Vol. 51, No. 11 December 2008
Barbara Pierce, editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
The National Federation of the Blind
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 51, No. 11 December 2008
Convention Bulletin 2009
Of Disrepute and Dysfunction at the Eye Dog Foundation for the Blind
by Daniel B. Frye
NFB Protests Opening of Blindness in 37 States
by Barbara Pierce
A False Image of Blindness
by James Fetter
Are Protesters of Blindness Missing the Point?
by Rene Harrell
International Travel Still No Picnic for the Blind
Blind Aide Raises the Bar of Expectations
by Jordy Yager
Important Notice About Target Settlement
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award for 2009
by Joyce Scanlan
The 2009 Blind Educator of the Year Award
by David Ticchi
Social Security, SSI, and Medicare Facts for 2009
by James McCarthy
It is time to begin planning for the 2009 convention of the National Federation of the Blind taking place at the Detroit Marriott, Renaissance Center. It has been many years since we made a significant change in our schedule, but we are doing so this year. Please pay close attention to the dates and schedule so that you are not taken by surprise.
Once again our hotel rates are the envy of all. For the 2009 convention they are singles and doubles, $62; for triples, $66, and for quads, $68. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 15 percent. No charge will be made for children under eighteen in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested. Please note that the hotel is a no-smoking facility.
For 2009 convention room reservations you should write directly to the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center, 100 Renaissance Center, Detroit, Michigan 48243, or call (313) 568-8000. 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 before June 1, 2009, $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. Wireless access is available in the lobby.
The Marriott Renaissance Center has several restaurants: Forty-Two Degrees North (open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner), Starbucks, Musashi by BarOne (open for lunch), and Volt (open for lunch and dinner). In addition Coach Insignia is an elegant restaurant at the top of the tower, and on the Promenade level guests will find a food court. The hotel also has a fitness center and day spa.
The 2009 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 full day shorter than we are accustomed to. Preconvention seminars for parents of blind children and other groups and set-up of the exhibit hall will take place on Friday, July 3, and adjournment will be Wednesday, July 8, following the banquet. Convention registration and registration packet pick-up for those who registered online will begin on Saturday, July 4, and both Saturday and Sunday will be filled with meetings of divisions and committees, including the Sunday morning annual meeting, open to all, of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind.
Immediately following the Motor City March for Independence—the Walk for Opportunity, the general convention sessions will begin on Monday, July 6, and continue through the banquet on Wednesday, July 8. Note that Tuesday, July 7, will include both morning and afternoon convention sessions. Thursday, July 9 will be available for tours for those who enjoy getting to know something about our convention city. 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 Mary Wurtzel, 1212 N. Foster Avenue, Lansing, Michigan 48912, (517) 485-0326.
The best collection of exhibits featuring new technology; meetings of our special interest groups, committees, and divisions; memorable tours arranged by the Michigan 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 2009 national convention. We'll see you in Detroit in 2009.
by Daniel B. Frye
What would cause a committed core of volunteer puppy raisers working for the Eye Dog Foundation for the Blind (EDF), a guide dog training school based in Bakersfield, California, with training operations in Phoenix, Arizona, to engage in a collective act of civil disobedience, declining to return their animals for further training by the school? What extraordinary circumstances would cause these volunteers to fear for their lives and livelihoods and the safety of the puppies in their charge? Why would over 50 percent of the board of directors and three successive directors of training and their support teams terminate their association with this organization during the last two years? What administrative problems could cause potential students to wait over a year for an application for services, to be denied timely assistance managing their dogs’ serious medical problems, or to be denied the opportunity to purchase something as simple as a replacement leash for a working EDF service animal? How is it that a multi-million-dollar foundation that appeals to the general public for funds to train guide dogs for the blind has not graduated a single human-dog team during the last year? And what reputable organization would be so insular in its operations that contact information for its governing body is not available on request and most communications from the school's own puppy-raising community, donors, and the media are fielded by legal counsel instead of by the executive director?
The answers to these and other disturbing questions may be partially found in the long and sordid story of the Eye Dog Foundation's history and operations. Concerned members of the EDF volunteer puppy-raising community initially contacted the Braille Monitor about this story. After examining the facts, we concluded that the blind community, program volunteers, donors, and appropriate oversight authorities across America deserve to know about both the troubles and triumphs at EDF. In this way the interested parties may become aware of the school's past and make informed decisions about their association with it in the future. The details are complicated, but here is what we know.
According to Joey Etienne, the court-appointed EDF receiver for much of 2007, the Eye Dog Foundation for the Blind, Incorporated, was founded by Lequita McKay in 1952 to breed and train guide dogs for the blind. McKay was apparently one of the earliest female attorneys licensed in California to specialize in high-profile wills, trusts, and estates. She apparently merged her passion for training guide dogs with her law practice, persuading many of her clients over twenty years or more to donate to or make generous bequests to EDF.
By the middle to late 1960s, the EDF had amassed enough money to start training and placing guide dogs with blind handlers. Etienne said that, at some stage in the latter 1960s, McKay "somehow got crossways" with the California Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind (the board), the only governmental entity in the United States of its kind responsible for licensing guide dog trainers and regulating guide dog schools operating in the state. It is generally agreed that a settlement was reached between McKay's Eye Dog Foundation and the board in about 1967 in which the board relinquished regulatory jurisdiction over EDF in exchange for McKay's commitment not to raise funds for EDF in California and to train guide dogs outside the state. The school's corporate status and headquarters, however, were permitted to remain registered in California.
The EDF’s work appears to have continued without public incident for the next thirty-seven years or so. We talked with several current EDF consumers, and, while Patricia Kepler and Petra Janes are presently disappointed with various aspects of recent interactions with school personnel, both report being generally satisfied with the quality of the guide dogs they have received over the years.
During this extended period of peace, a number of cultural patterns of EDF’s governance and day-to-day management emerged that foreshadowed trouble and perhaps even enabled some of the more overt instances of chicanery that have occurred in recent years. From 1967 through 1988, when the EDF purchased its training campus in south Phoenix, Arizona, the school remained a small concern compared to major guide dog schools elsewhere in the country. In 1988 EDF abandoned its practice of providing in-home training for a few students, and started offering a more conventional course of study to guide dog classes at its newly acquired property in Phoenix.
According to Patrick Frase, EDF assistant executive director for about two years before affairs at EDF began to unravel in 2006, the school's small size and low public profile gave McKay an inordinate amount of control. Frase explained that McKay manipulated the composition of the EDF board so that it consisted of longtime friends and members of her family. He reported that customary and transparent business practices such as preparing annual reports and maintaining consistent meeting minutes did not regularly occur. Frase confirmed that, with the approval of her board, McKay sat on the EDF board while drawing an annual salary of between $86,000 and $89,000 as the organization's executive director.
Frase said he believes McKay may have used EDF for "suspicious if not illegal personal tax advantages," and he reported that "red flags" were raised for him when he saw how much money was spent, considering the small number of dogs trained and graduated during his tenure. The Braille Monitor has also learned from Wendy Wonderley, a former EDF board member who ultimately resigned as a casualty of the organizational uproar soon to be described, that under McKay's leadership, retiring employees of the school (namely McKay herself; Ruby Bell, McKay's sister; and Lucille Gibbons, a longtime McKay friend until the 2006 split) were entitled to receive generous fringe benefits, including proceeds from a "profit-sharing account," comprehensive medical coverage, and a lump sum bonus equivalent to one half of their annual salaries. Wonderley commented that this was an irresponsible fiscal policy for an organization the size of Eye Dog Foundation (presently valued at somewhere between $7 and $10 million) to adopt.
Despite these allegations of wrong-doing and corruption, Frase emphasized that he believes that McKay genuinely wanted to be of help to blind people through the training of high-quality guide dogs, and he believes that it was her positive motivation that allowed her to function unscathed and unmasked at EDF during her fifty-five-year association with the school. Mr. Frase's employment with EDF was ultimately terminated because of his irreconcilable differences with McKay. Wendy Wonderley confirmed, in terms more vague than those of Mr. Frase, her feeling that McKay exercised an unusual degree of control over EDF, but she too believes that McKay was sincerely committed to the mission of the school. Wonderley put it succinctly when she said, "Lequita was a benign dictator."
McKay's reign at Eye Dog Foundation seems to have come to an unceremonious end during the autumn of 2006. According to Wendy Wonderley, a series of rapid-fire EDF board transactions and legal skirmishes in the Kern County Superior Court between the two factions of the school's board of directors over the next twelve months resulted in Gwen Brown’s wresting control of the EDF board and the organization’s executive directorship from McKay and those loyal to her. Since the division on the EDF board and the ensuing struggle for power were the genesis of the most recent round of troubles, we will provide a brief chronology of events from September 2006 through September 2007.
The following timeline has been provided largely by Wendy Wonderley, but important dates have been confirmed by Joey Etienne and supporting court documents. We also contacted Gwen Brown by telephone, but she declined to be interviewed. Instead she wanted to talk only about who prompted our decision to report this story before abruptly terminating the telephone conversation. We repeatedly requested in writing an interview with Ms. Brown through her legal counsel in California and Arizona. On October 27 H. Steven Schiffres of Rosoff, Schiffres, and Barta, general California counsel for the EDF, responded to an October 20 Braille Monitor request for an interview, which listed potential interview topics with Brown but did not ask specific questions or present evidence for comment as would have been the case in an actual written interview. In his letter Mr. Schiffres refused the interview and made few substantive statements, noting that the Braille Monitor’s October 20 inquiry did not offer details and documentary evidence inviting a thorough response. Since our letter had been only an invitation for an interview and not a written set of interrogatories, his statement was technically correct. Nevertheless, his statements will be included in this article when they are responsive to claims critical of EDF and Brown. Finally, a statement from John D. Clark Jr., EDF’s legal counsel in Arizona, was submitted to the Braille Monitor for publication. Apparently Clark has been employed to represent EDF only in its effort to recover the dogs currently being housed by EDF volunteer puppy raisers. Clark's statement is printed in full elsewhere in this article.
On September 23, 2006, both Gwen Brown, now executive director and chairperson of the EDF board, and Wendy Wonderley were named to the EDF board. Michael Hannon is a member of that board and an attorney licensed in California. Several sources report that Hannon is Brown's spouse and Wonderley said that Hannon nominated Brown to the school's board. According to Wonderley, Brown received the support of all EDF board members except McKay, who reportedly warned her colleagues that Brown's appointment would be disastrous for EDF. Wonderley said that in retrospect she regrets her support of Brown's nomination to the board.
Wonderley said that on October 8, 2006, Brown called an emergency board meeting. It is undisputed that at this meeting McKay resigned as EDF executive director, but the parties differ about whether McKay's resignation of her paid position included resignation from the school's board.
According to Schiffres’s October 27 letter, the Brown faction of the EDF board (Gwen Brown, Michael Hannon, and Lucille Gibbons) believed that McKay resigned from both the executive directorship and her board position; the McKay faction (Lequita McKay, Wendy Wonderley, and Louis Harris) understood McKay to have resigned only her position as executive director, while retaining her voting seat on the board.
On October 21, 2006, the EDF board held another meeting, in which four new board members were nominated, but none were elected because the board was deadlocked. Squabbling continued about whether McKay had the right to exercise her vote as an EDF board member.
Wonderley reports that the McKay faction then filed a lawsuit against EDF and the members of the Brown faction over whether McKay continued to hold a seat on the EDF board, since a three-to-three split prevented governance of the organization. Wonderley said that the McKay faction asked the judge to dissolve the Foundation and to transfer its assets to Guiding Eyes for the Blind in New York.
On November 17, 2006, yet another EDF board meeting was convened, but Ms. Wonderley said that she was not given notice of this gathering. She says that, to support her and to deny the Brown faction a quorum, McKay and Harris refused to attend this meeting. Wonderley said that during this meeting she was voted off the board and that Brown was confirmed as EDF’s executive director. Naturally the McKay faction dismissed the actions of the November 17 board meeting as illegal since a quorum was not present. The McKay faction tried to overturn the decisions ratified at the November 17 meeting in their lawsuit.
On December 21, 2006, the McKay faction of the EDF board filed an ex parte application for appointment of receivership to neutralize the Brown faction, who were making day-to-day decisions about the operation of the school. A hearing before Judge Louis P. Etcheverry of the Kern County Superior Court was scheduled for January 31, 2007. According to Wonderley, failure of legal counsel for the Brown faction to file responses caused the hearing to be continued to February 8.
On February 8 Judge Etcheverry issued an Order for Appointment of Receiver and Preliminary Injunction in favor of the requests that the McKay faction had made to the court. In summary Judge Etcheverry ruled that McKay's retirement as executive director did not operate to remove her from the EDF board. The judge also confirmed the composition of the EDF board, which included Wonderley as a board member, repudiating the EDF board's actions of November 17, 2006. Finally, Judge Etcheverry placed EDF in the hands of a receiver to evaluate what was needed to make the organization functional.
On February 21, 2007, Judge Etcheverry signed the official order appointing Joey Etienne as EDF receiver. Wonderley reports that on the same day Brown attempted to convene another EDF board meeting at which she asserted her entitlement to a salary as executive director. Wonderley says that she was again not given notice of this meeting. Receiver Etienne confirms that he had to suspend Brown's EDF salary during the organization's receivership.
Etienne submitted his recommendations to the court on the future of EDF on May 8, 2007. He recommended that the organization headquartered in California be dissolved and that its assets be transferred to the Eye Dog Foundation of Arizona created by McKay to manage some minor school matters, which for all practical purposes existed on paper and had performed few actual services. Because of the deadlocked board Etienne suggested that a diverse group of Arizona advisors work with a nonprofit manager to create a new board and establish a reconstituted foundation within the existing framework of the articles of incorporation and bylaws of the Eye Dog Foundation of Arizona. Finally, he recommended that he oversee the EDF dissolution until a smooth transition to the Eye Dog Foundation of Arizona could be achieved.
On May 16, 2007, Judge Etcheverry entered a default judgment in favor of the McKay faction of the EDF board. On June 11 the receiver's report was accepted, but for reasons that remain unclear the case was transferred to Judge Palmer of the Kern County Superior Court. Taking the opportunity to persuade a different judge before Judge Etcheverry's default judgment was officially registered, counsel for the Brown faction successfully argued before Judge Palmer on July 11, 2007, to have the original default judgment set aside. Several days later, on July 20, McKay unexpectedly died.
Following McKay’s death, the substantive grounds for the original lawsuit no longer existed, so the impasse on the EDF board was broken. In view of these developments, Judge Palmer directed the parties to settle at a hearing on August 16. The court directed that the settlement should relieve the receiver of his duties at a hearing on September 6 and that control of the foundation should be passed back to the school's board. The board was directed to replace McKay on the board in accordance with EDF’s bylaws.
It appears that an unusual set of circumstances conspired to snatch a legal victory on the merits of the case from the McKay faction of the EDF board. Wonderley reports that the Brown faction quickly capitalized on these developments and scheduled a board meeting for September 25. A quorum was present. The EDF board moved to reinstate Brown as the school's executive director, affirming its confidence in her by ratifying all the actions she had tried to take during the past year. Jerome Washington and Christopher Uboma, candidates supportive of Brown, were elected to the board. Persuaded that she could no longer provide accountable oversight for EDF and not wanting to be responsible for future decisions taken by the Brown-dominated board, Wonderley tendered her resignation at the conclusion of the September 25 meeting.
In reviewing Brown's performance as EDF’s executive director, we have learned that three successive directors of training and most of their support staff have left the school since September 2007. Manny Gonzales, EDF director of training from February 11, 2006 to September 5, 2007, said that he left a job and program he loved because of the micromanaging harassment he received at Brown’s hands. Specifically he said, "Gwen was disrespectful of staff. She made unfounded and outlandish accusations towards us. She was ignorant when it came to knowledge of guide dog practices. She had no experience in assessing the O&M skills of blind people, but she'd regularly presume to intercept and divert applications from students. You couldn't reason with her; you couldn't talk to her." Gonzales is a certified guide dog trainer through the state of California, and he has a degree from New Zealand's Massey University in orientation and mobility. Without exception, everybody with whom we spoke for this story praised Gonzales's competence as a guide dog trainer. In concluding his interview with us, Gonzales said, "Any self-respecting guide dog trainer with any sense would now not remain at Eye Dog Foundation. What's happening under Gwen Brown's leadership is a shame." Patti Savage, a respected puppy coordinator with EDF from September 2004 through November 2006, grew weary of working for Brown almost ten months before Gonzales decided to leave. Among Savage's grievances against Brown were allegations that the acting executive director interfered with her professional judgment to take dogs in her care for special medical treatment and that staff were regularly required to dip into their own pockets for operating cash because Brown would not provide the needed funds.
During the almost four months following Gonzales's departure, EDF had no director of training, certified or otherwise. In the weeks after his departure, Barbara Kuhns, EDF office administrator hired in July 2007 by the receiver, and Paula Brown, EDF puppy coordinator, both left their jobs and temporarily shut the Phoenix facility down. Kuhns said, "For the last month of our employment, Paula and I would leave work together for fear of our safety. Gwen was intimidating and created a threatening environment. She regularly would tell Manny that she had somebody watching him." According to Kuhns, both she and Savage left EDF still owed some back pay. Representatives from the EDF volunteer puppy-raiser community told the Braille Monitor that during this period they received little to no communication from Brown about what was happening and that all puppy raiser classes were suspended without notice.
Bryan Young was hired to replace Gonzales as director of training on December 15, 2007. While not certified as a guide dog trainer by California, Young brought considerable experience, having worked for EDF for several years in the middle 90s and with several other schools, including Leader Dogs in Rochester Hills, Michigan.
Young reported that problems existed for him and the school from the beginning of his EDF employment. He said that his pay was often late, sometimes issued on personal EDF checks and occasionally on more conventional payroll checks. He also reported irregularities with the deduction of state and Social Security taxes from his pay. Finally, Young says that he has still not been paid for almost two weeks of work following his abrupt decision to resign on July 4, 2008.
Above and beyond these issues, Young told us that Brown tried to micromanage the school, second guessing and failing to act on his recommendations to release animals not suitable as guide dogs and refusing to forward student applications to him when advised that dogs were almost ready for placement. Additionally, Young said that Brown created operational difficulties and safety hazards at the school when she took actions, including canceling dog food deliveries to the campus and terminating the school's cell phone services, which jeopardized the over-heating alarm systems in the vans used to transport dogs for off-campus training. Young explained that he ultimately spent his personal funds to purchase food for the animals in his care. Both Young and Kuhns told us that bills from many creditors were paid late or not at all.
Counsel for Brown and EDF counter that significant administrative disruptions occurred because of a delay in moving accounts back to the control of EDF from the receiver, which may have resulted in some bills being paid late. EDF counsel states that all creditors have been made whole at this stage or that payments have intentionally not been honored for cause, including breach of contract or nonperformance. Young says that he is continuing to try to resolve his pay dispute with EDF, and Wonderley says that EDF officials are declining to pay McKay's estate her retirement entitlement.
According to Young, as executive director Brown cultivated a terrible and intimidating relationship with the staff. He said that Brown called Michelle Tenny, puppy raiser coordinator under his charge, at all hours of the night to let her know "just how replaceable" she was. Finally he reported that at one stage during his seven-month employment he was approached by a representative of a company who told him that Brown had hired his firm to install surveillance equipment on campus. According to Young, the company representative ultimately said that ethically he couldn't be part of this bizarre assignment and left the property without finishing the job.
According to Young, in April 2008 Executive Director Brown hired Doug Hunter as Young's supervisor. This relationship was short-lived, though, because Hunter remained on staff for less than ten days. Young said that Hunter told him, while being driven to the airport, that he didn't know if he'd ever come back and that he couldn't get a commitment in writing from Brown about the terms of his employment.
Young and Tenny both abruptly resigned their positions with EDF on Friday, July 4, 2008, when, as Young tells it, Brown was unresponsive to his repeated requests for authorization to have an EDF dog receive emergency medical care, which ultimately required surgery. Exasperated and bewildered by the oppressive and hostile environment that Brown created, Young said that he and Tenny "had simply put up with enough." In preparing to close the Phoenix property for the second time in less than a year in the absence of staff to operate it, Young told the Braille Monitor that he contacted the volunteer puppy raisers whose dogs were in the school's kennel to come and collect the animals for safe keeping until new staff could be identified.
In early August Brown hired Dexter Morin as EDF director of training. Since Morin resigned his position on October 5, just as this story was coming to our attention, we did not have an opportunity to interview him.
According to DaCoda Whittemore, EDF assistant guide dog trainer and facilities manager from August 12 to August 26, 2008, and several of the school's volunteer puppy raisers, Morin, in his early twenties, was recruited from Noah's Assistance Dogs in Crete, Nebraska, where he had helped to train perhaps a handful of dogs. Ruth Dutton, an EDF volunteer puppy trainer, told us that she had been in contact with Morin's former supervisor, Mike Renner, after being alarmed at Morin's lack of experience, and was advised that he was dedicated to the profession but was by no means ready to assume the responsibilities of a lead guide dog trainer. Mike Renner, director of Noah's Assistance Dogs, told the Braille Monitor that in fact Morin was associated with his program briefly through the AmeriCorps Program, but, when funding for this position was terminated, Mr. Morin continued with the school as a volunteer. Mr. Renner confirmed that "it would be quite a stretch" to expect Morin to function as director of training for any reputable guide dog training facility. Denise Warner was hired as Morin's puppy coordinator, and she remains employed at EDF at this writing.
Whittemore's description of her brief tenure at EDF mirrors the pattern of discontent and concern expressed by Gonzales and Young. "Despite having eight years of experience in the field of animal behavior science, it became apparent that I was not going to be allowed to do anything. I would fax ideas for on-campus improvements, but my communications were ignored. I was told that I could not discuss anything about internal operations at Eye Dog Foundation with anybody. I saw no generation or meaningful preparation of working dogs at all while I was at Eye Dog Foundation. I would caution those in the public about contributing to this school without finding out what their money is really being used for. I decided to leave this part-time job and pay full-time attention to my own business."
In response to the concerns of the volunteer puppy-raiser community and others about the organization's ability to retain qualified staff, counsel for EDF concede in their letter of October 27, 2008, that retaining professional personnel is a difficult task. They further acknowledge that "some turnover" in staff has occurred during the past year, but counsel contends that the EDF board strive to identify qualified staff and that currently no key positions are not staffed by competent individuals. This claim is hard to accept since the only staff present at the Phoenix property when we tried to tour the facility on Thursday, October 16, 2008, was Denise Warner, puppy coordinator formerly under Morin, and a man called Rick, who described himself as a grounds caretaker without any professional background with service animals. We are unclear whether Warner's role has changed since Morin's departure; she did claim to be qualified to train guide dogs during the brief over-the-fence conversation we had with her. Despite the invitation on the EDF Website to visit the campus, the staff refused us admittance to the Phoenix property for a tour and instead referred us to Brown in California to arrange any future visits.
EDF has a devoted and passionate volunteer puppy-raiser community of almost fifty people (spouses and family members included) working with between twenty-four and twenty-nine dogs, who could potentially be trained as guide dogs at the school. A puppy raiser agrees to raise a puppy for a guide dog training facility for the first eighteen to twenty-four months of its life, working on socializing and other basic skills before returning it to the school for formal training. Those who undertake this investment of time, love, and money are special and committed people who genuinely care about animals and are dedicated to having their dogs matched with a blind dog handler.
In investigating this story, we met with puppy raisers of at least eleven EDF dogs. All of these puppy raisers expressed an abiding desire to raise their dogs to fulfill their mission as guides for blind people. Despite (or perhaps because of) this common commitment, all eleven sets of puppy raisers are resolved not to return their assigned animals to EDF while they believe the school is unable to train adequately or care safely for the dogs. Each of these puppy raisers has a compelling personal story of deceit or promises broken by the EDF administration, but the bottom line for each is that each is unwilling to jeopardize his or her investment of time, energy, love, and money by returning a dog to what they believe is an unsafe and unproductive situation. If circumstances were better at Eye Dog Foundation or if alternative arrangements for the welfare and training of the animals could be arranged, each puppy raiser told us that he or she would gladly relinquish the animal for an objective evaluation and possible successful training as a guide dog.
Anna Thomasson, Diana Anderson, Gail Stouthamer, and Barbara Kuhns have voluntarily assumed leadership on behalf of almost all the EDF puppy raisers. They told the Braille Monitor that EDF puppy raisers were left to manage the training of their dogs on their own for the almost four-month period between the resignation of Gonzales and the hiring of Young in late 2007. They report that the administration gave them no notice of this staff transition nor any direction about how they were to care for and train their animals in the interim. Despite being alarmed by this development, they all agreed to resume the bimonthly puppy raiser classes with Young once he started working for EDF.
In addition to the extended interruption in support from EDF during the autumn of 2007, puppy raisers identified other general concerns during 2008, including frustration that trainer recommendations for release of dogs deemed unsuitable to guide were not honored expeditiously, worries that the school was not placing ready dogs with blind candidates, doubts about the school's ability to care for its animals safely, anger that EDF stopped providing regular heartworm and tick medications for the animals, reservations about the low morale and stress of EDF training staff as a result of their work environment, and annoyance at Executive Director Brown's refusal to communicate regularly with them about their grievances.
Following a January 2008 meeting in which Brown did come to Phoenix to meet with the closely bonded community of EDF puppy raisers, she has been unwilling to meet with them again, despite written requests that she do so.
After Young resigned as director of training in July 2008 and Brown hired the unqualified Morin to take charge of the program, most of the puppy raisers decided to stop attending puppy training classes because the classes would not be effective and could be harmful to the animals. Even so, puppy raisers continued to request a meeting with Brown to address the deteriorating safety and training at the school. They say that their requests were met with silence.
In early October John Clark, an Arizona attorney that Brown hired to secure the return of the EDF dogs, started issuing demand letters to most members of the school's puppy-raiser community, threatening legal action if the dogs were not returned in five days. Barbara Kuhns points out that the capacity of the EDF kennels is about twenty, so, if everybody complied with the request, the school would be unable to care for all of the dogs. At or about the same time, Morin resigned his position as EDF director of training, leaving only Denise Warner on campus to care for the dogs. In his October 5 letter of resignation, Morin advised Brown that he was turning over the remaining dogs (there were only two or three on campus at the time) to the puppy raisers since Denise was not at the campus when he decided to leave. Despite Morin's explanation of this action (an action that previous trainers had taken when they terminated their EDF employment), Thomasson and Anderson told us that Brown filed a police report alleging that the dogs had been stolen from the property. Following is the text of the demand letter that Clark sent to Anna Thomasson on behalf of EDF. Since most of the letters were similar, we print this one mostly to show the tone that the EDF adopted toward its volunteers. In response we print a representative reply to a similar demand letter from puppy raiser Gillian Roberts addressed to the EDF’s executive director, which clearly articulates the primary points that all of the puppy raisers are making:
VIA CERTIFIED MAIL RETURN RECEIPT AND REGULAR MAIL
Re: The Eye Dog Foundation Puppy Named Nisha
Dear Ms. Thomasson:
I represent the Eye Dog Foundation (the "Foundation"). Pursuant to the Puppy Raiser Agreement dated January 20, 2007, you were to provide foster care for Nisha. A copy of the Agreement is enclosed.
The Agreement clearly provides that Nisha is the property of the Foundation. Further, in signing this bailment agreement, you undertook certain obligations with respect to the puppy and the Foundation. I understand that you have breached at least two parts of this Agreement. You have not followed the instructions of the staff, and you have not attended all the Training Classes.
DEMAND IS HEREBY MADE that you immediately return Nisha to the Foundation at its office at 8252 South 15th Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85041. If you cannot provide transportation for Nisha, call Dexter Morin or Denise Warner at (602) 276-0051 to arrange transportation.
Please be aware that you have a fiduciary duty to the Foundation. Breach of that duty, such as by attempting to convert the dog to your ownership or as conspiring with others to deprive the Foundation of its property, could subject you to legal liability.
You are also directed to return any of the Foundation's equipment that you borrowed. Nisha and the equipment must be returned within, at the most, five (5) days from the date of this letter to avoid any further proceedings.
If you have any questions regarding this demand letter, please write me at the address set forth above. Do not discuss your concerns with Dexter Morin or Denise Warner.
Very truly yours,
John D. Clark
October 4, 2008
Ms. Gwen Brown
Executive Director, Eye Dog Foundation
VIA CERTIFIED MAIL RETURN RECEIPT AND REGULAR MAIL
Dear Ms. Brown:
I am writing as Noni’s puppy raiser to notify you that the Eye Dog Foundation (EDF) is in breach of its puppy raiser agreement with me. Further, it has become clear from recent actions by EDF and its staff that EDF cannot currently ensure the safety of the animals under its care. I provide a remedy acceptable to me at the end of this letter. I would point out that I am an experienced puppy raiser, having in the past raised dogs for both Canine Companions for Independence and Guide Dogs for the Blind, both well established and well respected organizations. Here are the facts to support my concerns with EDF:
First: I believe that EDF with its currently constituted board of directors and staff is unable or unwilling to fulfill its publicly stated mission of being “dedicated to giving guide dogs to the blind and visually impaired at absolutely no cost to them” <http://www.eyedogfoundation.org>. This mission is also a commitment to the volunteer puppy raisers who pour love, time, and significant money into the care and preparation of a puppy that they believe will be destined for that career. EDF has not graduated a single guide dog team in more than a year, despite the fact that in the spring of 2008 there were several dogs in the kennel ready to be teamed and clients available for them.
Second: EDF has been unable to retain qualified guide dog trainers. In thirteen months, there has been complete turnover of training center staff twice. This includes the loss of three fully-qualified guide dog trainers. The staff currently at the training center is not qualified by any measure recognized within the guide dog industry to be training these dogs and is therefore not competent to run a program that will produce guide dogs that can be safely placed with visually impaired partners.
Third: The puppy raiser agreement requires me to attend classes once per month. This implies that EDF will provide those classes and further that those classes will be conducted by qualified trainers. From mid-September 2007 to early March 2008, almost six months, EDF failed to provide classes for the dogs. During the first four months of this period, at considerable inconvenience to my husband and me, I continued with Noni’s training, including sessions with a number of professional trainers. At any time that EDF has offered classes, I have eagerly attended in accordance with our agreement and only missed class for valid reasons. I attended two sessions with the new staff, during which my only contact was with Denise Warner, puppy coordinator. It was apparent in those sessions that Ms. Warner had absolutely no background with service dogs and no understanding of appropriate training methods. Given that experience, I believe that continuing training with Ms. Warner would be detrimental to Noni’s development as a guide dog.
Fourth: EDF has signaled that it intends to unilaterally redefine what constitutes a release of a dog. In the past, and as understood by the current puppy raisers, the (qualified) director of training determined whether a dog was to be released from the program. Despite this understanding, which is reinforced by consistent past practice and acknowledged by you, Ms. Brown, some of the puppy raisers have been told that the rules have changed and that now you, Ms. Brown, and/or the board must decide whether a dog is to be released from the program. Not only is it impermissible to unilaterally change the terms of our agreement, but in addition, to the knowledge of the puppy raisers, neither you, Ms. Brown, nor any member of the board has the training that would qualify you or them to determine whether a dog should be released from, or retained, in the program.
EDF has given clear indication that it does not intend to honor its contractual obligation to allow puppy raisers the option to adopt the dog they raised if ultimately someone (qualified or not) determines their dog will be released from the program. My agreement states that “if the puppy needs to have a career change, the first priority will be to place it with an appropriate service organization. Second priority will be to place the puppy with original raiser at no cost.” In a meeting with approximately thirty puppy raisers on January 12, 2008, you, Ms. Brown, affirmed our understanding that we would have first rights to our dogs if they are released from the program. When we asked for clarification of the puppy raiser agreement regarding the potential placement with “an appropriate service organization,” you, Ms. Brown, once again assured us that historically dogs have not been placed with other service organizations, and they would be returned to us if they are released.Recent past conduct underscores EDF’s new resistance to returning released dogs to their puppy raisers. In mid-February, the former director of training, Bryan Young, signaled that a number of dogs were to be released from the program, yet four of those dogs were kept in EDF’s kennels for almost five months--until July 5--when they finally were returned to puppy raiser homes.
For EDF to direct that these highly intelligent dogs, raised in family homes and accustomed to daily socialization, not be returned to puppy raiser homes and instead be kept in a kennel after no longer being deemed suitable for guide work is unconscionable and demonstrates a lack of intent to fulfill EDF’s contractual obligation to puppy raisers.
Fifth: It has become clear that the staff at the training center does not have the experience to control the dogs in their care. I know of one recent incident in which one of the dogs at the center was sufficiently injured in a dog fight to require veterinary care. From the information I have, it is clear that staff inexperience was a major contributing factor. I could not conscionably return Noni to an unsafe environment, nor do I believe I would be legally required to do so.
Sixth: On July 5, 2008, EDF abandoned Noni. She was boarding at the training center, one of twelve dogs present, when the training staff resigned and the center abruptly closed down. You, Ms. Brown, had cancelled food orders for the center on June 30 when the center was out of food, possibly leaving the dogs, both boarders and dogs which had been returned to EDF, to starve. It was up to the training staff, acting on their own and concerned for the dogs’ welfare, to purchase food and arrange for care for them, including one dog which required emergency life-saving surgery. We were out of state and had to rely on two other puppy raisers to care for her until we could return.
I am committed absolutely to Noni’s fulfilling her mission as a guide dog. This is why I became involved in the program at EDF. However, I no longer believe that EDF can deliver on its commitments, and, perhaps more importantly, EDF cannot ensure her safety. To resolve this, I request that EDF release Noni to a nationally recognized guide dog organization, or to me on the understanding that I will make due diligence to donate her (with no benefit to me) to an appropriate service dog organization. In either case I will assume the cost and responsibility of delivering her to that organization.
Mr. John D. Clark, Jr, Attorney at Law
Finally, in accordance with a commitment to Clark and the EDF, we print the following statement from the school about the puppy raisers’ failure to honor the demand letters. Here it is:
1. The Eye Dog Foundation for the Blind is a nonprofit California corporation that was established, as the name suggests, to provide guide dogs for the blind. It is authorized to operate in Arizona.
2. The Eye Dog Foundation for the Blind owns more than twenty-five puppies that were placed under bailment contracts with parties who were to raise the puppies, i.e., puppy raisers.
3. Each of the Contracts clearly states that each of the dogs belong to the Foundation, and gives no ownership rights whatsoever to any of the puppy raisers. The puppy raisers merely had the right to raise these puppies.
4. The Contract also stipulates that the puppy raisers were required to comply with the Foundation’s directives regarding the puppies.
5. Last week the Foundation directed each of the puppy raisers in writing to return the Foundation’s puppies to the Foundation within five days.
6. It now appears that the puppy raisers are refusing to comply with the Foundation’s directive to return the Foundation’s puppies.
7. The puppy raisers are apparently attempting to raise a number of specious issues to divert attention away from their clear breaches of the bailment contracts. None of these issues give the puppy raisers the right to deprive the Foundation of its puppies, which is what the puppy raisers are apparently attempting to do.
Seemingly backed into a corner and with no access to legal representation to fight against this multimillion dollar organization, the EDF puppy raisers contacted the offices of the Attorneys General in both Arizona and California. Receiving no satisfactory response from these authorities, they then approached the Braille Monitor and the local ABC affiliate in Phoenix to register their concerns and to attract attention to the issues occurring at the school. Following is the text of the story found on the Website of the local ABC affiliate in Phoenix that accompanied the brief video spot that was also produced and aired in early October:
A custody battle is brewing over twenty-five "service dogs in training" in the Phoenix area. The future service animals are owned by the Eye Dog Foundation for the Blind, a California-based nonprofit group that operates a training center in Phoenix. But a large group of volunteers, foster families that agreed to help raise the dogs, are refusing to return them.
"I couldn't feel comfortable handing this dog back to a foundation that is not functioning and feel good about it," Diana Anderson said. Anderson and twenty-five other volunteers entered into agreements with the foundation to provide the dogs a home and bring them to training sessions at the foundation's facility in south Phoenix.
The goal of the foundation is to train the dogs and then place them with the blind. But volunteers like Eldon Ploetz say the foundation is in shambles, that dogs are not receiving the necessary training, and they claim not a single dog has been placed with a blind person in more than a year. Ploetz and his wife have helped raise and foster Kiesha, a German shepherd.
In late September Ploetz received a letter from the Eye Dog Foundation's attorney stating, "DEMAND IS HEREBY MADE that you immediately return Kiesha to the Foundation." The letter continues, "I understand that you have breached at least two parts of this Agreement. You have not followed the instructions of the staff, and you have not attended all the Training Classes." Other volunteers received similar letters.
But the volunteers claim the trainers are not properly certified, and the ones that have been hired have not stayed on with the foundation. Additionally, they say the Foundation had been shut down for weeks and they have neglected the dogs.
"We understand they cut off the food for the dogs that were in the kennel," Ploetz said. Ploetz's wife said she would rather go to jail than give Kiesha back to the foundation.
"They are valid concerns," said DaCoda Whittemore, a former operations manager who worked at the foundation's training facility for only a week. Whittemore said the dogs are "absolutely" receiving better care with the foster families, "not just because the management isn't functioning properly, but there’s no staff qualified at the foundation at this point to be able to take and care for these dogs properly." Dexter Morin, a former trainer at the facility, agreed with Whittemore, submitting his resignation earlier this month.
Before leaving, Morin turned over several dogs to the foster families rather than leaving them alone at the training facility. In his resignation letter, Morin wrote, "I contacted the puppy raisers to inform them of my concerns of leaving the dogs on the premises without the guarantee that they would be attended to." Morin goes on to say, "I in good conscience turned them over to the puppy raisers for the safe keeping of the dogs."
The Eye Dog Foundation and its attorney have declined our repeated requests for an on-camera interview. In a statement to ABC 15, the Foundation's attorney, John D. Clark, wrote, "The contract clearly states that each of the dogs belong to the Foundation, and gives no ownership rights whatsoever to any of the puppy raisers." The letter goes on to state that "the Foundation directed each of the puppy raisers in writing to return the Foundation's puppies to the Foundation within five days. It now appears that the puppy raisers are refusing to comply with the Foundation's directive."
There you have the ABC story. In an effort to resolve the impasse amicably, EDF puppy-raiser leaders Anna Thomasson and Gail Stouthamer initiated a dialogue with Clark to find a solution to the custody problem acceptable to all parties. Among the suggestions that the puppy raisers offered were to turn the dogs over to a functioning guide dog school equipped to evaluate and train the dogs for guiding service if appropriate. Optimism about resolution of this matter was briefly high among the puppy raisers following signs of good-faith conversations with Clark, but he abruptly ended the settlement talks after receiving a request from the Braille Monitor to interview his client for this story.
No further progress on resolving the standoff between concerned puppy raisers and the foundation has been realized since Clark's retaliatory measures against the puppy raisers for their decision to alert the Braille Monitor to this story. Afraid of the financial and legal liability that they will all face as a result of their collective decision to engage in this act of civil disobedience in support of producing high-quality guide dogs for blind consumers and for the welfare of the animals themselves, puppy-raiser leaders say that they are nevertheless resolved to do the right thing on principle. The puppy raisers are looking for legal representation, but to date they have been unsuccessful in finding counsel willing to advocate for them pro bono.
Throughout this long ordeal some EDF puppy raisers have reported feeling varying degrees of intimidation from and fear of Gwen Brown. Thomasson, for instance, received several unidentified cell phone calls on October 7, 2008, in which the caller, who Thomasson believes to have been Brown, said, "Ok, Anna Thomasson. It's me and you, me and you and Barbara Kuhns. We're going to go for it, okay? Me and you--you and me, okay?" Later this same week Thomasson received an anonymous large envelope in the mail which contained letters addressed to Gwen Brown that had been resealed with tape. Another puppy raiser, who had initially agreed to be interviewed for this story, called to insist that his name not be used for fear that Brown or one of her "operatives" would somehow harm his family or the dog that he had raised. Several sources for this story also report having had conversations with Brown in which she has made threatening comments like, "I can't wait until the Lord makes my enemies my footstools" and other vague but pointed remarks. Finally, Anderson told the Braille Monitor that she was quite disturbed when Brown ended an unpleasant telephone conversation with her with the comment, "Oh, so you have children, do you?"
Several EDF consumers told the Braille Monitor of instances of nonresponsive or insensitive treatment at Brown’s hands. Patricia Kepler of Oregon said that Brown was unresponsive to the fact that her dog had been injured on public transportation, and she explained that her dog was offered no retraining or post-accident evaluation services. Instead, Robert Torence of the Seeing Eye generously came out to help her work with her dog. She says that both the Seeing Eye and Guide Dogs for the Blind have been invaluable to EDF consumers since the school has essentially stopped functioning. She also cited an instance in which Brown told her simply to go to Pet Smart when she needed a replacement leash for her guide dog. "Of course any responsible administrator of a reputable guide dog school knows better than to recommend that a student use a pet leash for the taxing work that a service animal performs," Kepler said. Finally, Veronica Elsea of California told the Braille Monitor that she has been trying to get a guide dog from EDF since July 2007, and she reports having received the application only within the last few weeks.
The final facet of this story involves allegations that Gwen Brown, on behalf of EDF, attempted to make or made inappropriate withdrawals from EDF of California and EDF of Arizona bank accounts. As previously reported, Eye Dog Foundation of Arizona was a distinct entity from Eye Dog Foundation of California that existed largely to manage minor Arizona-related matters for the school. According to Eldon Ploetz, EDF puppy raiser and treasurer of the Eye Dog Foundation of Arizona, Brown was never a member of the governing board or a financial signatory on bank records of this small Arizona entity. Ploetz accuses Brown of inappropriately withdrawing ten thousand dollars from an Eye Dog Foundation of Arizona account, but he acknowledges that, once the bank realized its error and asked her to return the funds, she did so. Schiffres, on behalf of Brown and EDF, explains this incident in his letter of October 27, 2008, as follows:
Ms. Brown did withdraw $10,000 from an Eye Dog Foundation of Arizona account at Wells Fargo Bank. She went to a Claremont branch of Wells Fargo and filled out a withdrawal form (in the absence of having any available checks) and presented appropriate identification. The bank teller (name unknown) checked the bank’s signature card records to confirm Ms. Brown’s authority to make the withdrawal. Ms. Brown advises that the teller appeared also to have obtained the approval of the bank manager. The withdrawal was thus approved, and Ms. Brown received $10,000. She used same to pay counsel on behalf of Eye Dog Foundation for work performed on its behalf.
Approximately two weeks later the Wells Fargo branch manager called Ms. Brown, advising her that she was not shown as a signatory on the account and requesting that the monies be repaid. Ms. Brown’s response was that he should double-check his records because she was in fact an authorized signer, as was confirmed by the teller. The manager then responded that the names on the account were two other board members, Ms. Wonderley and Mr. Harris, and he claimed Ms. Brown had never been a signatory on the account.
Although the bank manager's information that Ms. Brown lacked authority to make a withdrawal on the subject account was incorrect, rather than argue the point, Ms. Brown simply took the pragmatic approach. She used her own personal funds to reimburse the Eye Dog Foundation of Arizona account at Wells Fargo Bank in response to the Bank’s request, thereby to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. It was subsequently learned that the receiver had apparently empowered Wendy Wonderley and Louis Harris to take over control of that account, and they had presented the bank with documentation that superseded the bank authorization for Ms. Brown to sign on the account. This was not revealed to Ms. Brown at the time or to her counsel; nor was the Bank subsequently informed by Ms. Wonderley or Mr. Harris, or by the receiver, that upon extinguishing the receivership, control of the account had reverted to Eye Dog Foundation’s board, of which Ms. Brown was its duly elected executive director. Had either notice been provided, the entire episode would never have occurred.
In the face of such contradictory information, the Braille Monitor is unable to verify fully or accurately where the truth in this incident actually lies, but we have records (minutes and the articles of incorporation for the Eye Dog Foundation of Arizona) that show that Ms. Brown was not a member of this organization's governing body. Nevertheless, no doubt can exist that, while the Eye Dog Foundation of Arizona and the Eye Dog Foundation of California were separate legal entities, these organizations worked together in an allied cause. Subsequent to the dissolution of the EDF receivership, Mr. Ploetz reports that Brown, in her capacity as EDF executive director, has now entirely drained the Eye Dog Foundation of Arizona bank account and has absorbed its resources into the Eye Dog Foundation of California operation. Ploetz alleges that Brown had no right to do this since she has never had anything to do with this entity. He reports that he filed a criminal complaint with the IRS regarding Brown's second Eye Dog Foundation of Arizona withdrawal in the spring of this year. Without resources to operate the Eye Dog Foundation of Arizona, Ploetz told us that its board dissolved the small Arizona-based organization in the spring of 2008. In response to this second allegation, Schiffres said, "Your letter references a pending IRS criminal probe into Ms. Brown's alleged taking of funds from Eye Dog of Arizona ("EDA") accounts. We are not aware of any such inquiry. However, we are unaware of any claimed impropriety regarding said accounts by Ms. Brown. We therefore must question the accuracy of your information."
Both Ploetz and Wonderley tell the Braille Monitor that Brown also attempted inappropriately to withdraw $30,000 from an EDF of California account, but they both confirm that this attempted transaction was ultimately blocked by the bank and that these funds were never taken. Counsel for Ms. Brown, however, contradicts this claim and explains the incident like this:
Your letter references an attempted withdrawal of funds from Arizona accounts. The true facts are as follows: As you are presumably aware, several years ago the Eye Dog Foundation board was provided a statement of resignation by Lequita McKay, executive director. The resignation was understood to include her director position and a new executive director--Ms. Gwen Brown--was voted in. Then Ms. McKay and her supporters on the board claimed that she did not intend to resign as director, leading to a board deadlock. This, in turn, led to a lawsuit and the imposition of a receiver. Following Ms. McKay's death, which mooted the issue of board deadlock, and the presentation of opposition proof and briefing, the court held in favor of the Gwen Brown faction of the board and made an order extinguishing the receivership. Unfortunately, the practical effects of the suit, receivership, and elimination of the receivership, lasted much longer. Several months passed during which we were unable to get court orders signed for the reinstatement of the new board and Ms. Brown. The result was a major dislocation of the Foundation's business. It is in this context that this and your other questions must be considered.
On a date subsequent to the receiver’s appointment, Eye Dog Foundation received a letter from Citibank advising of a maturing six-month CD. Ms. Brown and another board member, Mr. Hannon, responded by going to the Citibank branch in Upland with the intention of ascertaining Eye Dog Foundation’s available options for the handling of the CD precisely because the account was at the time in receivership. They met and spoke to a Ms. Hong and specifically advised her that the account was subject to the receivership. Ms. Hong responded that notwithstanding what she was being told by Ms. Brown and Mr. Hannon, there was "no hold" on the account. She indicated she would have to contact her home office to obtain further instructions. Ms. Brown believes that Mr. Hannon signed a document given to him by Ms. Hong at that time. Ms. Hong stated that the document was needed in order for her to make the home office inquiry. That was the extent of the first visit to Citibank, which occurred on a Friday. The following Monday or Tuesday Ms. Brown had a telephone conversation with Ms. Hong. Ms. Hong this time advised that the account should have been blocked. Consequently, Ms. Brown and Mr. Hannon thought the matter was resolved. They gave Ms. Hong no instructions concerning the maturing CD because, upon receiving the bank’s confirmation that the CD was on hold, meant they had no power or authority to act with regard to same. There was no attempt to withdraw $30,000 from the Citibank account.
This is what we know. The Braille Monitor has been careful in reporting this story to keep our narration to facts or circumstances confirmed by at least two people. What we personally believe as a result of our investigation, however, could fill several more pages.
Blind consumers, oversight authorities, and others interested in the welfare of guide dogs should understand that the Eye Dog Foundation is clearly in trouble. They currently have no dog trainers on staff who meet industry standards for working with guide dogs. The qualified trainers that they did employ have resigned, citing the hostile and oppressive work environment created by Executive Director Brown, who seems to know little about the day-to-day issues of guide dog instruction or practice. The school has not issued a guide dog to a blind handler in well over a year. The caring and conscientious EDF volunteer puppy-raising community is so concerned about the absence of quality training and the general safety of the dogs that they are engaged in an unprecedented act of civil disobedience, willingly submitting themselves to legal jeopardy for their principles. And the EDF governing board (an insular body indeed, in which its members’ contact details are not readily available to the public and most of its members will not speak about their knowledge of events) is now merely a rubber stamp for Brown, since all the members who disagreed with the current administration have died or resigned in frustration. We note that, to the best of our knowledge, no consumers have ever served on the EDF board. This is a distressing situation to be sure. Finally, the EDF operates under a dark shadow while it remains under investigation from the California Attorney General and the IRS.
Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) should probably be the watch phrase for those who have dealings with the Eye Dog Foundation in future. Only time will tell what will happen with this organization. We sincerely hope that matters can be resolved. The blind of America can only benefit from a well-run guide dog school that specializes in the training of German Shepherds, but at present the prospects for the foundation seem poor.
by Barbara Pierce
When the NFB announced in late September that we planned to conduct informational pickets at movie theaters across the nation when the Fernando Meirelles adaptation of José Saramago’s 1995 novel, Blindness, opened on October 3, a wave of comment washed across the blindness listservs and into the national press. Of course lots of folks cheered, but we also read lots of comments ranging from Miramax’s condescending expression of “sadness” that we had so misunderstood its high-minded artistic statement of dismay at the crudeness and barbarism of human nature to grumpy dismissals of our outrage as childish tantrums. Many of our critics, particularly those in the blindness community, criticized us for raising the subject only when the film was about to open. These folks had forgotten, if they had ever bothered to learn, that we passed a condemnatory resolution about the plans for this film at our 2007 convention, soon after plans for its production were announced. Miramax completely disregarded our objections at the time and carried on with making the film.
We began making plans to conduct informational pickets on October 3 everywhere we could find space to do so. On September 25 seven members of the national staff went to see a preview screening of the film in Baltimore. When the film ended, a Miramax employee asked if the group had enjoyed the movie. They commented that it was not an experience one was likely to enjoy. She agreed and volunteered that they were promoting it as a horror film. The NFB members agreed that it was indeed pretty horrifying. They went on to point out that its portrayal of blindness was hugely inaccurate, a concept that obviously surprised the young woman.
In fact, the film was exactly what anyone who had read the book might have expected it to be. Clearly efforts to warn the public that the film was damaging to blind people had to go forward.
Affiliate presidents were encouraged to make protest plans. So in seventy-two locations around the nation organizers ordered brochures and picket signs from the national office. Volunteers rounded up sticks and stapled the signs to them so that marchers had something to hold up. We modified the national press release and circulated it to local media so that they would know where to find blind people objecting to being depicted as an allegory for everything that is depraved and base in human nature. The Associated Press published a story on September 30 that was picked up across the country. This is what it said:
Blind Activists Plan Protest of Movie, Blindness
by Ben Nuckols
Blind people quarantined in a mental asylum, attacking each other, soiling themselves, trading sex for food. For Marc Maurer, who's blind, such a scenario—as shown in the movie Blindness—is not a clever allegory for a breakdown in society. Instead it's an offensive and chilling depiction that Maurer fears could undermine efforts to integrate blind people into the mainstream. "The movie portrays blind people as monsters, and I believe it to be a lie," said Maurer, president of the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind. "Blindness doesn't turn decent people into monsters."
The organization plans to protest the movie, released by Miramax Films, at seventy-five theaters around the country when it's released Friday. Blind people and their allies will hand out fliers and carry signs. Among the slogans: "I'm not an actor. But I play a blind person in real life." The movie reinforces inaccurate stereotypes, including that the blind cannot care for themselves and are perpetually disoriented, according to the NFB. "We face a 70 percent unemployment rate and other social problems because people don't think we can do anything, and this movie is not going to help—at all," said Christopher Danielsen, a spokesman for the organization.
Blindness director Fernando Meirelles, an Academy Award nominee for City of God, was shooting on location Thursday and unavailable for comment, according to Miramax. The studio released a statement that read, in part, "We are saddened to learn that the National Federation of the Blind plans to protest the film Blindness." The NFB began planning the protests after seven staffers, including Danielsen, attended a screening of the movie in Baltimore last week. The group included three sighted employees. "Everybody was offended," Danielsen said.
Based on the 1995 novel by Nobel Prize winner José Saramago, Blindness imagines a mysterious epidemic that causes people to see nothing but fuzzy white light—resulting in a collapse of the social order in an unnamed city. Julianne Moore stars as the wife of an eye doctor (Mark Ruffalo) who loses his sight; she feigns blindness to stay with her husband and eventually leads a revolt of the quarantined patients.
The book was praised for its use of blindness as a metaphor for the lack of clear communication and respect for human dignity in modern society.
Miramax said in its statement that Meirelles had "worked diligently to preserve the intent and resonance of the acclaimed book," which it described as "a courageous parable about the triumph of the human spirit when civilization breaks down."
Maurer will have none of it. "I think that failing to understand each other is a significant problem," he said. "I think that portraying it as associated with blindness is just incorrect."
The protest will include pickets at theaters in at least twenty-one states, some with dozens of participants, timed to coincide with evening showtimes. Maurer said it would be the largest protest in the sixty-eight-year history of the NFB, which has 50,000 members and works to improve blind people's lives through advocacy, education, and other ways.
The film was the opening-night entry at the Cannes Film Festival, where many critics were unimpressed. After Cannes Meirelles retooled the film, removing a voice-over that some critics felt spelled out its themes too explicitly. Meirelles told the Associated Press at Cannes that the film draws parallels to such disasters as Hurricane Katrina, the global food shortage, and the cyclone in Myanmar. "There are different kinds of blindness. There's two billion people that are starving in the world," Meirelles said. "This is happening. It doesn't need a catastrophe. It's happening, and because there isn't an event like Katrina, we don't see."
Miramax is a division of The Walt Disney Company.
Between the AP story and the individual articles in papers across the country covering local protests, hundreds of newspaper articles were published, and more than fifty TV stories aired our position on this film. We are pleased to report that, according to David Germain, AP movie writer, “Miramax's Blindness, featuring Julianne Moore, Danny Glover, and Mark Ruffalo in a nightmare tale about a plague of sightlessness, took in just $2 million, averaging an anemic $1,185 in 1,690 theaters,” during its all-important first weekend. We don’t wish to claim more effectiveness than is justified. Clearly Blindness is an unsuccessful and disturbingly depressing film in its own right, but it can’t hurt that blind people across the country stepped forward to register our anger at being used as an allegory for all that is depraved and base in human nature. Lest you conclude that we are making too much of the implications of this movie, here is an accurate plot summary of the film:
Blindness is based on a novel of the same name by the Portuguese writer José Saramago. The premise of the movie is that unnamed residents of an unnamed city in an unnamed country suddenly and mysteriously become blind. Those who experience the blindness see only a white glare, so the blindness is sometimes called the “white sickness.” The blindness is contagious, and the government immediately quarantines the victims in an abandoned and dilapidated mental asylum, with orders that anyone attempting to leave is to be killed.
The prisoners are given food and supplies, but deliveries are inadequate and become increasingly irregular. The asylum also becomes filthy because the blind inmates, as portrayed in the movie, cannot find their way to the bathroom and simply relieve themselves on the floor or in their own beds. Some of the inmates die from infection or disease or are shot by guards when they try to escape or when they simply become disoriented and wander too close to the fence.
The inmates of Ward One, led by an ophthalmologist’s wife, who can still see but feigns blindness to remain with her husband, fare slightly better than the rest; the implication is that this is solely because she assists the blind, portrayed as being unable to do anything for themselves. As food supplies dwindle, another group of blind inmates whose leader has acquired a gun and dubbed himself “the King of Ward Three” begins to terrorize the others. The armed clique in Ward Three hoards all the food, extorting money and valuables from the other inmates and eventually demanding sex with the women from other wards in exchange for allowing the rest of the inmates to eat. One of the members of this clique who was born blind and is not a victim of the white sickness knows how to read and write Braille and is given the task of taking inventory of the valuables stolen from the other inmates.
When the women from Ward One go to ward three to exchange sex for food, one of them is beaten to death as she is raped. The doctor’s wife later kills the King of Ward Three, but the man who was born blind takes his place as leader of the armed gang and threatens to avenge the king by killing the doctor’s wife. Being blind, however, he is unable to shoot her, and she escapes unharmed. The rest of the inmates finally decide to do battle with the gang in Ward Three; just before the showdown someone sets a pile of bedding alight, starting a fire that soon engulfs the entire asylum. During the ensuing confusion the man who was born blind shoots himself. When the surviving inmates, including the group led by the doctor’s wife, escape the burning asylum, they discover that no soldiers are standing guard and they are free.
Outside the makeshift prison everyone has become blind, and the city has descended into total chaos. No government services or businesses are functioning, and nomadic groups of mostly naked blind people wander through the streets, squatting in abandoned houses and shops for shelter and taking food where they can find it—including in rubbish heaps. There is no electricity or running water, so the streets and buildings of the city are as filthy as the asylum was. Dogs that people used to keep as pets have gone wild and roam in packs, feeding on refuse and human corpses. The home of the doctor and his wife, however, is intact, and their group sets up residence there. The movie ends just as they regain their sight—as suddenly and mysteriously as they had lost it.
We conclude this summary of the October 3 protest with two further documents. The first is a review of the film. The second is a post to an NFB listserv. It is only one of many on this topic, but it does a remarkable job of articulating the views of blind protesters.
by James Fetter
From the Editor: James Fetter is a graduate student at Notre Dame University. He is writing his dissertation, but the weekend after our nationwide protest of the film, Blindness, he offered to write a book review of José Saramago’s novel on which the film is based. When Saramago first won the Nobel Prize for this novel, I looked for a reviewer without success. I was delighted to take James up on his offer. This is the result:
By José Saramago
Translated by Giovanni Pontiero
New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, ©1995, 294 pp. $22
In the novel Blindness, which inspired a recently released movie by the same name, Nobel laureate Jose Saramago uses blindness as a metaphor for moral depravity, filth, and social collapse. In an unknown city full of people who are never named, an inexplicable and incurable epidemic of blindness strikes without warning, causing all but one of the city’s inhabitants to lose their sight. After an attempt to control the epidemic by placing the infected in quarantine fails, complete social breakdown quickly follows, and the newly blind inhabitants of the city wander aimlessly, foraging for food and laying waste to their own city in the process. This is the basic premise of José Saramago’s novel entitled Blindness, published not long before the author was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998. Now that the movie Blindness, based on Saramago’s novel, has just been released nationwide, it is worth revisiting this novel and the negative stereotypes of blindness Saramago propagates and embellishes throughout its 294 pages.
With few exceptions the blind characters in Saramago’s novel lose not only their sight but also their ability to tend to their most basic bodily needs, their courage in the face of intimidation, and their sense of morality and decency. When the government attempts to stop the epidemic by placing the infected in quarantine, the women are willing to be raped and humiliated in order to obtain food from a gang of thugs in Ward 3 of the dilapidated mental hospital in which the blind have been imprisoned. The men, including the husbands of the female victims, more or less accept this state of affairs and even encourage the women who protest to tolerate the brutality to which they are subjected. The reign of terror is ended, not by the blind, but by the sole sighted person in the facility, the wife of an ophthalmologist, who decides to slip into Ward 3 while the thugs are raping several other women and kills their leader with a pair of scissors.
The blind prisoners, as well as the blind residents of the city depicted after the mental hospital burns to the ground and some prisoners escape, have forgotten how to use the toilet, and they defecate in the streets, which run with filth. They also routinely walk around on all fours while navigating through an unfamiliar environment, and they either cannot, or don’t care to, wash themselves or their clothes. Except for the small group of main characters led, of course, by the ophthalmologist’s sighted wife, they cannot organize themselves or collaborate on anything other than rape and extortion.
Saramago’s portrayal of those who were born blind or have been blind for much of their lives is equally misleading. The only character born blind and able to read Braille sides with the criminals and uses his literacy to keep an inventory of their stolen goods and the women they have raped. He even leads them for a time after the sighted woman kills their leader. Aside from the Braille-reading criminal, Saramago’s other scattered references to the blind who lived among the sighted prior to the epidemic depict us as unable to cross the street without sighted help and as lacking the moral compass possessed by our sighted peers.
As should be clear even from these few details, Saramago’s book is filled with false images of blindness and the effect of this disability on those who have it. Saramago portrays us as unable to care for ourselves and our most basic bodily needs without sighted assistance, and he seems to think that we would descend into depravity of the worst kind if left to our own devices. By describing the blind in this fashion, Saramago reinforces popular prejudices against us and adds a few of his own, namely the implication that the blind tend toward crime and moral obtuseness.
To be fair, a scenario such as Saramago’s would likely result in a great deal of social dislocation, since those who lose their vision need time and training to adapt to their new situation. Even those of us who are born blind need to learn certain skills in order to be independent, and we would sorely miss the absence of anyone who could drive a car, fly a plane, or perform the few other tasks for which sight is required. Also one must keep in mind that people imprisoned in a run-down mental hospital that lacks several modern conveniences and the necessities for basic hygiene may lose a certain amount of self-respect and the drive to improve their circumstances.
Furthermore, Saramago did not write this book in order to vilify the blind. His goal was to demonstrate the fragility of human society and, using allegory, to show that basic human decency is, in his view at least, an illusion and that it too would largely vanish, if society collapsed. In light of recent disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and the Asian Tsunami, this message is worthy of serious consideration.
It is thus all the more unfortunate that Saramago chose to convey this timely message by misrepresenting an entire group of people. Many of Saramago’s critics have praised him for writing convincing descriptions of alternative realities which differ from our world in only one important respect and for working out the consequences of these differences. By this measure Blindness falls far short of the mark, and the only reason that this work met with such critical acclaim is that the damaging stereotypes Saramago employs in his narrative are so widespread as to be deemed common knowledge. Thus, instead of challenging our assumptions about our fellow man, as he is so often credited with doing, Saramago panders to widespread erroneous assumptions about the blind, and in doing so, he treats us much as he claims we would treat one another if left to ourselves.
by Rene Harrell
The following thoughtful letter by Rene Harrell appeared on our teachers of blind children listserv on October 4, 2008. It has been slightly edited for publication.
I think you have posed a philosophical question that the majority of our society is asking in response to hearing that blind people take great exception to their depiction in the movie. It waffles between "What's the big deal?" and "You are missing the point." In fact, a movie reviewer who writes for our local paper (the Colorado Springs Gazette) was quoted in an article covering the protests yesterday making pretty much this point. To quote the article directly, "Every person goes blind over the course of a few days," Fibbs said of the film. "Society implodes overnight. That's the point of the film--the frailty of mankind and our propensity for inhumanity. It's a spiritual blindness, not a physical blindness, that the film wishes to address." The author himself also denies that physical blindness has any part to play in the over-arching meaning of his novel and has said that protests against this film are "a display of meanness based on nothing at all."
I too have read the novel. I read it while in college after it was first released in English. I personally am not a huge fan of his overall literary style, but Saramago's overall tone and intent came through with crystalline clarity. You could not walk away from that book without understanding the over-arching allegory about the inner struggles and moral frailty of humankind. In protests over this novel and this film I don't see a denial of Saramago's allegory; I see a challenge to his metaphor.
This seems to me a similar debate to the racial discourse over Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. While the literary style (and sheer volume) of the two novels are vastly different, both books take aim at what is left when the constructs of civilization are peeled away and all that is left is humanity in its basest form. Both books use a metaphorical construct of the other as the primary vehicle for plunging their readers into the psychological process of human degeneration. For Conrad's contemporary readers Africa was "the Dark Continent." Those who picked up his novel in 1902 or read it in its magazine form in 1899 would have had an immediate, almost subconscious socially conditioned response to the setting of his novel. Conrad was master of the written word with an uncanny perception of humanity. He was also a white European male writing for an audience of white Europeans. As such he understood the psychological impact that the use of the other--in this case the African continent and the African people--would have. Conrad needed a metaphor and a symbol that would evoke a primal emotive response from his readers as he contrasted the ideas of primitiveness, savagery, barbarism, brutality, and evil with notions of civilization, good, and morality in mankind. Even as Conrad projects a great deal of ambiguity and direct juxtaposition of the light/good dark/bad social and emotional contextual understanding of his day, he relied on the profoundly racist social understanding of his day for his novel to work. His novel at the time was a psychological thriller precisely because the fear of Africans and the continent of Africa were so deep-seated and deep-rooted that they could strike emotional chords of fear instantaneously and subconsciously in the white colonialist readers who were the target audience for this book. Intelligent, thoughtful literary critics in a post-colonial Africa can be forgiven if they don't share the same emotive response that Conrad was seeking in the writing of his novel, even if that vastly different emotive response does not change the literary merit or the larger themes at work in the novel.
In the same way Saramago uses the other, in this case the blind, as the necessary metaphorical vehicle he needs in order to evoke a specific emotional and psychological response in readers as he crafts his statement on bad and good in human civilization. Blindness is essential to Saramago because the most crucial aspect in his degeneration and devolution of humanity is disorientation. He uses the concept of disorientation extensively as a literary technique (no one has names in the asylum, and his punctuation style makes it very difficult to discern precisely who is speaking) and in turn to further an emotional understanding of the confusion, powerlessness, helplessness, degradation, and fear that come from being disoriented. For this Saramago needs to play specifically on our collective, deep-rooted societal understanding of blindness. A big part of societal fears of blindness, even on a subconscious level, is the inability to orient oneself and perceive and ascertain information without sight. Saramago needs this automatically understood fear in order for his novel to lay bare his version of humanity and to have his readers follow him. This is why he needs his central character, the heroine of the book and the literal eyewitness, to retain her sight. This is why no other metaphor of dreaded disease such as leprosy, AIDS, or some made-up contagion that would lead to a slow and horrific death would suffice. Saramago might have shown humanity stripped bare, in panic over a contagious disease; it has been a common plot device in many novels and films treating the issues he is discussing. But none of those as a context works here because he is exploiting a very specific sense of loss and powerlessness, disorientation and fear that comes from the sighted culture's understanding and presumptions about blindness. Saramago is not writing this novel for those who are blind, nor does he display a knowledge and psychological understanding of blindness and the implications of blindness from the perspective of those who are actually blind. Instead he has written a novel for the sighted, sharing their understanding and context of blindness. He uses the other as a metaphorical construct that those who share in his understanding will instantly recognize.
Now from the perspective of the other comes a vastly different view. They do not share the same emotive and automatic fear response that he has carefully embedded in his novel. The other get to decide for themselves whether their depiction is something to be shared or rejected; something that is accurate or inaccurate. You cannot write about the other, using them as an object necessary to transmit your themes successfully to your readers, and then tell them they do not have a right to view your work differently from the way you do. It doesn't mean they don't get it or that they are missing the point. It is precisely by understanding your point exactly and getting it fully that they are able to deconstruct the validity of the author's literary construct, because the reality is that, if blindness were not viewed the way it is by sighted society, the metaphor of physical blindness as it relates to decivilization in this novel would fail. It would not be a deep-seated psychological thriller making sighted people aware of the animalistic nature within us all; it would be something else. If the emotional and psychological response to blindness is necessary to make this novel successful at conveying its point, then the blind have a right to enter that conversation and respond to the view of themselves that is portrayed.
To dismiss these critiques and literary deconstructions as missing the point or being overly PC is actually rejecting intellectual discourse in favor of knee-jerk, defensive posturing. Saramago's response to the blind protesting his novel and movie is a case in point. Saying that the protesters are showing a "display of meanness with no point at all" is the phrase of a man who is offended by the fact that others could be offended by his work. He is then doing what he expects others not to do--be offended rather than understanding. Second, by saying there is "no point at all" in the response of the blind to his film and novel is to say he is neither open nor receptive to the exact self-examination that his book is supposed to lead to. The fact is that at the end of his novel people have their sight restored as quickly as it left. The enduring hope in the goodness of mankind then prevails for those sighted readers who can see themselves in the journey from civilization to savage chaos and the regeneration of mankind. What then is left for the blind reader who has been blind and will remain blind long after the restoration of sight and civilization in his novel? Why is the blind reader not supposed to see his humanity bound up in the physically blind of the novel but only in the goodness and hope that sight provides? Why is it okay for Saramago to ask his blind readers to subject their sense of self to his depiction of their lives, but it is not acceptable to ask Saramago to subject his sense of self to theirs?
At the end of the day I can read his novel and understand why those with sight don't get the big deal. While I personally have never been a big fan of his literary style, I can even set aside myself and appreciate the larger metaphor and the skillful mastery he displays as he makes it. I can appreciate that critics, readers, and movie-goers feel that bogging ourselves down in the minutiae of whether or not the blind can dress themselves or find the bathroom is missing the point of what the novel and film are trying to tell us. And to a degree the practical specifics are missing the point. For the most part those reading his novel aren't pondering whether or not blind people can dress themselves or even necessarily believing that blind people can't dress themselves. But the larger themes of his novel are absolutely tied to a broad, immediate, and even subconscious emotional fear of the disorientation and disempowerment of being blind. The feeling and fear that blindness leads to loss of fundamental human capacity is absolutely necessary to this novel's plot line and its larger themes being believable and understandable. From the perspective of those who are actually blind, the blind themselves and those with intimate knowledge and understanding of blindness have every right to discourse about the accuracy of that metaphor and their feelings about being used allegorically to make points that may or may not be related to themselves.
It is unfortunate that, rather than being open to this kind of discussion, he simply dismisses the actions of the blind as angry individuals with nothing better to do with their time. It is unfortunate that those who dismiss the blind as missing the point demonstrate their own lack of understanding of the point that the blind are protesting in the first place. And unlike Africans in post-colonial Africa and African Americans in the United States deconstructing the use of race in literature or women discussing the view of feminism in twenty-first century American politics, the blind make up such a small percentage of the population that their collective voice is not always heard or respected at the table. All the more reason for the blind to do whatever it takes to get their voice heard and a seat at the table, even if it means protesting. Just some random thoughts on a Saturday afternoon.
From the Editor: We in the United States have fought our share of airline wars, and unfortunate incidents continue to occur with distressing regularity at ticketing desks, with TSA screeners, in gate areas, and onboard aircraft. Employees avoid speaking to us directly if they can find anyone else to whom to address their questions. Cabin crew members take it into their heads to check our ability to fasten the seat belt or suggest moving us into or out of bulkhead seats. In short, when a blind passenger gets to his or her destination using a domestic air carrier without having experienced a frustrating or annoying incident, the event is worth celebrating.
It is useful, if dismaying, therefore to be reminded of how much different things can be, particularly in the developing world. On October 16, 2008, I was copied on an exchange of email messages that remind us just how far we must still travel before blind people can count on only the degree of frustration and inconvenience that surround other international airline passengers. The first message was written by Rami Rabby, who served for a time as secretary of the National Federation of the Blind. The response is from Larry Campbell, chief executive officer of the International Council for the Education of People with Visual Impairment. The letters are painfully self-explanatory. Here they are:
From: Avraham (Rami) Rabby, Tel-Aviv, Israel
To: President Hu Jin Tao, People's Republic of China
Dear Mr. President,
I am a blind person, retired from the diplomatic service of the U.S. Department of State and now living in Israel. On September 16, 2008, I traveled on an El-Al flight from Tel-Aviv to Hong Kong, where I joined a small group of sighted American friends, all of us associated to a greater or lesser degree with the Hadley School for the Blind, a highly renowned international correspondence school for the blind, which operates a branch, Hadley/China, in Fuzhou. Our threefold purpose was to participate in the twentieth anniversary celebration of Hadley/China, to visit a number of other schools and service agencies for the blind and disabled, and to spend some time sightseeing. I write to you because, on one occasion at the Hong Kong International Airport and on a second occasion at the Great Wall, I was subjected to profoundly demeaning and humiliating treatment by officials whose condescension toward the blind and low expectation of their abilities were more egregious than any I have encountered elsewhere on my extensive international travels.
On the first occasion my fellow travelers and I were scheduled to fly from Hong Kong to Fuzhou on Dragonair flight 660 at 8:50 a.m. on Sunday, September 21. After boarding the aircraft, three of us, who were all assigned to the same row, agreed that I would sit in the aisle seat. Imagine my astonishment when one of the flight attendants ordered me to move to the window seat because, she said, "blind people must sit by the window.” I asked why; she simply said that was the rule; so, in the absence of any rational explanation, I declined to move. This exchange proved to be just the beginning of an hour-long argument: I, on the one hand, repeatedly asked for a rational explanation of the blind-by-the-window regulation, while, on the other hand, all members of the crew, including the captain, as well as other airport officials, adamantly refused to provide me with an acceptable rationale. They did say the regulation was aimed at "the safety of passengers," apparently ignoring the fact that I too was a passenger with the same rights and safety needs as my sighted counterparts. I begged the captain to call his superiors and ask them for a rational explanation, but he repeatedly rejected my appeals and, instead, attempted in vain to embarrass me by telling me that I was preventing all my fellow passengers from reaching their destination, again ignoring the fact that I too was a passenger and that a senseless regulation was preventing me too from reaching my destination.
Finally, at approximately 9:50 a.m., the captain said he had no other option but to call the police, whereupon two officers of the Hong Kong Police boarded the aircraft, forcibly lifted me out of my seat, and removed me from the plane. Jim Fruchterman, a member of our group, documented the incident with his camera and added a narrative of his own to the photographs, before posting the story on his blog (http://benetech.blogspot.com/2008/09/dragonair-hauls-rami-off-plane.html), which I have attached for your review.
Once I was in the passenger lounge, I asked the Dragonair staff to contact the Israeli Consulate in Hong Kong (since I was traveling on my Israeli passport) and, failing that, to notify the Israel Embassy in Beijing of the incident. There was no answer at the consulate, and the Dragonair staff refused to call the embassy. The Dragonair staff did contact Omer Kurlender, El-Al's security manager at Hong Kong International Airport, who promptly came to see me. It is with his encouragement that I am writing this letter. However, more important, I also fell into conversation with Mr. Alaric Youd, an officer of the Hong Kong Police, who was the only person throughout this ordeal willing to say publicly what I had suspected all along, namely, that the reason Dragonair insists that blind passengers sit in window seats only is their fear that, in the case of an emergency evacuation during takeoff or landing, a blind passenger seated in an aisle seat would inevitably impede the rush of all sighted passengers toward the exits. If this is not the reason for Dragonair's blind-by-the-window regulation, please let me know what the real reason is. May I take this opportunity to thank Officer Youd for his moral support and to appeal to you and to the Hong Kong Police authorities that he not be punished for his candor and honesty.
Eventually the Dragonair staff told me they would schedule me on the next flight to Fuzhou, this time on China Eastern Airlines. I wondered if history was about to repeat itself, but, when I arrived at the China Eastern Airlines counter, the reservationist immediately asked “Would you like an aisle seat, a middle seat, or a window seat?” and added, "We have no regulation about where blind passengers should sit.”
On the second occasion, on September 28, we were visiting the Great Wall. Like most members of our group, I decided not to walk up the Great Wall but rather chose the more leisurely transportation option of an individualized cable seat, much akin to seats on ski lifts familiar to blind skiers or to seats on ferris wheels, much loved by blind visitors to fairgrounds throughout the world. However, upon arriving at the admission gate, again imagine my astonishment when the gate agent barred my entry, declaring, "No blind people allowed.” Alleging here too that the issue was one of safety, the officials in charge urged me to ride up the Great Wall on what they called "the special cable car for the blind,” which was located some distance away. Having no alternative, I decided to try the so-called special cable car for the blind, although I suspected this was nothing more than a ruse by the officials at the Great Wall to get rid of me; and indeed I was right. A sign at the embarkation point for the special cable car for the blind read, "free cable car for leg-disabled." Not only that, but the place was deserted, and the free cable car for leg-disabled was not in operation, presumably pressed into service only when advanced notice is given of the arrival of a disabled tourist.
Mr. President, within the past three months China has staged what are generally regarded as the most impressive Olympic and Paralympic Games ever. While the whole world was watching, you showed us the best China has to offer. However, the two experiences I have related to you lead me to wonder if China's Olympic and Paralympic face was only its public face, and, if behind that public face there lurks a hidden reality which, at least for the blind and disabled, tells a different story far less wholesome and far less welcoming.
The fact is that the executives at Dragonair have no empirical evidence, only false assumptions, that blind airline passengers in an emergency evacuation would not be able to find the exits as quickly and efficiently as their sighted counterparts. Surely any of the blind Paralympics competitors could have convinced those executives that their argument is deeply flawed. I myself would be happy to demonstrate to them how fast the average blind person can move when necessary. And what about emergency evacuations from an airline cabin plunged into darkness or filling with smoke? In that situation blind passengers would not only move faster than those around them but would be able to take charge and lead fellow passengers to safety. But underlying Dragonair's blind-by-the-window regulation is not only a false premise about the physical abilities of the blind but a far more disturbing implication, namely, that the lives of blind passengers are not as important as the lives of sighted passengers and that their need for survival is somehow not as urgent.
As for the exclusionary policy of the authorities at the Great Wall, it too reflects outdated notions about blindness and blind people that are utterly false and should be condemned by modern societies everywhere. Behind the advice given to me to use the free cable car for leg-disabled is the traditional thinking that blind persons not only have dysfunctional eyes but dysfunctional legs too. Again one must ask how this myth still survives in a country which has just concluded hosting the Paralympic Games? Moreover, the free cable car for leg-disabled reflects that pernicious tendency on the part of so many authorities always to opt for segregative solutions rather than inclusive and integrative solutions when seeking to accommodate the perceived needs of people with disabilities.
Mr. President: it is my understanding that China has recently ratified the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. May I suggest that, if you wish to comply with the spirit of that Convention, you immediately embark upon a national drive to eliminate prejudice, discrimination, low expectation, and paternalism toward people with disabilities from all public life in China and replace them with a belief in the abilities of people with disabilities and with policies that demand equality of opportunities for them in the mainstream of Chinese society. I know that you have the capacity to do this because, during my visit to the Shanghai World Financial Center, I detected notations in Braille on the elevator panels of that magnificent building. All you now need to do is to inculcate that same message of welcome, equal access, and complete social integration in such unenlightened companies as Dragonair, at such national monuments as the Great Wall, and everywhere else in your otherwise wonderful country.
Avraham (Rami) Rabby
Mr. Guy Kivetz, Spokesman, Political & Press Officer, Embassy of Israel, Beijing
Omer Kurlender, Security Manager, El Al - Hong Kong and Seoul
Gary Oba, Consul, Consulate General of the United States of America, Guangzhou
Larry Campbell, Chief Executive Officer, International Council for the Education of People With Visual Impairment
Editor, The Economist
Marc Maurer, President, National Federation of the Blind, USA
Jane Connors, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations, Geneva
Maryanne Diamond, President, World Blind Union
Ms. Maureen C. Y. Tam, Chief Executive, The Hong Kong Society for the Blind
Penny Hartin, Chief Executive Officer, World Blind Union
United Press International
Editor, Wall Street Journal Asia
Chan Yau Chong, President, Hong Kong Union of the Blind
Charles Young, President, Hadley School for the Blind
Barbara Pierce, Editor, the Braille Monitor, National Federation of the Blind, USA
Akiko Ito, Disabled Persons Unit, United Nations, New York
Dragonair (by fax)
Email from Larry Campbell
Rami: Thanks for copying me on this. We need more people to speak out when situations like this occur. You may be aware that a few years ago, when Air Asia refused to board one of the members of our regional advisory committee in Jakarta, I raised quite a stink that got the community of disabled persons in Malaysia (and elsewhere in the region) really activated and a protest rally in Kuala Lumpur (Air Asia's headquarters city), which resulted in a significant change in Air Asia policy and a public apology from the president of Air Asia for refusing to board blind passengers who are not accompanied by a sighted person. (They still have a quota on the number of unaccompanied blind passengers on a flight, which we later found out about.)
We were all feeling pretty good about the changes at Air Asia for a few months when we conducted a training program in Vietnam and another low-cost Asian carrier refused to board Sugio (another Indonesian) because he was traveling alone. A sighted passenger stepped forward offering to accompany Sugio and was told that was fine with the airlines, but he would have to sign legal documents taking complete and full responsibility in case anything happened. The man then backed off, and Sugio was not allowed to board and had to stay and wait for a Garuda Indonesian flight to take him home.
In both cases, like you, these two were totally humiliated by the treatment they received. I am afraid our protests in the second case got nowhere, and we are still out of pocket for the additional airfare, to say nothing of the way Sugio had to suffer through this ordeal. With low-cost carriers springing up by the day, I feel like someone trying to press down a bubble in an air mattress: you press it down in one place, and it pops up in another. The UN Convention should be a tool we can use more effectively, but this is really going to take a coordinated, consistent, and long-term effort.
As for the Great Wall story, that is a new one to me. Please do keep me posted on this matter, and thanks again for sharing it with me.
by Jordy Yager
From the Editor: The following story appeared in the Wednesday, September 24, 2008, issue of the Hill, a staff publication serving Senate and House employees in Washington. Stacy Cervenka is an active member of the National Federation of the Blind. Here is the text of the profile:
It seemed like a regular Capitol tour: Statuary Hall, the old Supreme Court, the Capitol Rotunda, where John Trumbull’s paintings, commissioned in 1817, hang, depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the surrender of General Burgoyne and Lord Cornwallis. The only irregularity to the tour was that it was unusually good, said one of Senator Sam Brownback’s (R-Kan.) sightseeing constituents. Well, that and the fact that it was given by an aide to Brownback who is legally blind.
Stacy Cervenka, twenty-eight, has been visually impaired her entire life, but the condition has not stopped her from becoming Brownback’s newest legislative assistant and one of the best tour guides in the office. The Minnesotan first came to the senator’s office as an intern in 2004, and the senator hired her full-time eighteen months later. “My first day as an intern I was thinking that I would probably have to raise the bar of their expectations,” Cervenka said. “I thought, they’re probably not going to expect me to do much. They’ll probably have me licking stamps or something.”
Instead she was immediately sent to retrieve a chart from the printing and graphics department for a presentation Brownback was to give on the Senate floor. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve only been here an hour; I don’t even know where that is,’” she recalled.
But she stepped up to the task, completed it, and has continually gained the trust and reliance of Brownback and her colleagues. Now she handles a host of legislative issues, including abortion, bioethics, education, disability rights, veterans’ and Native American issues, crime and prisons, and healthcare. Brownback’s office is known for having staffers and interns with atypical backgrounds. A fifth intern from the American Association of People with Disabilities recently finished a stint, and interns from Sudan, Korea, and Israel have also graced the three-term senator’s office. “I think the senator’s office is always interested in hiring a diverse crop of interns,” Cervenka said.
Cervenka admitted she was nervous when she first began giving tours, which she did daily as a staff assistant. “I was kind of concerned about how people would react to me when I said, ‘Hi, I’m your tour guide; I’m blind,’” she said. “I mean, I don’t say that, but I do come out with my cane, and I wondered whether they were going to say, ‘Ugh, we don’t really want to go with you.’” Thankfully, the only reaction she ever received was graciousness.
For the most part Cervenka no longer gives tours, although she’ll still do it to honor a special request. For example, she recently led a tour for a group of blind teenagers from the Teen Empowerment Academy at the National Federation of the Blind. Cervenka is still known for giving one of the best tours on the Hill, and this, combined with her legislative work, has made her well-known.
When she’s not working on the Hill, she volunteers for several blind groups across the country. At a recent National Federation of the Blind event in Dallas, she told a young girl that she worked in Brownback’s office and would be leading them on a tour when they visited the Capitol the following week. The blind girl turned to Cervenka and said, “Do you know Stacy Cervenka, who works for Senator Brownback?”
“It was really funny,” Cervenka said.
Cervenka travels to the Senate Hart Office Building by Metro, navigating the streets and the halls, which she said are mostly blind-friendly, with a cane. She has software on her computer that announces every action aloud and a Braille display with pins that pop up and down according to the letters in a word. “It’s been really easy, and the office has been really great about getting me everything I need,” she said.
In her more than two years on the Hill, Cervenka’s fondest memory is when U2 lead singer Bono came to Brownback’s office to speak with him about helping people with AIDS in Africa. “They had gotten done with the meeting, and people were milling around. I stuck out my hand just to say ‘hi,’ and he’s all, ‘Aw, give me a kiss!' and he threw his arms around me and gave me a big kiss,” Cervenka said.
While she loves her current job, she fantasizes about traveling the world, like Bono, in search of dynamic change. “My dream job would honestly be as a reporter for National Geographic and to be in the middle of some rebellion in Botswana, but I don’t think that’s where I’m going,” she said.
Cervenka doesn’t pretend that her other senses give her superhuman abilities, but she said they are quite fine-tuned, given her need to rely on them more frequently than other people do. “I wouldn’t say that I have hearing like a dog. I use it to cross the street and to tell when people are coming, but I wouldn’t say that they’re bat senses,” she said.
In her work on the Hill, Cervenka hopes she will be able to spread the awareness that people with disabilities are just as capable, if not more so, of handling workplace environments. “I get to meet people from a lot of different fields and talk about the issues that they want to discuss with the senator,” she said. “They get to see me as a blind person working in an office environment. I always hope, when they go back to Kansas or wherever they’re from and a blind person were to apply for a job, they remember me and give that person a chance.”
Attention Legally Blind Individuals Who Have Attempted to Visit Target.com While in California Since February 7, 2003:
You may be entitled to payment of money as part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed against Target concerning access to its Website. The settlement has been granted preliminary approval by the court in charge of the case. If you are a legally blind individual who tried to access Target.com while in California at any time since February 7, 2003, you may be eligible to be paid damages of up to $7,000. To find out more about the settlement and to submit a claim, please go to <www.NFBtargetlawsuit.com> and follow the instructions on this settlement Website. You may also request a claim form from the Claims Administrator, whose contact information is set forth below. Please provide your name, address, and phone number when you contact the Claims Administrator. All claims must be submitted on line by January 8, 2009, or by mail postmarked no later than January 8, 2009. Late claims may be denied.
All questions should be directed to the Claims Administrator. Please do not contact Target Corporation concerning this settlement. Contact information for Claims Administrator: NFB v. Target Claims Administrator, RG2 Claims Administration LLC, P.O. Box 59479, Philadelphia, PA 19102-9479. Phone number: (866) 742-4955.
by Joyce Scanlan
From the Editor: Joyce Scanlan chairs the committee to select the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for 2009.
The National Federation of the Blind will recognize an outstanding teacher of blind children at our 2009 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
Deadline: May 15, 2009
Home address: _________________________________________________
City, State, Zip: ______________________________________________________
Phone: (H) ____________________ (W) ____________________________
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, 2009, to Joyce Scanlan, Chairperson, Teacher Award Committee, 5132 Queen Avenue S, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55410, (612) 920-0959.
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 2009 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, 321 Harvard Street, Unit 306, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02139. 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, 2009, to be considered for this year's award. For further information contact David Ticchi, (617) 530-9178.
by James McCarthy
From the Editor: Jim McCarthy is a government programs specialist for the National Federation of the Blind. He concentrates on Social Security issues and provides an annual summary of Social Security changes:
Once again we toast the passing of the old year while awaiting the new one. Along with the inevitable best-of lists and retrospectives, this inevitable passing of time is accompanied by annual adjustments to the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicare programs. The changes include new tax rates, higher exempt earnings amounts, and 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 2009.
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 2008 the ceiling on taxable earnings for contributions to the OASDI Trust Fund was $102,000. For 2009 the maximum amount of taxable earnings rises to $106,800. All earnings are taxed for the HI Trust Fund.
Social Security Disability Insurance
Quarters of Coverage: Eligibility for Retirement, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (RSDI) benefits is partially based 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 2008 a Social Security quarter of coverage was credited for earnings of $1,050 in any calendar quarter. Anyone who earned $4,200 for 2008 (regardless of when the earnings occurred during the year) received four quarters of coverage. In 2009 a Social Security quarter of coverage will be credited for earnings of $1,090 during a calendar quarter. Four quarters will be earned with annual earnings of $4,360.
Trial Work Period Limit: The amount of earnings required to use a trial work month is subject to annual increases. In 2008 the amount was $670, and in 2009 it rises to $700. In cases of self-employment, a trial work month can also be used if a person works more than eighty hours, and this limitation on hours worked will not change unless expressly adjusted.
Exempt Earnings: The monthly earnings exemption referred to as Substantial Gainful Activity for blind people who receive disability insurance benefits was $1,570 of gross earned income during 2008. In 2009 earnings of $1,640 or more per 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 the largest cost of living adjustment (COLA) since 1982—5.8 percent beginning with checks received in January 2009. The precise increase will vary based upon the amount each individual now receives.
Supplemental Security Income
Standard SSI Benefit Increase: Beginning January 2009, the federal payment amounts for SSI individuals and couples are as follows: individuals, $674 per month; SSI couples, $1,011 per month. These amounts are increased over the 2008 level of $637 per month for individuals and $956 per month for SSI couples.
Student Earned Income Exclusion: The Student Earned Income Exclusion is adjusted each year. In 2008 the monthly amount was $1,550, and the maximum yearly amount was $6,240. For 2009 these amounts increase to $1,640 per month and $6,600 per year. The SSI program applies strict asset (resource) limits of $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for SSI couples, which can be changed only by Congress.
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 $1,024 during 2008, with an increase to $1,068 in 2009. From the sixty-first day through the ninetieth day there is a daily coinsurance amount of $267 per day, up from $256 in 2008. Each Medicare beneficiary has sixty lifetime reserve days that 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 2009 is $534, up from $512 in 2008.
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 $133.50 per day, up from $128 per day in 2008.
Most beneficiaries have no monthly premium charge for Medicare Part A coverage. Those who become ineligible for SSDI cash benefits can continue to receive Medicare Part A coverage premium-free 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 2009 will be $443 per month. This is reduced to $244 for individuals who have earned from thirty to thirty-nine quarters of Social-Security-covered employment.
In 2009 the Medicare Part B (medical insurance) deductible is $135, as it was in 2008. This is an annual deductible amount. The Medicare Part B monthly premium rate charged to each beneficiary for the year 2009 remains at $96.40, making this the first year since 2000 that there has not been an increase. For those receiving Social Security benefits, this premium payment is deducted from your monthly benefit checks. 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 2009 income threshold for higher premium amounts is income that exceeds $85,000, and for couples filing jointly the 2009 threshold is $170,000. It is estimated that 5 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—the QMB (Qualified Medicare Beneficiary program) and the SLMB (Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary program). For the QMB program an individual’s income cannot exceed 100 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, also called the Federal Poverty Level. Individuals qualify for the SLMB program when income is greater than 100 percent, but less than 120 percent, of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. The newest guidelines will be announced in February or March of 2009; additionally, Alaska and Hawaii have higher amounts than are applicable to forty-eight of the fifty states and the District of Columbia.
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. Eligibility for the SLMB program may be retroactive for up to three calendar months.
Both the QMB and SLMB programs are administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in conjunction with the states. The rules vary from state to state, but the following can be said:
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 doesn't 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 that only your state can decide if you are eligible for help from the QMB or SLMB program and also that the income and resource levels listed here are general guidelines with some states choosing greater amounts. Therefore, 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>.
This month’s recipes come from members of the NFB of Pennsylvania. They thought briefly of collecting healthy recipes for holiday vegetables and appetizers that you can graze on and never gain a pound. Then reality set in, and they decided to provide their favorite holiday cookies and desserts, reasoning that everyone loves to try a brand new cookie recipe. So, if you are among the virtuous who can pass up tempting holiday treats, you too can safely enjoy reading the following collection of Pennsylvania favorites.
Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies
by Pat Antonacci
Pat Antonacci is the wife of NFB of Pennsylvania President Jim Antonacci. She is one of those people who are always in the background helping to further the NFB’s mission. Her father was a professional baker, and these goodies are from his files.
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/4 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips
Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl until fluffy. Add vanilla. Combine flour and salt and add slowly. When these are totally incorporated, stir in chocolate chips. Divide dough in half and press each part into a greased eight-inch round cake pan. Bake twelve minutes until edges are golden brown. Cool, remove from pans, and cut.
by Pat Antonacci
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1-1/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
1 6-ounce package semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 cup chopped walnuts, optional
Method: Cream together butter and shortening. Gradually add sugars and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Blend in sifted dry ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Stir in oats, chocolate chips, and nuts. Drop by rounded spoonfuls two inches apart onto greased baking sheet. Bake in pre-heated 375-degree oven for nine to twelve minutes. Remove and cool. Makes eight dozen.
Sour Cream Apple Pie
by Pat Antonacci
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3 cups cooking apples, peeled and chopped (Granny Smith preferred)
1 unbaked pie shell
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
Method: In large bowl beat eggs and sour cream. Stir in sugar and mix well. Add salt and two tablespoons flour. Mix well. Stir in apples. Pour into pie shell. Mix butter, brown sugar, and remaining four tablespoons of flour to make crumbs and set aside. Bake pie for fifteen minutes at 375 degrees, then sprinkle crumb mixture on top and bake an additional twenty-five minutes, till apples are tender when pierced with a table knife. Cool on a rack and serve.
Holiday Touch Brownies
by Chuck and Esther Morgenstern
Chuck is the treasurer of the NFB of Pennsylvania, and Esther operates her own Randolph-Sheppard vending stand.
1 package Betty Crocker brownie mix
3/4 cup Hershey's mint chocolate chips
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped
Method: Prepare brownies according to package directions, but add mint chocolate chips and chopped walnuts. Bake as directed.
Gingerbread Cutout Cookies
by Chuck and Esther Morgenstern
1 box of gingerbread cake and cookie mix
1/4 cup hot water from tap
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons margarine or butter, melted
Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl stir together box of cake and cookie mix and one-fourth cup hot water. Stir in flour and margarine or butter using spoon until homogeneous dough is formed. Divide dough in half. Place half on a floured, cloth-covered surface. If dough is too soft to roll, cover and refrigerate for about one hour. Roll dough to one-eighth-inch thickness for crisp or one-fourth-inch for chewy cookies. Cut into your favorite holiday shapes with floured cookie cutters. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for six to nine minutes or until edges are firm. Do not overbake. Cool one minute before removing from cookie sheet. Decorate with prepared icing.
Butter Pecan Balls
by Connie Johnson
Connie Johnson is the secretary of the NFB of Pennsylvania and the president of the Erie County Chapter. Connie is also employed full-time by the Social Security Administration.
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup pecans, chopped medium fine
2 cups sifted flour
Method: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Put butter or margarine in mixing bowl and mix until fluffy. Gradually add sugar and vanilla. Add pecans and stir well. Add flour, a quarter cup at a time. Dough will be stiff, but do not add liquid. Shape into one-inch balls and place one-and-a-half inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for fifteen to eighteen minutes, or until cookies have browned lightly around the edges. While still warm, roll in confectioner's sugar. Yields five dozen cookies.
Crackle Top Molasses Cookies
by Connie Johnson
3/4 cup shortening
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
1 large egg
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
Method: Combine first five ingredients in mixing bowl. Gradually blend in one cup sugar, mixing well after each addition. Beat in molasses and egg. Stir in flour, a half cup at a time. Chill dough two to three hours, overnight, or until dough is stiff enough to handle. Shape dough into three-fourth-inch balls. Dip the tops in granulated sugar. Place balls on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for ten to twelve minutes or until bottoms have browned lightly. Yields about three dozen cookies.
No-Bake Peanut Butter Cookies
by Connie Johnson
1 stick butter or margarine
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
3 to 4 cups quick oats
Method: Combine first four ingredients and allow to boil for one-and-a-half minutes. Add remaining ingredients and stir together. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto wax paper. Cool and enjoy.
by Lynn Heitz
Lynn Heitz is the first vice president of the NFB of Pennsylvania and a two-time NFB national scholarship winner. She is employed with the Office of Long Term Living of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
2 medium eggs
3 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup milk
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Method: Mix all ingredients together. Fill muffin tin cups almost to top. Bake at 325 degrees for twenty-five minutes. Makes about fifteen muffins.
by Lynn Heitz
1 9-inch pie shell
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup cooked pumpkin
2 medium eggs
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat cream cheese, eggs, and sugar together until mixture is smooth. Add pumpkin. Stir in flour, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Beat well. Pour mixture into unbaked pie shell and bake one hour or until table knife comes out clean when inserted in center.
Caramel Apple Tart
by Sue Wilcox
Sue Wilcox has been a volunteer reader at the NFB of Pennsylvania for many years. She is a retired rehab counselor from the blindness system.
1 unbaked packaged refrigerated piecrust. (Let stand according to package directions.)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
2 medium tart green apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup caramel apple dip
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/4 cup apple jelly
Method: In a bowl combine granulated sugar, cinnamon, and lemon peel. Add apple slices, tossing to coat. Place unfolded piecrust on a large baking sheet. Spread caramel apple dip over crust to within two inches of edges. Place apple mixture on top of caramel. Sprinkle with nuts. Fold edges of crust two inches up and over apples, crimping edges as necessary. Bake in preheated 425-degree oven twenty minutes or until crust is golden brown and apples are just tender. Meantime, in a small saucepan melt apple jelly over low heat. Brush melted jelly over entire tart and edges. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Bake for one hour. Serve warm. Makes eight servings.
News from the Federation Family
The Minnesota parents division held elections on Friday, October 10. The results are as follows: president, Carrie Gilmer; vice president, Brenda Johnson; secretary, Dorie Miller; treasurer, Phillip Richardson; and board members, Jean Bening and Sue Kress.
They also made plans to create a flyer about Minnesota Parents of Blind Children, Saturday School, and Teen Night to insert in the affiliate brochure and distribute to doctors’ offices, diabetic and oncology clinics, and hospitals. They formed a team to revive the division newsletter. They plan to hold informal technology fairs for parents and students separately, where parents can get informal, one-to-one help from NFB members throughout the year in two-hour workshops without having to plan large seminars dealing with the logistics of food, funding, childcare, etc. Finally, the group has made plans for blind teens to mentor the students at Saturday School. Minnesota parents are on the move!
Elections for 2009 officers were conducted October 11 at the monthly meeting of the Blackhawk Chapter of the NFB of Illinois. The results were as follows: president, Bob Gardner; vice president, Lois Montgomery; treasurer, Kathy Abbott; secretary, Donna Miles; and board members, Patrick Olson, Don Carey, and Jay Blanchard.
Imagination Fund March for Independence:
Joe Ruffalo, Imagination Fund steering committee member and NFB of New Jersey president, writes as follows: As you know, I love to keep it simple. If you take the first letter from each of the words “Imagination Fund,” you make the word “IF.”
IF we all tried harder to make contacts…
IF we all worked toward a plan…
IF we showed leadership in informing the public of our mission…
IF we concentrated on the same target…
IF we dreamed of our possibilities…
IF we keep believing, dreaming, and learning….
The Imagination Fund gives everyone in our organization the opportunity to make a difference. If you are ready to participate, register now at <www.MarchForIndependence.org>.
Top Ten Teams in 2008
Greater Baltimore Chapter Team, $2,507
Idaho Lamplighters, $2,640
Ruff Ruff Pet Care, $2,665
Junior Blind Olympic Friends, $2,678.75
Minnesota Brass, $2,820
Team Mackenzie, $2,972.77
Mattie's Menehune Marchers, $3,045
Voice of the Diabetic Team, $4,485
The Imaginators, $29,285
Top Twelve States in 2008 Contest
New Jersey, $14,274
The NFB of California held elections at its annual convention in Irvine, California, on October 19, 2008. The following people were elected to the board: president, Mary Willows; first vice president, Nicolas Crisosto; second vice president, Robert Stigile; secretary, Shannon Dillon; treasurer, Jonathan Lyens; and board members, Tiffany Manosh, Ever Lee Hairston, and Lisamaria Martinez.
The NFB of Ohio conducted its election of officers on November 2, 2008. Elected were president, J. Webster Smith; first vice president, Eric Duffy; second vice president, Barbara Fohl; secretary, Deborah Kendrick; treasurer, Sherry Ruth; and board members Crystal McClain and Bruce Peters. By acclamation the Convention voted to confer the title of president emerita upon retiring president Barbara Pierce, who served twenty-four years as president and who had been a board member since the late seventies.
The National Federation of the Blind of Ohio is accepting applications for its position of director of field services. This person will work closely with the affiliate president to carry out day-to-day organizational duties. These will include but are not limited to working with members of the legislature on matters of importance to the organized blind; representing the NFB at meetings in the blindness field; assisting, advising, and advocating for blind consumers and parents of blind children; and offering support to NFB members and chapters across the state.
Interested candidates should use access technology efficiently; write effectively; be interested in the political process and issues in the blindness field; have some experience working with people; travel independently; and be able to use initiative, seek guidance, and distinguish when to do which. The applicant chosen must be willing to relocate to Columbus, Ohio.
This is probably an entry-level position. To some degree it will come to reflect the individual skills and interests of the person hired. Applicants must understand and embrace the NFB’s philosophy of blindness. The candidate chosen will work closely with the NFB of Ohio president, first vice president, and president emerita.
The salary is negotiable, depending on experience, but is likely to start at about $33,000. Benefits are included. Candidates are welcome to apply until the position is filled. If interested, send résumé, cover letter discussing strengths and significant experience, and the names and contact information of two people with whom we can discuss your candidacy to Dr. J. Webster Smith, P.O. Box 458, Athens, Ohio 45701-0458. Documents may be emailed to <Jsmith1@ohiou.edu>. Those interested in discussing the position with its previous holder may call Eric Duffy evenings at (614) 562-5524 or J.W. Smith at (740) 592-6326.
Terry Bradshaw to Serve as National Ambassador for Braille Literacy:
The National Federation of the Blind announced November 3 that Terry Bradshaw, Hall of Fame NFL quarterback and current football analyst and cohost of FOX NFL Sunday, will serve as a National Ambassador for Braille Literacy. As an ambassador Terry will help advance the NFB’s Braille Readers Are Leaders campaign, a national initiative to promote the importance of reading and writing Braille for blind children and adults. The Braille Readers Are Leaders campaign kicked off in July of 2008 with the unveiling of the design of a commemorative coin to be minted in 2009 in recognition of the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille (1809-1852), the inventor of the reading and writing code for the blind that bears his name.
Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The National Federation of the Blind is pleased to have Terry Bradshaw as part of this historic initiative to bring Braille literacy to all of the blind children and adults in America who need it. As one of the most popular personalities in America, Terry Bradshaw will surely have a huge impact as a national spokesperson for Braille literacy. There can be no doubt that the ability to read and write Braille competently and efficiently is the key to education, employment, and success for the blind. Despite the undisputed value of Braille, however, only about 10 percent of blind children in the United States are currently learning it. Society would never accept a 10 percent literacy rate among sighted children; it should not accept such an outrageously low literacy rate among the blind. The Braille Readers Are Leaders campaign, with the support of influential Americans like Terry Bradshaw, will reverse the downward trend in Braille literacy and ensure that equal opportunities in education and employment are available to all of the nation’s blind.”
Terry Bradshaw said: “I am honored and pleased to serve as a national ambassador for the Braille Readers Are Leaders campaign. I strongly believe in the importance of literacy for everyone, and I am excited to help make a difference in the lives of blind children and adults throughout the country.”
For more information about the Braille Readers Are Leaders campaign and the Louis Braille commemorative coin, please visit <www.braille.org>.
The NFB of Washington conducted its affiliate elections on November 2, 2008, with the following results: president, Michael Freeman; first vice president, Kris Lawrence; second vice president, Maria Bradford; secretary, Don Mitchell; treasurer, Doug Johnson; and board members, Kyle Parrish and Ben Prows serving two-year terms, and Gary Mackenstadt and Bob Sellers serving one-year terms, replacing Maria Bradford and Doug Johnson.
NFB Writers Division Contests for Youth and Adults:
The dates for the 2009 Writers Division contests are January 1 through (postmarked) April 1. A great new feature this year is that, in addition to our annual short story fiction and poetry contest for adults, we have added a writing contest for youth. See all requirements below.
The Youth Writing Contest is intended to promote Braille literacy and excellence in creative writing. Entries will be judged on creativity and quality of Braille. We are looking for creative writing in fiction and poetry. This is a contest for students who use Braille. Entries must be submitted in hand-embossed Braille, using either a slate and stylus or a Braillewriter. No computer Braille entries will be considered. Submissions must be Brailled by the entrant. Elementary students (K-5) may submit contracted Braille, uncontracted Braille, or an acceptable combination of the two. Students in higher grades will be expected to submit stories or poetry in contracted Braille.
There are six categories: elementary fiction, elementary poetry, middle school fiction, middle school poetry, high school fiction, and high school poetry. Elementary is K-5. Middle school is 6-8. High school is 9-12.
Three cash prizes will be awarded in each of the six categories. First prize per contest is $25, second prize is $15, and third prize is $5. Submissions for fiction may not exceed one thousand words. Poetry may not exceed twenty lines. Authors may submit multiple entries, and all work must be original and unpublished. Each entrant must provide an identical print copy for possible publication.
Entries must be accompanied by a cover sheet containing entrant’s name, address, phone, email, entry title, and school and grade of entrant. Winners will be announced at our division meeting during the July 2009 NFB national convention in Detroit, Michigan. Send all youth entries to Fred Wurtzel, 1212 N. Foster, Lansing, Michigan, 48912.
The NFB Writers Division adult short story and poetry contests will take place during the same period as the youth contest: January 1 through April 1. Top prize in each contest is $100, second prize is $50, and third prize is $25. Winners will be announced at our division meeting during the July 2009 NFB national convention in Detroit.
Short stories can be up to 3,000 words and can be in any genre. All work must be original and previously unpublished. If you wish to submit, you are required to send a cover sheet listing all entry titles, name, address, phone, and email (if available). All documents must be double spaced, and, if you are sending hardcopy, documents cannot be handwritten. The cost to submit a single story is $5.00. You can send either a check or money order made out to the NFB Writers Division.
Submissions may be hardcopy with check enclosed. Send these to Tom Stevens, 1203 S. Fairview Road, Columbia, Missouri 65203. You may also email submissions with cover letter to <email@example.com>. Payment for electronic submissions can be by PayPal if arrangements have been made by then, so check the division Website, <http://www.nfb-writers-division.org>. If you must mail the check, use Tom Stevens’s address above.
Entrants are invited to submit original poetry of up to thirty-six lines. If you wish to submit, you must send a cover sheet listing all entry titles, name, address, phone, and email (if available). All documents must be double spaced and may not be handwritten. The cost is $5 for up to 3 poems. Send your check or money order made out to the NFB Writers Division.
Send hardcopy submissions and checks by mail to Lori Stayer, 2704 Beach Drive, Merrick, New York 11566. You can also email submissions and cover letters to <LoriStay@aol.com>. The entry fee can be paid using PayPal if available or mailed to Lori at the above address.
The NFB of Indiana conducted its convention October 31 to November 2, 2008. The Parents Division elected new officers as follows: president, Jan Wright; vice president, Nancy Cole; secretary, Lisa Rodriguez; and treasurer, Chris Hollingsworth.
As we were going to press, we received the following announcement circulated to the staff at the National Center for the Blind. It will be of interest to everyone in the Federation family.
On Thursday, November 6, 2008, Anne Taylor took her oath to become a United States citizen. We have always been proud of Anne’s many accomplishments and contributions as the director of our International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, but this has to rank as a personal milestone for this competent and personable native of Thailand. May she prosper and continue her immeasurably valuable expertise and commitment to our nation.
The Illinois Association of Blind Students held its election of officers and board during our fall business meeting in Bradley, Illinois, at the state convention. The new board members are president, Aly Slaughter; first vice president, Michelle Wesley; second vice president, Brandi Winecki; secretary, Aricelli Avina; treasurer, Ronza Othman; and board members, Debbie Stein and Cassandra Certeza.
Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.
Braille T-Shirts Available:
Introducing Braille Tees--the clothing line that naturally raises awareness and engages others in lively conversation. Braille Tees reveal their message in uncontracted (Grade I) Braille so that beginning Braille and nonBraille readers can follow letter by letter. Braille Tees come with many sayings and in many styles and colors, and we print on only the best-quality garments available on the market. We can put Braille on any printable surface and also accommodate custom orders. A portion of every t-shirt sold goes to charity, so call today to set up a fundraiser or sale, and be sure to ask about wholesale pricing. For more information visit us at <www.BrailleTees.com>, or call us toll-free at (877) 410-9866. You’re going to love these tees.
Leading the Way Invites Applicants for 2009:
If you knew one trip could change your life, would you take it? Last summer twelve students, six of them blind or visually impaired, embarked on a truly life-changing adventure: rafting the Grand Canyon. They spent two weeks shattering expectations and using adversity to their advantage as they explored science, culture, leadership, and service within the canyon walls.
Developed in partnership with world-renowned blind athlete Erik Weihenmayer, the Leading the Way program teams high school and college students who are blind, visually impaired, and sighted for an unparalleled science, community service, leadership, and cultural adventure. In 2008 we traveled to the Grand Canyon, the Inca Trail, and the Amazon. In 2009 we are returning to the Grand Canyon and piloting our first group combining students who are hard of hearing, deaf, and hearing on a trip to Costa Rica.
Not only an amazing experience for the participants themselves, each Leading the Way expedition is paired with a social awareness and media campaign used to educate a much broader constituency. These campaigns provide a message of hope and inspiration while helping to break down barriers, misconceptions, and prejudices about people with disabilities. Leading the Way has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, The Travel Channel, ABC Nightline, and World News Tonight.
To see if spots are still available on the 2009 Leading the Way expedition, send an email to <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Scholarship funds are available. To learn more about the program, go to <www.globalexplorers.org> and click on Leading the Way under the main photo.
City Off Limits to Blind Thief:
On October 6, 2008, the Edinburgh Evening News published the following story:
A blind shoplifter from Glasgow has been banned by a court from entering Edinburgh city center. George Hamilton, forty-nine, reportedly faces being locked up if he is found in any shops, bars, or restaurants in the center of the capital over the next twelve months. The ban was handed down when he made his latest appearance in court for shoplifting and the sheriff heard he had ninety-six previous convictions.
Hamilton, who lost his sight in 1990, relies on his heightened senses of hearing, touch, and smell to carry out his thefts. He said: "I've been banned from Marks & Spencer before for shoplifting, but not a whole city. It's a pity—I liked Edinburgh."
Back Magazine Issues Needed:
I am a professor of animal behavior at Sacramento City College and of perception at the University of California—Davis. I confront the many interesting ways in which nonhumans might experience their worlds. I am also an avid reader of science fiction. In recent years, because of my studies in comparative perception, I have become fascinated with the possibilities emerging from worlds in which the dominant sentient life form resembles one of Earth’s modern carnivores, such as lions, tigers, or bears. For many years I have received Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact and Asimov’s Science Fiction in cassette format from the Library of Congress’s National Library Service. I have read scores of interesting stories with themes involving anthropomorphic lions, wolves, bears, and dolphins. Recently I embarked on a project to accumulate science fiction materials that focus on nonhumans in science fiction to develop a compendium of this material. Unfortunately I have not preserved the hard copies of my past issues as an audio archive. Further, the older editions of these magazines are not available through my local cooperating library.
Therefore I would like to hear from readers who have back issues of these magazines or know of others who might possess them. I am interested in all back issues of both magazines, especially those produced before 2005. The format is not important. I can transcribe materials from both the 8-1/3 RPM flexible discs and the 15/16 IPS quarter-track Talking Book formats issued by the Library of Congress. I am interested in procuring them either temporarily or permanently. I would be willing to compensate anyone for time and effort spent locating these potentially interesting and valuable materials. Any assistance that anyone can provide would be greatly appreciated.
Contact Chris Tromborg, 217 Baja Avenue, Davis, California 95616; (530) 753-2763; or <email@example.com>.
Music Lessons Available:
You can learn to play your favorite musical instrument by ear with Bill Brown’s courses for the visually impaired. Because these courses use no print or Braille, they are easy to use and give quick results. There are courses for the piano, guitar, flute, violin, harmonica, and many other instruments. These courses cost $39 each and are also available for free checkout through the National Library Service. Now learning to play your favorite musical instrument is easy. For more information call (888) 778-1828 or visit the Website at <www.musicfortheblind.com>.
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.
I purchased a 32-cell BrailleNote with a Braille keyboard during a convention special in 2005, including a disc drive, an AmbiCom wireless CF card, and a 1-gig ATA card. I now wish to sell the unit and accessories because another product fits my needs better. Its condition is great. I allow the battery to discharge every time, which should keep it in good order according to the manual, though it sometimes seems to show funny percentages. This does not affect performance.
This BrailleNote has Keysoft version 6.2, build 23, hardware revision C, kernel version 6—6/24/2005, operating system―Windows CE, version 4.20. Asking $2,000. HumanWare says that this unit is not eligible for a service contract at this time. It would need to be evaluated to determine if it can go back under warranty/service contract. The cost to evaluate the unit is $145. Upgrading software to 7.5 would cost $585. If you want to do an SMA, you must first be current; then you can purchase an SMA for $195. If you are interested, email Beth at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
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.