Vol. 52, No. 2 February 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. 2 February 2009
Detroit Site of 2009 NFB Convention
Minnesota: Land of Many Waters and New Hope for Blind People
by Barbara Pierce and Daniel B. Frye
Variations on a Theme at BLIND Incorporated
by Daniel B. Frye and Barbara Pierce
The House That Flour Built
by Barbara Pierce and Daniel B. Frye
Freedom Scientific Files Patent Infringement Suit against GW Micro
by Daniel B. Frye
Federationists Celebrate Louis Braille’s Birthday
By Ryan Strunk
The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards
by Gary Wunder
Defending Our Right to Parent
by Michael Bullis
Blind, but Intelligent
by Harold Snider
by the Access Technology Team
Barring the Chaos Factor
by Barbara Loos
Blue Collar to Blues: Groovin’ in Detroit 2009
by Fred Wurtzel
Breaking Out of My Comfort Zone
by Marc Schmidt
Convention Scholarships Available
by Allen Harris
Copyright 2009 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
The National Federation of the Blind and Sendero Group jointly sponsored a booth at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Showcase in Las Vegas, Nevada, January 6 to 11, 2009. Our booth, one of 2,700, was called the Vision Free or Products for Everyone display. It promoted the importance of producing mainstream electronic devices usable out of the box by everyone. Among the items at our booth were the Surfboard remote control, a Panasonic microwave with tactile buttons, and versions of a telephone and radio. Conference participants seemed enthusiastic about our message of universal accessibility. Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro and his spouse, Dr. Susan Malinowski, a retina surgeon, were two of the high-profile dignitaries who visited our booth to look at our endorsed products and to learn about our message. Singer Stevie Wonder joined the NFB and Sendero Group delegations, lending his name recognition to our message by presenting awards to several manufacturers of usable mainstream electronic devices at a special reception held at the conference. The NFB and Sendero Group received considerable national press attention for our educational efforts, logging over seventy-five radio and print stories across the country throughout the week.
by Barbara Pierce and Daniel B. Frye
At the 1982 or 1983 Washington Seminar an invitation was issued to those interested in establishing an adult rehabilitation center for the blind in their states to have breakfast with other Federationists who shared the same dream. Barbara went to that breakfast and quickly discovered that three of those present were far more advanced in their dreaming than the rest of us. One of them, Joyce Scanlan, president of the NFB of Minnesota, even had a working name for her dream center, Blindness: Learning In New Dimensions, or BLIND Incorporated.
As you read in the May and October 2008 issues of the Braille Monitor, the NFB of Louisiana in 1985 and the NFB of Colorado in 1988 opened the doors of affiliate-guided adult rehabilitation centers in their states, and BLIND Incorporated also opened for business in Minneapolis in January of 1988. The center moved around a good deal in its early months as it outgrew its facilities: a two-bedroom apartment, a one-bedroom apartment, and for several years in a downtown office building. Then, in 1994, the BLIND Incorporated staff took possession of its present and, everyone hopes, permanent residence in the Charles S. Pillsbury mansion at 100 E. 22nd Street in Minneapolis. As you will read elsewhere in this issue, Joyce wanted to buy a mansion large enough to house all the classes and other center activities that comprise an NFB-based training program. The Pillsbury mansion had the potential to meet the center's needs. Fourteen years and several major renovations later, the facility seems ideally suited for its latest function.
The executive director of BLIND Incorporated since 2003 has been Shawn Mayo. She is a BLIND graduate and worked there in a number of capacities before taking over as director from Joyce Scanlan. There are two assistant directors. Dick Davis directs employment services as well as acting as careers instructor. Al Spooner is assistant director for marketing and outreach. He came to BLIND as a computer instructor and now works to help would-be students persuade their counselors to send them to BLIND Incorporated. Before moving on to describe the instructional program at BLIND, we should introduce two other people, Sidonia (Sid) and David Starnes. Sid is the receptionist and all-round clerical person at the center. David is a BLIND graduate and is head of building maintenance. Shawn reports that things around the mansion are working much more smoothly and are much cleaner since Dave has been on the job.
Barbara and Dan, accompanied by Barbara’s secretary, Sylvia Cooley, who acted as photographer for this story, visited the folks at BLIND the second week in December.
As they do every year, the students and staff had gone out early in the month to cut down the Christmas trees they erect and decorate in the center lunchroom (also used for announcements and roll call) and the parlor, which is now used for seminar class and meetings of the Metro Chapter of the NFB of Minnesota and other large affiliate gatherings. They had then spent a day trimming the trees and decorating the center for the holidays. By the time we arrived, the mansion was brimming over with Christmas carols and holiday spirit. The snow was missing that first morning, for which everyone apologized, as though they were responsible for this deficiency. If deficiency it was, it was redressed by late that afternoon when four or five inches of snow began falling.
At the time we arrived, fifteen students were enrolled in the comprehensive adult program, the main instructional element of the center’s effort. BLIND Incorporated is intentionally the smallest of the three NFB training centers. The core curriculum here as in the other NFB centers includes travel, home management, Braille, computers, industrial arts, daily living skills, and job readiness. (These last two courses are handled in one class. Job readiness begins when skills like banking, using shopping assistance, hiring readers, etc. have been sufficiently mastered for the students to be confident in their ability to get the task done.) Each student’s schedule is divided into eight daily class periods of fifty-five minutes. Generally students spend two class periods in travel, two more in the kitchen working on home management skills, and two down in the workshop learning to use power tools and making their wood projects, though this last class is not usually taught every day. Computers, Braille, and life skills and job readiness are taught in single class periods. Schedules for all students are reworked every week. This enables the staff to increase instructional time where necessary and rebalance instructional time as a student completes the requirements in one course or another. Twice a week the group gathers for seminar, which is usually led by the executive director, but every student also takes a turn leading the discussion of an issue in the blindness field or something connected with adjustment to blindness. As we have at each of the centers, Dan and Barbara led seminar discussion one afternoon during our visit.
While we were at the center, Harrison, who actually graduated before the Christmas break, completed his final travel requirement. He had already successfully done his three drop-offs. The first two of these used the bus. Students have to get themselves back to the center by bus after being dropped off in an unidentified location. The second test of skills is identical to the first, except that the drop-off point is farther away. For the third drop-off the student must get himself or herself back to the center on foot by asking only one question of passers-by.
For this final walk of 5.6 miles, Harrison had been allowed to study a set of directions in Braille. He made notes that he could take with him on the hike, and off he went mid-morning. By the time he returned victoriously to ring the freedom bell in the central hall and announce to everyone that he had completed his final travel requirement, the snow was falling and so was the temperature. We were in seminar when he arrived, but, as soon as we heard the bell joyously ringing, everything stopped as we all rushed out to congratulate him before he went off for a much-needed lunch and a chance to warm up.
The student apartments are over a mile from the center. Though it is possible to walk back and forth, students usually sharpen their bus skills morning and evening, during the winter at least, by catching the bus. The seven two-bedroom student apartments are part of a large complex that has nothing to do with the center program.
Zach Ellingson is the primary travel instructor. Emily Warton, who is the center’s Webmaster and network administrator, is also an itinerant teacher. When necessary, she can and does teach travel. But Zach, who is himself a BLIND graduate, does most of the teaching. Another instructor joined the staff in January. Zach has some residual vision, though he is completely comfortable using sleepshades. For several years the Metro Chapter sponsored its own Great Race, in which pairs of blind travelers competed to see who could follow a complex route around the city and get to the finish line first. Zach and his partner won the race the first year. Some people grumbled that Zach had had unfair use of his remaining vision. So the following year Zach entered the race wearing sleepshades. He still won; that was the end of the grumbling.
While we were at the center, the other bell-ringing event we experienced celebrated Maurice's hosting of his meal for six. This is the first of the final projects in home management class. Maurice set the table with a cloth and matching napkins. As a first course he prepared a tossed salad with walnuts and orange pieces that he served with a homemade vinaigrette dressing. He then served smothered chicken, basmati rice, a colorful steamed vegetable medley, and freshly made biscuits and butter. For dessert he had made a red velvet chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting. His five lucky guests were very full and contented indeed when they followed him out to the desk to ring the freedom bell. The Friday after our departure Juliette, one of Maurice’s guests, prepared her large meal, which served everyone in the building that day. From the fragrance of the baking banana bread and the description of the Jamaican curried chicken and ice cream cake being prepared, that meal was undoubtedly equally memorable.
Students come with varying amounts of skill and experience in the kitchen. Some were whipping up wild rice soup and chili for the crowd, while others were mastering the art of defrosting food safely. Everyone was learning to use the Internet to do research for recipe ideas. Becky Bergmann is the home management instructor. She is obviously a dedicated teacher and unflappable in the kitchen.
Jeff Thompson holds court in the woodshop on the first floor, beside the original family room, where the seniors meet once a week. All students begin industrial arts by making a small project, which teaches them to measure accurately, drill holes, use the various saws, sand, and glue. This project is often a gumball or candy dispenser. When they have mastered the skills necessary to complete this introductory project, they decide on a final, more ambitious project. One student made a roll-top chest. She has not yet taken it home, so it is still in the building to inspire the students who follow her. Maurice was making a humidor for his cigars. CJ was making an oak chest. Many students choose exotic woods that add visual and tactile character to the final product. We watched Jeff work with a student who was about to make his first cut with a saw. He was infinitely careful about teaching safety and guiding the student so that he would be successful. We both agreed that we wish someone had taken us in hand so that we too could create projects like these with confidence and pride.
Melody Wartenbee is a calm and patient Braille teacher. In the class we observed CJ was reading a book that he was clearly enjoying. Melody was working with Matthias, who was learning the early abbreviations in contracted Braille. She interrupted her work with Matthias periodically to check that CJ was following the plot of his book. Both students were challenged by their activity but cheerful and focused. In another class two students were working on their slate skills. During the seminar we led, someone asked whether or not we use the slate and stylus. Both of us responded that we had them in our briefcases. We were delighted to find BLIND Incorporated students learning this valuable skill.
Steve Decker moved quietly and competently among his students in the computer room. One was practicing keyboarding skills using a computer program. Another was working on the desktop, while a third was wearing earphones so that he could clearly hear his speech program. Steve too is calm and able to move from student to student in a busy classroom without losing his focus.
Lori Brown was working with two students on daily living skills when we slipped into her office. One was trying to untangle problems with his bank card. Dialing the phone was his first challenge. Together they discussed strategies for pressing the buttons quickly and accurately. Then she suggested that he practice dialing with the phone hung up. This student was also having trouble with the red tape surrounding his attempt to return a phone he had bought but that he did not want. His English was not equal to this task, so Lori was beside him to help when the going got difficult. Meanwhile another student was learning to wrap a gift. Having wrapped hundreds of packages in her time, Barbara sat down on the floor with the student to demonstrate some tricks and supervise the task. She was relieved when Lori pronounced his finished package acceptable.
In the afternoon we sat in on a job-readiness class in which students were wrestling with the perennial question of how to deal with blindness in the job interview. They were clearly engaged with the issue because they could see its relevance to their own situations. Dick Davis teaches this class. He has a wealth of experience and information for these students, and they seem to recognize this fact.
This month’s series of reports brings to a close our examination of the three NFB adult blindness training centers. In some ways we have been challenged to point out things that make this program unique because much of what they do is similar to the instruction at the other NFB centers. The students wear sleepshades, like those at the Louisiana Center for the Blind and the Colorado Center for the Blind. They work hard all of the time and also have fun together. While we were with them, one student was working out the details for students to attend a performance of The Messiah by George Handel. It was in St. Paul, a long way from the center, but a small group of music lovers was heading off that Thursday evening to enjoy this Christmas favorite. This student-led activity was standard operating procedure for an NFB training center, and it would be easy to overlook the impact of such an event on the students. Even those who chose not to incur the sizeable expense of the tickets and the transportation accepted as a matter of course that one of them had taken the initiative to organize the trip and work out the details. The staff did not feel obligated to go along to supervise. Blind adults who wanted to enjoy the music of the season were going off to do so. That’s life in the real world, and it is important learning in new dimensions for blind people.
Students who attend BLIND Incorporated benefit from living in the heart of a large American city. City buses are available all day, every day. Restaurants and shopping are within walking distance or in reach by a short bus ride. BLIND Incorporated graduates go home able to get where they want to go by public transportation in any weather. The students enrolled at BLIND during our visit were a true cross section of the population. Two were women in their fifties who did not want to sit at home and do nothing. Three were learning English even as they worked to master the skills of blindness. Some were getting ready for college or graduate school. Several had been blind for only a few months, and some for their entire lives. One had come all the way from Guam and was dealing with snow for the first time. Another was struggling to grasp spatial relationships in the world around him. Their abilities and experience varied, but they were all determined to get on with life on their own terms, not the lowered expectations of others. We came away, as we have from the other two centers, with a profound respect for the determination of the students we met and deep respect for the dedication and commitment of the instructors who devote their lives to this challenging, rewarding, and exhausting work.
by Barbara Pierce and Daniel B. Frye
In addition to the comprehensive training course offered at BLIND Incorporated, our NFB-based training center in Minnesota offers several other innovative programs to various constituencies in the blind community. Shawn Mayo, executive director of BLIND Incorporated, and her team operate a unique English Language Learners (ELL) program for blind students who need to learn to speak and write English. BLIND Incorporated staff also provide an ongoing twelve-week training curriculum for blind seniors. Finally, like our other NFB-based centers, BLIND Incorporated conducts two summer programs for blind youth—the Buddy Program for blind elementary-school-age students and the Life 101 Program for blind high school and college-bound students. All of these programs complement BLIND Incorporated’s comprehensive training program and enable the center to offer services to the entire blind community.
Minneapolis, Minnesota, is home to a large immigrant community. The largest U.S. concentration of immigrants from Somalia has settled in the greater metro area, and many of the ELL students come from this East African country. Leaders at BLIND Incorporated have identified a significant pool of blind people who would benefit from learning English in an accessible English language learners program. In conjunction with the Lehmann Center, the biggest mainstream English Language Learners program in Minnesota; the Northeast Learning Center; and other community programs, BLIND Incorporated provides initial instruction to blind ELL students to prepare them for further study at mainstream ELL programs.
According to Sharon Monthei, the principal BLIND Incorporated ELL instructor, the unusual challenge for blind English-language learners is finding a way to gather and correlate English terms with objects and concepts. Sighted ELL students learn to read vocabulary in part by looking at pictures. Blind ELL students also need Braille instruction. Because of its focus on nonvisual learning, BLIND Incorporated has found that it is well suited to helping blind people master the English language.
Students enrolled in the ELL program attend class two hours a day, four days a week. During class Sharon works with her students on basic literacy skills, vocabulary development, interpretation of tactile graphics, and Braille reading and writing. Sharon explained that one concession they have made is not teaching the entire Braille code. The students are taught only uncontracted Braille. Learning Braille contractions and abbreviations while simultaneously learning the English language seems to be too great a challenge at first. Sharon, who is certified as an ELL specialist from Hamline University, relies on a Braille version of the reading curriculum used at the Lehmann Center (Starting to Read, by Linda Mrowicki) to guide her students through the ELL curriculum. Before the BLIND Incorporated ELL students can successfully integrate into the Lehmann Center program, they must be able to read and write some English, use Braille, and possess some skill in identifying tactile graphics.
When we visited Sharon’s class, we watched her administer a spelling test on the names of twelve midwestern states. She patiently corrected spelling and Braille writing errors. Then she used fifty-piece United States puzzles to show her students how the states fit together and to reinforce north, south, east, and west. Barbara Pierce enthusiastically jumped into the teaching action too—she is a longtime puzzle player herself and has mastered the Kenneth Jernigan puzzle of the United States produced by the American Printing House for the Blind—and worked with Hasen while Sharon worked with Abdirisak.
After class adjourned, Sharon showed us other teaching tools she uses to convey abstract concepts to the students: Matchbox vehicles to demonstrate intersections and traffic patterns, and raised map books, produced by the Princeton Braillists, to teach tactile graphics in general and geography in particular.
In addition to their class with Sharon, some of the ELL students receive travel training from the BLIND Incorporated travel staff. The ELL curriculum is nonresidential. Often these students are heads of households or already know more English than anyone else in the family. They cannot be spared from home. Many of them come to realize as they are learning English that they need general blindness training, so they enroll in BLIND’s comprehensive adult training program. Presently three of the five students in the ELL program are also full-time students in the comprehensive program.
This state-of-the-art ELL program for blind students allows it to perform a comprehensive service for a subpopulation of the blind community that no other center, as far as we know, is regularly providing. The BLIND Incorporated management and staff have done national research to guarantee that they are meeting or establishing best practice. Sharon spent a week at the Kaizen Center in Seattle, Washington—a private training facility that teaches non-English-speaking blind students—working with this organization’s founders on strategies for effective teaching. Even when the ELL students enroll in the Lehmann Center to progress through the six levels of introductory instruction, transitional classes, pre-GED courses, and final GED studies, Sharon and other members of the BLIND Incorporated staff are available to consult with the instructors if necessary.
BLIND Incorporated also contracts with Minnesota State Services for the Blind and others to provide high-quality Independent Living services for the older blind population, fifty-five years and above. Lori Brown is the Senior Program coordinator. Joyce Scanlan (founding executive director of BLIND Incorporated, former NFB first vice president, and retired president of the NFB of Minnesota) also teaches the seniors. Drawn largely from people who have attended the Minnesota affiliate’s recent Possibilities Fairs for Seniors, classes of about five students enroll in a twelve-week program that meets for five hours once a week. During this sixty-hour course, seniors are exposed to a Federation-oriented philosophy of blindness, elementary concepts of Braille, strategies for living independently, safe cooking and other food-preparation techniques, and fundamental instruction in nonvisual travel skills. According to Joyce, the seniors, like the rest of the BLIND Incorporated students, are urged to do their class work under sleepshades to increase their self-confidence with nonvisual techniques.
During our early December visit Joyce and her five students, ranging in age from sixty-five to eighty-six, were meeting for only the second time. In addition to receiving copies of NFB Kernel Books to read, the class made its way through two pages of uncontracted Braille. Joyce was elated with this progress, telling us that it was the most any class of seniors had attained in a single Braille lesson. Spirits were high as the group encouraged one another as they read from the Braille lesson. They were excited to realize how useful Braille could be to them in labeling cans and other items in their homes.
Finally, they devoted about ninety minutes to a lesson on chopping and cutting as they prepared the vegetables for their tuna salad lunch. Meeting in the elegant basement family room and kitchen of the Pillsbury Mansion, the seniors brought energy and enthusiasm to the entire center. As three o’clock approached and they gathered in the lobby for their rides home, the air was filled with friendly farewells and anticipation of what next week’s lesson would bring.
Summer at all three of our NFB-based centers is an especially busy time. BLIND Incorporated sponsors two summer programs for young people, the Buddy Program for elementary-aged school children and the Life 101 Program for high school and college-bound youth. The Buddy Program, a three-week academy, occurs soon after national convention. A staff of young blind adult mentors gives the nine- to thirteen-year-old students age-appropriate instruction in Braille, travel, computers, and home management. A variety of summer recreational outings during the evenings and weekends promote social skills and increase self-confidence. Trips to local amusement parks, the famous Mall of America, movies, and the like have been past favorites of BLIND Incorporated buddy participants.
The Life 101 Program covers eight to ten weeks every summer. The highlight of this program is a trip to the NFB annual convention, where the students get a first-hand glimpse of America’s oldest and largest consumer organization of the blind in action. They are encouraged to roam the exhibit hall to learn about new assistive technologies; attend meetings of the student division and vocational organizations of particular interest to them, where one-on-one mentoring can occur; and participate in the Youth Track run by the Jernigan Institute. Leaders at BLIND Incorporated have decided that, unlike the summer programs for older youth in Colorado and Louisiana, the Life 101 Program should focus on skills development, so it has no part-time work component.The ELL, Seniors, and Summer programs enrich the many fulltime activities at BLIND Incorporated. They illustrate the creativity and resolve of its staff to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the blind students who come to Minneapolis to learn how to develop independence and self-confidence in new dimensions.
by Barbara Pierce and Daniel B. Frye
The people at BLIND Incorporated have intentionally planned their center to be the smallest and most intimate of the three NFB adult training centers. For the first two months students were trained in two successive apartments, which meant crowded quarters and lots of inconvenience. Then the center moved to a downtown office building, which provided more space and a great location, but Joyce Scanlan, BLIND’s executive director during these formative years, always dreamed of housing the center in one of the city’s beautiful old mansions, where the extended-family character of the center would be reinforced by the graciousness of a lovely old home. In 1993 she found the Charles Pillsbury mansion, built in 1912 and owned at the time of this sale by the Guthrie Theater Foundation. Joyce decided that it was just what the BLIND Incorporated staff had been looking for. Some in the community resisted the idea of selling the building to a group of blind people on the questionable grounds that they could not appreciate its grandeur. But the NFB of Minnesota prevailed, and on December 27, 1993, BLIND, Inc., bought the property at 100 East 22nd Street. They moved in on March 26 and began the demanding job of transforming it into a modern training center for the blind without sacrificing the charm and beauty of the original structure. Later this year the staff, students, and Minnesota affiliate will celebrate complete ownership of the property with a mortgage-burning party. What follows in words and photographs are highlights of the Charles S. Pillsbury mansion and current home of BLIND Incorporated.
At the turn of the last century Charles Alfred Pillsbury and the Pillsbury family had amassed a fortune, mostly from milling flour. Sometime around 1912 his sons, Charles S. Pillsbury and his twin brother John, flipped a coin to determine which of them would take over the family mansion on East 22nd Street. Charles lost the coin toss and the family home, so he decided to build his own mansion across the street. Over the next two years he did so at a cost of $300,000. The house is basically English gothic with elements of Tudor, Jacobean, and Elizabethan architecture. It appears to be built of gray limestone blocks, but it is actually brick faced with a limestone facade. Charles was interested in the Chicago school of architecture called skyscraper, so he built his home using steel I-beams and poured concrete floors.
The family used rooms on all four floors of the mansion. The family room and a card room next door used by the gentlemen shared the basement with storage areas. The main floor included the central hall, the library, the parlor, the conservatory and dining room, and the kitchen. The floor above housed bedrooms, bathrooms, closets, and personal suites for Mr. and Mrs. Pillsbury and their three daughters and one son. Even today, tucked away in a closet in Mrs. Pillsbury’s suite is the safe for her jewels. Unfortunately the combination is now lost. The top floor included servants’ rooms and a large ballroom with skylights that make the rooms airy and light.
Charles Pillsbury was determined to make his new home memorable even though he was not above cutting corners where he could. The floors in the public rooms appear to be constructed of wide teak boards pegged together, but they are actually teak veneer over poured concrete and oak flooring, which at the time was relatively inexpensive. This would seem to have been a cost-cutting measure. Yet the beautiful oak paneling in these rooms was imported from several English castles. Leaded glass windows grace a number of rooms, including the old conservatory with its bay containing grouped windows in what is now the BLIND Incorporated lunchroom. Painted-glass medallions from seventeenth-century European churches and castles have been integrated into several of the leaded windows on the main and second floors.
Pillsbury also imported a hand-carved quartersawn oak staircase from an English castle for his entrance hall. The parlor contains a massive carved oak fireplace imported from Shropshire, England. The library, now the executive director’s office, is dominated by a sculpted stone fireplace imported from the guild hall in Chester, England.
This fireplace survived the great fire of London in 1666 before being moved to Chester. But it enjoyed one further adventure on its way to the United States. Randolph Hearst actually bought the fireplace for his castle, San Simeon, in California. Charles Pillsbury learned about this find and attempted to buy the fireplace from Hearst. Knowing a good thing when he had found it, Hurst refused to sell, so Pillsbury asked if he could have a replica made before it was dismantled for shipping to the States. Hearst agreed to this, and the replica was made.
As it happened—no one now seems to know whether by happenstance or design—the original and the replica were shipped in the same freighter. Somehow, by accident or slight of hand, the original was delivered to Pillsbury and the replica shipped to Hearst. By the time Hearst realized that he had the wrong fireplace, the original had been installed in the Pillsbury mansion. Hearst sued to have his property returned, but somehow it has remained in Minneapolis and can be seen today in Shawn Mayo’s office.
Though the BLIND staff has made a huge effort to preserve the uniqueness of the Pillsbury mansion, important and necessary renovations have been made. In this post-ADA world, one of the first renovations to be undertaken was installing an elevator. Without this addition the mansion could not legally have served members of the general public. A battle developed, however, because the mansion was on the national register of historic buildings, so the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission was required to approve any proposed renovation. The architect working with BLIND drew up plans that called for an inconspicuous addition housing the elevator at the rear of the mansion.
The commission rejected the plan out of hand. In vain the staff pointed out that the Americans with Disabilities Act required that an elevator be added to the facility. The commission could not or would not suggest any modification that would make the elevator acceptable. So Joyce Scanlan instructed the architect to draw up plans for an elevator to be located in the main entrance hall, where it would be easily accessible to everyone and also conspicuously intrusive and damaging to the historic structure of the mansion. Since an elevator was required by law to be part of the center, representatives from BLIND told the commission that the more convenient and intrusive elevator would be constructed, and they submitted the blueprints to prove that they were serious. Permission to build the elevator in the original location was granted almost immediately.
A number of recent renovations to the mansion would startle a Pillsbury ghost who decided to wander around the old homestead: the up-to-date laundry room across from the elevator, the two kitchens (one electric and one gas), the flower room now used for filing, and the collection of computer and other high-tech equipment filling Mr. Pillsbury’s bedroom. But perhaps the most surprising addition is the Power Showdown table in the central hall of the second floor. Similar to air hockey, the game is played by two people standing at either end of a large wooden table with a six-inch barrier around the edge of the table and a board stretched across above the center, dividing it in half. Each player defends a pocket in front of him or her with a wooden paddle. A ball about the size of a pool ball with beads inside it to make it rattle is batted back and forth down the length of the table. Each player tries to get the ball to drop into the other person’s pocket. The ball careens from side to side, bouncing off the perimeter fence. Sometimes it bounces up and hits the center board. When it does that or bounces off the table, the person who hit it last loses a point. The game is fast and noisy, and some of the students and staff have developed lightening fast reflexes and a deep vein of competitiveness. During mid morning and afternoon breaks and at lunchtime the sound of the Power Showdown ball being hammered across the table and even occasionally bouncing down the stairs can be heard around the building. Neither of us had ever before done anything like playing Power Showdown, as was painfully obvious to everyone when we played. The game is great fun and an excellent way to relieve tension.
Another unusual game that BLIND Incorporated students sometimes play is string ball. Two people play this game, in which a hollow baseball-size ball is threaded on a cord stretched across a large room. The pitcher hurls the ball along the string toward and past the other person, who is swinging a baseball bat. The object is for the batter to connect with the ball as it scoots past. Doing so requires listening carefully and swinging precisely so as to sweep along the cable just as the ball is passing. We thoroughly enjoyed string ball as played in the ballroom, undoubtedly one of the more unusual activities ever undertaken in that rather formal space.
Those who appreciate views are struck by the spectacular vista from the upper windows of the Pillsbury mansion. This home was obviously loved by those who built and grew up in it. New generations of people, students this time, are coming to adulthood and full responsibility for themselves and their destinies within these well-made walls. We are confident that the members of the Pillsbury family who called 100 East 22nd Street home would approve of the family who call it home today.
by Daniel B. Frye
When two of the leading producers of access technology in the blindness field have differences that can apparently be resolved only in federal court, blind consumers deserve to know what is going on. How might the dispute affect this small market? Will the actions of either party influence consumer access to diverse, responsive, and competitive products in the U.S. and international blindness communities?
Mindful of the importance of access technology to blind people and curious about the rationale and implications of the row that has developed between Freedom Scientific and GW Micro, we are reporting what we have discovered at this stage of the argument so that our readers will understand the issues involved in this litigation. Here is what we know at the moment:
On July 15, 2008, Freedom Scientific--the company that developed and promotes the JAWS screen reader and the PAC Mate Omni as well as other blindness and low-vision products--filed a patent infringement lawsuit against GW Micro, a smaller access technology company known primarily for its rival screen-reading software, Window-Eyes. The Freedom Scientific lawsuit alleges that GW Micro has ”willfully infringed" and has "induced" others to behave similarly with respect to its U.S. Patent No. 6,993,707, issued on January 31, 2006, for a "Document Placeholder" by ”making, importing, selling, offering to sell and/or using within the United States computer software covered by this patent.” The case was filed in the United States District Court, Middle District of Florida.
As background, the Document Placeholder technology in question is the feature in both JAWS and Window-Eyes that allows a user to identify a particular place or bit of content on a Website and return to this same point on the Webpage (using a few simple key strokes) repeatedly while originally viewing the page or during subsequent visits. This technology is designed to make large and cluttered Websites more convenient and accessible for blind computer users.
Both Dan Weirich and Doug Geoffray, the two principal executives at GW Micro, agreed to be interviewed for this article on the condition that their attorney be present to offer them legal counsel during the exchange. Mr. Weirich began by insisting that GW Micro is not guilty of violating Freedom Scientific's document placeholder method patent. While the GW Micro answer filed in response to the lawsuit on September 29, 2008, denies the allegations of willful patent infringement and contains six legal affirmative defenses in response to the Freedom Scientific claims, we will focus here on the basic arguments that most blind computer users will understand.
First, GW Micro questions the very legitimacy of the document placeholder patent. Weirich told the Braille Monitor that this technology--albeit in a more primitive form--has existed and been used by various access technology companies since 1999, well before Freedom Scientific acquired its patent in January 2006. In their answer GW Micro suggests that Freedom Scientific may have misled the government in applying for this patent by alleging that this technology was new and innovative, when in fact some version of it had existed for almost seven years before the patent was issued. In the first GW Micro public statement about this lawsuit, issued on August 15, 2008, Weirich said, "As many of our users know, our screen reader--Window-Eyes--has had the capability of returning to a specific line within a Webpage since version 3.1, which was released over nine years ago, well before Freedom Scientific's alleged invention." Weirich went on to note, "The implication in a recent Freedom Scientific press release that GW Micro is benefiting from Freedom Scientific's investment at no charge is simply not accurate nor in line with GW Micro's tradition of success and fair play.”
Second, both Weirich and Geoffray point out that the method, design, and functionality of GW Micro's document placeholder feature are quite different from those in Freedom Scientific's JAWS product. According to Weirich, the technology that Window-Eyes relies on will allow the user of this screen-reading software to return to his or her place even on a constantly changing Webpage; GW Micro officials explain that the Freedom Scientific version of this technology relies on counting lines on a Webpage and may not be able to return to a specific location on a Webpage that is often updated. Further, Weirich and Geoffray emphasize that their version of the document placeholder technology has nothing to do with HTML tags; instead they rely solely on Windows MSAA tags to make their version of this technology function.
More important than GW Micro's technical legal defenses may be the sense of inequitable treatment to which Weirich and Geoffray feel they have been subjected. In discussing the basis and motivation for the lawsuit, Weirich said: "Both Doug and I have worked in the blindness access-technology field for over twenty years; GW Micro has been in business since 1990, and we had both worked for other companies before our time here. Throughout these years it has always been customary for access-technology companies to innovate and develop much of the same functionality in our blindness products. When returning from a tradeshow in July, I arrived to learn of the lawsuit. We had no preliminary discussions with Freedom Scientific about its concerns--no discussions, no warnings, no courtesy calls asking us to stop use of the technology, no indication at all was ever received from Freedom Scientific about this issue until the lawsuit arrived on our doorstep. I just had a neighbor share the news with me that a tree on the border of our property was dead. Similarly, I would have expected in a small market like the blindness access technology community that some collegial exchanges might have occurred before moving directly to litigation." Weirich went on to say, "One of the things about this lawsuit that troubles me so much is that we are all compelled to spend precious resources--precious resources that largely come from rehabilitation and other government funds--on this lawsuit. We at GW Micro would rather spend these resources on product development or other projects that will directly benefit our consumers."
When we asked Weirich and Geoffray what they thought had really motivated this lawsuit, they were both at a loss to give a definite answer. Weirich speculated that perhaps GW Micro's increasing success and market share in the screen-reader competition may have proved threatening to officials at Freedom Scientific. Weirich added that he knows nothing about Freedom Scientific's finances, but he suggested by implication that perhaps troubles on this score may have motivated the lawsuit.
In closing, Weirich asked that the Braille Monitor report that "GW Micro is not going anywhere. We plan to stick around and provide quality services and products to our customer base. This lawsuit is just a bump in the road. This legal action will not prevent us from making further enhancements to Window-Eyes."
Lee Hamilton, president and chief executive officer of Freedom Scientific, declined the Braille Monitor's repeated requests to be interviewed for this article. We even offered to conduct Hamilton's interview in the presence of Freedom Scientific's attorneys, but this did not sway his decision. In a December 19 email response to our interview request, Hamilton offered the following:
Thank you for the invitation, which I received on Tuesday of this week, to contribute our perspective to your forthcoming article. As you can appreciate, it was necessary to seek advice from our legal counsel before responding, and I have only just received that advice.
As you are aware, when it was clear that this issue might become a matter of public interest, we published a press release outlining our need to protect our investment in research and development for the benefit of our shareholders and customers. I understand you have a copy of that press release. Our legal counsel has advised that it would be imprudent for us to comment further at this time. It is my belief that our press release provides a clear summary of our reasons for taking the action we have, and this should be useful in balancing your article.
As you will no doubt be aware, we have a close and highly valuable working relationship with the NFB. This is manifested in our regular meetings with the International Braille and Technology Center and our active participation at NFB state and national conventions. We value the NFB's role and function highly. Please be assured that we are not offering any further comment to any media on this matter at this time; in no way is this a refusal to speak specifically to an NFB publication on the matter.
In the absence of any further comment from Freedom Scientific about its lawsuit, we reprint the press release that it offered when the action was first announced. Here it is:
Freedom Scientific Files Patent Infringement Suit
(St. Petersburg, Florida — July 24, 2008) Freedom Scientific has taken steps to protect one of its patented technologies by filing suit against GW Micro, Inc., according to Dr. Lee Hamilton, president and CEO of Freedom Scientific.
“Freedom Scientific invests more in research and development than any other company in the blindness technology industry,” said Dr. Hamilton. “We have a talented, experienced team of developers and testers, many of whom are blind themselves. They develop innovative solutions to the access issues faced by those with vision impairments and then turn those ideas into products that make a difference. Along the way, Freedom Scientific files patents to protect the investment it makes in developing new technologies.”
Freedom Scientific follows the standard business practice of filing patents for good reason. Not filing for and then enforcing patents would stifle innovation. If Freedom invests resources into developing new technologies only to find that other companies can benefit from our investment at no charge to them, then there would be no incentive to invest. Those with vision impairments would be the poorer for that in terms of independence and employability.
This practice is by no means new in this industry. Freedom Scientific itself already pays for the use of patented technologies pertaining specifically to assistive technology.
There you have the press release. At present this lawsuit remains at the preliminary stages of litigation. The parties have not yet even commenced discovery. Motions from both parties have been filed in a battle to determine the federal venue in which this case will be tried. GW Micro would like the case moved to the federal district court in Indiana; Freedom Scientific continues to urge that the case be tried in the federal courts in Florida.
We will report further developments in this case as they emerge. In the meanwhile it will be for consumers to draw their own inferences and conclusions about the ethical and legal positions that Freedom Scientific and GW Micro have espoused and adopted in this case. Is GW Micro being subject to legal bullying tactics from a larger and more powerful player in the blindness access-technology field? Is Freedom Scientific genuinely working to champion the cause of creativity and innovation for the long-term benefit of blind consumers by suing its primary competitor in the screen-reading software industry for infringement of its patents? Only time will tell.
by Ryan Strunk
From the Editor: Ryan Strunk is working with Fred Schroeder to implement the 2009 Braille Readers are Leaders (BRL) Braille literacy campaign. In the following report he describes some of the activities that took place across the country on Sunday, January 4, the two hundredth birthday of the man who single-handedly revolutionized the prospects for blind people to become literate. As you will read, in many cases the birthday bashes were only the first act in our ongoing effort to raise the public’s understanding of and respect for the Braille code. In Ohio we have had 10,000 Braille bookmarks made. In them the Braille alphabet is only inkprint, but facts about Braille and a portrait of Louis Braille are included. The cost was about $300. The bookmarks will be handed out to libraries and tucked into bags at bookstores along with purchases in the weeks and months ahead. They include the Websites for the Louis Braille commemorative coin and the Ohio affiliate. If any other affiliates would like to explore having this design modified for their use, we can help them and pass along the name of the printer that gave us the great price. Other affiliates may well be developing similar give-aways. If so, it would be helpful to notify Ryan of what is being done and how the handouts are being used. Contact him at <email@example.com>. Now, here is Ryan’s report:
Thousands—perhaps millions—of Americans listened to NPR on Sunday, January 4, and they heard the interview on the bicentenary of Louis Braille. Millions more read the New York Times, the Kalamazoo Gazette, the Pueblo Chieftain, the Daily Independent, and the numerous other newspapers that wrote about the two hundredth anniversary of his birth. I like to think that as all these people drove to or from church, drank their morning coffee, or sat at bus stops, they read the articles and found them fascinating and perhaps a bit inspiring.
I love that hundreds of newspapers covered this momentous date; in fact, as I write this article on January 8, I can still find 103 news stories on Google about Louis Braille’s two hundredth birthday. Even more, I am delighted that so many of these articles contain quotes from Federationists. It’s heartening to know that for at least one day the public was conscious of the uphill battle we face in getting Braille into the hands of our blind children. For at least twenty-four hours people read their newspapers, saw the statistics, and shook their heads in wonderment. “Only ten percent,” they might have said. “Man, that’s just not right.”
We did that. We made that happen. But we also did much more than get our names in newspapers. We went out into the communities—into the bookstores, libraries, and churches—and we showed people firsthand just how important Braille is to the blind. In dozens of locations we set up tables, handed out literature, answered questions, and made casual conversation—and as a result people will remember. They will remember because of the thousands of hours of time volunteered by Federationists to make January 4 such a resounding success and because of the creativity and enthusiasm we brought to our efforts.
For two days the members of the Greater Seattle Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington spent time at Barnes and Noble, educating the public about the Braille literacy crisis, answering questions, and showing the many uses of Braille to interested parents and children.
“One of the things that was really nice was that Barnes and Noble helped us partner with noted authors,” Kris Lawrence, president of the Greater Seattle Chapter, told me. “Barnes and Noble let us set up a table right next to the authors, and, while people were standing in line waiting for autographs, we could talk to them about Braille literacy. It was really great.”
On the other side of the continent, Sherrill O'Brien of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida held an event at her local church in Tampa. Children in her Sunday school had a chance to write their names in Braille using sequins, and at the service Sherrill did a scripture reading from her Braille Bible. “Attendance at the intergenerational Sunday school event exceeded our expectations, and everyone had a great time,” she said. In addition to all the creative arts and crafts, Sherrill also baked a Braille cake, complete with M&M’s arranged in Braille to say “Happy Birthday Louis Braille.”
Several events were held in Ohio, including two by the Miami Valley chapter alone. At two separate Barnes and Noble bookstores, the members of this chapter distributed Braille alphabet cards, wrote names in Braille for kids, demonstrated a number of Braille devices, and passed out cookies with Braille written in M&M’s.
Lora Felty, president of the Ashland Chapter of the NFB of Kentucky, read a Braille book at the Boyd County Public Library on Braille’s birthday. What made this event even more significant is that it was publicized on the front page of the Daily Independent newspaper in Ashland. The article cites Lora and the National Federation of the Blind several times and notes that more than 80 percent of blind people with jobs use Braille.
From Hawaii to Colorado, from New Mexico to Maryland, chapters of the NFB across the country held events to commemorate the birth of Louis Braille. But beyond even this we are continuing to schedule events to reach out to the public. Throughout the rest of January Federationists everywhere will continue to educate the public about the dire need for Braille education and will work to ensure that our message is heard by as many people as possible. I have already been informed that some of the bookstores and venues that participated in the January 4 events plan to hold future events to promote the use of Braille, and more than one chapter has already reserved calendar space either in April to capitalize on the March 26 launch of the Louis Braille bicentennial commemorative coin or in October to celebrate Meet the Blind Month.
For all blind people January 4 was a day of celebration. It was a time to reflect on the life and legacy of Louis Braille and to be thankful for the gift he gave us. His invention gave us the independence we would not otherwise have had and enabled us to rise above common social expectations and misconceptions.
At the same time, however, January 4 marked the beginning of what promises to be an excellent Braille Readers Are Leaders campaign. The dedication Federationists demonstrated on January 4 is strong, and I am confident it will continue to shine as we work to achieve our dream of ensuring that all blind children have the opportunity to learn Braille.
A woman with a blind child came to the table in the Barnes and Noble store where Washington held its event and was so captivated by our message that she is coming to the next chapter meeting. A certified Braillist in Cincinnati, Ohio, saw the newspaper coverage the NFB received there and just had to come to the bookstore to meet our Federation family and talk about Braille. The things we do now will live, not only in our hearts and minds, but also in the hearts and minds of everyone around us. If we continue to work as diligently as we have in the past, our future is certain.
by Gary Wunder
From the Editor: Gary Wunder is secretary of the National Federation of the Blind. He chairs the Bolotin Awards committee. Here is his announcement about the 2009 Bolotin Awards:
The National Federation of the Blind is once again pleased to announce our acceptance of nominations for the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. The first cash awards were issued in 2008 at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, and the winners and their acceptance were described in the August-September issue of the Monitor. The Bolotin Award is a new way to recognize individuals and organizations working in the field of blindness that have made outstanding contributions toward achieving the full integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality. Named for a pioneering blind physician who practiced in the early twentieth century, these awards are made possible through the generosity of his late nephew and niece. Their bequest, the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust, will allow the National Federation of the Blind to provide direct financial support to people and organizations that are improving the lives of the blind throughout the United States.
Dr. Jacob Bolotin was a blind physician who lived and practiced in Chicago in the early part of the twentieth century. As chronicled in his biography, The Blind Doctor, by Rosalind Perlman, Bolotin fought ignorance and prejudice to gain entrance to medical school and the medical profession. He became one of the most respected physicians in Chicago during his career, which spanned the period from 1912 until his death in 1924. He was particularly known for his expertise on diseases of the heart and lungs. Bolotin used his many public speaking engagements to advocate for the employment of the blind and their full integration into society. Interested in young people in general and blind youth in particular, Dr. Bolotin established the first Boy Scout troop consisting entirely of blind boys and served as its leader.
Jacob Bolotin’s wife Helen had a sister whose husband died suddenly, leaving her to raise a son, Alfred Perlman. The Perlmans moved in with the Bolotins when Alfred was eleven, and for four years (until Jacob Bolotin's untimely death at the age of thirty-six), "Uncle Jake" became Alfred's surrogate father. Alfred later married Rosalind, and the couple worked on a book about Dr. Bolotin's life. After Alfred's death in 2001, Rosalind dedicated the rest of her life to completing and publishing the book. In her will she left a bequest (the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust) to the Santa Barbara Foundation and the National Federation of the Blind to publish Dr. Bolotin's biography and establish the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Program. Blue Point Books published The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story in 2007.
The National Federation of the Blind will distribute cash awards totaling $50,000 in 2009. The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award committee will establish the number of awards and the amount of each, based on its determination of the relative merits of the pool of applicants. The committee will determine the total amount to be distributed each year based on the trust income received. Each year one or more awards will be presented to individuals and one or more to corporations, organizations, or other entities. Both blind and sighted people may apply. The committee may also accept nominations made by third parties.
Who Should Apply?
Individuals: Only individuals who are over eighteen years of age may apply for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award. Applicants must demonstrate that they have shown substantial initiative and leadership in improving the lives of the blind. Examples of such initiative include but are not limited to developing products or techniques that increase the independence of the blind, directing quality programs or agencies for the blind, or mentoring other blind people. All individual applicants must be able to demonstrate that they have worked on their projects related to the advancement of the blind within the twelve months prior to submitting their applications. Applications by individuals must include at least one letter of recommendation from a person familiar with or directly affected by the work done by that individual to improve the lives of blind people.
Organizations: Organizations may apply for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award in order to help them further programs, services, techniques, or technology that has assisted and will continue to assist the blind. Organizations applying for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award must be able to demonstrate that their programs or services include substantial participation by blind people as developers, mentors, administrators, or executives, and not merely as clients, consumers, or beneficiaries. For example, an organization operating a program for blind youth might demonstrate that a substantial number of the counselors, teachers, or mentors involved in the program are blind. The organization must be able to demonstrate that it has substantially aided blind people within the twelve months prior to application and that a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award would allow it to build on previous successes. The application must also include a testimonial from at least one blind person who has benefited from the programs or services.
With respect to both individuals and organizations, all award recipients must be domiciled in the United States of America, and their work must primarily benefit the blind of the United States.
Application materials are available on the Website of the National Federation of the blind, and online nominations, letters of support, and other relevant materials should be submitted in this format. The URL is <www.nfb.org>. Applications for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award for any given year must be received no later than April 15 by the award committee chairperson. Candidate recipients will be notified no later than May 15 that the committee intends to present them with a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award. All decisions of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award committee are final. The awards will be presented in July during the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Individuals who are selected to receive an award must appear in person, not send a representative. Organizations may send an individual representative, preferably their chief executive officer. Recipient candidates must confirm in writing that they will appear in person to accept the award at the National Federation of the Blind annual convention. Failure to make such written confirmation by June 1 will result in forfeiture of the award.
Individuals employed full-time by the National Federation of the Blind may not apply for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award for work performed within the scope of their employment. Students may not apply for both a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award and a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship in the same year.
by Michael Bullis
From the Editor: Michael Bullis is executive director of the Maryland TAP (Technology Access Program) and a leader of the NFB of Maryland. He is also a devoted father. In the following article he raises an issue that has become dear to his heart. It is a nightmare that lurks in the shadows for every blind parent. This is what he says:
It might seem that no personal right could be safely taken more for granted than the right to parent. It is so central to our social contract with one another that it isn't written. Our forefathers didn't even bother to enshrine it in the Constitution. For the most part the right to parent is conferred on an adult until or unless he or she demonstrates some incapacity. Most parents begin the task of raising children with no training and little actual experience. It is truly an on-the-job training program that usually results in children who grow up to be functioning adults.
Yet that right is daily brought into question in the experience of blind parents. Each young and deliriously happy blind mother or father discovers that a shadow is cast over what should be a joyous experience. These parents must be prepared for the possibility that, based on fear alone, some hospital worker, nurse, or doctor will question their ability to parent.
The questions begin innocuously enough. "How will you change your baby’s diaper?" "How will you know if your child is in pain?" "How will you know if the baby stops breathing?" "Suppose you drop the baby or strike its head against a door jam?"
You might respond that every parent, blind or sighted, probably asks him- or herself these questions. But, if you are blind, the questions can result in a visit from county social workers or state officials with the power to take your child, whether you have had any difficulties or not. In their minds you are guilty until proven innocent, a victim of their own fears of how they would manage a baby if they couldn't see. Far too often, well-intentioned social workers take the children of blind parents or, short of actually removing the child from the home, require parental training or the supervision of a sighted person.
Those familiar with the work of the National Federation of the Blind are aware that thousands of blind parents raise their children without difficulty every day, finding alternative techniques for solving parenting problems just as most sighted parents do. As with most things about blindness, starting with a positive attitude and the belief that a problem can be solved usually leads to a more than satisfactory solution. But, when you're in that hospital and the county social worker has the power to take your child from you, positive solutions can seem a very long way off. When you're in an unfamiliar environment and are asked to demonstrate your ability to bathe a newborn, the task can seem daunting indeed.
It doesn't stop with newborns. If you're a blind parent, a concerned neighbor may call child services officials at any time and raise questions about your parenting skills. As the children grow older, teachers may question your ability to help them with their school work. If you were a sighted parent and issues were raised about your ability to parent, complainants would have to provide actual evidence of your incompetence. But, if blindness is the central issue, nothing at all has to have gone wrong. Just the supposition that you as a blind parent can't possibly control your child can be enough for placement in state custody.
Finally, there is one more area in which your ability to parent can be questioned: divorce. If you and your spouse have the misfortune to divorce and if that divorce is contentious, you may find that your right to unsupervised visitation or custody is in question. Your spouse may say that you are unable to parent adequately. Lawyers tell us that challenging a blind parent's ability in a divorce case is often a matter of tactics rather than fact. Raising the specter of having one’s right to parent questioned in a divorce is often enough to force a blind parent into a quick settlement on less than favorable terms. Blind parents report that they feel humiliated and helpless in this situation. Far too often these cases never reach the ears of the local Federation chapter because the parent is unable to face a long and sometimes bitter court battle.
When social workers are involved, one might be quick to call upon the local NFB affiliate for assistance. But in a divorce, blind parents may be hesitant to turn to the Federation, feeling that the divorcee is somehow their fault in the first place and fearing that the case will devolve into their word against their spouses’. Family court is a messy business. If the divorce is contentious, accusations emerge on both sides having little to do with blindness. How the NFB can help under these circumstances is not an easy matter to discern. It's hard to know in the beginning just how much of a given case will be blindness-related, and, even if we prevail, the likelihood of a judge ordering the other side to pay legal costs is negligible.
In the fall of 2006 I found myself in this exact situation. Although I had raised our daughter, providing daily care since her birth, one of the accusations in my divorce was that I was an unsafe parent and should not have unsupervised visitation. I confess that some part of me couldn't believe this was happening to me. Yes, I had heard of such cases, but surely this couldn't happen to somebody who worked with children professionally every day, had babysat for his friends’ kids, and had stayed home to raise our daughter for the first year of her life. No, surely no such accusation would be allowed to go to trial.
But two years, fifty thousand dollars, and a ten-day trial later, with the help of the NFB, I found out that as blind adults we are guilty until proven innocent. The judge’s final declaration that I was a mature and responsible parent who should be allowed visitation without interference was vindication of a sort, but our daughter had lost two years of life with her daddy, and I was ruined financially.
We must leave a legacy to our Federation family--the blind adults who will live on after we are gone. Our legacy should be the right to parent on the same terms as those with sight without interference, without extra scrutiny, and without the nagging fear that our children can be taken away. My proposal is simple in concept but will require the efforts of all of us.
1. We must collect the stories of blind parents throughout the country who have been subjected to discrimination in their right to parent.
2. We must pass legislation in all fifty states that enshrines our right to parent in law, declaring that we are competent adults until proven otherwise by evidence rather than fear of blindness.
3. We need a team of battlers ready to step in whenever and wherever a blind parent's rights are questioned. This team would evaluate the situation and take immediate action through the press and local community when necessary. We need to persuade every lawyer of questionable ethics who intends to use blindness as a bargaining chip that the consequences of such a tactic will be swift, sure, and unpleasant.
4. Public education and education of the blind community are critical to the long-term success of our efforts. No law, however just, can stand in the face of continued public ignorance. We need to educate judges, lawyers, and the general public about our capabilities and normalcy.
I believe this is a battle worth fighting and ask like-minded Federationists to join me in winning it once and for all. In 2008 Maryland passed legislation prohibiting social service agencies from discriminating against blind parents, and we hope to secure legislation in 2009 covering the family courts. But each state needs such legislation, and I stand ready to work with any affiliate willing to take up this task. Please contact me with your suggestions, stories, and willingness to help. Together we can change what it means to be a blind parent, now and for generations to come.
Michael Bullis can be contacted at <firstname.lastname@example.org> or by telephone at (410) 323-4884.
by Harold Snider
From the Editor: I have always felt great sympathy for hospital patients because they are likely to be very vulnerable to the whims of authority at a time when they are particularly ill-equipped to deal with the problems that all-too-frequently occur when prejudice and power converge to attack a weak, perhaps helpless, person.
When I was president of the NFB of Ohio, I had to intervene for a blind woman and her husband. He was hospitalized with dementia and other serious health problems. She tried to be with him as much as possible, but she had a job to do, so she worked with him so that he could remember to tell the psychiatrist that his wife wanted to confer with him. When she next arrived at the hospital, her husband was very upset because the doctor refused to meet with a blind family member. He preferred to discuss the case with the Alzheimer’s patient only. We managed to get apologies from everyone involved and an incident report in the doc’s personnel file, but I have very little hope that much has changed in that institution, except that it lost the business of that family for good.
The following report illustrates the problem we have with many (but certainly not all) hospital administrators and medical personnel. The problem might be easier to address if the situation facing blind patients and family members was universal. As it now stands, we must be on guard any time we or those we love are hospitalized. At a time when we are least able to fight for our rights, we must be prepared to do so, and we must simultaneously conduct ourselves in such a way as to persuade those who enter our rooms that we are calm, rational, and well balanced. This is of course grossly unfair, but it is the reality of being a member of a low-incidence minority, as blind people are. The following story recounts the way one person dealt with the problem. Perhaps it will encourage others.
Harold Snider is a longtime Federationist. He earned his doctorate in history at Oxford University. He has been totally blind all of his life, and he is certainly intelligent. Here is his story:
In his 1975 banquet speech “Blindness, Is the Public against Us?” Dr. Kenneth Jernigan began by quoting a poem written on the wall of a California coffeehouse. The poem implied pity for “dog-less” blind people. As if that were not bad enough, we incur pity and discrimination for all sorts of other reasons and in many unexpected places. This article discusses signs placed over hospital beds, specifically my bed and on more than one occasion.
When I was in graduate school at Oxford University in England in August 1973, I had to have my tonsils removed because of chronic tonsillitis. After difficult surgery I returned to my room, where I was visited by one of my readers the day after surgery. He commented in passing, “Harold, did you know there was a sign over your bed that says, ‘Blind, but intelligent’?” I told my reader with some disgust that I hadn’t known anything about the sign, and I asked him to climb on a chair and remove it, which he did with great alacrity. After an argument with hospital administrators, the sign stayed down.
In August 2004 I had a surgical procedure in the hospital. When my wife Linda came to visit me the next morning, she said “Did you know a sign over your bed says, ‘Blind, but intelligent’?” I told her that I didn’t know anything about the sign and asked her please to remove it. She promptly obliged.
Then, in October 2008 I was preparing for surgery in another hospital. In discussions with the preoperative department, I told them about the two previous incidents. They assured me this would not happen. On October 23, when I returned to my room after surgery, you guessed it. Over my bed was a sign that said “Blind, but intelligent.” I again had a discussion with hospital administrators, who informed me that it was their policy that a sign be placed above the bed of every blind patient. I told them they had violated my rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other civil rights laws, and that, if the sign didn’t come down, they would face a lawsuit, and I would own their hospital. Grudgingly they removed the sign.
So why the signs, and what was the motive? On all three occasions hospitals told me that they wanted their staff to know that I was blind. I told them that I had no objection to the staff having that information but that it should be placed in my chart and not posted over my bed. They said that I would interact with many staff members who would not read my chart and that the sign served a useful purpose. I replied that, if someone needed to know about my blindness, I was perfectly happy to tell him or her. None of the three hospitals, however, agreed with this logic. When you are in the hospital, you are vulnerable. You are ill and likely in pain. You don’t know whether to remain silent and tolerate the insult or do what I did and insist that the sign be removed.
Finally I would like to consider the wording of the signs themselves. I wouldn’t have been quite as offended if the signs had just said “Blind.” I might not have been quite as offended if the signs had said “Blind and intelligent.” But the signs actually said “Blind, but intelligent.” That really offended me, as if the natural state of blind people is stupid, but this one is an exception. It’s the sort of sign you put on the cage of an animal in the zoo. All such signs are so totally degrading that they are in my opinion unacceptable. The fact that I succeeded in getting these signs removed shows me how far we’ve come since the Dark Ages. The fact that the signs were put up in the first place shows me how far we have to go to make hospital administrators and sighted people in general perceive us as whole complete human beings having the characteristic of blindness.
The philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind doesn’t deal specifically with signs like “Blind, but intelligent.” Such a thing is too outrageous and egregious to have occurred to anyone as a problem. However, the purpose of this article and my story is education. In all three cases I refused to tolerate such nonsense. I told the staff members what they needed to know. I explained to staff members who came into my room that I was blind, and I also told them that they needed to let me know what they were doing and when. The hospital administrator’s assertion that the sign would have been even more important had I been unconscious is absurd because, if I had been unconscious, my blindness wouldn’t have been an issue at all.
After having been righteously angry and having dealt with the situation as promptly as I could, I believe I could have done nothing more. Educating hospital administrators and staff about blindness is a never-ending process for all of us who may need surgery. May God, in His infinite wisdom, save us from all those experts who think they know what we need better than we do ourselves.
by the Access Technology Team
From the Editor: Mobile devices for managing information using Braille are both useful and expensive. Those who are considering investing in one need all the information they can get before making the decision to purchase or to investigate whether or not a vocational rehabilitation agency will buy one for personal use. The following article compares three of the newest entries in this field. Here is what the Jernigan Institute’s Access Technology Team says about them:
In this article the Access Technology team will review some of the latest developments in notetaking devices. GW Micro’s Braille Sense Plus, the LevelStar Icon, American Printing House for the Blind’s Braille Plus, and the PAC Mate Omni will be discussed.
Braille Sense Plus: Building on the success of the Braille Sense, HIMS of Korea and GW Micro have released their newest Braille notetaking solution. At 9.8 inches wide, 5 inches deep, and 1.5 inches high and weighing 2 pounds, this compact device includes a wide range of features. Specifications for the Braille Sense Plus include built-in Bluetooth, Ethernet and wireless (802.11B/G) connectivity, a thirty-two-cell Braille display, 128 megabytes of RAM, 8 gigabytes of flash storage (enough to store music, books, or the entire Sense Nav database [discussed later]), an FM radio tuner, a user-replaceable battery, USB ports, and slots for Secure Digital and Compact Flash storage cards. Additionally, unlike other notetakers, the Braille Sense Plus has an LCD screen and a VGA output port, allowing a trainer or colleagues to see what the blind user is working on.
As with other notetakers based on Braille input, the top of the Braille Sense Plus contains the standard six-dot Braille keyboard, flanked by a Backspace key on the left and an Enter key on the right. Immediately below and in the center of this keyboard is the space bar. On either side of the space bar are function keys (F1 and F2 on the left, F3 and F4 on the right) used to access menus and other functionality. These four function keys allow you to move quickly through different aspects of the Braille Sense Plus software. At any time pressing the F1 key will bring up the Programs menu used to select different applications. The F2 key behaves similarly to the Alt key in Windows: when pressed, it brings up menus such as File, Edit, etc. The F3 key is used for tabbing and, when combined with the space bar, shift-tabbing through dialog boxes. The F4 key functions as an Escape key. Behind the keyboard, in the center of the device, is the LCD screen. The display can be inverted so that, if you are sitting across from the user, the text is right side up to you, but would look upside down if the user were looking at it. On either side of the LCD display are stereo speakers. The front portion of the top of the Braille Sense Plus is dedicated to the thirty-two-character Braille display. Above each cell is a cursor-routing key, which moves the cursor to the cell when pressed. These keys also act as shortcut keys in certain circumstances. To the left and right of the Braille display are scroll keys used to move the display.
The front panel of the Braille Sense Plus contains three switches, two jacks, and five buttons used to control power, keyboard locking, and media functions. The first switch on the left is the Lock switch. When the switch is slid to the far right, no keys are locked; if it is in the middle position, the top keys are locked, allowing you to continue to use the media controls; and, when the switch is all the way to the left, all keys are locked. Two jacks are to the right of the Lock switch for connecting a stereo microphone and stereo headphones. Next is a set of media controls. The first is another three-position switch used to select what the media buttons control. In the left position this switch controls the FM radio tuner; the middle position places the media buttons into DAISY mode; and, when in the far right position, the controls are in Media mode. The next five media control buttons perform different functions depending on what position the switch is in. The final control on the front face is a three-position, spring-loaded slider. This switch normally sits in the middle position and, when slid to the right and released, powers on the Braille Sense Plus and, when slid to the left, turns the device off.
The left, rear, and right panels of the Braille Sense plus have connections for expanding the functionality of the device. Two slots are on the left side. The foremost accepts a Compact Flash card; the rearmost is a Secure Digital card slot. On the left edge of the back panel is a reset button, used if the device becomes unresponsive. To the right of the reset button are three connectors: an Ethernet jack for wired Internet or local network connections, a serial port connector, and a VGA output. Similar to the LCD display on the unit, the VGA output can be used to display the text and menus on a standard computer monitor. The right side of the Braille Sense Plus contains two USB connectors and the AC adapter plug. The front USB connector is used to connect the Braille Sense Plus to a computer, and the rear port is used to plug in external storage such as a USB flash drive.
The Braille Sense Plus contains a good deal of software allowing the user to organize, manipulate, and store information: word processor, address manager, schedule manager, email client, media player, Web browser, DAISY player, database manager, MSN messenger, and utilities including a calculator, wake-up alarm, and stop watch. The Braille Sense Plus also includes a utility to check for software updates that can be executed at any time providing you have a working Internet connection.
In addition to the built-in software, you can purchase the Sense Nav package for the Braille Sense Plus. This software, which includes an external GPS receiver, can be used to determine your current location, discover points of interest around you, and plot routes from one place to another. The included flash memory is enough to store all currently available United States maps.
The Braille Plus is manufactured by HIMS of Korea and distributed in the United States by GW Micro. This product retails for $5,995. GW Micro (Indiana), <www.gwmicro.com>, (260) 489-3671.
LevelStar Icon and APH Braille Plus Mobile Managers: These two notetaking solutions are the smallest ones discussed in this article. Both devices are palm-sized and can easily be operated with one hand. The Icon and Braille Plus have been developed collaboratively between the LevelStar, LLC, and the American Printing House for the Blind. These units run identical software and have identical features. The major difference is that the Braille Plus offers a standard Braille keyboard for entry.
Both devices resemble a telephone in configuration. The Braille Plus has a slightly boxier look and is somewhat thicker than its counterpart because of the additional nine keys provided for Braille input. Immediately above the standard twelve-key telephone keypad (which includes a tactile nub on the five key for easy identification) sit the OK, Menu, and Cancel keys. The OK key is used to confirm operations and insert blank lines while in the word processor. The Menu key brings up a context-sensitive menu for selecting application-specific functions, and the cancel key also doubles as the unit’s Power key when held down. Further up the device, is a four-way navigational control with a select button in the center that is used for moving through menus and text. Above the left and right arrows are the Status and Help keys, and above those, on the left and right sides of the front of the unit, are the Program 1 and Program 2 keys. Between the Program keys is a long, horizontal key used at any point to access the Applications menu.
The left side of the notetaker contains the Volume key, Speaker toggle, and Record button. The Speaker toggle is used to switch between the two internal speaker configurations (stereo speakers located on the sides of the device or a smaller speaker in the middle that can be used to retrieve information quietly while holding the device like a telephone). The top and bottom edges of the Icon and Braille Plus contain connection and expansion slots. The top edge has three jacks for microphone and headphone connections (a microphone/line-in, 3.5mm headphone, and sub 3.5mm jack for connecting a headset/microphone combination). The top of the device also holds a mini SD slot for a storage card. The bottom edge holds the keypad lock switch and the power/USB port connector.
On the Braille Plus, unlike the Icon, there are an additional nine keys oriented at a ninety-degree angle to the rest of the device. Turning the device so that the three keys on the right hand side are at the bottom, the user discovers the familiar six-dot keyboard at the top of the unit and Shift, Space, and Control keys at the bottom.
The Icon and Braille Plus include the types of productivity solutions we are used to seeing in notetaking devices: an address book, calendar, word processor, document reader, Web browser, media player, and even games. Additionally, tools including a stopwatch, calculator, voice recorder, journal (currently allowing synchronization with LiveJournal), file explorer, and a system backup utility are provided.
The Icon and Braille Plus can connect to wireless networks, allowing you to access Internet-based content without having to plug in to a cable. You must, of course, have access to a wireless network to take advantage of this feature. In addition to being able to browse Web pages, these notetakers have a built-in RSS reader that allows the unit to download new content. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a method of telling your device to watch a designated Website for changes. When a new article or podcast is added, your device will download it for you. By using RSS, one need not check each individual blog, news site, or podcast show he or she wants to listen to. Simply add the URL of the RSS feed to the RSS reader and the Icon or Braille Plus will do the work.
The music player can play unprotected MP3 and OGG files. Once they are transferred to the device’s music folder, the software will gather information embedded in the files such as the artist, album, track title, and genre. You can then use this information to select the songs you would like to play. Organizing music information this way offers the flexibility to sort and play music without relying on a specific folder structure. You can get music from your own CD collection by ripping your CDs to your computer, then copying the files to the Icon or Braille Plus. You can also purchase music from online sources, but be sure you are purchasing unprotected music that does not have digital rights management restrictions because such tracks will not be playable on either device.
The Library application allows the user to access and read digital books from Bookshare.org, the National Library Service, and Audible.com, as well as formatted Braille, plain text, Microsoft Word, and HTML files. You can access a list of books already on the device’s hard drive and navigate by recently accessed books, books sorted by author, or an alphabetical list of all books. If you are listening to an audiobook, you can adjust the speed of the playback. All books provide the ability to navigate through them to different sections of the content. The type and amount of navigation is determined by the book’s producer. In addition to adding content from your computer, you can search for and download books and newspapers from Bookshare.org using the Internet Book Search feature. You will need a subscription to Bookshare.org to take advantage of this ability. Additionally, in order to play books from the National Library Service, your player must be registered, and you must install a software key. The Icon and Braille Plus cannot currently play books from RFB&D.
The Icon and Braille Plus have taken an interesting approach to overcoming the challenges of a twelve-key keyboard for entering text and numbers. In addition to the ABC method common to cell phones (where the number 2 key is pressed twice for the letter “b,” the 8 key is pressed three times for the letter “v,” and so on), a method has been developed for using the numeric keyboard to simulate a Braille cell. When you use Thumb Braille to enter text, the one, four, and seven keys are used as dots one, two, and three, while the three, six, and nine keys represent dots four, five, and six. To enter letters or symbols, the user presses the desired combination of keys, for example pressing one and four will insert the letter “b.” The difficult part, and thus the creative solution, comes when trying to press more than two keys at once. You may notice that the two, five, eight and zero keys remain unused. These keys are used to enter dot combinations. The two key enters dots one and three; the five key dots one, two, and three; the eight key, dots four and six; and the zero key, dots four, five, and six. To enter the letter “p” for example, one would simultaneously press the keys five and three, entering dots one, two, three, and four in the text area.
In addition to the features discussed, the Icon and Braille Plus can also act as an external drive for a PC, allowing quick file transfers. Bluetooth is also provided for data transfer and connecting a keyboard. Additionally, a docking station is available providing a QWERTY keyboard and Ethernet connectivity. The Icon and Braille Plus come standard with a forty-GB hard drive, carrying case, wrist strap, ear buds, and software CD.
For information on the Icon contact LevelStar, LLC. (Colorado), (800) 315-2305, <www.levelstar.com>. Braille Plus information can be obtained from the American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. (Kentucky), (800) 223-1839, <www.aph.org/tech>.
PAC Mate Omni: In December of 2007 Freedom Scientific released the PAC Mate Omni, which is an enhancement to the existing PAC Mate PocketPC device that has been on the market for some time. The PAC Mate Omni, on the surface, looks like the classic PAC Mates. The biggest changes to the unit are internal. The Omni is powered by Windows Mobile 6.0, which is more advanced than Windows Mobile 2003. The newer version of Windows includes enhancements geared toward devices that have keyboards, allowing applications running on the device to be more accessible through a keyboard interface.
The biggest advantage to the PAC Mate Omni is the onboard 128 MB of flash memory. This memory, in conjunction with the new operating system, makes it possible to prevent data loss if the battery is run completely flat. As long as documents were properly saved, they will not be lost. Only the date and time will need to be reset in the event of a complete battery drain.
Soft keys are a new addition to the PAC Mate. As in a mobile phone, application-specific commands appear near the bottom of the screen that can be activated with the soft keys. The PAC Mate can be configured to announce and display these soft key assignments automatically if you wish, or you can use a command to report the soft key assignments instantly if any exist.
The PAC Mate Omni has always contained the capability to read and edit files produced by Microsoft Office applications. Now the PAC Mate Omni provides support for documents composed in Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel 2007. PAC Mate users can now view PowerPoint presentations. This feature will benefit students and professionals alike since they can immediately access any PowerPoint file that is available on a Website or that has been emailed to them. Pocket Outlook has also seen major improvements. The PAC Mate Omni can now take advantage of Microsoft Direct Push technology, which allows email to be sent to the device immediately when it is connected to push-enabled email services. Microsoft Exchange accounts can also be used in this way. The Windows Live suite, including Windows Live Search, Windows Live Messenger, and Windows Live Mail, have also been integrated.
In August of 2008 Freedom Scientific released the first major update to the PAC Mate Omni since its initial release. The new update provides the capability to write contracted Braille anywhere. This lets the user write in contracted Braille within Microsoft Word documents, Web forms, email messages, and even dialog boxes for entering file names or other information. Exceptions include Excel spreadsheets and email addresses. When using speech, the PAC Mate alerts the user if computer Braille is required. A begin-computer-Braille symbol also appears on the Braille display if one is in use to ensure that the user knows to type in computer Braille.
A new reader mode has been added to provide enhanced accessibility to applications that do not have a system cursor. Two important uses of this mode are the reading of PDF files and access to books and other content available on the Palm eReader service. The eReader service provides access to best-selling books, often on the same day they are released in print. Keystrokes have been added to allow the user to turn pages quickly in eBooks and PDF files using the new reader mode. These keystrokes simulate the directional arrows on most standard PDAs. Menus within the eReader application let you set bookmarks, go to specific pages, and use a slider control to open the book to a certain percentage. More information about accessing books can be found at <http://www.ereader.com>. Orneta Software’s PDF Reader Mobile is the only tested PDF application that will work with PAC Mate Omni. It can be found at <www.orneta.com> and sells for $19.95.
Support for wireless networking has also been improved. With the release of the PAC Mate Omni, drivers for the Socket 10/100 wireless card were built in. In August drivers were added for the popular Ambicom WL54-CF card. This means that, if you use either of these cards, you can simply insert the card and connect to a network without installing any additional software. Other cards certified for compatibility with Windows Mobile 6 will also work with PAC Mate Omni, but their drivers will need to be installed. WPA, a more secure wireless networking standard often found in corporate environments, is also a part of Windows Mobile 6. The PAC Mate Omni can be used to access Virtual Private networks.
Two features have been added exclusively for PAC Mate Omni QX400 units, which contain QWERTY keyboards. By accessing the keyboard settings, users can switch to one of eleven language input settings. This lets you enter text in English or any of the supported foreign languages. Previously users could input Braille using a QX unit in FSEdit, Freedom Scientific’s word-processing application. Now Braille input mode can be used throughout the PAC Mate Omni environment with the QX400.
As with classic PAC Mates, you can purchase a PAC Mate Omni with either a Braille or a full typewriter-style QWERTY keyboard. The PAC Mate Omni can be used as a speech-only device, or you can attach a twenty- or forty-cell refreshable Braille display. For further information about the PAC Mate Omni, contact Freedom Scientific at (800) 444-4443. The Freedom Scientific Website at <www.freedomscientific.com> will also provide information about new features and upgrades to the PAC Mate Omni as they become available.
by Barbara Loos
From Dan Frye: Barbara Loos is a frequent contributor to these pages. She is a longtime leader of the Nebraska affiliate and screens announcements for President Maurer during national conventions. She recently sent us an article about a difficult day with unexpected complications. It demonstrates that blind people can deal with the chaos factor as well as anyone else. Here it is:
Sometime before we were married, my husband Brad took me on a date I will never forget. One result of the events of that occasion is that I now have a deeper understanding of an expression he often uses when answering a question about, let's say, when he'll be home. His reply often includes the phrase "barring the chaos factor." I used to wonder what might happen were that factor not barred. Here's a true story of a time it wasn't.
For me the day started typically enough. I had been invited to be a resource person for an event at St. Elizabeth Regional Medical Center, one of my city's hospitals. The occasion was an educational opportunity for facility staff in which information stations were set up along a hall just outside the cafeteria. Personnel were invited to pick up materials and speak with those of us who had agreed to be spokespeople for various entities. The goal was to become more aware of and to interact with experts about patients with real or perceived special needs. I was representing the Nebraska affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, whose message is both that it is respectable to be blind and that with proper training and opportunity blind people can do the average job in the average place of business as well as their sighted peers. One of the perks of this event was lunch in the cafeteria afterward. Since I was on a tight schedule, I arranged to get a sack lunch to take with me to my next appointment, a demonstration of Braille art and participation in some interactive opportunities with children at the Wacky Wednesday summer program at our Children’s Museum. Brad, who was to be a fellow participant in this event, joined me there with the Braille printer and other materials we were to use. This too was an activity in which we represented the NFB. Our plan was to take the bus to my home afterward for supper and a relaxing evening together. That, of course, was "barring the chaos factor."
While we were sitting on my couch contemplating supper, Brad commented that his forehead, where he had recently had surgery, felt odd. I digress here to say that Brad was almost fatally injured when a gun mount blew up in his face while he was in the United States Navy. Though he has overcome many complications, two lasting consequences of the explosion are total blindness and a plate in his forehead replacing the portion of his skull that was shattered. After twenty plus years an infection required replacement of the plate. Since, although living tissue can recover from infection, prosthetics cannot, this had been a thirteen-month experience, during which Brad had worn a modified, flexible helmet to protect his brain between the surgery to remove the infected plate and the one installing the new one. At the time of the events recounted here, it had been almost a month since the second surgery.
When I touched Brad's forehead, it felt puffy, as though air was under his skin. We joked about it a bit, but then he decided to take his doctor’s advice that, if he noticed anything unusual, he should have it looked at. Since by then it was too late to make bus connections (they stop running from downtown at 6:15), we called a cab and went to the emergency room at Bryan LGH [Lincoln General Hospital] East Hospital.
After the usual preliminaries and an x-ray, a doctor bustled in, announcing breathlessly that Brad had air in his cranial cavity, some of which might be behind his brain—a very dangerous problem. She thought he should be rushed immediately to the Veterans Hospital in Omaha. The Lincoln facility is now strictly an outpatient clinic. Enter the chaos factor!
Between the time we left my place and the point at which the doctor was convinced that Brad needed to go to Omaha, severe thunderstorm warnings had been issued, and it had begun to rain. The doctor had been insistent that Brad not go alone, so we had decided that I would accompany him. We made a few calls to let people know what was happening. Since it was after 10:00 pm by then, I decided to call my students the following morning. (I teach blind adults, most of whom are senior citizens, to use computers with speech output rather than the monitor.)
While we were waiting for the ambulance, the subject of supper came up. They decided that Brad should be fed intravenously but brought me fare similar to that I had eaten earlier from St. Elizabeth's. That seemed a long time back and a bit strange. It's the only time I have ever had food from two hospitals in one day. Although I was sorry Brad couldn't have real food too, I ate gratefully.
When the ambulance driver came in, he said it was raining to beat the band and the lightning had begun to knock out electricity. When he realized that we had come to the emergency room hastily, he asked if there was anything we needed to do before leaving town. I mentioned that I hadn't closed the windows of my house and hadn't brought the machine containing the phone numbers for my next day's students. My main concern, though, was getting Brad the help he needed. The driver said that his assistant was tracking Brad's vitals and it wouldn't be a problem to run by my house. Since by then it was after 11:00, I hoped that no one in the neighborhood would notice an ambulance pulling up to my door. No one ever did ask me about it. I jumped out, ran into the house, shut windows, spread towels over the already wet (and newly laid) carpet, grabbed my raincoat and machine, and rushed back out to the ambulance, which whisked us away. Although I got soaked in the process, it was good to know things weren't going to get ruined while I was gone.
As we approached one busy intersection on the way out of town, the driver announced that street lights were going out all around us. Fortunately, given the late hour and the torrential rain, traffic was sparse. The driver periodically spoke of brilliant lightning. Once in a while I heard or felt thunder, but the noise was surprisingly muffled by the ambulance sounds.
I noticed that Brad and the assistant had struck up a conversation. Although I couldn't tell what they were saying, they sounded calm. As we got onto the highway (it's about sixty miles from Lincoln to Omaha), I began to feel that the doctor at Bryan might have caused us all to be taking a bigger risk than the situation warranted. "Better safe than sorry" could be applied multiple ways. Brad, as usual, appeared to be taking things in stride. Since I figured that their conversing meant Brad was both awake and lucid, I directed my attention to the driver's intermittent comments about his job, the weather, road conditions, etc.
I was relieved when we arrived at the Omaha hospital, where Brad was efficiently admitted and assigned a bed in the intensive care ward. Sometime between 2:00 and 2:30 a.m., the first of several doctors came in. Taking a quick look at Brad, he said matter-of-factly, "Oh, this is a common situation after head surgery. We'll have your regular doctor look at it in the morning, but having some air get in during an operation happens a lot. It will probably dissipate over the next few days or weeks."
After he left, the nurses on duty, one female and one male, suggested that I take the guest room just off the ward for what was left of the night. The woman was going off duty, but she said she would show me around before she left. She found some pink pajamas she said might be a bit big, but I could try them. She mentioned a washroom and a call light if I needed either.
After she left, I put on the pajamas. That they were too big was an understatement, but I was grateful for them nonetheless. Since they had also provided a toothbrush and toothpaste, I decided to do my usual bedtime routine. A sink was in the corner, but a toilet was nowhere to be found. After tracing and retracing my steps around the room, I decided I must have misunderstood the nurse. I would have waited until morning, but curiosity and discomfort ultimately ruled that out. So, gathering the extra folds of the pajamas in one hand to keep them from falling off and using my cane with the other, I quietly opened the door and walked out into the hall. As I went around the corner, my cane tapped something metallic. The male nurse, possibly having heard that sound, noticed my presence and asked if I needed something. I said that I was looking for the bathroom, since I had been told one was in the area. Walking past me into the room, he said he thought the woman who had just left had shown it to me, but he would be glad to. He directed me to the corner with the sink. Putting my hand on it, he showed me how to move it aside, revealing a toilet underneath. I must admit that looking there would never have occurred to me.
Although it had been a very long day, I didn't sleep much that night. I could hear disturbing sounds from the ward. It was good, though, to have some privacy. I had expected to spend the night in a waiting room, wearing my suit and nylons. Around 7:15, I got dressed and called my computer students for that day to let them know I wouldn't be there. I didn't give much explanation. It would have sounded too bizarre.
When I went in to see how Brad was doing, they said he was awake and preparing to see the doctors. They didn't want him to eat until he had seen the first one. When someone nearby needed to use the bathroom, a nurse brought a bottle and, making a comment about privacy, pulled a curtain around him. I got up to leave the ward. Although our society seems to lack concern for auditory privacy while protecting against visual intrusion, I do my best to respect both. At first someone thought I was confused, but once I explained what I was doing and why, she let me go.
By the time the first doctor arrived and gave Brad the go-ahead for breakfast, both of us were hungry. Since I wanted to be there when the next doctors arrived and since we didn't have much cash with us, we shared the meal they brought for him. Eventually several more doctors came and went. All agreed that the situation was normal for the kind of surgery he had had, so they could release him that afternoon.
We were both glad to board the 4:00 van and head homeward. Even the hassle of waiting for the city bus when we got to Lincoln seemed less bothersome than usual. As we walked up the driveway to my house, the sun shone warmly, making the raincoat slung over my arm seem out of place. We marveled that it had been slightly less than twenty-four hours since the chaos factor had been unbarred.Within a week or so the air in Brad’s forehead did dissipate. About a year later he and I were engaged, and four months after that we were married. Brad still uses the expression "barring the chaos factor" when responding to certain questions. I no longer wonder why. In fact, I sometimes use it myself.
by Fred Wurtzel
From the Editor: Here is NFB of Michigan President Fred Wurtzel’s take on the Detroit music scene. In case you find yourself with a free evening during the 2009 convention, you will want to take note. If you are tied up every evening, at least you will know something about what you are missing. This is what he says:
The culture of a place is a product of its geography, people, and experiences. Detroit, “the arsenal of democracy,” produced the tanks, trucks, and airplanes that won World War II. Detroit’s proximity to Great Lakes shipping along with iron ore, limestone, and coal made it the center of manufacturing around the burgeoning automobile industry. When called to serve our nation in the perilous fight with two powerful enemies on opposite sides of the globe, Detroit’s manufacturing behemoth was readily converted to the output of anything made of iron and steel that could be shipped to our brave troops by road, rail, or water.
The success of Detroit as a world manufacturing center drew throngs of creative, hardworking, and energetic people from throughout the world and especially from the southern states of the United States. Detroit was and remains a true melting pot of culture. Music from Appalachia, blues from the Mississippi Delta, and gospel from the Bible Belt mixed with Italian, Polish, Greek, German Jewish, and a multitude of other influences to create many musical and artistic hotspots. These cultural roots are well known in popular music. Detroit is, of course, the birthplace of the now expatriate Motown Records that monopolized the pop music charts in the sixties. Some other names you will recognize from Detroit are Mitch Rider and the Detroit Wheels, Bob Seeger, Aretha Franklin, Eminem, and Kid Rock.
Blending the industrial roots with the soul, jazz, and international flavor of the city, Detroit is the birthplace and world center for techno or electronic dance music. Memorial Day weekend features an international three-day festival that drew eighty thousand in 2008.
Except for the gigantic success of Motown Records, Detroit may today be best known as a jazz center rivaling New Orleans. Here are just a few of the contemporary names in jazz who have their roots in Detroit. A product of Detroit's fertile musical environment, Usef Lateef attended Miller High School, where he hung out and jammed with Art Mardigan and Lucky Thompson. Milt Jackson was there at the same time. Kenny Burrell attended Miller High after Lateef. Along with the comedian Lilly Tomlin, another Detroit high school, Cass Technical, produced the likes of Geri Allen, Ron Carter, Donald Byrd, Regina Carter, Paul Chambers, Wardell Gray, Sir Roland Hanna, Doug Watkins, Gerald Wilson, Charles McPherson, Marcus Belgrave, and Curtis Fuller.
Michigan Federationists are proud of our heritage. We are eager to share our many wonderful museums, restaurants, and clubs. If you are a jazz enthusiast or enjoy cool jazz when you relax or want to experience what it feels like to be in a club that is an incubator of great sounds that will influence music for the next century, you will want to make time to visit some of the places below from the Detroit.com Website. This is a short list of places reasonably accessible from our convention hotel. You may wish to search the Web for other venues a little farther away. These places mainly feature jazz but may have other offerings, so check ahead unless you are like me and like surprises.
Attic Bar, 11667 Joseph Campau Street, Hamtramck, Michigan; (313) 365-4194
If authentic Detroit blues live music is your thing, then it's hard to beat Attic Bar in Hamtramck. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but hey, that's Detroit.
Baker's Keyboard Lounge, 20510 Livernois, Detroit, Michigan; (313) 345-6300
Baker's Keyboard Lounge claims to be the world's oldest jazz club. While we can't attest to that, we can tell you that over its long history Baker's Keyboard Lounge has played host to nearly every important and infamous live jazz musician in the country. A Detroit staple for nearly eight decades, Baker's Keyboard Lounge with live music nightly is a powerhouse in the Detroit jazz scene.
Bert's Jazz Marketplace, 2731 Russell, Detroit, Michigan; (313) 567-2030
Bert's Jazz Marketplace jams with straightforward, smooth Detroit jazz and serves it up with fantastic food all night long. When big names roll through town, Bert's Jazz Marketplace is their place to come in for impromptu sessions.
Centaur Bar, 2233 Park Ave., Detroit, Michigan; (313) 963-4040
If we could use only one word to describe Centaur Bar in Detroit, it would be “swank.” Luckily, we can use many more. Smooth jazz, either from live acts or over the sound system, expertly fills up the Art Deco interior, which evokes the most sophisticated places of the jazz age. The food, drinks, and service are top notch, and the clientele is diverse--all ensuring that Centaur Bar will be around to fill your jazz and libation yearnings.
Flood's Bar and Grille, 731 St. Antoine, Detroit, Michigan; (313) 963-1090
Flood's Bar and Grille is an upscale joint where Detroit's elite come to drink and mingle under the velvety blanket of smooth live jazz. The sumptuous bar serves some of the best cocktails in Detroit, and the nightly live music, jazz or otherwise, pumps the crowd up to frenetic levels--easily one of the best reasons to pull some dress clothes out of the closet.
Gem Theatre, 333 Madison Ave., Detroit, Michigan; (313) 963-9800
Built in the 1920s, the Gem Theatre is a marvel from the Jazz Age that's been fully restored to its one-time brilliance. The Gem offers more than just live jazz; it also houses world-class productions of comedy, drama, and musicals in a cozy cabaret setting, mixing dining, drink, and elegance with intellectual food for thought. The architecture alone is a Detroit must-see.
Memphis Smoke, 100 S. Main Street, Royal Oak, Michigan; (248) 543-4300
The blues and food are straight from the South and conveniently relocated in Royal Oak at Memphis Smoke. At this premier venue for live music, which consistently brings in the best blues and rock talent, you can relax, enjoy a drink, grub on some excellent down-home food, all while getting your blues fix. A fixture on best-of lists, Memphis Smoke aims to satisfy.
Nancy Whiskey's, 2644 Harrison, Detroit, Michigan; (313) 962-4247
Detroit boasts some spectacular live music clubs, and the best ones for blues come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Here, Detroit's best-kept blues secret comes in the shape of Nancy Whiskey's, a hole-in-the-wall-type tavern that is visited every week by Detroit's best blues artists. The food and drink are cheap, there's never a cover, and the blues are simply smoking.
SereNgeti Ballroom, 2957 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, Michigan; (313) 832-3010
The SereNgeti Ballroom consistently brings in the biggest names in jazz. Detroit jazz legends are a weekly staple, and the live music and voracious range of talent are enough to satisfy old and new jazz aficionados with equal zeal.
The Jazz Loft, 529 Monroe, Detroit, Michigan; (313) 962-7093
Located in Detroit's historic Greektown, the Jazz Loft's resident house band dishes up some of the smoothest jazz of any club in the city. Live music mixes with DJs spinning the same soul-filling sounds in an intimate setting that gets jumping. The Jazz Loft is an excellent place to mingle, imbibe, and hear that true Detroit jazz sound.
The Rhino @ Harmonie Park, 1407 Randolph Street, Suite 100, Detroit, Michigan; (313) 963-6244
The Rhino @ Harmonie Park blends a supremely stylish atmosphere with live jazz, light menu fare, and exquisite cocktails to create a unique entertainment venture, but don't let the swank ambiance fool you; this club gets jumping.
by Marc Schmidt
From Dan Frye: Marc Schmidt is the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona and president of the affiliate's West Valley Chapter. An electrical engineer, Marc was a particularly useful mentor at the 2007 NFB Youth Slam, and he participated in one of the four follow-up Youth Slam leadership seminars that the Affiliate Action Department sponsored last spring. He is an engineering section leader with the Arizona Public Works Company. Marc relates in the following story a personal experience he had during his Youth Slam follow-up seminar with a broader perspective on growth and challenge as a blind person. Here is what he says:
Have you ever tried to break boards with your bare hands? I’ve heard several times that it is possible, but I always thought the people who could do it must be really tough or able to focus all of their energy into a point. However they did it, I never envisioned my doing it until recently. My perspective changed at a youth leadership academy for the blind last May, where I was a counselor.
Several adults demonstrated a technique for breaking boards, and it wasn’t long until I heard that some kids were busting through three or four boards at a time. The National Federation of the Blind believes in the value of encouraging people to move out of their comfort zones. Doing so is often an important part of becoming more independent and successful.
As I sat there, unwilling to risk hurting my hands, I thought about what message I might be sending to the youth for whom I was supposed to be a role model. Not wanting to show fear of trying something new and wanting to demonstrate a can-do attitude, I stepped forward to try breaking some boards. I reviewed the technique in person, stepped back, and took a good swing at the two boards held in front of me. To my amazement both broke completely through without hurting my hand at all. The youth around me thought it was great, but I fell into introspection for a while. I wondered how many other things in my life I had never tried because I feared that things others wanted me to try were impossible for a blind person to do.
Shortly before that weekend with the blind youth, my wife Kim had really pushed me out of my comfort zone, inciting me to do something of which I had always been afraid. It was the last day of our two-week vacation in Peru. We had visited several museums, toured fascinating ruins (like Machu Picchu), and even spent half a week in the jungle. Now we were ready to unwind a little before returning home. We thought that spending some time relaxing on the beach would accomplish that, but the water was chilly, the surf was strong, and the plentiful jellyfish were large--a foot or so in diameter.
As we bummed around a nearby outdoor mall, Kim marveled at a number of people paragliding--sailing on the coastal updrafts--suspended from large parachutes. Though it sounded like fun, it was definitely something I had always said I would never do since it seemed foolish to put my life in the hands of something as uncertain as the wind.
Nevertheless, as we were packing up our room on the last day of our trip, Kim announced, “I know what you’re doing today.” I figured that it would be something that I would really like. But, when I learned that she was planning for me to paraglide, I thought she must have lost her mind. She tried to arrest my concerns by explaining that I would be accompanied by an experienced instructor, but I didn’t gain much comfort from knowing that I wouldn’t be dying alone.
Then my risk-management logic kicked into gear in an unusual way. I figured that, if the instructor was assuming this risk day in and day out and had managed to survive it for several years, I could probably risk paragliding for fifteen minutes. So off we went to the coastal cliff.
When we got there and paid for my paragliding session, nobody seemed too concerned about my blindness since I’d be flying in tandem with a sighted instructor. I felt excited but not particularly nervous. However, when they hooked the harness around me and then ordered me to run towards the cliff, I was glad I couldn’t see the 150-foot drop-off in front of me. When my feet all of a sudden lost touch with the ground, I did feel uneasy for the first ten seconds of being airborne. But, as we started gaining altitude and I felt the cool ocean breeze rush by my face, my fear gave way to bliss. Though it did feel rather odd to hear the foaming ocean so far beneath me, I was enjoying the freedom of a bird too much to care.
As the instructor was taking us through gentle swoops and loops, he remarked, “If I could only give you my eyes right now.”
I replied, “Why? There’s so much for me to enjoy with all my other senses.” So he closed his eyes and liked it so much that he kept them shut for a while. Of course he opened his eyes again to bring us in for a safe landing. As we parted, I thanked him for a wonderful time, and he thanked me for opening his understanding to what it’s like to be blind.As each of us stepped out of our comfort zones that day, our lives were enriched. Once again my understanding of what blind people can and cannot do was altered. My self-confidence was boosted by trying something that most people believe impossible for a blind person to manage.
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!
From the Editor: Tuesday morning, January 6, word began circulating around the country that our longtime friend and a mentor to many hundreds, Dick Edlund, had died. For those of us who had known Dick the world was immediately a bit dimmer. In his prime Dick was larger than life. His deep, resonant Kansas drawl could smooth ruffled feathers, unify and excite a crowd to action, or reduce a group to helpless laughter, depending on his intention. He was NFB treasurer from 1974 to 1988 and a member of the national board of directors for even longer. He served as president of the NFB of Kansas from 1974 to 1990.
Dick’s rambling, folksy responses did not suit him for TV interviews, but at the 1979 convention, when we were engaged in an internal political floor fight that we preferred not to have the press observe, Dick and I were charged with snagging a Miami Herald reporter who showed up unexpectedly and carrying him off to a late lunch and a background briefing on the issues facing the National Federation of the Blind. Dick was masterly in his entertaining and rambling explanations of the issues we faced. The reporter was charmed and confident that he was getting the inside scoop even as he was missing the fireworks on the convention floor. When I told Dick afterward how impressed I was at his performance, he shrugged it off by saying, “That was simple. When you said we had to go to lunch with Miami Harold, I was expecting a hit man. Reporters are easy to deal with.”
Dick was an original. Knowing him convinced you that blindness didn’t have to stop a determined person from doing exactly what he or she wanted to do. He lived that philosophy every day, but he devoted his life to helping those who did not have his courage, inventiveness, wit, or determination to change the world for the blind. He welcomed anyone who was willing to stand beside him on the barricade, and his strong arm was always ready to help others over the rough ground. Here are remembrances from several of Dick’s thousands of friends:
Marc Maurer: Richard Edlund (known to everybody as Dick) died on Tuesday, January 6, 2009. He was eighty-four. His long life is a record of joy, humor, friendship, public service, and accomplishment. Few people have touched the lives of so many—and done it with such humility.
I met Dick in the early 1970s when I was a student and he was a businessman. He told me that he operated a hardware store. He had been blinded in his teenage years, he said, but he had led an exciting life despite his blindness. He wasn’t good at Braille because his duties in the hardware store required him to cut glass frequently. Customers would come in wanting glass cut to a particular size. Dick would take a large sheet of glass and cut it to fit the window that needed to be repaired. He cut the glass with a glass cutter, a very small tool with a tiny, very hard cutting wheel at the end. By placing this wheel against the glass and pressing heavily, he could score the glass. A sharp tap on the scored glass would break it along the line he had made. Cutting glass required precision measurement and extreme care in using the glass-cutting tool. It also created very sharp edges of cut glass. All of us who have cut glass in this way have also found our fingers bleeding now and then. After a time the sensitivity in the ends of Dick’s fingers diminished.
Dick was always getting involved in some kind of business. He owned an airport for a time—a small private one. A number of his friends kept airplanes at his airport, and Dick owned several planes himself. He explained to me once that it is necessary when flying a single engine plane to learn your whereabouts. Sometimes it is difficult to know your location with any precision. Dick kept roadmaps in his plane. When he got lost, he would buzz the water tower of the nearest town to read its name. Then he would get out the road maps to find out what state he was in. He did not think this was much of a problem—it was all part of owning a private plane.
Dick had an interest in an auction barn. Each week he and his friends would show up to auction whatever people had brought. He said that some auctioneers had a partner placed in the crowd to bid up the price on products being sold. Because Dick was aware that this type of artificial bidding occurred in many auctions, he became more watchful of his fellow human beings. He said that they were about as honest as the circumstances warranted. He was good-humored about it, but he kept in mind that sometimes not every activity is straightforward.
Dick’s experience with business made him a very strong supporter of those who were unable to speak and act for themselves. He travelled to sheltered workshops throughout the United States to assist in organizing them for collective bargaining. At the beginning of his efforts, unions in sheltered workshops were unknown. Subminimum wages for these blind workers were commonplace. Dick wanted blind workers to have the same rights of collective bargaining that sighted employees enjoyed. He is personally responsible for bringing collective bargaining to a number of sheltered shop operations. I went with Dick on some of his organizing trips. It was amazing to watch him do his work. He would walk into a room where sheltered shop employees were gathered, and he would say, “I wanna talk with you folks just a bit.” In about thirty seconds there would be a feeling of warmth. The workers trusted him instinctively.
When Primo Foianini was employed at the Utah sheltered workshop, trouble erupted. Primo had a tape recorder running while he was being attacked and physically struck by the supervisor in the sheltered shop. Dick Edlund and I went to Utah to see what could be done. The sheltered shop was operated by the government of the state under the direction of the board of education. The superintendent of the board would not meet with us, and public laws in the state prohibited union organizing of a state-operated facility. Dick suggested that we go see the governor. Everybody told us that this could not be done. They said, “You can’t just walk in on the governor!” But we did. Before we had departed from the governor’s office, he had expressed the view that the board of education was outside of his jurisdiction. Dick Edlund was not impressed. He told me that any governor as weak as the one we had met would be out of office in no time if he lived in Kansas.
Dick Edlund was a tough-minded human being who was always filled with good humor. He told me one time that somebody asked him how many people worked in the state office building in Topeka, where he was serving as a member of the legislature. His response was, “Oh, about half.”
Dick was a joyous man with an unshakeable faith in the goodness of humanity and the possibility of building a brighter tomorrow. His friends were legion, and he was always hoping to find another one. He would help you in case of need, and he would ask you to join him if a fight was imminent. His mind was good, but his spirit was great. To relax with him was a pleasure. To plan a campaign with him was an inspiration. To engage in combat along with him was to have superb judgment and unshakable determination at your back. He made his life worth living, and you were left in no doubt that yours was better because of knowing him.
Stephen O. Benson: As a member of the national scholarship committee for twenty-four years, I took seriously my responsibility to introduce each day’s mentee to as many national leaders as possible as well as members whose careers or experience matched the scholarship winner’s aspirations or whose advice and counsel could make a difference in the student’s future. On the first day of convention I would take my winner to the exhibit hall and introduce him or her to the NFB through our literature, after which we would adjourn to some quiet place and talk about the agenda and the literature we had gathered. On one occasion the first person we met was Dick Edlund, long after he had left the national board but while he was still serving in the Kansas legislature. I introduced my mentee to Dick and said, “Here is a man who doesn’t know any jokes.”
To which Dick replied, quick as a flash, “Except the one about the little boy, seated on his grandfather’s lap listening to a fairy story that began with ‘Once upon a time.’”
After which the little boy said, “Grandpa, do all fairy stories begin with ‘Once upon a time?’”
The grandfather replied, “All except the one that begins, ‘When I’m elected….’”
Dick had an unlimited supply of jokes and stories; and why wouldn’t he? He had a lifetime of wonderful experiences from which to draw. Dick was not flashy or flamboyant, but you couldn’t talk with him for any length of time without concluding that here was a man whose calm, confident demeanor revealed enormous confidence and genuine care for his fellow man. He had much to contribute, and he did so without reservation. One could learn an awful lot from Dick Edlund. His contribution to the Federation and to the people of Kansas will be missed tremendously. I will miss him, but with great pleasure I celebrate having known him, having shared a libation or two, and having the knowledge that here was a man who lived the Federation philosophy in everything he did, from owning an airport, to cutting glass in his hardware store, to helping to organize sheltered shop workers, and to blazing trails in the Kansas state legislature.
I have but one regret with respect to Dick Edlund, and that is that everybody now coming into the National Federation of the Blind can’t sit down and talk with and learn from a guy I always regarded as a star. Rest in peace, Dick. We all can do the same for having known you.
Gary Wunder: Dick Edlund was one of the primary people responsible for getting me involved in the Federation, for teaching me, and for believing in me when some others didn't. Dick had been hospitalized since sometime in early October, and his last few days were spent in hospice care.
Many of us remember when Dick was our longtime national treasurer and the state president in Kansas. He also served three terms, from 1990 to 1996, in the Kansas legislature and was a champion for sheltered shop workers and a goodwill ambassador for all blind people. Dick meant so very much to me that it is hard to know where to start, and I'm sure that many of you have similar feelings.
Norma Crosby: We will remember the great times we had working with Dick on sheltered workshop issues. When Dick was the treasurer of this organization, he always had time to talk with everyone. I can recall occasions when we planned to have dinner in Washington or at a national convention with Dick, but it just didn't always happen because so many people swarmed around him to tell a story or to listen to one of his. He had lots of them, and they were always good.
He will be missed in our household. I am sorry that many of our young members haven't had the chance to meet him. When Dick was in good health, Dr. Jernigan relied on him a great deal, and he was a wonderful advocate for blind people whether or not they were members of the NFB. When blind shop workers were being paid nothing, he helped to change that. They respected him because he helped to make a real difference in their lives. He was vitally important to the effort to obtain union representation at the Lighthouse of Houston. My husband Glenn was president of the NFB of Texas when the workers decided to establish a collective bargaining unit. Glenn was eager to help, but he will tell you that Richard was the glue that held everything together.
His body is no longer living, but his spirit will endure as long as this organization continues to fight for the little guy who just needs a hand up.
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@example.com>.
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>. You may also email Joy Harris at <email@example.com>. We look forward to seeing you in Detroit and enjoying convention with you and all of our fellow Federationists.
This month’s recipes were submitted by members of the NFB of Rhode Island.
Wonderful Baked Chicken
by Jeanne Williams
Jeanne Williams and her husband Al originally joined our affiliate through our parents division. Their grandson is blind. They attend meetings regularly and help with transportation and other things.
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
1/3 soup can brandy, vermouth, etc.
1 to 1 1/2 pounds chicken pieces
Method: Mix the soups and brandy or vermouth together. Arrange chicken in single layer in baking dish and pour soup mixture over chicken; cover with foil and bake one hour at 350 degrees. Uncover and bake a half hour longer. Serve over noodles or rice.
Stringy Meat Pot Roast
by Jeanne Williams
I got this recipe when I was a newlywed. My sons loved it and gave it this name.
3 to 4-pound chuck roast (bone in or out)
1 envelope onion soup mix
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
Method: Place roast in roasting pan. Sprinkle with onion soup mix. Pour cream of mushroom soup over all. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and cook at 350 for three hours before serving.
by Grace Pires
Grace Pires serves as the National Federation of the Blind of Rhode Island secretary and chairs the membership committee.
2 pounds ground meat
1 14-ounce canned tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons dried minced onions
20 saltine crackers, crushed
1/4 cup butter
Method: Preheat electric skillet to 400 degrees. Mix all ingredients together and shape into a loaf. Coat pan with butter. Place the loaf in the skillet, cover it and lower the heat to 300. Bake for forty-five minutes before serving.
by Ken Bryant
Ken Bryant is a charter member of the NFB of Rhode Island and a former state treasurer.
2 28-ounce cans baked beans (I use B and B)
8 strips of bacon
1 onion, chopped
1 pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon French’s mustard
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup brown sugar
Method: Fry the bacon in a frying pan and remove to a paper towel to drain. In drippings over low heat sauté chopped onion and pepper till soft. In a four-quart kettle or pot with a fitted lid combine beans, crumbled bacon, sautéed vegetables, and all other ingredients. Stir to mix. Cover and heat through before serving.
The Best Irish Soda Bread
by Lois Payne
Lois Payne has been a member of the NFB for only a couple of years. She is eighty and a real dynamo. She participates in all our meetings and activities.
8 cups flour
2 cups raisins
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 2/3 cups buttermilk
Method: Mix the first seven ingredients then add buttermilk and two eggs. Stir to mix. Place dough on floured board and knead for two minutes. Form into two balls and place on a greased cookie sheet. With a sharp knife, cut a one-inch x on the top of each loaf. Beat the remaining two eggs and brush on the loaves. Bake in a 325-degree oven for thirty-five to forty-five minutes. Bread is done when it sounds hollow when lightly thumped. Remove to cool on a rack just enough to keep from burning your fingers when cutting a slice. Slather with butter and enjoy.
Amish Sugar Cookies
by Angelina Stabile
Angilina Stabile is NFB of Rhode Island vice president and chair of the legislation committee.
1 cup sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup cooking oil
4 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Method: Combine sugars, butter, and oil and beat well. Add eggs and mix well. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, cream of tartar, and vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator overnight. Make into small balls and flatten slightly with a fork. Bake at 375 degrees for ten to twelve minutes on an ungreased cookie sheet. Do not overbake. Remove to a rack to cool completely.
Best Chocolate Chip Cookies in the World
by Angelina Stabile
1 cup shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 to 2 cups chocolate chips
Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream together the shortening and both sugars. Then add eggs, vanilla, flour, baking soda, and salt. Once this mixture is well creamed, add the chocolate chips. Stir them in well with a wooden spoon or scraper. Drop cookie dough by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets and bake for nine to twelve minutes or until golden brown. Remove to rack to cool completely.
Diabetic Peanut Butter Cookies
by Angelina Stabile
1/2 cup butter flavored Crisco
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons Sweet N Low brown sugar
12 packets Equal
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
Method: Cream together Crisco, egg, vanilla, brown sugar, and Equal. Then add peanut butter. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt and add to the creamed mixture. Form into one-inch balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and flatten in a crisscross pattern with tines of fork. Bake at 350 degrees for ten minutes. Remove to a rack to cool completely.
News from the Federation Family
The National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam, a 2009 STEM Leadership Academy:
Observe, Discover, Evolve!
Launch rockets, perform astronomy, examine new technology, learn about engineering, solve crimes like those on CSI, design environmental solutions, meet new friends from all over the United States, play goal ball, watch movies, dance, make podcasts, meet blind role models, and experience many other adventures at the NFB Youth Slam.
From July 26 to August 1, 2009, two hundred blind and low-vision high school students will live at the University of Maryland, College Park, being mentored by blind role models during fun and challenging activities that build confidence, expand leadership and advocacy skills, and increase science literacy. Participants will also attend social events and workshops on topics like leadership, career preparation, and advocacy. The NFB Youth Slam will culminate in an inspiring rally in Washington, D.C.
Those interested in being students or mentors should complete an application by March 1, 2009. After an initial screening process, eligible students will be accepted into the program through random selection. Students and mentors need not have a strong interest in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) in order to participate, enjoy, and benefit from this academy.
If you are interested in being a student or mentor participant or if you'd like to learn more about the NFB Youth Slam, visit <http://www.blindscience.org/ncbys/youth_slam.asp>. Email questions about the NFB Youth Slam to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Sam Gleese, president of the NFB of Mississippi, wrote to announce that on Saturday, November 15, 2008, the NFB of Mississippi established a new chapter in Starkville, Mississippi. Twelve members were present for this grand event. The officers and board members are president, Candice Chapman; vice president, David Bouchard; secretary, Marissa Humphreys; treasurer, Matthew Ford; and board members, Kevin Pitchford and Wingfield Bouchard. Congratulations to this new chapter.
Boulder, Colorado, NFB members have always been a vital part of the Colorado affiliate. As a young woman living in Boulder, Betsy Zaborowski was a founding member and leader in the chapter. Like other chapters, however, the Boulder chapter became inactive when key members were no longer able to assume leadership. That was then, but this is now.
We are happy to report the reformation of the Boulder chapter, renamed the Boulder Valley Chapter. It was reorganized in March of 2008 with Booth Calder as president, Gerry Leary as vice president, Curtis Willoughby as treasurer, and Maryann Gilliard as secretary. The more than ten chapter members in attendance were pleased to receive the chapter charter at the November 2008 NFB of Colorado convention in Colorado Springs. For personal reasons Booth Calder had to step down this past fall and return to her home state of Tennessee. Gerry Leary became president, and Jim Wolcott was elected as the new vice president.
Book for Grandparents Available:
Joan and Ed Vaughan have been Federationists for thirty years. Joan’s career has been in early childhood development. She has worked on a book for the last several years, Let’s Grandparent: Activity Guide for Young Grandchildren, which was published in December 2007 by Information Age Publishing, the same company that published the Critical Issues in Blindness series, produced by the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University. This book is aimed at the general public.
Grandparents and others who enjoy games and activities with children during their crucial early years are the target group for this book. It also includes developmental insights about why certain activities work at certain stages of child development. If you are interested, you may order directly from Information Age Publishing at <www.infoagepub.com> or from any major online vendor. When purchased directly from the publisher, the price is $20.
Virginia Federationist at Work:
The following article appeared in the December 16, 2008, edition of the Virginian-Pilot. The teacher featured is Debbie Prost, a longtime Federationist and an NFB Distinguished Educator of Blind Children. Notice the frequency of instructional contact and also the pattern of less and less student dependence on the teacher. Both these characteristics are hallmarks of effective blindness education. Here is the story:
Teacher and Student, Both Blind, Learn from Each Other
by Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer
At first it was about learning Braille. MarChé Daughtry was in kindergarten, and she and Ms. Prost spent an hour every day together, going over which combinations of dots make up which letters, how to capitalize words, and how to form contractions. They’d play War and Go Fish, using cards with Braille words instead of playing cards. MarChé was quick to pick up on it, and, when she did well, they’d play a tape that Deborah Prost’s husband had made: “MarrrrChé Daaaughtry,” he’d say menacingly. “This is Captain Hook!” and MarChé would get to go pick out her treasure.
MarChé called Prost, a special-education teacher who is also blind, her “second mommy,” because “sometimes she understands things my real mommy can’t.” The summer after MarChé’s kindergarten year, Prost’s mother passed away, and she found herself looking forward to the hour she’d spend every day with MarChé, who cheered her up. As MarChé got better at Braille, they cut back to forty-five minutes a day. MarChé started coming to their sessions with stories: of times classmates asked her if she had special powers or how she’d tell friends hello and a few minutes later hear them whisper, “How does she know it’s me?”
“It’s like, honestly, I’m right behind you,” MarChé would say. Prost would murmur sympathetically and tell MarChé about the time someone asked her how she navigated a bathroom.
Today, MarChé is in sixth grade. They are down to twenty-five minutes a day together, and they spend that time working on more specialized skills, like making PowerPoint presentations using special software, reading Braille music, and learning Spanish Braille. The day lies ahead when the academic time will be cut down to fifteen minutes a day, and then none, because MarChé has come so far. But they’ll keep in touch, they say. It’s not about learning Braille anymore. “We’ll see each other,” MarChé said. “We’ll make sure of that.”
Harold Snider reports with great sorrow the untimely death on January 7, 2009, of Paul Kay, a longtime leader in the National Federation of the Blind. Paul Edward Knisbacher was born on February 22, 1937, in Vienna, Austria. He is survived by his only sibling, Elizabeth Kay Goldstein. Paul’s early life was traumatic. His family fled from the Nazi takeover of Austria in November 1938. They lived in Belgium for about a year, but, when the Nazis invaded Belgium in 1939, they fled to England, where they survived the London Blitz and immigrated to the United States in early 1941. On arrival, Paul’s father changed the family name from Knisbacher to Kay and his own first name from Norbert to Norman. He thought the family was more likely to flourish with Anglicized names.
Paul grew up in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. In high school he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa and later with Usher’s syndrome, which causes both blindness and deafness. He graduated from Taft High School in 1956 and attended Pace College in Brooklyn, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1961.
In the 1960s Paul worked as an independent insurance broker in New York City. He also obtained training and was licensed as a masseur. But neither career truly satisfied his ambitions. With encouragement from his family, blind friends, and his rehabilitation counselor, he entered law school at New York University in September 1970. It is not coincidental that during the previous summer he had joined the New York City Chapter of the NFB and attended his first national convention in Minneapolis. This experience changed his life. After graduating from law school, he moved to Washington, D.C., to accept a position as staff attorney with the U.S. Maritime Administration, an agency of the Department of Commerce. He was employed by the government for eleven years, leaving to enter private law practice in 1985. In 1993 he and Federationist Larry Povinelli became law partners.
On arrival in Washington, Paul immediately became part of the leadership of the newly reorganized NFB of the District of Columbia. He was an active leader, board member, and officer for the remainder of his life. He served two terms as president of the D.C. affiliate, from 1977 to 1981, distinguishing himself for his advocacy and leadership in educating the D.C. city council about blindness. Paul was also actively involved in the Sligo Creek Chapter of the NFB of Maryland and the Arlington County Chapter of the NFB of Virginia.
In 1981 Paul revisited his family home in Vienna, which had been confiscated by the Nazis. He met his old nanny, and the reunion was both happy and tearful. On his seventieth birthday members of the D.C. affiliate gave him a great surprise, a return visit to his old home in the Bronx and a game at Yankee Stadium, where he was able to cheer for his beloved New York Yankees. Although he lived in Washington for thirty-five years, you could never mistake him for anything other than a New York Yankee. Though some people found Paul gruff at times, he had a heart of gold and was loved by his friends, who will miss him.
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.
Maps of Alaska Now Available:
Maps of Alaska is a single volume of seventy-four pages including twenty-one maps. The first half of the book consists of overall maps showing land regions, cities, towns, rivers, mountains, national parks, native corporations, boroughs, and climate. In the second half of the book the state is divided into seven regions: Brooks Range and North Slope; Fairbanks and the Interior; Anchorage and South Central Alaska; West Coast, Kodiak, and Alaska Peninsula; Aleutian Islands; and the Panhandle. Each region has a page of introductory information followed by a detailed map, either on facing pages or on a foldout page. Maps are labeled with key letters identified in Brailled key pages that face the maps. The maps are created by hand in metal foil and copied by Thermoforming.
Maps of Alaska is bound with cardboard covers and a multiring binder. The price is $14; shipping is by Free Matter if eligible. Please send check, money order, or invoice to the Princeton Braillists, 76 Leabrook Lane, Princeton, New Jersey 08540. A number of other atlases and maps are also available. For further information please visit our Website: <mysite.verizon.net/resvqbxe/princetonbraillists/> or call (215) 357-7715 or (609) 924-5207.
We recently learned that Sir John Wall died on Sunday, November 30, 2008. Sir John was an officer in the World Blind Union (WBU) by virtue of his service as secretary general and president of the European Blind Union from 1994 to 2003. Following his retirement from office, Sir John continued to be active on behalf of the WBU, particularly in development of the organization's constitution and in negotiation as a representative of the WBU with the Universal Postal Union. Most recently Sir John edited Changing What It Means to Be Blind: Reflections on the First Twenty-Five Years of the World Blind Union, the WBU's silver anniversary publication presented to the organization at the seventh general assembly in August 2008 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Sir John was chairman of the Royal National Institute of the Blind, Great Britain's primary service provider, from 1990 to 2000. in 1990 he was appointed a deputy master of the High Court of England and Wales. His personal and professional accomplishments and contributions were significant and noteworthy. He will be missed.
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.
Magnasite Explorer for Sale:
This sophisticated magnification system was purchased a few years ago but rarely used. Cost at time of purchase was $2,400. Will accept best offer. Contact Wilma Cater at (410) 715-4434. Please leave a message, and she will call you back.
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.