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.