Vol. 52, No. 1 January 2009
Barbara Pierce, editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
The National Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, president
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 52, No. 1 January 2009
Detroit Site of 2009 NFB Convention
Why Bother about NAC,
Or What Can Abraham Lincoln Teach Us about the Subject?
by Peggy Elliott
Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam, Circumspice
by Fred Wurtzel
Tips and Reminders for the Washington Seminar
by Barbara Pierce
Reflections on My Father
by Dutch tenBroek
Why Use the Word "Blind"?
by James H. Omvig
Making CAPTCHA More Accessible for the Blind
by Jonathan Lazar
A Case for Teaching Braille
by Brook Sexton
Ironing Things Out
by Mary Ellen Gabias
Converting Your TV from Analog to Digital
by Steve Waltke
Feel the Rush of the Wind
by Jeff Barr
Dan Bigley Honored as Alaskan of the Year
Report on Meet the Blind Month 2008
by Jerry L. Lazarus
Convention Scholarships Available
by Allen Harris
Copyright 2008 by the National Federation of the Blind
The 2009 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Detroit, Michigan, July 3-8, at the Detroit Marriott, Renaissance Center, 100 Renaissance Center, Detroit, Michigan 48243. Make your room reservation as soon as possible with the Detroit Marriott staff only. Call (313) 568-8000.
The 2009 room rates are singles, doubles, and twins $62; triples $66; and quads $68 a night, plus a 15 percent sales tax. The hotel is accepting reservations now. A $60-per-room deposit is required to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if notice is given to the hotel of a reservation cancellation before June 1, 2009. The other 50 percent is not refundable.
Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations may be made before June 1, 2009, assuming that rooms are still available. After that time the hotel will not hold our block of rooms for the convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon.
Guestroom amenities include cable television, coffeepot, iron and ironing board, hair dryer, high speed Internet access for a charge, and free wireless Internet service in the lobby. The Detroit Marriott has four excellent restaurants, twenty-four-hour-a-day room service, a food court on the Prominade Level, and other top-notch facilities. It is in downtown Detroit with excellent access to air, train, and bus service.
The schedule for the 2009 convention is a full day shorter than recent conventions:
Friday, July 3 Seminar Day
Saturday, July 4 Registration and Packet Pick-up Day
Sunday, July 5 Board Meeting and Division Day
Monday, July 6 Motor City March and Opening Session
Tuesday, July 7 Business Session
Wednesday, July 8 Banquet Day and Adjournment
Throughout 2009 blind people around the world will celebrate the bicentennial of Louis Braille's birth. During this year the NFB will raise the profile of the Braille code through a national Braille literacy campaign, Braille Readers Are Leaders (BRL). Local Federationists celebrated Braille's birthday on January 4 by sponsoring educational events at book stores and libraries across the country. On March 26 the U.S. Mint will begin selling a commemorative silver dollar to the general public. It will include the likeness of Louis Braille and the raised dots, BRL, the Braille abbreviation for the word “Braille.” Proceeds from the sale of these commemorative coins will help fund the NFB's national Braille literacy campaign. Articles examining various issues surrounding Braille will be published in the Braille Monitor throughout the next year as part of this educational initiative. President Maurer announced at the 2008 NFB national convention that one goal of this campaign will be to double the number of Braille readers among the American blind school-aged population by 2015. For further information about developments in the NFB's national Braille literacy campaign, visit <http://www.braille.org> and sign up to receive regular updates by email.
by Peggy Elliott
From the Editor: For as long as I have been a member of the Federation, the NFB has opposed the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving Persons with Blindness or Visual Impairment (NAC). In the early years it was a war we fought with desperation every time a battlefield appeared. When the NAC board met in its closed meetings, the organized blind gathered outside, chanting, marching, and singing NFB songs about NAC that we found clever and pointed, whatever the NAC board members thought of them. We called the demonstrations outside NAC’s annual board meeting the “highlight of the fall social season” in the same way that the Washington Seminar in the winter and the national convention in summer provided both fun and stimulating and useful activity.
Sometime in the eighties NAC tried moving its meeting to mid-December in the hope, we assumed, that so close to the holiday season Federationists would be unwilling to take the time and unable to afford the expense of congregating outside their meetings. We responded by writing NAC carols with which to serenade them and entertain passers-by. We called these protests “NAC Tracking,” and, though the activity took its toll on our voices, it instilled a toughness and dedication that were intensely invigorating to our movement. Fortunately or unfortunately, nothing in the blindness field today provides Federationists with equivalent training and discipline. In fact, though it is difficult for people of my generation to comprehend, newer and younger Federationists know only vaguely about NAC and the threat to quality services that it once represented.
I reflected on all this when I was recently told that Colorado, which for decades, maybe always, could boast of being a NAC-free environment, had suddenly been saddled with a local agency’s decision to seek NAC accreditation. Partly this happened because many blind Coloradans have forgotten or never really understood what NAC represents and what damage its attitudes toward quality service can bring about.
Whenever it is again time to examine the NAC issue, I turn immediately to Peggy Elliott, who has helped general the NAC battles through the years and has been our NAC historian of record for almost two decades. Rather than asking her simply to report on NAC’s current situation, I suggested that she review the history for those who have forgotten and those who have never understood the antipathy between NAC and the organized blind. The following article is her review of the history and assessment of NAC. This is what she says:
Abraham Lincoln and P.T. Barnum, nineteenth century contemporaries and each a giant in his field of endeavor, both commented upon the human condition. Lincoln famously said: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” More succinctly, P. T. Barnum, the entertainment impresario who popularized the three-ring circus, is supposed to have said: “There’s a sucker born every minute,” though some historians dispute this quote, if not its sentiment. Both men in their own ways pointed to a human failing we all share: gullibility.
We have all believed things or believed in things or believed in people we later learn to be less than or different from what we had supposed. Our human capacity to believe and our human yearning for the good can lead us to believe what we later discover were exaggerations, pure puffery, or lies. The motivation of the exaggerator or liar is usually obvious and can range from self-delusion through greed to pure, mean evil. The impulses motivating the person being tricked come from a much more complex array of causes, including a deep desire to do good, and can range from greed and malice through inattention and lack of education to a yearning for the good of others. Studying gullibility, in other words, requires probing both the motives of the deceiver and of the deceived.
Our American form of government, for example, is rooted in the belief that self-interest is the strongest guardian of political, economic, and civil rights. We all learn some version of the concept so lucidly explained by James Madison that public discussion during elections and concerning issues of the day is the best guarantee that good ideas will prevail and bad or crooked or discriminatory ones will be discovered and rejected. Madison’s prescription for preventing gullibility by government, government officials, and the people was constant, routine, omnivorous free speech.
Much of what the National Federation of the Blind does involves combating gullibility. The public at large and, all too often, blind people ourselves believe myths and erroneous stereotypes about blindness and then act, individually or collectively, upon those myths as truth. If a blind person’s vocational goal or an agency’s array of services is based on myth, that goal or those services will miss the mark. Part of the Federation’s mission is to untangle deceived from deceiver, to explain to those who have been deceived what the truth is and how to shed erroneous beliefs while, at the same time, hunting down and exposing the deceivers, those who derive wealth or power or community approval by exaggerating or lying about the blind to aggrandize themselves. Federationists long ago abandoned our gullibility when it comes to proclamations of concern for blind people. Applying the Madisonian test, the more someone claims to care about and want to help blind people and the more we probe the resulting motives and actions, the more often we find that claimed motives of charity are being worn like sheep’s clothing to cover actions rooted in the oldest and most false myths about the incompetence and inability of blind people.
Take NAC, for example. To the surprise of some and unbeknown to most, the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving People with Blindness or Visual Impairment (the modern, politically correct version of that venerable old name “NAC”) has now passed its fortieth birthday and is a mere eight years from achieving the half-century mark. NAC’s survival is a tribute to human gullibility and also a regrettable reminder of the persistent impulse of some humans to fool their fellow men and women.
NAC was born with fanfare, spent its early years in controversy, and has idled away its last several decades not even on the sidelines but somewhere behind the bleachers, out of sight and unnoticed by most. For a long time it didn’t have its own Website, lurking hidden away on the Website of a supporter. Recently NAC acquired its own Web address (Nacasb.org) to which, in mid-August of 2008, the most recent postings were from December 2006, and on which the most recent list of NAC-accredited agencies was dated in 2003. Attempts to review additional material on the site were for a time frustrated by the expiration of the site on August 16, 2008, a fitting metaphor for NAC’s viability. By late September the site had reappeared, but the content had not been updated in the slightest.
A review of Monitor articles on the subject of NAC along with knowledge of NFB history yields the following historical summary. The National Federation of the Blind from its founding in 1940 grew slowly for its first decade and then, in the 1950s, more quickly to the point where, in the late 1950s, it was clearly going to establish affiliates in every state. This nationwide spread was temporarily halted when the Federation underwent a four-year period of progressively more divisive internal strife from 1957 to 1961, concluding at the 1961 national convention when a significant minority was either expelled or voluntarily departed from the organization.
Shortly after the Federation’s 1961 convention, planning meetings were called and discussions begun about establishing an accreditation organization for the field of work with the blind. Observers of the field may differ about whether accreditation was merely thought of at the same time the NFB suffered a split or whether that low point in the organized blind movement gave agencies for the blind the idea that they needed to consolidate their power before the Federation could rebuild, but the historical coincidence is as undeniable as is the fact that Federationists were rare indeed among the hundreds of people invited to think up an accreditation plan. The American Foundation for the Blind spearheaded and largely funded these discussions, attended by all the well-known leaders of blindness agencies from around the country.
As a result of these discussions NAC itself was founded in 1966, still largely funded by the American Foundation for the Blind, to accredit agencies serving blind people. It was intended to be the path through which agencies received not only blindness-community approval but also funding, which should, in NAC’s view, be conditioned on NAC accreditation. Federationists from the beginning characterized NAC as expensive, irrelevant, and designed to enshrine agency control of assessment of service quality as a means of keeping the weakened and then recrudescent consumer movement from having a voice in those assessments.
NAC’s first eight years of operation, from 1967 to 1975, saw half of all agencies that have ever chosen to be accredited by NAC apply and receive accreditation. During those same eight years the Federation rebounded from its split and established affiliates in every state. NAC reached its high-water mark in 1986 with 104 accredited agencies. From 1986 to 1999 NAC accredited twenty new agencies and lost seventy-seven, leaving its total of U.S. accredited agencies at forty-six. (Adding twenty to the 1986 total and then subtracting seventy-seven leaves forty-seven, one more than the actual number in 1999, likely explained by the addition of a Canadian agency counted in the earlier numbers but excluded by NFB by the time of the 1999 report. All numbers since 1999 are U.S.-only numbers.) From 1999 to 2003, the last list NAC has published, the total sank even lower, to forty.
Thirty-three states (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) have no NAC agency within their borders. Thirteen more states have only a single NAC agency, leaving only six states that have more than one NAC agency--Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio. The organized blind in those six states make no claim to the NAC agencies where they live being superior to those in other states and often assert the reverse. Moreover, in at least two of those states NAC’s original desire to condition federal, state, and private money on holding NAC certification was actually or virtually achieved; many Florida agencies believe they need NAC accreditation to receive state funds, even though this is not true, and Ohio agencies receiving state funds must show accreditation from a short state-approved list on which NAC has managed to appear. Florida and Ohio are the two states with the highest number of NAC-accredited agencies, accounting for nearly half of the forty remaining NAC agencies, and it is easy to see why agencies in those states remain loyal: they must or think they must do so to get their money.
The field of work with the blind has three large types of agencies along with numerous smaller geographically or issue-focused agencies. The three large types are a vocational rehabilitation agency in each state, schools for the blind in most states, and sheltered workshops for the blind affiliated with National Industries for the Blind and included as one of the three mainline types of agencies because their NIB affiliation brings in substantial federal procurement contracts. In 2008 not a single state vocational rehabilitation agency for the blind holds NAC accreditation; only eight schools for the blind do; and only ten workshops do. Fewer than half of the forty accredited agencies come from one of the three mainline agency types. In other words, a majority of the current NAC agencies, twenty-two (55 percent) are the smaller geographic or issue-focused agencies. And, interestingly, ten of the thirteen states with only one NAC agency have as their one NAC agency a mainline agency, suggesting that these six schools and four workshops still hearken back to the all-knowing agency professional model and are thus uninterested in what blind consumers think, while the rest of the agencies in those states have moved forward with the times.
Combining lists from an AFB-published list of agencies on its Website, which includes all VR agencies, with lists from National Industries for the Blind, the Council of Schools for the Blind, and the National Council of Private Agencies for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and eliminating duplications yields in 2008 a total of 440 agencies serving the blind in the United States, of which fewer than 10 percent are accredited by NAC forty-two years after NAC’s founding.
NAC’s early years featured board and membership meetings closed to the public and blind consumers, provoking charges of secret decision-making but never an effort to hide the identities of the accredited agencies. In these latter days it is impossible to find a public list of NAC-accredited agencies dated later than 2003, provoking snickers of derision and suggestions that NAC’s remaining remnant of agencies prefers not to be publicly identified.
Stepping back from this historical summary and review of NAC statistics, the observer can readily detect that the entire field of work with blind people would have been different if the Federation had not opposed NAC. Whatever its standards, whatever their value, whatever else had happened, NAC was on a trajectory in its early years to achieve control of work with the blind, logging over 20 percent affiliation with it in its first two decades. Today its adherents are less than 10 percent and a secret. Even the director of the American Foundation for the Blind, a former NAC staffer himself and a proponent of NAC accreditation in service agencies he headed or worked with for most of his career, publicly urged NAC to dissolve in 2003 at a summit NAC called to assess its future. So how does it happen that NAC is still around even though it’s hard to find and harder to justify?
Let us remember the subject of gullibility so well described by Abraham Lincoln and P. T. Barnum and then move to a summary of the Federation’s criticisms of NAC as a means of discerning why that gullibility still moves some to associate with this odd anachronism from the 1960s. Here is a list of NAC’s failings described by the Federation during NAC’s forty-two-year history. While these seven NAC failings are summarized here, ample documentation in Federation literature exists for all, and they are provided in no particular order, especially since they often reinforce one another:
1. NAC costs too much. For most of its life NAC’s accreditation cost most agencies $2,500 a year plus the costs of the on-site team doing the accreditation review and the cost of agency staff performing the required self-study prior to accreditation. Estimates of NAC’s five-year cost ranged from $15,000 to $20,000 for most agencies, depending on how large the on-site team was and how lavishly it was entertained. These estimates never included the cost of staff time for the mandatory self-study, which precedes accreditation in the NAC context. As NAC fell on hard times, it reportedly lowered the cost of the annual accreditation fee, promised small teams, which were often two people, to keep costs down, and pledged to keep costs down by bringing people from nearby agencies only. None of these moves has increased its customer base.
2. NAC’s standards are so irrelevant that no cost whatsoever is justified. Early versions of the NAC standards mimicked local fire and building codes, which already applied to the agency anyway and applied administrative and budgetary rules from then-current management theory. The standards in effect measured easily measurable facts while completely ignoring quality of service or outcome for clients, harder to measure than the number of building exits provided by an agency, but the real point of having an agency at all. By the 2003 summit initiated by NAC to determine its future, even its adherents agreed that the standards were out of date and needed revision. NAC used to have a Commission on Standards, but it was disbanded for financial reasons and has not functioned for at least a decade. At the 2003 summit NAC’s supporters agreed that outcome-based assessment was undesirable and pledged to find grant funding for updating their objective, measurable standards. In other words they agreed to keep the structure of ignoring agency outcomes as their model for accreditation.
3. NAC accredits anyone who pays its fees, and no agency has ever been reported to have failed NAC accreditation, which makes that accreditation useless. In fact, there are numerous instances during NAC’s forty-two years of existence when agencies who ceased payment of accreditation fees were still included as accredited on NAC’s list of accredited agencies because NAC hoped to retain them in its fold by this act of kindness. NAC’s original pitch was that its standards represented all that was good about service to blind people, but that claim long ago gave way to mere gratitude to any agency willing to seek or renew accreditation and the natural consequence that literally anyone can get accredited just by asking and paying a small fee. In contrast, the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) has rigorous standards by which it measures applicants, and it rejects or grants provisional accreditation to those agencies barely meeting its standards with noted deficiencies. When CARF accreditation is renewed, CARF on-site teams show up with extensive notes of previous deficiencies and commence a full review. With CARF you get rigor and public labeling of full, provisional, or no accreditation, giving the label meaning. And accreditation in the traditional CARF areas like hospitals is so well understood and expected that entities without it are easy to identify and the reason for their lack of accreditation learned. With NAC you pay your money and go through the motions, but the accreditation is assured by the mere fact of application. So few agencies are accredited that lack of accreditation is meaningless, and its presence is usually so little understood as to be equally meaningless.
4. NAC accreditation itself is meaningless because it’s simply an old-pal network of pals affirming that their pals uphold the outmoded 1960s style of all-knowing professionals in charge of the blind. NAC accreditation is performed by peers, which in the field of work with the blind means friends vouching for friends. The pledge in recent years to bring small on-site teams from nearby to cut costs has merely emphasized this flaw. From its inception NAC has existed for the purpose of imposing irrelevant objective standards as the sole measure of quality service. In the relatively small field of work with the blind, colleagues tend to know one another and to know which colleagues share their views on service models and the consumer organizations. NAC at one time represented the dominant view in the field, but the paradigm has long since shifted away from the all-knowing professional model espoused by NAC. Whether early on or today, NAC’s on-site teams already know what they think of the applicant for accreditation, and the result is never in doubt.
5. The widely recognized and valued accreditation for hospitals and colleges is based on the objective presence or absence of a highly specialized body of knowledge acquired by study and practice, but service to blind people does not contain such a body of knowledge. NAC has tried to convince people that the Federation opposes accreditation, but this has never been true. Instead the Federation has consistently maintained that the field of work with the blind is not like those of hospitals or higher education. In the NAC view highly trained and experienced professionals with rare and arduously acquired specialized knowledge should be in charge of agencies for the blind and their blind clients. These highly trained and experienced professionals can recognize one another when serving on on-site teams and thus grant accreditation appropriately. In the Federation’s view NAC’s view is a lot of nonsense and held the field of work with the blind back for far too long. The Federation advocates a common-sense approach to blindness, accessible to anyone who thinks clearly on the subject and readily accessible to every blind person. Blind people more and more understand that we do not need lifetime caregivers but rather appropriate training and positive beliefs, which are the foundation for each of us personally to create our own independence by living successful lives without sight. Much of the field of work with the blind has voted with its feet, choosing to move away from the all-knowing professional model and engage more directly with consumer organizations and consumer criticisms of failed and inadequate service based on the outmoded caregiver model. While some agencies have more successfully rejected the caregiver model than others, agencies by the hundreds have rejected the opportunity to accredit with NAC and deliberately adopt the all-knowing professional model.
6. NAC’s standards should never be the gateway to funds as NAC hoped would happen. Agencies for the blind receiving public money already account for this money through the political process, and agencies funded by charitable donations in a sense have a closer link to their funders, who must be motivated to give by belief in the value of gifts. In other words, for both public and private agencies, funding already generates one type of accountability regarding each agency’s funding sources. In these days of tight budgets and increased demand for services, no agency is looking for duplicative ways to validate its value, leading to the conclusion that NAC has not only irrelevant standards but also irrelevant accreditation. As mentioned previously, NAC has actually managed to remain on a list of accreditation agencies from which Ohio agencies receiving state funds must show accreditation, and Florida’s agencies act as though there is a similar requirement though this is untrue. It seems regrettable that Ohio state officials are so unsure of their own ability to assess quality service that they are willing to accept accreditation based on an outmoded and frankly offensive service model. The other forty-nine states along with D.C. and Puerto Rico have no such trouble, and in fact Florida has state-based standards, which are the actual requirement for receipt of state funds. Put more bluntly, Ohio’s state officials are still fooled by the large number of NAC agencies in that state into believing they are doing the right thing when, in fact, the rest of the nation has moved on to another, much more service-oriented approach, leaving Ohio’s service system mired in the all-knowing service model with which its own agency beneficiaries are content. NAC itself is headquartered in Ohio, where the second-largest number of NAC agencies per state is located, suggesting that pure, old-fashioned political pull and not quality service explains the outdated mandatory use of NAC’s dying service model in that state only.
7. The other existing type of accountability for all agencies already exists in the results they achieve. Blind consumers who use the services and who know about blindness provide vital assessments of the value of agency services, and consumer organizations of blind people provide routine, ongoing feedback to agencies serving the blind who are interested in their quality of service, as assessed by their customers. In fact federal law requires regular interaction with blind consumers as a condition of receiving vocational rehabilitation money, and the boards of more and more agencies are welcoming blind members, nearly unheard of when NAC was founded. While blind consumers can easily agree that the quality of agency services can still significantly improve, we less often encounter these days the kind of in-your-face, sight-is-right arrogance and institutionalized custodialism so prevalent before and during the 1960s and embodied in the NAC standards. In direct opposition to the conclusion of the NAC summit in 2003, agencies around the country are more alert today than ever to the outcome of their services, and the trend now firmly set is unlikely to be reversed. In other words, NAC accreditation seeks to override both funder and consumer accountability, replacing them with the NAC all-knowing standard which completely validates everything the agency does at a time when most agencies serving the blind are content with the accountability they currently have.
Given NAC’s track record, almost everyone in the field—funders, consumers, and agencies—agree that paying any amount for its services is not justified and that accountability for funds and results already exists. So the reasonable question to ask is: how does NAC survive? Another way to ask this question is to divide the topic into two halves and ask instead: why do some agencies retain their association with NAC, and why does NAC continue to offer its outdated and unwanted accreditation? Abraham Lincoln and P. T. Barnum may now re-emerge and urge us to assay the motives of both the deceiver and the deceived. Let us start with the deceived.
We earlier postulated that the range of motives for the deceived can be very wide and can include both ignorance and benevolence. In the current century, as we have seen, the model of the all-knowing agency professional class has largely been rejected. But not completely. One can still find specimens in the field of work with the blind, people who believe that their professional training or their unique gifts or experience entitle them to instruct blind people what they may do, what they may think, and on whom they should be dependent. This group of all-knowing professionals is rightly classified along with NAC as part of the deceiver class, and we will leave analysis of their motivations to be aggregated with those of NAC itself. For the rest, we can assume that agencies still associated with NAC are either woefully ignorant or misguidedly benevolent. They are agency professionals who are either honestly unaware of the changes in the field of work with the blind, who can be fooled into thinking that NAC’s claims of high standards and quality validation must be true because no one would make such claims without justification, or they so yearn to do good that they overlook the possibility that people who mouth the words that NAC does may not share their own impulse actually to do good. These uninformed or soft-headed professionals have taken a wrong turn, but they have been impelled into their unfortunate detour by their own gullibility and NAC’s eagerness to entice them out of the mainstream. Observers of the field can rightly criticize their poor judgment and powers of observation without concluding that such professionals are consciously adopting the all-knowing professional model. In many cases the agencies they represent are smaller city-based or regional agencies flattered by being invited to play with the big boys. They just don’t understand that the big boys they happen to be playing with are a small group of bullies whose ideas derive from the last century, with legitimate ties to the century before that, and who have chosen not to change with the times but rather to hope that the times can be brought back around to their archaic stance and the good old days when agency professionals ruled and blind men and women obeyed.
Thus it is hard to categorize the agency of today that has voluntarily associated itself with NAC. Rumors persist that a small agency named Insight in Fort Collins, Colorado, has recently sought and accepted NAC accreditation. With only a five-year-old list of accredited agencies and no updated Website information to check, this agency’s insistence that it has recently become NAC-accredited must be accepted. Why would an agency insist that it is newly NAC-accredited, given all the reasons to run fleet-footed from such opprobrium, unless it is true? The only thing an observer can do is shake the head sadly, note that Abraham Lincoln and P. T. Barnum both spoke truly, and then mourn for the Coloradans who have enjoyed a NAC-free environment for so many years only to have the gullibility of a small agency taint that pristine condition.
With most large agencies for the blind casually uninterested in NAC and most states NAC-free, we can pity that small group of agencies whose gullibility betrays them into remaining NAC-accredited. But what of NAC itself and those agency professionals who still proclaim that the all-knowing professional model and not the outcome model is the correct assessment tool for judging agency quality? These are not the deceived but the deceivers, the men and women who have chosen to espouse the outdated service model first championed by NAC in 1966 and now rejected by the field it claims to measure. These are not people fooled by ignorance or benevolence. They are the ones doing the fooling, the ones keeping alive that silly notion that blind people need guards and protectors and want lifetime dependency on caring professionals.
One of their leaders is Steven Hegedeos, NAC’s executive director since 2001. Pretty much every time Mr. Hegedeos speaks about accreditation, he mentions that he has saved two other accreditation bodies from dissolution before joining the stumbling NAC. It seems likely, then, that Mr. Hegedeos has assigned himself the life task of taking moribund accrediting bodies and reviving them, regardless of the reason for the body’s original decline. Or, put another way, Mr. Hegedeos is determined to succeed in his life goal whether the field of work with the blind wants accreditation or not. His comments seem largely to involve the subject of accreditation, regardless of context and unrelated to the alleged beneficiaries. A life devoted to accreditation has happened to collide with a dying accrediting body, and the resulting fusion will not be allowed by Mr. Hegedeos to expire, not even if the field offered that accreditation almost completely ignores it.
The remaining NAC champions, mostly heads of a few NAC-accredited agencies themselves, get to be big fish in a little pond. With only forty agencies accredited, it’s not hard to rise to the top of the pool if you shout louder than the next guy about how great NAC is. The same outmoded system NAC upholds—all-knowing professionals providing care to the frail blind—also creates a hierarchy of professionals with those most vocally supporting NAC the ones tapped to hold its offices and go on its on-site teams.
Put in Lincoln’s terms, we have the outdated fooling some gullible agencies all the time by annually collecting NAC accreditation fees from them, the outdated fooling the field of work with the blind all the time by not appearing to pose a sufficient threat to be worth the euthanizing (except to the Federation and AFB’s director), and the outdated not able to fool all of the field all of the time since the field largely ignores NAC though it keeps receiving unpleasant reminders like the little Colorado agency’s recent accreditation that NAC has not yet left the field for good. Or, put more succinctly, the Colorado agency proves that P. T. Barnum is right that suckers still exist, and we can hope for the day when, at least in the field of work with the blind, the chance for the anachronism of NAC to fool the gullible will finally be eliminated forever.
Or the field of work with the blind can look at the whole NAC situation from a different perspective, the one in the child’s rhyme:
Yesterday upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today.
I wish, I wish he’d go away.
As kids we all liked the fast-paced rhyming and weren’t overly bothered by the words’ making no sense. Now as adults we can easily apply them to NAC, an accreditation agency which essentially hasn’t been there for more than half of its existence. In case after case, when blind people were receiving poor service, NAC issued and maintained accreditations. In case after case chronicled in the Monitor, when blind people and especially children were being assaulted and endangered to the point of death, in case after case where employees were being mistreated and funds embezzled and the analysis of blind consumers being ignored, NAC issued and maintained accreditation. As the field moved on beyond NAC’s outmoded approach, NAC issued and maintained accreditations to an ever-shrinking list to the point where NAC has become that man upon the stair, clearly there and clearly not, encountered very occasionally as in the instance of that little Colorado agency and then disappearing quite literally off the Web and, when present, providing information years out of date. It’s been time for a long while for NAC to go away, though neither lack of success nor lack of funding nor even the recommendation of the
AFB director seems to get the job done. But some day everyone knows NAC will quietly wither away.
Perhaps yet another way of viewing NAC, of considering it that man upon the stair, is to go back to our wise sixteenth president and rest our hopes on one more quotation of his. Lincoln had that knack of compressing into a few words the wisdom he had absorbed, and his deep sense of equality before the law and before his God comes out in a quotation which could as easily be applied to NAC and to those agencies which seek to rule the blind according to the all-knowing professional view. Just think if this prescription by Lincoln could be filled by placing those all-knowing professionals where they seek to place their clients. It’s easy to imagine then how quickly NAC would be gone. Lincoln put it this way: "Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally."
by Fred Wurtzel
From the Editor: Fred Wurtzel is president of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan. He may also be a member of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce—remember the video message of welcome from Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm at our convention last summer? In the following article he introduces you to his state and provides some truly astonishing facts about the host city and state for our 2009 convention. This is what he says:
I don’t know how many Braille Monitor articles have had Latin titles. I hope and believe this is the first one. I couldn’t resist using it since it fits the theme of this offering. As you know, Detroit, Michigan, will be the site of the 2009 NFB national convention, so it seems appropriate to provide a little background on our quite wonderful state.
Of course we must begin with a first that involves automobiles. The first car exported to a foreign country was built in Michigan. The car was a steam-powered vehicle built by Ransom E. Olds and manufactured in Lansing. Ransom Olds founded the Oldsmobile and the Reo Motor Corporations. Reo built some cars but was best known for its heavy trucks.
Michigan is first in production of cucumbers for pickling, tart cherries, spearmint, and dry beans, among other healthy agricultural products. In fact Michigan, the twenty-sixth state in land area, is number two in agricultural production.
In addition to our many automotive accomplishments, we are the home of the coffee percolator, Salk polio vaccine, America’s first shopping mall (built in Detroit in 1954 and called Northland), the first carbonated beverage (Vernor’s Ginger Ale, which Fred Sanders used when he invented the ice cream soda in Detroit), the world’s first urban freeway (Davison Freeway in Detroit), C. W. Post’s corn flakes (created in Battle Creek), and the Republican Party.
Michigan has more than 3,000 miles of shoreline on four of the five Great Lakes (more shoreline than any state except Alaska). We have more than 11,000 inland lakes for boating, swimming, and fishing. In fact, Glenn Lake in the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore is ranked as the world’s fifth most beautiful lake.
Michigan has the world’s busiest waterway (the Detroit River); the world’s busiest locks (Sault Ste. Marie), as well as the world’s biggest milk bottle, in the town of Norway.
We have Isle Royale National Park, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior, and Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore in northwest lower Michigan, near Traverse City. Michigan’s natural beauty rivals that of most any place you would care to name. We have wilderness and urban environments with world-class attractions.
Over the next few months the Monitor will carry articles detailing some specific points of interest. Here are a few of the Detroit area places that may interest readers. The Detroit Institute of Art recently completed a hundred-million-dollar renovation. It has eleven galleries filled with unique world-class works of art. Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, is within a stimulating walk from the convention hotel. Famous conductor Leonard Slatkin is the director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Orchestra Hall is near Comerica Park.
Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum make up the world’s largest indoor/outdoor museum complex. Edison’s laboratory, hundreds of antique cars, and operating steam locomotives are just a few of its attractions. It is a place for the whole family to spend the day and is reachable by public transportation from the hotel.
Everyone knows that Detroit is the home of Motown music and the Motown museum. Detroit is also a world center for electronic music (also known as techno). With such hometown talent as R. Kelly, Eminem, and Kid Rock, our popular music scene is thriving. Jazz is deeply rooted in Detroit with many world-class venues hosting performances nearly every night.
If casinos are your passion, you may be in luck. Detroit has three major casinos; the brand new MGM Grand and the Greektown casinos are easily accessible on the People Mover from the hotel. The Motor City in Detroit and the Caesar in Windsor require a bit more planning to enjoy but may be a good bet.
The People Mover is a monorail train that operates in the downtown area. The train comes to the second floor of the Renaissance Center and travels to Cobo Hall, to Joe Louis Arena (home of the world champion Red Wings hockey team), near the MGM Casino, near Comerica Park and Ford Field, through Greektown and returns to the Renaissance Center, our convention home. Many other attractions are accessible from the People Mover. You should watch future articles or check with the Michigan delegation for specific information.
Detroit is accessible by air, rail, and bus. Amtrak is especially attractive if you are coming from the west, with a direct connection to Chicago. Our Detroit convention will be in the heart of the downtown area. Walking is easy, and the People Mover and bus service are convenient. Restaurants, clubs, casinos, sporting events, museums, and much more are close at hand. Just outside the south entrance of the hotel is the RiverWalk, a beautiful walkway along the edge of the river, where you can observe ore and other freighters moving their cargoes up and down the river. Detroit offers something for everyone. A future article will provide details about our convention hotel with its large food court and many amenities.
Make your reservations early. You will want a room in the headquarters hotel. We in Michigan are anxious to serve you and welcome you to our city and state. We are proud of Detroit and of Michigan, and we want you to appreciate all we have to offer as much as we do.
Making a charitable gift can be one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Each year millions of people contribute their time, talent, and treasure to charitable organizations. When you plan for a gift to the National Federation of the Blind, you are not just making a donation; you are leaving a legacy that insures a future for blind people throughout the country. Special giving programs are available through the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).
Points to Consider When Making a Gift to the National Federation of the Blind
Benefits of Making a Gift to the NFB
Your Gift Will Help Us
Your gift makes you a part of the NFB dream!
by Barbara Pierce
For years as president of the Ohio affiliate I wrote a memo to members of my delegation to the Washington Seminar. Some of the topics covered had to do with housekeeping details for our group, but other items dealt with etiquette on the Hill, outdoor and indoor geography, and appropriate preparation for representing the organization in this important activity. In addition to preparing the delegation for their work, I came to the seminar armed with name tags for the delegation including each person’s name and congressional district number. I also brought Ohio materials to add to the folders we always pick up in the reporting room to give to each member of Congress. These documents usually included my business card, our most recent newsletter, the affiliate brochure, the Ohio scholarship form, and a bookmark listing our affiliate Website and the courtesy rules of blindness that we hand out around the state. From time to time people have suggested that it would be useful to gather such information together in an article before the Washington Seminar. In what follows I have tried to do exactly this. With some modifications it is my letter to the Ohio delegation, so that may explain its casual tone.
Those who do not come early for the midwinter student conference (this year scheduled all day Sunday) or other meetings or seminars, will arrive at the Capitol Holiday Inn (550 C Street SW) on Sunday, February 8, 2009. The 5 p.m. briefing Sunday is the real kick-off of the Washington Seminar. Everyone should absolutely plan to be present for that meeting. It is two hours long, and so many people now attend that the main meeting room and an overflow room with sound piped in are usually crowded. If you are new to this event, you would also be well advised to attend the legislative workshop earlier Sunday afternoon, in which the issues are discussed and participants usually have a chance to practice presenting our arguments to senators, played by jaded elder statesmen from the Federation, who have seen and heard it all. I suggest that everyone make an effort to read the print or cassette version of the fact sheets we will be using this year as soon as you arrive at the hotel or that you read them on the NFB Website before departing for Washington. It is easy these days to download the fact sheets to a notetaker to study and even refer to in our meetings.
Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are the days when it is essential for all of us to make a good appearance. This means shaving, brushing teeth, keeping hair combed and clean, and wearing pressed coats and ties for men and suits (with skirts or tailored slacks) or dresses for women. We will be doing lots of walking. Do not buy new shoes, planning to break them in on the Hill! If one portion of your body can be permitted to appear less chic than another during the seminar, let it be your feet with comfortable rather than fashionable shoes. Unfortunately, some people do not take these dress requirements seriously. Obviously we will not prevent a person from accompanying the delegation because of dress, but please remember that, if your clothing is casual or soiled or otherwise inappropriate to the statement we are trying to make to people on Capitol Hill about the capacity of blind people to participate appropriately in society, you harm more than yourself. All of us suffer when any of us dresses or behaves inappropriately.
I wish I could promise you lovely weather during our stay in Washington. We have strolled around the city in suit coats, enjoying the sunshine. We have also skated on the ice and wondered if we would make it home again. Your state delegation may walk to the Hill--and it is steep--unless the weather is dreadful or bitterly cold, and the House and Senate office buildings contain miles of marble or tile corridors. So come prepared to walk far and fast.
We divide into small groups for the actual meetings. Each group should have a leader who will set the tone and the pace of the presentation. As you become familiar with the issues and are ready to take part in the discussion, you should feel free to add your bit to the conversation. But no one expects you to make an entire presentation unless and until you are ready to do so. Please make a point to read the “Spotlight on Affiliate Action” in the January 2007 Braille Monitor; it directly addresses the subject of making presentations to members of Congress and their aides. If you are the Federationist charged with guiding the conversation, take into consideration any important committee assignments for our issues that the member may have. You will want to address that issue first and most extensively, being sure, if possible, to have the relevant aide present for the discussion. Even when you are not speaking, you have an important role to play in the discussion. We are trying to communicate the impression that many people with a compelling interest in blindness issues are represented by this delegation. You can help to demonstrate this fact by remaining attentive, looking at the speaker at all times. If you get drowsy or allow yourself to gaze off into the distance, you will communicate a different message.
Remaining alert and looking interested are not always easy to do. You will hear and say the same things over and over again during these presentations. It is hard to marshal attention and enthusiasm for the same presentations six or eight times, but you must do it. It is especially important for those of you with vision to refuse to play eye-contact games with the members or staffers. Some of them will try to catch your eye and communicate silently. If at any time you realize that we have lost the person's attention on a topic, find a way of signaling the speaker that he or she should move on to the next subject. Your data after the meeting are also important to an accurate assessment of our effectiveness.
It is fine, even helpful, if some of you bring cameras. We are now able to include photos in state newsletters, and we always need good pictures of Federationists working on the Hill for the Braille Monitor. But this is not a tourist expedition. We are working. We should all do everything we can to discourage fawning behavior over dog guides by staff members and strangers alike. I also want as strongly as possible to discourage any requests for souvenirs from the various offices. Signing guest books is harmless, and constituents have a little more leeway in their own Representatives' offices, but for the rest, please keep your collecting impulses firmly in check. For the most part these offices do not have supplies of souvenirs to hand out. Offices used to do more of this sort of thing, but our tax dollars are no longer wasted on such items today, and staff members are just embarrassed when they are asked for a pen or postcard.
Several years ago in response to popular demand I developed a hand-out describing the geography of the Capitol Hill area and some important details of the office buildings. We always have these things firmly in mind by the time we leave Washington, but people often complain that I throw out too much information for them to be able to remember it all when we begin. Please read carefully the information below and let me know if you find it helpful.
Capitol Hill Geography
And Useful Bits of Information
To no one’s astonishment, the U.S. Capitol sits on Capitol Hill. It is bounded by Independence Avenue on the south and Constitution on the north and by First Street Southeast on the east and First Street Southwest on the west. Walking east on Independence or Constitution, one goes steeply uphill. The three House Office buildings lie to the south of the Capitol, and the Senate buildings lie to its north, stretching east.
House Side: From west to east, walking up Capitol Hill on the south side of Independence, on the right one comes first to the Rayburn. This is the newest and largest of the House office buildings. Next comes the Longworth, followed by the Cannon at the top of the hill. The Cannon Building is the oldest House building.
Tunnels connect these three buildings to each other. To reach them, go to the basement level of both the Cannon and the Longworth and to the sub-basement of the Rayburn. Both the Rayburn and the Longworth have cafeterias at the basement level. The Longworth also boasts a gift shop and a post office in its basement.
Numbers: By looking at the room number of a House member’s office, you can determine where to find him or her. Rayburn office numbers all have four digits beginning with a two. The second digit identifies the floor number. Longworth office numbers all have four digits and begin with a one. Again the second number indicates the floor. The Cannon room numbers have three digits, with the first indicating the floor number. All phone numbers on the House side share the exchange 225, so we often write the phone number with only four digits. The zip code for the House offices is 20015.
Senate Buildings: On the northwest corner of First and Constitution is the Russell Building. Across First, going east, are the Dirksen and then the newest of the Senate buildings, the Hart. These buildings also connect by tunnel with each other.
Crossing the Capitol: To walk from House to Senate or back again, the only method is to exit the office building on its Capitol side and walk along Independence or Constitution to East First. Cross East First and walk along its east side to the other side of the Capitol and go to the building you want. In doing so, you will pass between the east front of the Capitol and the Supreme Court Building.
Senate Numbers: Room numbers in the Senate buildings do not follow any pattern that indicates the building location. The first digit is the floor number, but you must use the building name in any address. The zip code for the Senate side is 20010, and the phone exchange is 224.
Building Configuration: Both the Longworth and the Cannon are roughly rectangular with the room numbers going clockwise in order beginning at the front of the building. The Rayburn is a law unto itself. Imagine two horseshoes lying back-to-back—one opening to the east, and the other to the west. The horseshoes are connected by parallel bridges, which form a square with the back sides of the two horseshoes. Another way to think of this shape is to picture a square with the east and west sides of it drawn out to form back-to-back letter C’s. The office number 01 on each floor can be found on the Independence Street bridge. The numbering is roughly the same on all the floors, but not exactly. Be careful because the maps, which are plentiful, are sometimes mounted with north at the top and sometimes with south at the top. The best plan is to ask for directions when you get to the floor. People are happy to help, but they always consult the map before telling you how to get where you want to go. One word of caution: do not be seduced into exiting the Rayburn on C Street, which runs along the south side of the building. Because our hotel is on C Street, I once tried to get back by walking west on C, but it can’t be done, or at least it takes a lot longer for some reason.
by Dutch tenBroek
From Dan Frye: Dutch tenBroek, son of NFB founder Jacobus tenBroek, delivered an address full of nostalgic reflections and memories about his father to delegates at the 2008 national convention on the afternoon of July 2. His remarks were part of a panel presentation highlighting the tenBroek Law Symposium that was held at the Jernigan Institute in April 2008. Dutch's remarks added a personal and poignant dimension to the scholarly profile of Dr. tenBroek that was otherwise emphasized during this review of his legal career. Curious historians and longtime Federationists will appreciate Dutch's presentation. Edited only for space and clarity, here is what he said:
Dr. Maurer, thank you very much, and thank you all very much. Since I know I am the only thing between you and walking out the door, or as dad would say, probably the only thing between you and a big pitcher of beer and a pepperoni pizza on French bread, I will do my best to take only a few minutes. What I would like to do tonight is just share a few things with you and perhaps bring Dad a little more to life for you through my experience of him.
I’m going to start by telling you a story about Abdul Hakeem Shabaz. Doodle, as we affectionately call him, is my number two son’s best friend. I met him when they were in college together at the Munich campus of the University of Maryland. Later they moved to Illinois, and Doodle became the press secretary for the attorney general of the State of Illinois. The state of Illinois funded Doodle’s advanced education, and he went to law school in St. Louis.
He had a professor in constitutional law who had a policy that no one in his class ever got an A. On the last day of class the professor had done quite a bit of talking about a couple of cases that went in front of the Supreme Court, and he quoted my dad frequently. He then went off on a tangent and talked about Dad and said that he was a blind professor. He said several other things and just had it all wrong. Doodle put his hand up and bravely corrected the professor, at which point the professor said, "Mr. Shabaz, I’m going to have to give you an A. But I must ask you, you must have done years of research to get this information?" At which point Doodle replied, "No sir, his grandson is my best friend."
For me, it is in hindsight that I really see a lot of what I grew up with. People like Perry Sundquist, Muzzy Marcelino, and Earl Warren were always in my house; they were always meeting and talking with Dad. I really had no idea what was going on at that point. After twelve years of growing up in that environment, I became the bartender, so I pretty soon learned what they all drank.
At the dinner table and the breakfast table Dad really challenged each of us every day about life. He pushed us. He was always taking the other side of whatever we brought up in conversation, always making us think, always stretching us, always pushing us to look at the other side and to see the other perspective. I think that was one of his greatest gifts. And this gift was borne out in the formation of the tenBroek Society, which is a group of his students (mostly in California), who are now attorneys and judges on supreme and appellate courts, that meet on a regular basis just to relive their experiences with Dr. tenBroek. I think it’s a good example of one of the things that Dad did. He continually questioned and pushed.
But, you know, it was the walk that we did every Sunday morning at 4:00 a.m. that actually inspired me and really set the tone for me. Dad used to wake me up at 4:00 a.m. on Sundays, and we would get up and walk. We would head up the hill. Those of you who have been around Berkeley know that there are one or two hills there. We never started down; we always started up. And we would walk at a rapid pace. If you knew my mom--if you ever had the opportunity to walk with her--you would know that she was a very fast walker. My wife Cathy is five feet tall, and she had a hard time learning to keep up when she went shopping with my mother. That's because Dad taught Mom how to walk, and he taught me how to walk too. At one point on our walks I asked him, "Why are we walking so fast? There’s nothing out here. The world’s not going very fast."
He said, "You never get anywhere going slowly."
I really think that was the frame of his life: constantly challenging, working, pushing all of us to work and to do the things that we needed to do. In many ways Dad seemed bigger than life. When I was about twelve, we went to LA, and my dad gave a speech at a hotel, but he wasn’t the primary speaker. The host was sitting where Dr. Maurer is sitting. After about the third time of looking at his watch, Dad made a comment. "Well, I see you’re looking at your watch for the third time, so I guess I better draw my remarks to a conclusion." That brought another point home to me, so I asked him about it on the airplane coming back. He said, "I thought I heard the sleeve come off his wrist, and I calculated he was looking at his watch. But it had a much bigger impact for me to make a comment about it than just to stop speaking." And that’s kind of the way Dad was. He saw those kinds of things very clearly.
In many ways he was bigger than life. He had vision that was far beyond what any of us would have thought. But, you know, the great thing about my dad is that his vision is sitting here in this room alive today. And that vision, I’m sure, is definitely headed in the right direction.
I remember Dad and I used to walk to our respective classes together; I'd go to high school, and he would be headed down for his eight o’clock class. We’d part paths at the north gate of the University of California, and Dad would charge on through the students. I could always tell where he was because I could look back and see the students parting–almost like the parting of the waters. Dad believed in a big cane–he carried a six-foot cane--and he swung it 180 degrees. Well, he had to do that because it’s the only way it would allow him to move as quickly as he wanted to move.
I would encourage you not to take tentative steps, to swing that cane 180 degrees, and to charge forward. Thank you very much.
by James H. Omvig
From the Editor: Most Federationists know Jim Omvig. He worked first as a lawyer and later with Dr. Kenneth Jernigan at the Iowa Commission for the Blind. He also headed the blindness rehabilitation program in the state of Alaska. He has written many articles for the Braille Monitor and published three books in the last five years. In this era of pointless political correctness he is particularly well equipped to remind us of some important truths. The following article first appeared in the January 2008 newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of California. This is what Jim Omvig says:
People who cannot see are blind, and the word "blind" is perfectly acceptable--in fact, it is absolutely essential--when one is referring to the lack of eyesight. In my opinion (I got this opinion from Dr. Kenneth Jernigan), a person is blind--and should learn to refer to himself or herself as blind--when vision has deteriorated to the point that, to function capably and efficiently, the individual uses alternative (nonvisual) techniques to accomplish the majority of life's daily activities. This is true even though there is some residual vision which may well be quite useful for certain limited and specific purposes.
There are some misuses of the term, of course, which are not desirable at all and which perpetuate negative impressions about blindness. These include such commonly accepted dictionary definitions as: "unable or unwilling to perceive or understand"; "not based on reason or evidence"; or "lacking reason or purpose" as in, "he ran blindly off the cliff."
Until around the middle of the twentieth century, it was common among educators, rehabilitators, sheltered shop workers, and others in work with the blind to use the word "blind" routinely when referring to people with very limited or no vision, since that is what we are. Then, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a new phenomenon gradually evolved: a group of master’s-degreed workers—eventually referred to as "blindness professionals”—entered the picture. It was not long until they, the "experts," began to take extraordinary measures to get blind people to deny their blindness and to use the slightest amount of residual vision so they could appear to be, as they put it, “normal"--to be sighted and avoid blindness altogether. Avoid the word “blindness” at any cost became the mantra. And the cost for many blind people was heavy because that avoidance encouraged them to deny an important part of who they were.
First came the large-print movement--just produce very large and dark print so that blind people with a little vision could read a few words a minute in the so-called normal way and not "have to learn Braille.” Then, before long, "vision stimulation" was introduced--it was argued that, if blind people would just try harder to use their very limited vision, they could actually improve sight and again be able to function normally. Of course this was a disaster and psychologically damaging for many blind people. Then, when tape recorders and computers came along, it was argued all over again that blind people could avoid Braille and the stigma of blindness and thus appear in yet another way to be normal if they would just jump on the technology bandwagon and give up literacy.
Along with these new professionals (and their new practices), a new vocabulary was also introduced. The word “blind” went out of vogue. Blind students who could read a little using very large print became "sight-saving" students. Others (with either limited or no vision at all) soon became "visually impaired," "visually limited," "visually challenged," "unsighted," "sightless," "sight-impaired," "low vision," or "hard-of-seeing," etc. Before long, teachers of blind children became "vision teachers,” and most recently some among the professionals have become so disconnected with the real world and with blind people that they have come to call work with the blind "vision rehabilitation therapy."
"How in the world," you may ask, "could such a distortion of reality have taken place among the very people who purport to help the blind?" Clearly, the reason behind it all has been an effort to try to avoid use of the ugly and dirty word, "blind."
Through all of these machinations the National Federation of the Blind has argued that the word "blind" is best since that's what we are, but many of our own members have not been able to articulate the reasons for our position, and some have been lured down the path of visual-impairment circumlocutions. Here is the short answer for why Dr. Jernigan taught us to do what we do.
In the first place Federationists have long since recognized that, to understand blindness correctly and also to know how properly to educate or rehabilitate blind people, one must be aware of the fact that blind people as a class are a minority in every negative sense of that term. It is the erroneous and negative public attitude about blindness that is the real problem with which we must deal. From infancy we have been taught that to be blind is to be helpless, to be incompetent, and to be inferior. Members of the general public have believed it, and most of us have come to believe it too. In time the blindness professionals also bought into the erroneous stereotyping and the low expectations that accompany feelings of inferiority.
We must change those erroneous public attitudes--the myths, misconceptions, and superstitions--first, of course, in ourselves and then in the broader society. We also understand fully that these very negative and mistaken attitudes about the inferiority of the blind have found their way into the educational and vocational rehabilitation systems. These very mistaken beliefs about blindness drive the professionals' effort to get their customers to deny their blindness at any price. And these mistaken beliefs must be eliminated as a key component of any high-quality education or rehabilitation program for the blind.
Finally, we of the Federation have come to know the fundamental truth that blind people are nothing more than normal people who cannot see and that, if we receive proper (that is effective) training, including appropriate attitudinal adjustment, we can participate fully in society and compete on terms of absolute equality with our sighted colleagues. We have learned that, for any blind person truly to become empowered and free, a process of what is commonly called adjustment to blindness is essential. Learning to use the word "blind" with ease and comfort and accepting blindness as a normal fact of life is a significant ingredient in the process. For it is commonly understood that you cannot change what you are not willing to acknowledge.
To summarize briefly, five major ingredients comprise this healing adjustment to blindness process. One, the blind individual must come to know and feel emotionally, not just intellectually, that he or she is a normal person who can be just as independent and self-sufficient as sighted people are. Two, he or she must become competent in the skills (the alternative techniques) of blindness. Three, he or she must learn to cope calmly and rationally with the strange or unusual things other people do or say because of their complete misunderstanding and lack of accurate information about blindness. Four, the blind person must learn to blend in to the broader society and to be acceptable to those around him or her. Behavior such as being punctual, neat and appropriate in appearance, reliable, courteous, and free from blindisms, etc., is important to avoid reinforcing negative stereotypes. And, five, the successful and truly whole blind person will recognize the importance of giving back. This means contributing to society in general and assisting in the organized blind movement.
Using the word “blind” with ease and comfort is part of the first of these empowering ingredients--coming emotionally, not just intellectually, to know that he or she can be equal with others in our society. It is also part of this first adjustment ingredient that the blind person comes to know that he or she is normal and that it is perfectly respectable to be blind.
For an exact analogy on the issues of denial and terminology, consider the struggle by African Americans to achieve equality and freedom. In the 1940s and ’50s, and even on into the ’60s, some black Americans actually tried to solve their problems by pretending that they weren't black at all but that they were white--this practice, denial at its worst, was referred to as “trying to pass.” Some people tried to straighten their naturally curly hair or lighten the color of their skin. Needless to say, this approach to conquering symptoms of inferiority didn't work.
Then enlightened and gifted leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came upon the scene. He and others realized that pretending you are something other than who you really are is fruitless and that the only meaningful way black Americans could ever achieve real freedom, equality, and self-respect was to accept their blackness and then to work together to make it respectable to be black. Dr. King knew that ultimately you must learn to love yourself as you are and for who you are to attain true freedom, dignity, and self-respect.
So it is with the blind. If you are blind but pretend that you are sighted--that is, if you engage in what some call the great masquerade, agony and frustration will be the result. In my own case I pretended (I tried to pass and deny my blindness) for fourteen years--from age twelve to twenty-six--before I encountered the National Federation of the Blind and became empowered. I have often marveled at the fact that I didn't develop an extreme case of ulcers during this painful time of my life. Since I believed that blindness meant inferiority, the fear that someone would learn just how blind I really was was very nearly unbearable.
This brings us back to the ultimate truth. If you are blind, you are blind. Accept it. Admit it. The very first step in this process is to learn to be able to say, with neither shame nor embarrassment, "I am blind." Like other minorities we have a job to do--we must learn to accept our blindness and then work with concerted action to make it respectable to be blind.
The same is true for professionals in the field of work with the blind. We have no business helping our blind customers (whether they be totally or partially blind) deny what and who they are and to try to pass or engage in the great masquerade by pandering to their fear of the word “blindness” and what it stands for in their minds. Rather, we too must learn that it is respectable to be blind. Only then can we truly help to empower and bring freedom to our customers by helping them accept their blindness.
One final point needs to be made although, if it is not properly understood, it may muddy up everything I have said to this point in this article. When I am talking about using the word "blind," I am talking generally about what should be happening regularly in the Federation, university programs, schools with blind students, or orientation and adjustment centers--in other words, in situations where people are actually involved in some type of positive experience. When a newly blinded individual is first met, however, and where that initial effort is to get the person interested at all in the Federation or in some kind of beneficial program, there are times when either we (or school or agency specialists) need to be willing to tread lightly and even use euphemisms when employing them allows the customer to recognize that the program or activity in question is appropriate and might be helpful.
I learned this lesson the hard way. When I left my job at the National Labor Relations Board in New York City to return to Iowa to work for Kenneth Jernigan at the Iowa Commission for the Blind, I first did some traveling with other, more experienced staff members to become familiar with each of the Commission's jobs. In traveling with one particularly talented VR counselor, I observed her for a few days and scarcely made a comment. Toward the end of the week I decided that perhaps the time had come for me to participate. To get started I asked a man whom we were visiting, "How long have you been blind?" “Blind” was not the word I should have used. "I'm not blind!" he screamed out at me with obvious distress.
As a novice, and perhaps as too much of a purist, I had failed to take into account that the people who have not yet accepted their blindness enough even to get to the point of taking necessary training may need to be dealt with differently from those who have made the decision to get on with their lives. From that day forward my approach changed completely when dealing with newly blinded people who had not yet agreed to enter a training program. "How long have you had poor eyesight," or some meaningless or useless variant thereof, became a routine part of my conversation. I did not want to make that same mistake again and perhaps even undo what had already been done to begin to persuade that potential new customer to get involved in proper training.
Having understood this last point, we who are blind must become comfortable with who we are as people. As with black Americans, we who are blind must learn to love ourselves as we are and for who we are, to attain true freedom, dignity, and self-respect.
Once we have come to know intellectually and to feel emotionally that we are normal people and that it is respectable to be blind, then I believe that we of the Federation have a duty to pass it on so that others may experience the freedom and empowerment which flow from internalizing the truth about blindness. So by all means use the word "blind" in your daily life and in helping those around you to get rid of the prejudice and low expectations that flow from a belief that the blind are inferior, but be sparing in its use when you are meeting newly blinded people or members of their families. If you approach the newly blinded in this way, it will not be long until their attitudes begin to shift. Eventually, of course, we of the Federation intend to introduce the truth and to teach the whole world that it is respectable to be blind. We can make all of this come true if we stick doggedly to the principle spelled out by some wise philosopher who said, "Life is action, not a spectator sport."
by Jonathan Lazar
From Dan Frye: Dr. Jonathan Lazar is a professor in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences at Towson University and director of the Universal Usability Laboratory. He addressed the 2008 NFB national convention on making CAPTCHA, an inherently visual computer security system, accessible to blind people. Dr. Lazar and others in the Computer and Information Sciences Department at Towson University have worked closely with the NFB on a variety of blindness-related computer issues throughout the last several years, and the delegates again warmly greeted Dr. Lazar and enthusiastically welcomed his message of progress in making CAPTCHA accessible. The following text is drawn from the comments that he delivered at the convention and is supplemented slightly with a report of subsequent developments:
Good morning, everybody. How are you doing? I love your reaction to the word “CAPTCHA.” He [President Maurer] says “CAPTCHA,” and you all go "Boo." I agree with you. That’s what we’re working on.
At Towson University we’ve partnered for a number of years with the National Federation of the Blind to do research projects related to computer interface issues for blind users. It’s exactly what Dr. Maurer is saying. People say, "You know these things are impossible. You have to have security features. You can’t make them accessible." But do you know what? You can make them accessible; you can make them usable. The key is finding the solutions. Let me take a moment here to acknowledge the other people at Towson University that work with me on finding these solutions: two other professors, Dr. Heidi Feng and Dr. Harry Hochheiser, are working on this project, as are doctoral student Graig Sauer and undergraduate student Jon Holman.
One of the favorite times in my entire life was actually my last presentation at the National Federation of the Blind convention in 2005. You might remember that in 2005 I gave a talk about computer frustration, in which I talked about a study of one hundred blind users who took part in studying what frustrated people on the Web.
Today I want to talk about a specific frustration. I want to talk about CAPTCHAs. Feel free to boo; it's ok. But we’re going to make it better. A CAPTCHA is actually an acronym for a Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart. It's kind of a dorky acronym, isn’t it? You probably know them better as annoying and frustrating.
Developers say that these are software tools designed to separate out who is a human and who is a computer. Now let me tell you that’s what the developers say. In reality CAPTCHAs determine who can see and who can’t. It's not about being human; it's about being able to see. That’s the thing that a lot of these researchers don’t understand.
The idea is that computer bots and viruses can sign up for email accounts and clog systems, so they’ve created these things called CAPTCHAs, which are also known as Human Interaction Proofs--or HIPS--to stop those bots. Now CAPTCHAs are actually not that effective. They don’t work all the time in stopping the bots and the viruses, and they don’t work all the time for determining who actually is a human. Many of the companies we talk with, though, say, "We know these tools aren’t perfect; we know they’re not accessible, but they are the best we have. They stop some of the viruses and bots." But that’s not good enough. CAPTCHAs have to work for people because, not only are you stopping bots and viruses, but you're also stopping people. You’re stopping blind people. You’re stopping people who want to use these systems and can’t use them.
So a CAPTCHA--it's also known as a twisted-text CAPTCHA--is a picture of text and numbers which have a lot of background clutter and noise. It may have the letters and numbers "R-3-B-6," with a lot of dots in its background. The idea is that the visual user can see through all of that background clutter, but a computer bot or a virus can’t. And of course a blind user can’t.
Now, if you ask some people, they say, "No, no, no. We have audio CAPTCHAs." How many people here really like audio CAPTCHAs? [chorus of nos] First of all, most sites don’t have audio CAPTCHAs. Only a few sites actually use them. An audio CAPTCHA is a series of numbers or letters read with a lot of background noise and clutter. Again, the idea is that a human can filter out the background noise, but a computer bot can’t.
We had heard that many problems were related to online security for blind users, so we started by just doing a focus group at NFB headquarters. The goal of the focus group was just to learn more about what these problems were. The number one problem cited in this focus group, as you probably can guess, was access to CAPTCHAs.
The idea is that everyone has trouble with CAPTCHAs. People who can see have trouble with CAPTCHAs, and we had heard informally from the blind users whom we worked with that they shared this sentiment. So we decided to start with the usability test to learn more about the problems that blind users have with audio CAPTCHAs. We started with the typical audio CAPTCHA from the CAPTCHA project up at Carnegie Mellon. We had six blind users taking part in the usability testing of the audio CAPTCHA, and we had each user do five audio CAPTCHAs.
Interestingly enough we actually found that only 46 percent of the time could blind users successfully complete the audio CAPTCHAs. The average time to complete an audio CAPTCHA correctly was 65 seconds. What made it more interesting was that the only people really able to complete the audio CAPTCHAs successfully were people who were also using Braille notetakers. And at the time they were listening to the audio CAPTCHAs, they were taking notes with their Braille notetakers. How many people does that apply to? Clearly audio CAPTCHAs are not usable for many blind people.
We know that visual CAPTCHAs are inaccessible; we know that audio CAPTCHAs don’t work well. So we decided that we would try to develop some new versions of CAPTCHAs that are more accessible to blind users, that are equally usable for people who can see, and that are just as secure. We decided to call it the Human Interaction Proof Universally Usable (HIPUU). We had two reasons for adopting this nifty name. First of all we like the idea of a little hippo. Everyone should have a cool little mascot for their project. More important, we believe that CAPTCHA is a trademark, so we’re calling our project HIPUU.
The first version of HIPUU is a combination of nontextual images and sounds. For instance, we have an image of a dog, and we have a sound clip of a dog barking. The idea being that, if you are blind, you can use the sound clip; if you have a hearing impairment or are sighted with no disability, for that matter, you can use the picture of the dog. But, because it's nontextual—because it uses pictures and sound clips--it's actually more secure. It is more secure because image-recognition and speech-recognition technology are much better at recognizing text than at identifying pictures and certainly at identifying sounds. Humans, however, are quite adept at recognizing both graphics and sounds.
Depending on whether or not the user is blind, the user may use either the picture or the sound clip to respond appropriately to the security questions or tests in this system. Initially we used visual and sound combinations from transportation, animals, weather, and musical instruments. We started with things that are easy to identify. What happens is that, when you hear the sound clip, you must choose the correct answer by identifying the sound using a drop-down box where you select the appropriate choice. We started with the smallest of choices. We enhanced the security of the system by including a wide variety of sounds that would rotate for each test. If the user missed three attempts to identify the image or sound, the user would be blocked out of the program. This is consistent with the traditional CAPTCHA protocol. Again, the idea is that this should be much easier for both blind and sighted people to use and it should actually be more secure.
We did a usability test with the first version of HIPUU with five blind users and five sighted users, each completing fifteen different tests. First, the interesting thing is that sighted users had a 100 percent task success rate. Users who could see were successful, and they actually liked this better than the traditional twisted-text CAPTCHA. Sighted people don’t like those CAPTCHAs either. By contrast, when we had the blind users tested, they actually had a 90 percent success rate–90.6 percent on the first try. And on the second try it actually went up to 100 percent. The average task-completion time was 35.2 seconds.
The foregoing statistics show that this new HIPUU that we created was much more successful for both sighted and blind users than any other version of the conventional CAPTCHAs. Instead of 46 percent success rate in 65 seconds with an audio CAPTCHA, with this accessible version of HIPUU, blind participants completed it successfully 90 percent of the time in only 35 seconds. The successful performance of blind people using HIPUU was almost doubled. Blind users clearly preferred this security system. Sighted testers preferred HIPUU too. This worked out much better than both the audio CAPTCHAs and the visual twisted-text CAPTCHAs.
We’re actually in the process right now of developing a second and more robust prototype. One of the things we're going to do is to introduce some sound delays, because one of the problems is that sometimes the screen reader can overlap a little bit with the actual sound clip of the dog or the piano. We’re also adding many more sound and image combinations than the original ones we included in the first proof of concept. We're doing this for a good reason. One of the arguments that I guarantee you we'll get from conventional defenders of the current CAPTCHA product is, "Well, you know what, CAPTCHA has an unlimited set. If you use a visual CAPTCHA, you can make it secure." So in this second iteration of HIPUU we are adding many more image and sound combinations to our library. In addition to incorporating more sound and image combinations, we are also asking users to respond to and identify multiple sound or image combinations. So, rather than just being asked to identify an image or clip of a dog, you could be asked to confirm the image or sound of several items, e.g., a dog, a piano, and then a rain storm in that order. Just with those three sounds, think about how many combinations you could generate. And, you know what, it will still be much easier to memorize three sounds or images briefly than it will be to struggle with the current forms of CAPTCHA. Also in some of our new versions we are looking at whether we can have users—rather than picking items from a drop-down list—actually typing in text to identify the sound clips. These enhanced measures should go some way to satisfying the questions related to security. Hopefully we can persuade many companies that HIPUU will work as well as CAPTCHA and will have the added benefit of being accessible to blind people. Usability testing of our new prototypes will take place this summer and fall. With any luck this initiative and research will ultimately create a new standard in accessible security for blind computer users.
When you encounter inaccessible CAPTCHAs, tell the designers and Webmasters that other alternatives do exist. Let them know that they simply have to think creatively. Share the work that we are doing at Towson University with these people. Together we'll develop a solution for the vexing problem of CAPTCHA for blind computer users.
by Brook Sexton
From the Editor: As most people who care about Braille already know, January 4, 2009, is the two-hundredth anniversary of Louis Braille’s birth. Not only will the U.S. Mint be releasing a commemorative silver dollar to mark this event, but the Braille Monitor will be addressing the value of Braille and the seriousness of the Braille literacy crisis in articles throughout the year.
Brook Sexton is an orientation and mobility instructor at Ho`opono Services for the Blind in Honolulu, Hawaii. Throughout her tenure there she has seen students enter the program who were not taught Braille when they were in school. In addition, her personal experience bears witness to the Braille literacy crisis that now exists for the blind of this nation.
For those who do not work in rehabilitation or do not have experience with the injustice Ms. Sexton describes in the following excerpt of testimony she offered in Hawaii, the Braille illiteracy rate among the blind can seem a far-off thing, but for thousands of blind people in America the problem she describes has been told and retold far too often. This is what she says:
Reading and writing are tools of communication. During the Dark Ages only members of the aristocracy were allowed to learn to read and write, but as the Renaissance began and reading and writing were recognized as tools of communication, these skills became essential to communicate and to attain goals and dreams. It was not until the mid-1800s that an efficient system of reading and writing was developed for the blind. This system has opened a whole range of opportunities for blind Americans as for blind people around the world who are lucky enough to learn it.
As a child I was privileged to learn Braille and encouraged to use it as a tool to succeed in school and life. On the other hand, my younger brother (who is also blind) was denied this opportunity because he had just enough vision to get by reading print. While I love to read, he does not. While school was relatively simple for me, my brother struggled to complete assignments. He did not know how to write because he could never grasp the structure—paragraphs, headings, spelling--of what he was trying to read, yet he wanted to succeed. While I did not take longer than my sisters to complete my homework, my brother spent hours doing the same assignments. It would have been so simple to teach that young boy to read as a child, but he had to learn Braille as an adult to obtain his goals. As a result he has taken longer to reach his goals than I. All children should have the opportunity to learn to read, and Braille has been shown to be an equivalent means of reading and writing for the blind.
As a result of my early exposure to Braille, I have been successful. I competed with my peers in spelling bees, reading contests, writing contests, and all sorts of other opportunities available to young children. I was able to apply to and matriculate in a competitive university and obtain a bachelor’s degree. Braille was essential in this process because I needed to take notes, give presentations, write papers, and stay organized. After finishing my degree, I found a job and used Braille to compete and give back to the community. Not a day of my life since I learned to read and write has passed that I have not found Braille useful, even essential. I completed a master’s degree and did not require more time than my fully sighted counterparts. I would not be where I am today without literacy.
Too many blind children are more like my brother than me. They struggle through school trying to read print, and as a result they don’t like to read. They have not discovered that reading can be simple and enjoyable. My greatest dream in life would be to know that every blind child who enters our schools will be afforded the same opportunities I had and will be offered a level playing field on which to compete with their peers. My brother tells me with tears in his eyes that he wishes with all of his heart that he could have learned to read Braille as a child. While I can’t imagine his frustration, I know it is real, and I know it did not have to be that way. He had the same teachers who challenged me and the same ability to learn.
Louis Braille developed his tactile system so that the blind could read. His invention and his belief in the blind have stood as a cornerstone for our independence for nearly two centuries. Yet now more than ever we need Braille in our classrooms and in our communities. All blind children must be taught to read Braille at the same time their sighted classmates are learning to read print, and they must receive their textbooks and schoolwork in Braille as well. Sighted students receive their educational materials in print as a matter of course. If students who cannot use print efficiently are to have the chance to succeed in school and take their rightful places as contributing members of the community, they must be taught Braille early by teachers who believe in it, and they must have timely access to books and worksheets in accurate Braille.
by Mary Ellen Gabias
From the Editor: Mary Ellen Gabias is one of my oldest Federation friends. She and I roomed together at my first Ohio convention, in 1974. She was a college student, and I was the mother of three, but in blindness matters she was far more mature and wiser than I. Today she is a faculty wife and mother of four, living in British Columbia, and she is still teaching and learning about blindness. In the following article she explores the distinctions between unconsciously lowered expectations, individual differences, and poor equipment or advice. We can all think of times when we confused these three strands of existence and thereby made our lives more complicated. This is what she says:
“I’m really embarrassed to admit it,” Joan said, “but I can’t wrap packages. I know other blind people do it, but I guess I’m not that competent. I even went to the bargain store and bought six rolls of paper for two dollars so I could practice. Every time I try to wrap a box, the paper rips.”
“Your problem isn’t incompetence as a blind person,” I laughed. Your problem is that you’re cheap! You have to be really good at wrapping to get away with using that flimsy paper. If you’re unsure of yourself, try practicing with a small box and paper towels. Then, when you’re sure of how it’s done, buy really good paper. It’s easier to handle, and it doesn’t rip.”
I felt sad for Joan. It was so easy for her to misattribute her difficulties to blindness. How many blind people secretly feel inadequate if they have difficulty in doing something when the problem has nothing to do with lack of eyesight? Once again I was grateful that participation in the National Federation of the Blind had kept me out of that trap.
I began reading the Braille Monitor in 1971 partly because of the stories of blind people accomplishing things I’d never even considered trying. I remember how thrilled I was to hear of blind students from Scandinavia teaching blind Americans how to scuba dive. I was so intrigued that I took a scuba class for my physical education requirement in college. What a disaster! I contracted a serious middle ear infection which left me almost too dizzy to walk and forced me to withdraw from the class. The doctor warned me that I risked permanent hearing loss if I kept diving. Oh well, I thought, it’s great that blind people can scuba dive, but that doesn’t mean that every blind person has to do it.
I also remember articles in the Monitor about water skiing. My parents (who almost always encouraged me to try new and challenging things) forbade me to water ski. They believed sight was absolutely necessary. My husband Paul (who is also blind) is an excellent water skier. His family encouraged him, and water skiing became his favorite hobby. He continues to try to teach me, but I haven’t got the hang of it yet. Perhaps, if I’d started as a young person, I’d be a capable water skier now. Perhaps I wouldn’t. Nevertheless, I enjoy the challenge of trying to learn and the simple fun of being on the water with my family. Knowing blind people do water ski liberates and challenges me to rethink limitations I’ve always accepted. This is true even if I can’t personally skim across the water behind a speed boat.
Every person has unique talents. Blindness doesn’t change that, but it does affect how we feel about our particular strengths and weaknesses. It’s easy to spend so much time worrying about things we’re not good at doing that we don’t truly enjoy the things we do well. It’s also easy to cop out and fail to work on improving skills by saying, “That’s just not my thing.” When we develop friendships within the Federation, we get help sorting out the difference between copping out and merely accepting our own personal set of traits.
The Federation taught me to expect more of myself, but it also taught me that I had reason for genuine pride. Federation friends helped me gather accurate information about how my performance stacked up against that of others, both blind and sighted. It was liberating to know that my best really was good enough. It was also exciting to realize that my best could keep getting better with the support, encouragement, and practical guidance of people who believed in me.
The accomplishments of other blind people challenged my limiting beliefs. Most of the time that felt great. Occasionally it was embarrassing to realize that I’d failed to learn things most adults take for granted because of what I had assumed blindness imposed on me. Like my friend Joan, I got in the habit of calling Federationists and asking for help. I knew I wouldn’t be judged; I’d be given suggestions I could use to help solve my problems.
I remember calling three Federation friends for tips on frying eggs over easy. I couldn’t stomach them myself, but they were Paul’s favorite breakfast. As a new bride I wanted to pamper him. I got three different sets of instructions and finally developed a method which was a combination of all three.
I started doing my laundry in college; at least I did when I couldn’t go home and wheedle Mom into doing it for me. I came of age during the seventies, a time when polyester and freeing women from domestic chores were the rage. Women cheerfully chucked their irons. In fact, anyone who regularly used one was secretly looked upon with pity as uptight and old fashioned. I inherited my grandmother’s old iron, which I promptly stored in the back of my linen closet after I accidentally set its temperature too high and scorched a pair of slacks with it.
Even in the eighties, when fashions changed and fabrics thankfully improved, I chose clothes that required dry cleaning. It was easy to send my ironing to the cleaners along with my suits. My old iron remained buried in the closet; I pulled it out only in dire emergencies. No one had ever done more than show me how to keep from injuring myself while using it. No matter how hard I worked at it, my efforts to produce wrinkle-free garments failed miserably.
When we married, Paul contributed his own modern, gadget-laden iron to the clutter at the bottom of our closet. Marriage introduced me to new domestic dilemmas, white cotton shirts being among the most frustrating. They went to the cleaners with Paul’s suits. Our cleaning bills soared, as my confidence in my own competence dipped. Other blind people routinely pressed clothes. Why was I so incompetent? Was this like scuba diving or water skiing, something that just didn’t suit my personal set of skills? Or was I somehow letting myself and other blind people down by not working hard enough to get it right? I pushed my doubts to the back of my mind. After all, I had a young baby and more than enough to do. Why add hours of ironing to my already crowded days?
When our second child was born, the midwife ordered me to rest for at least a week. A close friend came over to give me a hand. Not knowing of my practice of sending Paul’s shirts to the cleaners, she laundered them and dragged the ironing board out of hiding. She watched as I dug out the old iron. Then I went back to bed and left her to it. I knew she was very particular and would do as well as or better than the cleaner.
“I hope you don’t mind,” she said as she hung up the finished shirts in our closet, “but I switched irons. The one you gave me wasn’t working properly.” My trusty iron, the one that had been with me since Grandma died and had moved with me to four states and two Canadian provinces, the only one I had ever used in my life, not working?
“That’s too bad,” I told my friend, “I guess nothing lasts forever. Maybe you’d better explain all the gadgets on Paul’s iron and show me how it works, not that I’ll use it much anyway. Still, I should probably know how.”
I laid one of Paul’s shirts on the ironing board and prepared to be embarrassed. She was a good friend; still, I hated to show her how inept I really was. We went painstakingly through all the controls and figured out how to mark the temperature. Then I braced myself for the usual frustration of feeling small wrinkles turn into seemingly permanent creases. But it didn’t happen. The new iron glided smoothly over the cloth, and the wrinkles vanished.
In the sixteen years since that discovery, I’ve ironed countless shirts. My time per shirt has decreased from a painstaking twenty minutes to an efficient five. I kept the old iron for several years as a back up, just in case. I hauled it out when our good iron malfunctioned and I needed to press a shirt before I had time to buy a new iron. It didn’t work any better than it had before I became skilled at pressing shirts. I thought of Joan as I finally consigned that old clunker to the trash heap. She wasn’t the only one who had mistakenly blamed blindness for what was really an equipment problem. Both of us had learned something about ironing things out.
by Steve Waltke
From the Editor: Steve Waltke is an engineer who lives in Michigan. He enjoys do-it-yourself projects around the house. He concluded that what he learned from one of his recent activities might prove useful to others who still use rabbit ears or an antenna for television reception. This is what he says:
After doing research and setting up several digital TV conversion boxes, I thought I would share what I have learned about setting up equipment for receiving digital television broadcasts. If you currently subscribe to cable or satellite service, you don’t have immediate use for this information. However, you may want to keep it handy if you get fed up with exorbitant subscriber fees and do not want to spend at least $400 to buy a new digital TV.
If you are using rabbit ears or an exterior antenna with your TV, you may find this information essential. By federal law, starting in February 2009, all commercial television stations must stop transmitting the old-fashioned (analog) way, and must begin to broadcast using digital format, so, if you want to continue watching TV, you will have to go digital. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to use the new digital broadcast technology; however, you will need to learn a few new things. This article explains how to go digital as inexpensively and easily as possible. Until February 2009 the federal government will give you a maximum of two free coupons, each worth $40. Each coupon can be given to a retail store as partial payment for a single digital conversion box. The price range for these conversion boxes is $50 to $80. It is important to remember that the coupon expires ninety days after it is sent to you. Also no replacement is available for lost or unused expired coupons. You may request the coupons by phoning the NTIA program at (888) 388-2009, which is part of the Federal Communications Commission, or you can fill out an online request by going to the official government Website, <www.dtv2009.gov>.
If you make your request by phone, the process is completed by a relatively capable, high-quality automated voice-recognition system. At the end the system will tell you the approximate date you will receive your coupon by mail. More important, it will also give you a confirmation number. Make a note of this number in case you have a problem receiving your coupon. Don’t forget that you must use the coupon within ninety days. Anyone can purchase a digital conversion box from any store that sells electronics and TVs; you are not required to have one of the government-issued coupons in order to purchase one.
My personal recommendation of stores that are knowledgeable about what you will need and how to be successful are Best Buy and Radio Shack. Radio Shack has a wider selection of unique adaptors and cables that you may need unexpectedly. However, it is highly likely that you won’t need anything except your new conversion box unless you own a very old TV with the sets of screws to which you attached rabbit ears or an external antenna or have very old style connectors on your rabbit ears or external antenna. Note that WGBH-TV Accessible Media and Technology project has determined at this early stage that at least two brands of digital TV conversion boxes will allow you to turn the SAP (descriptive audio function) on or off simply by pressing the button labeled “CC/audio” on the remote control. Those brands are the Digital Stream, found at Radio Shack, and the Insignia brand, found at Best Buy.
Keep in mind that, when you connect your new box, you just attach it to the VHF connection on the TV because the new conversion box will be sorting out the various signals. If you are also buying a new set of rabbit ears, you will notice they look just like they have for decades, except that now they have what is called a coax-style connector instead of the little metal horseshoes.
When you open the box with your new gadget, you should find a plastic box measuring approximately ten inches by eight inches, a remote control, the quantity and size of batteries for the remote control, at least one cable with coax-style connectors on each end, and a print instruction manual.
Place the converter box on a solid, safe surface, and disconnect the rabbit ears or external antenna from the back side of your TV set. Ideally the next step is to attach the rabbit ears or antenna to the connector that is labeled “antenna input,” located on the rear of the new converter box. That is precisely what you must accomplish; however, you may discover that you must purchase an adaptor that will enable you to connect your ears or antenna to the new box. The exact type of adapter you need will depend on the type of connector your ears or antenna have on the end of their cable as well as the type of connectors on the rear of your new box. Whatever type of adapter you need won’t cost more than $10.
The next step is to remove the new cable from the product box and attach it to the connector labeled “antenna output” on the rear of your new converter box. Then find the opposite end of this new cable and attach it to the VHF terminals on the rear of your TV set. Once again, depending on the age of your TV, you may need to use an adapter so that the different styles of connectors will make the attachment possible.
While you are investigating the rear panel of the converter box, you will notice several other connectors that are different from the antenna input and output. These connectors are not essential for digital broadcast reception. They send the TV antenna signal to VCRs, DVDs, stereo sound systems, etc.
Some people will need a sighted assistant. If all else fails, remember that the instruction manual lists customer service and technical assistance phone numbers. Perhaps the company has the manual in an alternative format as well. In any event, someone who can read the print digital menus (option selections and instructions on the TV screen) while you are setting up the new digital system must be available as you work.
The next step is to turn on the TV set’s power and then select either channel 3 or 4. Which channel is the correct one will depend on the manufacturer’s choice, and the manual will clarify this point.
Then install the batteries in the remote control. Remember that the end of the battery that is perfectly flat should rest against the spring in the battery compartment. You probably know that in many situations you can ignore the remote control and simply use the buttons on the gadget itself to do all the necessary tasks. However, this is not the case with most brands of converter boxes because most have no buttons except a power on and off switch.
Next turn on the converter box power-on switch. Note that several small LED lights are on the front panel. One of these is the power on indicator, and usually another LED indicator lights up only when the box is successfully receiving a channel transmission.
The next step is the new digital experience. It’s time to pick up that remote control and make it a reality. Turn on the remote control by pressing its power-on button. This is a distinctly separate function from pressing the converter box power-on switch. While your new digital TV system has a variety of features and functions, such as a TV guide that appears on the screen, many of its capabilities are inaccessible without sight.
The next step is an absolute must-do activity for the successful reception of any digital broadcast channels. You must activate the setup menu, so called because it has a variety of options to choose from, just like the selections on a restaurant menu. When the setup page is activated by pressing the proper button on the remote, a variety of menu options appear on the TV screen.
Manufacturer product instruction manuals are notoriously inadequate, likely to be incomplete, inaccurate, or simply incomprehensible. This problem makes it tough for blind people readily to understand or effectively communicate the essential information we need, so make a point of taking notes and repeating procedures until you are sure you are in control and on track.
All brands of converter boxes will have a function called “auto-scan.” This is the essential function that the conversion box must accomplish. It is a process of recognizing the first time you use the box all the digital channels available to you. Some brands may have designed a practical and reliable procedure that can be done in future by a blind person without sighted help. Once you have successfully accomplished the auto scan, which will take less than a minute, a couple of other options in the setup menu may need some fiddling with. Once you have finished the setup procedure, you probably won’t have to pay attention to this function for years to come.
From now on you will simply turn on the TV, then the converter box, then the power-on button on the remote. After that just press the numbered buttons to reach your desired channel. Alternatively two buttons, labeled “channel up” and “channel down,” will allow you to step up or down one channel at a time.
A variety of useful but nonessential features are available to digital TV users. You access these by pressing various buttons on the remote, including four arrow buttons. Whether or not a user can actually use these features without seeing the print on the screen will largely depend on the talents of the design engineers of the particular manufacturer. Curious and adventurous users will just have to experiment to find out what they can access.
One feature that will take some getting used to is the fact that your favorite station will now probably be broadcasting more than one channel. If you like the PBS channel 9, that station may now be transmitting three, four, or five digital channels. So you could watch opera on channel 9 point 1, This Old House on channel 9 point 2, or The News Hour on channel 9 point 3. Contact each of the TV stations you received before going digital and ask each how many channels they now have. Remember that the digital broadcast signal is narrower than the old analog signal, so you may find that you have to fiddle with the position of the ears or antenna more than you used to. However, you should be able to receive every channel that you received in the past and maybe even one or two that were of such poor quality that you never watched them. Good luck in this brave new world.
by Jeff Barr
From the Editor: On Thursday, October 30, 2008, the Kalamazoo Gazette carried a front page story about eight students at the Michigan Commission for the Blind’s adult training center. The day before the eight had gone skydiving. Through the years we have carried a number of stories about blind people who engage in skydiving, and the Colorado Center for the Blind has sent groups of students up at least twice that I can remember. So what was the big deal this time?
Longtime Federation leader Christine Boone has been the director of this center for about two years now, and she reports that the morale of the students is improving all the time and they are really beginning to grasp that the future belongs to them. This adventure was a big step for them, and the reporter seems to have felt the excitement and understood how important this event was for those who took part. Here is the story:
One by one they fell from the sky, free-falling at 120 mph the first few thousand feet, then floating peacefully the final half-mile or so to the ground. They felt the rush of the wind, but they did not see the clouds; they heard the steady hum of the aircraft from which they leapt, but they could not view the cabin that housed them. These skydivers, barrier-breakers one and all, are blind.
Eight students from the Michigan Commission for the Blind Training Center in Kalamazoo traveled to Hastings Airport Wednesday seeking to prove something to themselves and also to those who might underestimate them. The lesson: those without sight are not without ambition, courage, and ability.
“That's what today is all about,” said Christine Boone, director of the Kalamazoo training center for two years. “It is to show that blind people can do just about anything a sighted person can do, if they are given the chance. “Our mission at the training center is to show our students that they must learn how to deal with the misconceptions people have about the blind. In order to do that, they must have confidence and courage.”
Boone, who has been blind since birth, understands what it takes to knock down walls that society might have placed upon her. The New Jersey native earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Colorado and then a law degree from Creighton University. Before coming to Kalamazoo, she had a winning record trying labor and employment cases and was a member of Pennsylvania's Department of Labor and Industry.
She proudly joined her students as they readied for their jumps, offering words of encouragement and enjoying the atmosphere of nervous anticipation. “I was getting a little anxious before I put on the gear, but now I'm just real excited,” said Bob Willis, seventy-nine, of Royal Oak, who said he was about to become the oldest blind skydiver in the world. “That's my story, and I'm going to stick with it until someone proves me wrong.”
Ed Butters of Coldwater wrote in a recent posting on Skydiving Magazine's Website that he made a jump at ninety-two, but there is no independent confirmation of that jump. And Butters wasn't blind. Research seeking an official record-holder for the oldest blind skydiver has not produced results, so Willis's claim just might hold water.
Willis, a retired McGraw-Hill editor, who lost his sight to macular degeneration three years ago, was the first to hit the skies. He and Jake Warren of Lake Orion--at twenty-one the youngest in the group--went up together in their plane. They were joined by a pilot and two certified Skydive Inc. tandem jumpers who would be strapped to the first-time aerialists.
As the rest of the soon-to-be skydivers looked on from the ground, Willis made his jump. He leapt from the plane and was but a speck in the sky, free-falling in the heavens. His fall slowed when the canopy was employed, and for the next six minutes he soared peacefully to earth. “Wow, that was unbelievable!” Willis exclaimed seconds after hitting the ground, his parachute still tethered to his back. ”Not bad for an old man, huh?” Willis said he felt fine after his jump, although he did say he was a bit “balance challenged,” as he stood wobbly for the first couple of minutes back on the ground. He didn't waver when asked if he would take to the skies again. “I would definitely do it again,” he said, his face reddened from the windy fall. “In fact, I probably will. I'll wait until I'm eighty so I can break my own record.”
About five minutes later Warren, tears streaming down his cheeks, let out an “Awesome!” as he touched down.
Kristina Richard of Gwinn anxiously waited her turn, laughing nervously and wondering what lay ahead. Still, she said, there was no looking back. “Seven years ago, almost to the day, I had a major stroke, and I was in the hospital wondering if I'd ever walk, talk, or be able to feed myself again,” said Richard, thirty-six, who gradually lost her sight early in life as a result of cone-rod dystrophy. “Now I'm going to jump out of a plane. I'm so, so excited. I can't even believe it.”
There was an air of the surreal as the students made their jumps, these students who had vigorously chosen to fly the skies. The Kalamazoo training center's recreation fund allows for students to enjoy activities in the area. In the past bowling and swimming have been the recreation of choice. But this group opted for skydiving. “I was surprised, at first,” Boone said. “But there was never a thought of not letting them do it. Sighted people can skydive, why can't we?”
For more about the Michigan Commission for the Blind, visit <www.michigan.gov/mcb>.
From the Editor: Dan Bigley is president of the South Central Chapter of the NFB of Alaska. We recently learned that on September 30, 2008, he was named Alaskan of the Year by the Governor’s Committee on Employment and Rehabilitation of People with Disabilities. Here is part of the press release announcing the honor:
After a grizzly sow attacked him on the Russian River and ER doctors did the best they could, Dan Bigley’s family and friends stood by. A week later, his chances of survival much improved, doctors brought him back from a drug-induced coma to break the news that he was permanently blind. In the five years since the attack, Bigley has created a life that includes a wife and new son, and he is working towards a master’s degree in social work from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. He has an internship working with emotionally disturbed youth and their families. He’s also writing a book about the attack and its impact on his life.
On September 30 in Fairbanks, Bigley received one of ten awards from the Governor’s Committee on Employment and Rehabilitation of People with Disabilities. The ceremony honors individuals, employers, and organizations that have helped advance the employment of people with disabilities.
That was the release. As we were looking online for additional information about this amazing Federationist, we discovered the following story that appeared in the January 20, 2008, edition of the Anchorage Daily News:
Mauling Victim Moves on with Life
Grizzly Took His Sight, but Not His Future
by Debra McKinney
Dr. James Kallman woke the instant his pager went off that summer night in 2003 and soon had an emergency room doctor on the line. "A young guy," she said. "He's been attacked by a bear. Horrible facial trauma." She had a lot of trouble articulating the injury, said Kallman, who was trying to figure out if other specialists should be called in too. "It's terrible. We can't see anything. I just need you to come."
Kallman arrived around two in the morning, took one look at his patient, and froze. Dan Bigley, a twenty-five-year-old backcountry adventurer living in Girdwood, was wrapping up a day of fishing with his dog and a buddy down on the Russian River when a brown bear came at him in a dead run and tackled him to the ground.
Deep puncture wounds covered his legs, arms, back, and shoulders. But worse, much worse, the sow had clamped her jaws around the upper half of Bigley's face and chomped down, then chewed with enough force to turn facial bone to powder. "I've seen people with self-inflicted gunshot wounds," Kallman said, "people who try to commit suicide but fail, and they rip their faces up pretty bad. That's probably the closest thing I'd seen to something like this. His palate wasn't attached to anything, and his brain had herniated down into his nose. So there was nothing holding his brain in his head. A Fulbright scholar before medical school, Kallman had done a five-year residency in head and neck surgery, then a fellowship in facial reconstruction. But he'd been practicing in the real world less than a year.
"So I was still pretty green," he said. His heart was pounding as he looked down at the chaos before him. For an instant he asked himself, Can I do this? "I remember, when we got him into the operating room, I must have been standing there with sort of a stunned look on my face because one of our more senior operating nurses said to me, `Doctor, would you like to shave the hair?' And I remember turning to her and saying, 'Yeah, that's where we'll start. We'll start with shaving the hair.'"
It took eight hours to clean Bigley's wounds and sew up the skin, "to put the puzzle back together," as Kallman puts it. Then came the long wait to see if he'd survive. That first week in the intensive care unit, with Dan's brain open to the world and cerebrospinal fluid pouring out his nose, the biggest fear was that he would get meningitis or some other type of infection. But if anyone could beat the odds, friends and family members keeping vigil at the hospital knew Bigley was the guy.
Since he moved to Alaska, so many things had fallen into place for him. He had a great job working with troubled kids and a brand new love named Amber Takavitz, and he'd just bought a cabin at the top of Bear Valley with a view that went forever. As a backcountry guide he had wilderness first-responder training and used it to tell those who found him how to prevent shock and control bleeding. As he drifted in and out after the attack, he'd helped direct his own rescue. Once Bigley made it through that first week, his chances of pulling through were good. Then doctors had to tell him he was blind.
As is common for trauma of this magnitude, doctors put Bigley in a drug-induced coma to keep him still so he could heal. About ten days after the attack, the swelling had gone down enough for Kallman and a team of other specialists—Louis Kralick, Ray Holloway, and Carl Rosen--to begin a series of reconstructive surgeries. Included in the repair job was reconstructing the floor of the skull to hold his brain, rebuilding facial features with plates and titanium mesh, and wiring his jaw so his teeth would line up.
As for Bigley's eyes, they were there but had been pushed forward so far both optic nerves had snapped. There was, and is, nothing modern science can do about that. Rosen, the ophthalmologist on the team, felt strongly that removing eyes without letting the patient be part of the decision can lead to lingering doubts that it was necessary, Kallman said. So doctors slowly started bringing him out of the coma.
"After they told me," Bigley said, "I dreamt that, while I was waiting for the surgery, I wheeled myself out to the parking lot of the hospital and found one of the doctors’ BMWs, got inside, started it up, cruised down through the grass, and ended up crashing into some river and almost died.
"Another time, I remember, I was in the hospital, and I was sitting on this La-Z-Boy sort of chair, and Dr. Kallman came up and told me I was blind. And I was like, 'You're wrong. I can see you right now,' and I stuck out my hand to shake his. I was like, 'If I'm blind, how come I can see you?'"
Eventually, it started sinking in that his eyes were broken forever and needed to go. "I was still in this barely living sort of…well, I could use a word like exhaustion, but it just doesn't do it justice after fighting for your life for that long. I didn't have a lot of energy to have a big emotional reaction. So I just kind of said, 'All right.' "
Meanwhile, down in Juneau, Lee Hagmeier had spent nearly forty-five years as the only person ever blinded by a bear, as far as anyone knew. As a teenager he was out hunting and fishing when a brown bear charged and bit his face so deeply it exposed part of his brain. He never expected to get a brother. So when he heard about Bigley, he flew up from Juneau to be at his bedside.
"I wanted him to know you can get through it," said Hagmeier, now sixty-five and living in Seattle with his wife Christy. "You can feel awfully alone when something traumatic like this happens." When Hagmeier arrived, Bigley's jaw was wired shut, and he couldn't speak. But he took in everything his visitor said. A so-so student before being blinded in 1959, Hagmeier graduated summa cum laude from Chico State and went on to get a doctorate. This was long before the Americans with Disabilities Act and computers that could talk.
He told Bigley all that. How he kept on fishing, became a runner, did kayak trips, and hiked the Chilkoot Trail. He taught Bigley's friends and family how to guide a blind person without trampling his dignity. And he gave Bigley a talking watch. "That's one of the issues," Hagmeier said. "You wake up and you don't know if it's day or night."
"To have Lee there meant a lot to me," Bigley said. "He was alive and well, and could tell me that things would be OK. Nobody else could tell me that. Because here was somebody who really knew what I was going through. He's the only person to this day who knows, and he's the only person who ever will know. We call ourselves a tribe of two.”
During all this Bigley's relationship with Amber had gotten lost in the shuffle. It had been so new that, when she showed up at the hospital, his family didn't know who she was. "It was hard at first to find my place in all of it," she said. "I was just some girl. So I decided to take a step back."
"I was infantile in my abilities," said Bigley. "I couldn't even lift my hand to my mouth. So the idea of being in a relationship was, wooosh, out the window." That fall, after more than a month in the hospital and several surgeries, he thanked everyone involved and left Alaska. He went home to family in California for rehabilitation, to attend a school for the blind, and to figure out what to do with his life. He got counseling, took long walks on the beach, and spent a lot of time with his thoughts. "There's definitely a lot of dealing with grief and loss," he said.
The first time he came back up for a visit, the season's first snow began to fall. "It just hit me that, if none of this had happened, I would have been grabbing my skis, my boots, and my pack and heading up to the backcountry to find some glacier to ski on. My dog and me, we would have been out there. It really hit me that day, and I just lost it. I mean, you have the typical thoughts: I'm a nice guy, I do nice things. I help people in life. So why me? I don't think that's denial, but it's certainly the opposite of acceptance. So I really started thinking about ways this could help me grow. It didn't take me long to get to the point where I was like, you know, I'm a fighter. I'm a survivor. I'm alive. I'm going to make something good out of this."
"Let's be realistic," said Harlow Robinson, now a close friend but then his boss at Alaska Children's Services. "I know it's been very difficult and challenging and frustrating for Dan. He's no Superman. But he was a truly exceptional person before this accident happened. We called him the golden boy. Everything he touched he made better."
Bigley told Robinson that, while he was lying there on the ground holding his face together, long before the paramedics came and the helicopter arrived, it would have been easiest to die. But he thought of the people he loved and those who loved him and made the decision to live. He promised himself that, if he did, he'd never look back and regret it. The power of will gets a lot of credit for Bigley being alive today. The rest he gives to Kallman, who is now a friend. "Several times I've caught him telling the story in tears," Bigley said. "Everybody from his partners to neurologists to different types of specialists I saw in San Francisco, everybody who's heard the medical details is like, ‘Doesn't make any sense. You shouldn't be here.' I mean, he saved my life. I was Humpty Dumpty, and he put me back together again."
In the four and a half years since the mauling, Bigley and Amber fell in love all over again, moved back to Alaska, got married, and now have a seven-month-old son. With a 4.0, he's working on a master's in social work at the University of Alaska and has an internship at Anchorage Community Mental Health, where he works with severely emotionally disturbed adolescents and families. He's writing a book about what happened to him that day at the river and how it's changed his life. "Unfortunately, I remember quite a bit of the mauling itself, and I'm haunted by a lot of memories," he said. Part of healing for trauma survivors is to put a story to those memories, he said, to create a narrative, to make sense of things. And though writing has been cathartic, reliving the worst day of his life was harder than he thought.
"I noticed the closer I got to having to write about the actual event, the more I kept thinking of fixes to the first part of the book. I realized, after five or six months of writing furiously the beginning of this book, that I was subconsciously avoiding making it to that part."
It began as a gorgeous, blue-sky day. Bigley, his dog, and his buddy headed down the Kenai and fished hard. They had dinner at Gwin's Lodge, then fished hard some more before limiting out. They packed up and had almost reached the stairs below the Grayling parking lot at the Russian River Campground when it happened. The bear came charging around a corner so fast it dipped its shoulder as it made the turn. It swiped at Bigley's dog, swiped at his friend, then came for him. The last thing he ever saw was the eyes of the bear that took his own.
by Jerry L. Lazarus
From the Editor: Jerry Lazarus is director of special projects at the NFB Jernigan Institute. Here is his report on Meet the Blind Month activities for 2008:
Did we break last year’s record? You betcha! As many of you know, our goal for the number of October Meet the Blind Month activities has increased each year since its inception in 2002. During that first year members and planners organized about fifty events across the country. Now, in its seventh year, we have broken the four hundred mark, and that does not include the seventy-plus protest events for that horrid movie, Blindness.
How did we do it? The way we always do. Plan, organize, work hard, and make it happen. The Meet the Blind Month campaign, one of many projects overseen by Mark Riccobono, executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute, is our coordinated nationwide project designed to provide opportunities for NFB members to reach out in their communities.
Meet the Blind Month planners, including affiliate presidents, chapter presidents, assigned chairpersons, and general members, took up the cause to find opportunities, created many of their own meet and greet activities, partnered with other chapters, and synergized with other organizations. In addition we mobilized to take our message to the street, inside classrooms; in front of Wal-Marts and other retailers, grocery stores, and community fairs; on the radio; at health fairs, senior centers, public and college libraries, retirement communities, farmers markets, restaurants; and at White Cane Walks among other places.
Braille Is Beautiful presentationsor other opportunities where the use of Braille was featured and demonstrated highlighted our members’ enthusiastic willingness to promote the beginning of our 2009 Braille literacy campaign. Although all participating states handed out Braille alphabet cards, the following affiliates actually demonstrated the use of Braille in some way: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.
Iowa took the prize this year for the highest number of events, with Dolores Reisinger’s personal best of thirteen different activities during the month. One of those events, a Braille Is Beautiful presentation at the All Saints School, earned her an article in the Gazette, a Cedar Rapids/Iowa City newspaper publication, along with their online version, and an accompanying video article. The article, by news writer Erika Binegar, really captured the essence of Meet the Blind Month, describing how Dolores taught the thirty third-graders how the small raised bumps under their fingers formed the Braille alphabet. “You don’t need to be blind to learn Braille,” she told the students, who then proceeded to decipher two sentences.
Christine Hall of the NFB of New Mexico, working in harmony with the Albuquerque Museum, the State of New Mexico Commission for the Blind, and VSA North Fourth Art Center, put together an Art Beyond Sight Awareness Day at the Albuquerque Museum. The special day of programming is in conjunction with Art Beyond Sight Awareness Month, an international initiative to promote art by and for people with vision loss. The program included a wood block print demonstration plus a “More than Meets the Eye” showcase of poetry and music by children and adults with vision loss.
White Cane Walks took place this year in Alabama, Florida, Kansas, Massachusetts, twice in Missouri, three times in Ohio, and once each in Oregon and South Carolina, while White Cane Proclamations were issued in Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, and Utah.
Cary Supalo, president of the Happy Valley Chapter of the NFB of Pennsylvania, had the honor of hosting the noted mathematician, Abraham Nemeth, at the Pattee Library at Penn State University. In 1952 Dr. Nemeth created the Nemeth Braille Code for mathematics. It was the first Braille code to deal with advanced mathematical concepts by furthering such processes as taking a number to the fifth power, since the fourth power was the highest possible in the old system.
Vicki Hodges, Phoenix Chapter president of the NFB of Arizona, worked out a combination public relations/ fundraising event by arranging to stage their activity in a restaurant during the dinner hours of 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. Arby’s personnel and members of the chapter invited patrons to meet the blind while enjoying dinner. Members were available to answer questions about blindness and distribute literature. In addition a percentage of sales from food purchases during that time was donated to the Phoenix Chapter in support of its programs and services provided at the local and state level.
Many thanks to all who participated in the planning and coordination of Meet the Blind Month events. The members, chapters, and affiliates mentioned here only begin to recognize the increasing number of individuals who help us raise the number of events each year. Begin your planning now to create Braille Literacy events for October 2009.
by Allen Harris
From the Editor: Allen Harris chairs the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund committee. He has an important announcement for those who would like to attend this year's national convention but find themselves short of funds. This is what he says:
The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund is looking for individuals who can use some financial assistance to attend our national convention in Detroit, Michigan. In 2009 our convention will begin on Friday, July 3, and run through Wednesday, July 8. This is an entirely different schedule, and the convention is a day shorter, ending with the banquet Wednesday evening.
Who is eligible to receive a Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship?
If you are a member of the National Federation of the Blind, you are eligible to apply. However, preference will be given to first-time convention attendees. The scholarship selection committee is able to make an occasional exception, but first-time convention participants are the target group.
What do I have to do to apply for a Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship?
You must do the following and are responsible for these application requirements:
1. Find out who your state NFB president is and get him or her to write a letter of recommendation for you, or you may have a chapter president or other officer write a letter of recommendation, but we must have a letter from a Federation leader who is familiar with you.
2. You must write a letter to the Kenneth Jernigan fund committee expressing the reasons why you want a scholarship. Describe your participation in the Federation and what you think you would get and give to the convention. Please send all information to Allen Harris, 219 Meadows Drive, Birmingham, Alabama 35235, or email the information to <[email protected]>.
3. You must register for and attend the entire convention, including the banquet.
How do I get my scholarship funds?
You will get cash at the convention. The times and locations will be listed in the notice you receive if you are a scholarship winner. The committee is not able to provide funds before the convention, so work with your chapter and state affiliate to assist by advancing funds you can pay back when you receive your scholarship.
When will I know if I have been selected as a Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship winner?
The committee makes every effort to notify scholarship winners by May 15, but you must do several things to be prepared to attend if you are chosen:
1. You must make your own hotel reservation. If something prevents you from attending, you can cancel your reservation.
2. You will receive a letter with the convention details, which should answer many of your questions. It is also helpful to find a mentor from your chapter or affiliate to act as a friend and advisor during the convention. Although you will not know officially whether or not you have been selected until early May, you must make plans to attend and then adjust your plans accordingly.
This past summer in Dallas the Jernigan Fund scholarship committee awarded sixty Kenneth Jernigan Scholarships. The average grant was $600. You can include in your letter to the committee any circumstances which the committee may choose to take into consideration. Above all, please use this opportunity to attend your first convention and join several thousand other blind Federationists in the most important meeting of the blind in the world.If you have questions or need additional information, call Allen Harris at (205) 655-8221 or email him at <[email protected]>. You may also email Joy Harris at <[email protected]>. We look forward to seeing you in Detroit and enjoying convention with you and all of our fellow Federationists.
The recipes this month come from members of the NFB of Puerto Rico.
Gelatin with Cheese
by Dorali Santiago
Dorali Santiago is the mother of Kemuel Pérez, an eight-year-old blind child.
2 large packages gelatin dessert of different flavors
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
Method: The day before, prepare one package of the flavored gelatin according to package directions and pour into a pan or mold that is large enough to accommodate the final dessert. Early in day stir one cup of boiling water into the two envelopes of unflavored gelatin in a bowl and allow to stand for at least two minutes to soften and dissolve completely. Pour into a blender with the condensed milk and cream cheese. Blend until the cream cheese dissolves completely. Pour the cheese mixture over the set flavored gelatin and refrigerate for at least four hours, or until firm to a light touch. Meantime prepare second package of flavored gelatin and set aside or chill slightly, but do not allow to set. When the first two layers are set, pour the liquid gelatin over the top and return to the refrigerator to set completely. To serve, loosen edges and dip mold into hot water for about ten seconds. Invert mold on serving plate and shake gently to free the dessert. Repeat the hot water bath till the mold loosens. You may wish to chill the mold on the plate again before serving.
Tomato and Cheese Salad
by Dorali Santiago
3 tomatoes, finely chopped
2 cups lettuce or cabbage, torn in bite-size pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
2 slices fried bacon, crumbled
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup ricotta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Method: Mix all ingredients in a crystal bowl, and the salad is ready to serve.
Quail Stuffed with Rice and Pigeon Peas
by Mayra Fred
Mayra Fred is the mother of Yatska Díaz, an eleven-year-old blind child; both are members of our affiliate.
1 can of pigeon peas
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tomato, peeled, chopped, and seeded
1 tablespoon achiote coloring (1/2 cup tomato sauce may be substituted)
1 tablespoon olives
1/2 tablespoon capers
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup rice, uncooked
Salt to taste
2 ounces smoked ham, chopped
1 1/2 cup water
Garlic salt to taste
Method: Season the quails to taste with garlic salt and set aside. Pour the water into a pot, add salt to taste, and bring to a boil. In another pan pour olive oil and heat to moderately high temperature. Sauté smoked ham. Add onions, peppers, tomatoes, and garlic, and simmer for a few minutes. Add capers, olives, achiote coloring, and pigeon peas. Mix well and let cook for two to three minutes. Add the rice and boiling water. Mix thoroughly. Cook slowly until the liquid has evaporated. Stir, cover, and cook until the rice is tender. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange quails in a baking dish and bake for twenty minutes. Take the quails out of the oven, stuff them with the rice and pigeon peas, and return them to the oven for fifteen more minutes.
Note: Quails can also be stuffed with mofongo--mashed boiled green plantains seasoned with olive oil and garlic. Some people in Puerto Rico prefer this dish for Thanksgiving dinner. Goes well with any vegetable salad, mashed potatoes, or potato salad. One quail serves two people.
by Vanessa Torres
Vanessa Torres is the wife of Tomás Cintrón, a longtime NFB member and a tenBroek Fellow.
6 tablespoons sugar
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
1/3 cup coffee
Ingredients for glazing caramel:
1 cup sugar
Method: Place the cup of sugar in a nonporous, heavy metal saucepan or skillet over moderately low heat. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the sugar melts completely (caramelizes). Continue cooking until sugar reaches the desired color, from light to dark. Do not burn. The whole process takes about ten minutes. Caramelize the mold by pouring the liquid sugar into an eight-inch round mold at least three inches deep. Move the mold in a circular pattern in order to cover the bottom with the caramelized sugar. Set aside.
Heat the oven to 325 or 350 degrees. Beat the eggs lightly, just enough to blend them. Add the sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt. Strain this mixture and add the coffee. Pour flan mixture into the caramelized flan mold and place it in a larger pan of hot water or bain-marie. Bake for about an hour or until it is firm to the touch or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from the oven. Let flan cool at room temperature. Refrigerate for about three hours before serving.
Peanut Butter Línbers
by Nitza Martínez and Alvin Díaz
Nitza and Alvin are a mother and an eight-year-old blind child who recently joined our affiliate.
1 large can of Carnation evaporated milk
1 evaporated milk can of water
4 tablespoons peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar or sugar to taste
Method: Mix all ingredients well in a saucepan. Stir over moderate heat until the peanut butter melts. Remove from heat and let cool for about ten minutes. Pour into four-ounce plastic cups. Freeze for at least two hours. Our delicious Línbers were named for Charles Augustus Lindbergh, the U. S. aviator, who made a stop in Puerto Rico in his first solo nonstop transatlantic flight in 1927. Some of the traditional flavors are guava, tamarind, soursop, mango, coconut, orange, and other tropical fruits. They can be made by freezing the mixture in plastic cups or in an ice cube tray. They are so easy to make that your kids can help you make them. Great for hot days. This recipe fills nine four-ounce cups.
Rum Shrimp Stew
by Lydia Usero
Lydia Usero is a founding member and first vice president of our affiliate.
2 pounds shelled and deveined raw shrimp
1 tablespoon black pepper, freshly ground
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 yellow onion, minced
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 fresh cilantro leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/3 cup Puerto Rican rum (or substitute)
Method: In a mortar grind the pepper, garlic, onion, salt, cilantro, olive oil, and vinegar to make a paste. Combine the shrimp, tomato, and rum in a deep skillet and add the paste. (You may add a small amount of water, if the liquid of the tomato is not sufficient.) Cook for three to four minutes. Do not overcook the shrimp. Note: Serve over any type of rice. It goes well with tostones, patties of mashed fried green plantains. Try them, you will love them. Serves six.
Puerto Rican Stew (Sancocho)
by Odette Quiñones
Odette Quiñones is a founding member and hard worker in our affiliate. She is the loving mother of our first vice president, Lydia Usero.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 onion, finely diced
3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
2 cups corn kernels (frozen may be used)
1 stalk celery with leaves, chopped
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
2 green plantains, peeled and quartered
2 yautias, peeled and cubed (a tropical tuber like a yam or potato)
1/2 pound potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 pound pumpkin, peeled and quartered
1 cup tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
2 pounds cubed stew beef
1 pound cubed pork shoulder
2 1/2 quarts cool water
Salt and ground pepper to taste
Method: Heat the oil in a deep kettle and add peppers, garlic, and onions. Cook for two to three minutes. Add the meat, cilantro, celery, and oregano. Cook for fifteen to twenty minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Then add water to cover the other ingredients. Cook for two and a half hours or until the meat is tender. Note: For a thicker soup mash some of the vegetables and stir them thoroughly into the liquid. Sancocho is great for cold days. It goes well with garlic bread or our scrumptious tostones. Delicious. Makes ten to twelve servings.
News from the Federation Family
The NFB of Oregon conducted elections at its November convention. The new officers are Art Stevenson, president; Carla McQuillan, first vice president; Chris Morse, second vice president; Vivian Smith, secretary; Joyce Green, treasurer; and Charlotta McKenzie, Jerry Hathaway, Linda Jaynes, and Elizabeth Rousseau-Rooney, board members.
On Tuesday, November 11, 2008, Jim Canaday, vice president of the Douglas County Area Chapter of the NFB of Kansas, took his seat on the Lawrence Public Transit Advisory Commission. He is filling out an uncompleted term before beginning his own three-year term in January 2009. Four members of this chapter worked diligently in a campaign to preserve bus transit; on November 4 the two relevant ballot issues passed with remarkable 70 percent yes votes. Congratulations to Jim and the entire Douglas County Area Chapter.
Attention Blind and Visually Impaired High School Students:
Blindness 4 1 1 was created by the National Federation of the Blind to give you a place to meet other teens with vision loss and to give you a chance to learn about resources that can help you in school, at home, and in your community. The NFB is the largest blindness organization in the United States. We have over 50,000 members who work hard to make a difference in the lives of blind people. We are excited to provide this resource to you and hope that you will tell your friends about us.
If you are currently a Facebook member, go to Groups, search for the group using our group name, and request access to our group. If you are not signed up for Facebook, join in on the fun. Visit <www.facebook.com> to get connected with our NFB teen group. If you have any questions, call Rosy Carranza at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2283, or email her at <[email protected]>.
At its 2008 convention the following board was elected to serve the NFB of Illinois as the 2008-2009 board of directors: president, Patti Gregory-Chang; first vice president, Deborah Stein; second vice president, Robert Gardner; secretary, Carmen Dennis; treasurer, Kelly Doty; and board members, Annette Grove, Bill Reif, Denise Avant, and Mary Lou Grunwald.
The Georgia Association of Blind Students (GABS), a division of the National Association of Blind Students, was organized at the Georgia affiliate convention in October. Since then it has established a board consisting of president, Isaiah Wilcox; vice president, Brandon Williams; secretary, Mary Fernandez; treasurer, Lakeisha Holmes; and board members, Sam Taylor and Shelby Ball. We are still beginning; however, it is evident that we will be a powerful voice for Georgia's blind students and an asset to the NFB. Prepare to hear excellent news from the Georgia Association of Blind Students.
The NFB of Maryland conducted its convention in mid-November. Elected were president, Melissa Riccobono; first vice president, Debbie Brown; second vice president, Barry Hond; secretary, Judy Rasmussen; treasurer, Shawn Jacobson; and board members, Darleen Barrett, Ray Jackson, Pauleen Johnson, Sharon Maneki, Latonya Phipps, and Renee West.
NFB of Oregon Alaska Cruise:
Seven-night Alaska cruise aboard the beautiful Norwegian Cruise Line Star—all-you-can-eat food with eleven restaurants and twenty-four-hour room service; top-notch nightly entertainment, including elaborate Broadway-style productions, comedians, concerts, etc.; state-of-the-art spa facilities; activities for all ages, as well as an abundance of quiet areas to relax.
Exciting Alaska itinerary highlighting spectacular glaciers that are so close you can hear ice breaking into the water; 7,000-foot-high snowcapped mountains that drop immediately to sea level; fresh saltwater and crisp air; wildlife—whales, hundreds of seals, bear, and moose; an opportunity to ride the White Pass and Yukon Railroad, an historic railway operated during the Gold Rush era that offers an unforgettable scenic train trip over the White Pass.
Depart from Seattle on Saturday, September 5, and return Saturday, September 12, 2009. Cruise rates: inside cabin $654, ocean view cabin $824 (with a picture window), and ocean view cabin with a balcony $1,184. Rates are per person, based on double occupancy, do not include taxes and port fees, currently around $395 per person, and are subject to change until paid in full. Discounted third and fourth person rates are available upon request.
A deposit of $275 per person is required to guarantee your space on this cruise. This deposit, minus a $25 per person cancellation penalty, is refundable until June 5, 2009, which is when the final payment is due. Contact Kim Howell with Travelfax, (800) 480-7405, or email <[email protected]>.
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.
Attention Past Camp Wapanacki Campers:
Does Camp Wapanacki bring back fond memories? We hope so. Seek the Son Ministries, Inc., is interested in producing a tribute book capturing memories of Camp Wapanacki. We would love your help. Please email, mail, or fill out our Web form describing special memories or including pictures.
My name is Theresa Beers Taylor, and Camp Wapanacki played a huge role in my life for five years. It allowed me to realize blindness would not stop me from reaching my dreams. Wapanacki represented a safe place to try new things like canoeing on Lake Memphremagog. These trips were not only challenging but lots of fun. Friendships were built and many memories shared. I remember one trip a bad thunderstorm hit while we were on the lake, and I was absolutely petrified. I tried my best to hide under the seat. Joe Ingram told us not to swamp because we had the Oreos.
This story is only one of many I keep in my heart. We hope you also have several stories to tell. My husband Ken and I met at Wapanacki, and now after twenty-one years of marriage we started our own 501(c)3 nonprofit known as Seek the Son Ministries. Our goal is to open a year-round retreat center accessible for the disabled.
As part of a campaign to help others understand the need for places like Camp Wapanacki, we decided to produce a tribute book full of stories, history, and pictures of Wapanacki, the first camp in the United States to open for the visually impaired. As we get close to publication, we will make this book available in several formats to help meet the needs of all. Proceeds from this endeavor will go straight to Seek the Son Ministries, Inc.
Ken and I both realize the importance of Wapanacki in our lives and in our formation of this nonprofit. We would love and need your help in sharing stories, history and pictures of Wapanacki. Listed below are three ways to submit information. Please pass this on to any other fellow Wapanackians.
Email us at <[email protected]>. Postal mail may be sent to Reverend Theresa C. Taylor, Seek the Son Ministries, Inc., 3821 Reservoir Boulevard NE, Columbia Heights, Minnesota 55421. Also check out our Website at <www.seektheson.org>. You can fill out a form on the Web if you are interested. We accept Braille, large print, cassette, and print submissions.
Recording Service Available:
Do you have family memories recorded on transcription disk, cassette tape, VHS or reel tape? I can transfer them to a digital CD or DVD. Contact Bryan Newkirk at (850) 512-4917 or <[email protected]>, or visit <members.cox.net/radiobryan>.
Attention Art Lovers Heading for New York City:
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is delighted to offer monthly programs for visitors who are partially sighted, blind, or deaf. Join Guggenheim educators for an after-hours tour and interactive discussion, followed by a private reception. Programs for partially sighted and blind visitors are presented through verbal imaging and touch; separate programs for deaf visitors are presented in American Sign Language, with no voice interpreter. Admission and programs are free of charge. Tours are Mondays, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Assistive listening devices for hard-of-hearing visitors are also available in the museum for daily Educator Eye museum tours at 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Space is limited. Please RSVP (212) 360-4355 or <[email protected]>.
The Selective Doctor, Inc., is a repair service for all IBM typewriters and Perkins Braillewriters. Located in Baltimore, the service has done work for the Maryland School for the Blind and a number of other organizations in Maryland. They accept Perkins Braillers sent to them from around the country.
The cost to repair a manual Perkins Brailler is $55 for labor (flat rate), plus parts. Because of technical complexity the cost to repair an electric Perkins Brailler is $60 for labor (flat rate), plus parts. The Brailler will be shipped back to you by U.S. mail, Free Matter for the Blind and insured for $400. The cost of this insurance ($5.50) will be added to your invoice. This listed insurance charge may fluctuate due to rate changes by the postal service.
To mail Braillers using the U.S. Postal Service, send your Brailler(s) to the Selective Doctor, P.O. Box 28432, Baltimore, Maryland 21234-8432. If you care to use UPS or Federal Express, please send Braillers to the Selective Doctor, 3014 Linwood Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland 21234-5821. The Website is <www.selectivedoctor.com>. With your Brailler(s) please include your name and organization (if applicable), shipping and billing addresses, telephone number, and a brief description of your Brailler's needs. Should you require additional information, please call (410) 668-1143, or email <[email protected]>.
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.
My name is Marge Mosley, and I would like to sell a 17-inch B/W Magnisight Explorer Custom Focus CCTV that belonged to my husband. I am asking $1,000 for it, and, if it needs to be shipped, I would need another $100 to cover the shipping cost. If anyone wishes to contact me, my phone number is (817) 426-9092. I live in Burleson, Texas.
Looking to Replace Worn-out Talkman with Like Unit or Similar Device:
I would prefer the modified Panasonic unit from the early 1990s. Must include AM/FM radio and ability to play NLS cassette books and stereo music cassettes. Other standard features should include variable speed control and capability to play cassette books with or without headphones. Prefer a working unit, but will consider one that needs maintenance. Please contact Justin McDevitt at (651) 646-9659, (after 5:00 p.m., CST, or email <[email protected]>.
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.