen to a recorded message describing how to use the service by calling (877) 333-8847.

Frank Kurt Cylke Honored:
Frank Kurt Cylke, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, received the 2006 Golden Cassette Award for Library Partnership from the Los Angeles-based Braille Institute of America Library Services Inc. In an open house at its headquarters on October 16, 2007, the Braille Institute recognized Cylke “for his leadership and vision in providing digital books and machines to the blind, visually, physically, and reading-disabled communities.” Cylke has led NLS through the research and development of the Digital Talking-Book System since 1990. Scheduled to launch in 2008, the digitally recorded books and listening devices are much anticipated in the blind community.

Cylke was appointed director of the NLS in 1973. He guided NLS through the transition from phonographs and discs to a cassette-based system in the 1970s. He has overseen growth of the program’s readership, with the number of patrons now reaching 750,000 and circulation increasing from 11 million items in 1978 to 26.3 million items in 2006. The program’s influence has expanded globally, affecting organizations such as the International Federation on Aging, the International Federation of Library Associations, and the World Blind Union.

Monitor Mart

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

For Sale:

Closed Circuit TV, Model NM1, NC-1, with 17-inch black and white monitor. It was manufactured in 1999. Asking $1,600 or best offer. Contact Argenys Caba at (732) 697-9112 or email <mlindholm@cpofnj.org>.


NFB Pledge

I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.

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