Braille Monitor

Vol. 52, No. 5                                                     May 2009

Barbara Pierce, editor
Daniel B. Frye, associate editor

Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by

The National Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, president

National Office
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
telephone: (410) 659-9314
email address: [email protected]
Website address: http://www.nfb.org
NFBnet.org: http://www.nfbnet.org
NFB-NEWSLINE® information: (866) 504-7300

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subscription requests, and orders for NFB literature
should be sent to the National Office.
Articles for the Monitor and letters to the editor may also
be sent to the National Office or may be emailed to [email protected]

Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about twenty-five dollars per year.
Members are invited, and nonmembers are requested, to cover
  the subscription cost. Donations should be made payable to
National Federation of the Blind and sent to:

National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998


        ISSN 0006-8829



Vol. 52, No. 5                                                     May 2009


Detroit Site of 2009 NFB Convention

Making Change with a Dollar
Celebrating the Launch of the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar
by Daniel B. Frye

The Braille Literacy Crisis in America
Facing the Truth, Reversing the Trend, Empowering the Blind

The Mythology of Discrimination
by Marc Maurer

Low-Cost Screen Readers
by the Access Technology Team

Going Round in Circles at the Detroit Marriott
by Doug Boone

Blind Voters Are Registered Voters
by A.J. Chwalow, L. Blake, and M. Riccobono

The State of Blindness
A Current Assessment
by Stanley Greenberg

My Tree Branch Cane
How I Became Blind and Then What
by Ed Bryant

2009 Brings ADA Changes
by Greg Trapp


Monitor Miniatures


Copyright 2009 by the National Federation of the Blind


Detroit Site of 2009 NFB Convention

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 (800) 266-9432.

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


2009 National Convention Preregistration Form

Please register online at <www.nfb.org> or print legibly on this form or provide all the requested information and mail to the address below.

Registrant Name ___________________________________________________
Address _________________________________________________________
City ____________________________________________________________
State ___________________________________ Zip ____________________
Phone __________________________________________________________

___ I will pick up my registration packet at convention.
___ The following person will pick up my registration packet:
Pickup Name ______________________________________
Please register only one person per registration form.
One check or money order may cover multiple registrations.
Check or money order (sorry, no credit cards) must be enclosed with registration form(s).

Number of preregistrations x $15 = ____________
Prepurchased banquet tickets x $35 = ____________
Total ______________

All preconvention registration and banquet sales are final (no refunds).

Mail to: National Federation of the Blind
Attn: Convention Registration
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
Registrations must be postmarked by May 31, 2009.



Precisely at noon on March 26, 2009, the United States Mint began selling the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar. Some minutes before that hour those who attended the official roll-out of the coin at the headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind began lining up to buy coins in Members’ Hall. The first purchasers were lucky enough to have their certificates of authentication initialed by the director of the Mint.


Making Change with a Dollar
Celebrating the Launch of the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar

by Daniel B. Frye

On Thursday, March 26, 2009, the National Federation of the Blind hosted a celebration to launch the release of the 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar at our headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland. Over three hundred Federationists, members of the general public, and media representatives gathered in Members' Hall of the NFB Jernigan Institute to watch Edmund C. Moy, director of the United States Mint, officially unveil and present this commemorative coin to NFB President Marc Maurer. Mr. Moy presented President Maurer a plaque incorporating four of the coins (two proof and two uncirculated, displaying both the obverse and reverse of each type of coin). The NFB first vice president and chairman of our national Braille Readers are Leaders (BRL) campaign, Dr. Fredric Schroeder, also introduced and presented the Federation's report "The Braille Literacy Crisis in America: Facing the Truth, Reversing the Trend, Empowering the Blind" to Kareem Dale, special assistant to the president for disability policy. Mr. Dale reaffirmed President Obama's commitment to literacy and education for all, including the blind, and he promised to take the report back to the White House to digest its content and incorporate it in administration policy.

Finally, Dr. Joyce Winterton, assistant administrator for NASA education, made a surprise announcement that two of these Bicentennial Silver Dollars will be launched into space later this year on STS-125, the flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis to the Hubble Space Telescope, the last space shuttle flight before the entire fleet is retired in 2010. The gathering enthusiastically received this announcement. Many were also touched when Dr. Winterton commented in passing that she intended to buy six of the coins for her grandchildren.

In addition to these presentations President Maurer delivered a keynote address to mark this historic occasion in which he described the government's decision to mint a coin honoring the two hundredth birthday of Louis Braille as an implicit recognition of our value as blind people. U.S. Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, the original Senate sponsor of our Braille coin legislation, offered a video message of congratulations. Dr. Abraham Nemeth, the inventor of the Nemeth Braille mathematics code and one of several national ambassadors for the BRL campaign present at the celebration, reminisced with the audience about the powerful influence of Braille in directing the trajectory of his career and life.

Dignitaries, including a representative from the French ambassador to the United States, a staff member from Maryland Senator Benjamin Cardin's office, the director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, the commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, and the superintendent of the Maryland School for the Blind, all joined us for this momentous celebration. Jessica Bachicha, a staff member in the NFB Department of Affiliate Action and a doctoral student studying vocal performance at Catholic University, sang the aria “I Want to Live” from act one of Charles Gounod's opera, Roméo et Juliet.

To the delight of everyone present, three young Federationists, Marché Daughtry, Brandon Pickrel, and Jason Polansky, demonstrated the value of Braille when they read a resolution emphasizing the importance of the code. The text of their resolution follows:

[Brandon] WHEREAS, I, Brandon Pickrel, am a first grader who is proud to be one of the 10 percent of blind children who can read and write Braille, and therefore, I am more likely to graduate from high school and pursue advanced education; and

[Jason] WHEREAS, I, Jason Polansky, am a seventh grader who reads Braille and, therefore, I am more likely to be successfully employed in my field of choice; and

[Marché] WHEREAS, I, Marché Daughtry, am a sixth grader who loves to read Braille and therefore salute the members of Congress for authorizing the Louis Braille Silver Dollar, which will provide funds to the National Federation of the Blind to ensure that many other blind children and adults have the opportunity to be literate: Now, therefore,

[All three] BE IT RESOLVED that we will use the power of knowledge to build a future full of opportunity with the support of the National Federation of the Blind; and

[Brandon] BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that I will go to college because of the investment in the next generation made by the National Federation of the Blind; and

[Jason] BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that I will graduate from high school, go to college, and be successful in my personal life and my career because of the unwavering commitment to Braille literacy of the National Federation of the Blind; and

[Marché] BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that I will be a midwife because the members of the National Federation of the Blind will seize this moment in time to make change with a dollar.

[All three] Ladies and gentlemen, we are Braille readers, and therefore we’ll be leaders. Please follow our lead and help us build a brighter future by giving the gift of Braille to every blind person in America.

The coin launch ceremony received national and local television and print press coverage. Our festivities were featured on the nationally broadcast ABC World News Tonight with Charles Gibson, and many newspapers around the country carried a version of the Associated Press article highlighting this centerpiece of our national BRL campaign. The text of the AP article follows:

Fewer Than 10 Percent of Blind Americans Read Braille

Jordan Richardson has a degenerative condition that eventually will leave him completely blind. But as a child his teachers did not emphasize Braille, the system of reading in which a series of raised dots signify letters of the alphabet. Instead, they insisted he use what little vision he had to read print. By the third grade he was falling behind in his schoolwork.

"They gave him Braille instruction, but they didn't tell us how to get Braille books, and they didn't want him using it during the day," said Jordan's mother, Carrie Gilmer of Minneapolis. Teachers said Braille would be "a thing he uses way off in the far distant future, and don't worry about it."

That experience is common: Fewer than 10 percent of the 1.3 million legally blind people in the United States read Braille, and just 10 percent of blind children are learning it, according to a report to be released Thursday by the National Federation of the Blind. By comparison, at the height of its use in the 1950s, more than half the nation's blind children were learning Braille. Today Braille is considered by many to be too difficult, too outdated, a last resort. Instead, teachers ask students to rely on audio texts, voice-recognition software, or other technology. And teachers who know Braille often must shuttle between schools, resulting in haphazard instruction, the report says.

"You can find good teachers of the blind in America, but you can't find good programs," said Marc Maurer, the group's president. "There is not a commitment to this population that is at all significant almost anywhere." Using technology as a substitute for Braille leaves blind people illiterate, the Federation said, citing studies that show blind people who know Braille are more likely to earn advanced degrees, find good jobs, and live independently. "It's really sad that so many kids are being shortchanged," said Debby Brackett of Stuart, Florida, who pressured schools to provide capable Braille teachers for her twelve-year-old daughter, Winona.

One study found that 44 percent of participants who grew up reading Braille were unemployed, compared with 77 percent for those who relied on print. Overall blind adults face 70 percent unemployment.

The Federation's report pulled together existing research on Braille literacy, and its authors acknowledge that not enough research has been done. The 10-percent figure comes from federal statistics gathered by the American Printing House for the Blind, a company that develops products for the visually impaired. The Federation also did some original research, including a survey of five hundred people that found the ability to read Braille correlated with higher levels of education, a higher likelihood of employment, and higher income.

The report coincides with the two hundredth birthday of Louis Braille, the Frenchman who invented the Braille code as a teenager. Resistance to his system was immediate; at one point the director of Braille's school burned the books he and his classmates had transcribed. The school did not want its blind students becoming too independent; it made money by selling crafts they produced. The system caught on but began declining in the 1960s along with the widespread integration of blind children into public schools. It has continued with the advent of technology that some believe makes Braille obsolete.

"Back in about 1970 or so, I was heading to college, and somebody said to me, ‘Now that you've got the tape recorder, everything will be all right.’ In the early 1980s somebody else said, ‘Now that you've got a talking computer, everything will be all right,’" said Marc Maurer, president of the Federation. "They were both wrong. And the current technology isn't going to make everything all right unless I know how to put my hands on a page that has words on it and read them."

"Audio books are no substitute," said Carlton Walker, an attorney and the mother of a legally blind girl from McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania. Walker once met a blind teenager who had only listened to audio books; the teen was shocked to discover that "Once upon a time" was four separate words. Walker also had to lobby teachers to provide Braille for her eight-year-old daughter Anna instead of just large-print books.

"At three years old Anna could compete with very large letters. When you get older, you can't compete," Walker said. She once asked a teacher, “‘What are you going to do when she's reading Dickens?’ She said, ‘Well, we'll just go to audio then.’ If that were good enough for everybody, why do we spend millions of dollars teaching people to read?" Richardson, now an eighteen-year-old aspiring lawyer, worked on his Braille in a summer program when he was in middle school and can now read 125 words a minute, up from his previous rate, an excruciatingly slow twenty words a minute.

"Just try it," Carrie Gilmer said. "Go get a paragraph, get a stopwatch, and try to read twenty words a minute. Try and read that slow and see how frustrating it is." Fluent Braille readers can read two hundred words a minute or more, the Federation says. Carrie Gilmer is president of a parents' group within the Federation of the Blind. She believes poor or haphazard instruction is largely responsible for the decline in Braille literacy, but she says sometimes teachers push Braille only to meet resistance from parents. "They're afraid of their child looking blind, not fitting in," Gilmer said.

The report outlines ambitious goals for reversing the trend, including lobbying all fifty states to require teachers of blind children to be certified in Braille instruction by 2015. But its immediate goal is to simply make people aware that there's no substitute for Braille. "It's not just a tool to help people function--it can bring joy," Maurer said.

"The concept of reading Braille for fun is a thing that lots of people don't know," Maurer said. "And yet I do this every day. I love the beautiful, orderly lines of words that convey a different idea that can stimulate me or make me excited or sad. ... This is what we're trying to convey."

As the formal ceremony concluded, members and guests scattered throughout Members’ Hall to take advantage of the Braille-related activities on display. Most formed a winding circle around the hall’s perimeter to be one of the first to purchase the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar. Those present had an exclusive opportunity to buy this keepsake before it went on public sale from the United States Mint at noon on March 26. Others visited booths featuring the evolution of Braille; rare books embossed in Braille and other tactile codes, including a first-edition copy of a book in which Louis Braille introduced his new code to the world; and an array of Braille technology. Cookies with the Braille letters B, R, and L were available for sampling, and a lucky few got to swing at a piñata that, when finally broken, disgorged hundreds of chocolate Louis Braille coins for everyone to enjoy. Visit <http://www.nfb.org/nfb/Audio-Video_Center.asp?SnID=520038847> to hear a recording of the entire event.

On the same day and throughout the following week, many Federation affiliates and chapters held their own celebrations to recognize the release of the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar. Over thirty state affiliates obtained proclamations and resolutions from political leaders (mostly from governors or state legislatures) hailing the release of the coin and all it symbolizes for blind Americans.

Our Nebraska affiliate, for example, held an event at the Lincoln Children's Museum, where Lieutenant Governor Rick Sheehy presented a gubernatorial proclamation declaring March 26, 2009, Braille Readers are Leaders Day in Nebraska to affiliate president and NFB national board member Amy Buresh. Scott LaBarre, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, reported that forty Federationists braved an early spring blizzard to be at the state capitol for an affiliate-sponsored press conference and to watch the unanimous adoption of Joint Senate Resolution 31, noting the release of the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar and its attendant promise to create enhanced Braille literacy for many. Space constraints do not allow us to profile every state or local event, but we received reports from Michigan and New Jersey, among others, detailing their efforts. Each event reflected the local color and personality of the affiliate or chapter in question.

If you are interested in purchasing the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar to help promote the NFB's national BRL campaign, contact the NFB Independence Market at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2216, or contact the United States Mint at (800) 872-6468 (USA-Mint); the coin can also be bought online from the United States Mint by visiting <http://www.usmint.gov>. Please consider buying a coin or two. They will make wonderful historic souvenirs, and they will help promote our Braille literacy efforts. Finally, with the purchase of every ten thousand coins, one blank segment in a forty-piece mystery artwork will be revealed, and, when all four hundred thousand of the authorized coins have been sold, we'll all be able to marvel at what should be a stunning picture. The emerging bas-relief will be on display for all members and guests to see when they visit the National Center for the Blind. The introduction of this artwork at the conclusion of the celebration served as a bit of inspiration and motivation to get about the serious work of raising money for Braille literacy. Now it is up to you to do your part.


The Braille Literacy Crisis in America
Facing the Truth, Reversing the Trend, Empowering the Blind

A Report to the Nation by the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute

March 26, 2009

Executive Summary

A good education is the key to success, and every American deserves an equal opportunity to receive a good education. Inherent to being educated is being literate. The ability to read and write means access to information that, in turn, leads to understanding and knowledge. And knowledge is power—the power to achieve, function in the family, thrive in the community, succeed in a job, and contribute to society.

Nearly 90 percent of America’s blind children are not learning to read and write because they are not being taught Braille or given access to it. There is a Braille literacy crisis in America.

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the largest and most influential membership organization of blind people in the United States, is taking swift action to reverse this trend. This year, 2009, marks the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille, inventor of the system that allows blind people to read and write independently. Coinciding with this anniversary, the NFB has announced specific action to address the education of America’s blind children so that every blind child who has a need for Braille will have the opportunity to learn it.

In this report to the nation on the state of Braille literacy in America, the NFB examines the history and decline of Braille education, addresses the crisis facing the blind today and key factors driving it, and proposes a number of action steps to double the Braille literacy rate by 2015 and eventually reverse it altogether.

Key Report Findings:

I. Facing the Truth

Factors contributing to this low literacy among the blind include:

II. Reversing the Trend

Undoubtedly the ability to read and write Braille competently and efficiently is the key to success for the blind. The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute is committed to reversing this downward trend in Braille literacy in order to ensure that equal opportunities in education and employment are available to all of the nation's blind.

Braille literacy can be accomplished by:

III. Empowering the Blind

Blind people who know Braille and use it find success, independence, and productivity. A recent survey of five hundred respondents by the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute revealed a correlation between the ability to read Braille and a higher educational level, a higher likelihood of employment, and a higher income.

Hundreds of thousands of blind people have found Braille to be an indispensable tool in their education, their work, and their daily lives. In the hearts and minds of blind people, no alternative system or new technology has ever replaced Braille. For this reason the National Federation of the Blind is launching a national Braille literacy campaign to enhance the future prospects for blind children and adults in this country and to help make Braille literacy a reality for the 90 percent of blind children for whom reading is a struggle, if not an impossibility.

The future of sighted children depends on a proper education; the future of America’s blind children is no different.


Unquestionably a good education is the key to success. In national polls Americans routinely identified this issue as an important national priority (Blackorby, 2004). Education is generally understood to encompass literacy, defined as “the ability to read and write” (Concise Oxford Dictionary, 2009). According to the National Institute for Literacy, literacy is “an individual’s ability to read, write, speak in English, compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job, in the family of the individual, and in society” (http://www.nifl.gov/). Schools not doing a good job of teaching children to read and write are correctly seen as failing schools. Yet, for thousands of children across the United States, it is considered acceptable to fail to teach them to read and write. These children are blind, and they are not learning to read and write because they are not being taught Braille.

Despite its versatility and elegance, and notwithstanding the fact that it is the official system of reading and writing for the blind in the United States, Braille is not being taught to most blind children or to adults who lose their vision. This has led to a literacy crisis among blind people. Many commentators on the Braille literacy crisis agree that one of the most significant contributing factors is a negative societal attitude toward Braille (Riccobono, 2006; Hehir, 2002). The bias against Braille is further evidenced by hundreds of published accounts from blind people themselves. The archives of the monthly publication of the National Federation of the Blind, the Braille Monitor, are full of personal stories detailing the problems blind people experience when they are not taught Braille at an early age. When educators and parents insist that children who are blind or have low vision read print to the exclusion of reading Braille, the ultimate result is that many of them are functionally illiterate.

Braille has been controversial since its invention. At the time Louis Braille developed the system, most of those who were attempting to educate the blind were not blind themselves but sighted people with altruistic impulses (Lorimer, 2000; Mellor, 2006). They believed that the blind should be taught to read print rather than using a separate system. Many educators still believe this today, arguing that Braille is slow and hard to learn and that it isolates blind children from their peers. These arguments and their mistaken assumptions will be addressed in detail in the following pages.

Beliefs among educators about Braille are only one reason, albeit a very significant one, that Braille literacy has declined in the United States to the point where it is estimated that only 10 percent of blind children are learning it. Other factors include a shortage of teachers qualified to give Braille instruction, the need for improved methods of producing and distributing Braille, and not enough certified Braille transcribers (Spungin, 1989, 2003). All of these issues must be addressed if the downward trend in literacy among the blind is to be reversed. And it must be reversed, for to fail to reverse it is to condemn blind children and adults to illiteracy and to a permanent struggle to keep up with their sighted peers in getting an education. By contrast, reversing the downward trend in Braille literacy will ensure that current and future generations of blind children, as well as adults who lose their vision, have access to knowledge and the power and opportunity that it represents.

This report discusses Braille’s history and effectiveness, the reasons for the crisis in Braille literacy, and what the National Federation of the Blind is doing to address this crisis. It is a call to action for all who are concerned about the welfare of America’s blind children to join with the National Federation of the Blind in our effort to ensure that every blind child and adult who has a need for Braille will have the opportunity to learn it.

A Brief History of Braille

Braille is a system of raised dots that allows blind people to read and write tactilely. Named for its inventor, Louis Jean-Philippe Braille (1809-1852), the Braille code is the universally accepted method of reading and writing for the blind. It is the only system that allows blind people to read and write independently and to do both interactively. Because of its effectiveness, Braille has been adapted for almost every written language. Other Braille codes represent mathematical and scientific notation and music. Even blind computer programmers have a Braille code, computer Braille. All of these codes are based on Louis Braille’s original system, a cell consisting of six dots in parallel vertical columns of three each. The Braille code was first introduced into the United States in 1869 but was not adopted until 1932 as the Standard English Grade II Braille code.

Graphic: Braille cell

Graphic: Braille alphabet

For most of human history no method existed allowing blind people to read and write independently. Some blind people did learn to read print in a tactile form, but usually they had no way to write tactilely; even if they learned to reproduce print characters accurately, they could not read what they had written. In addition, the difficulty and expense of producing books with embossed print lettering made such books rare. As a result most blind people were condemned to illiteracy, along with the poverty and deprivation accompanying it. If they earned a living at all, they did so as storytellers or musicians or through certain kinds of manual labor, including basketry and massage.

This was the state of affairs when Louis Jean-Philippe Braille was born in the small village of Coupvray, France, just outside Paris, in 1809. At the age of three Braille was blinded in an accident, probably resulting from playing with tools in his father’s harness-making shop (Lorimer, 1996, 2000; Mellor, 2006). Braille’s family was not wealthy, but his parents were literate and determined that their son would obtain an education. When it became clear that the local school could no longer meet Braille’s needs (though he had progressed astonishingly far given that he could not read and write), a local nobleman put up the funds for him to attend the Royal Institute for the Young Blind in Paris, the world’s first school for blind children (Mellor, 2006; Lorimer, 1996). At this school Braille found a limited number of books with embossed print letters and quickly read all of them.

In 1821 a French army captain, Charles Barbier de la Serre, came to the school to show the students an invention that he thought might be of use to them. Barbier had developed a system called “night writing” consisting of raised dots punched into cardboard with a stylus. A metal frame, or slate, was used to guide the stylus in the proper placement of the dots. This system was invented as a way for soldiers to transmit messages in the dark without striking a match, which would give away their position to enemy gunners. While Braille recognized the system’s potential, he believed that it could be improved. In particular he thought that the dot formations should represent alphanumeric characters instead of sounds (Barbier’s system was also called sonography because the symbols represented the sounds of speech rather than letters). He also thought that the number of dots making up each character should be reduced so that they could be read with a fingertip rather than having to be traced. Braille worked on improving the system for several years. By the age of twenty he had developed the six-dot Braille cell that is used today and had published a booklet on the method.

Braille’s fellow students adopted his new system immediately. Not only could they now read books, which were hand transcribed by Braille and his friends, but they could take their own notes in class and read them back later rather than learning exclusively by listening and memorizing. The instructors at the school were skeptical, however, and some of the administrators were actually hostile. The school was a political showpiece and made money from selling crafts produced by its blind students; if the blind became too independent, its prestige and revenue might be reduced (Mellor, 2006). At one point the school’s director burned all of the books that Louis Braille and his friends had transcribed by hand and confiscated the students’ slates and styluses. The result was an open rebellion among students, who began to steal forks from the dining room to replace their lost writing implements. This early struggle for the acceptance of the Braille system would be only the first of many battles pitting blind people against those who professed to know what was best for them. These struggles continue to this day.

Despite these setbacks the Braille system was eventually adopted by the Royal Institute for the Young Blind, and two years after Braille’s death it became the official system of reading and writing for the blind in France. To this day Louis Braille is considered a national hero in his native country; his body is interred in the Pantheon in Paris. The Braille code was later adopted in England because of advocacy by the founders of what is now the Royal National Institute of Blind People, and other blind people and educational institutions for the blind began to use it. Helen Keller reported using the system. Rosalind Perlman (2007), in her book The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story, reports that the first physician to have been born blind, practicing in Chicago during the early part of the twentieth century, learned Braille at the Illinois School for the Blind and used it for notes in medical school and throughout his subsequent career. Braille was adopted as the exclusive means of teaching blind people to read and write in the United States in 1932. At the height of its use in the United States, it is estimated that 50 to 60 percent of blind children learned to read and write in Braille.

Attention Box on page 7: Only about 10 percent of blind children in the United States are currently learning Braille. Society would never accept a 10 percent literacy rate among sighted children; it should not accept such an outrageously low literacy rate among the blind.

The Decline of Braille Literacy

The decline in the number of Braille readers since 1963 (Miller, 2002) has been widely discussed by professionals and censured by consumer groups (Rex, 1989; Schroeder, 1989; Stephens, 1989). Although there is no consensus on the causes of this decline, a number of factors have been cited. Among them are disputes on the utility of the Braille code (Thurlow, 1988), the decline in teachers’ knowledge of Braille and methods for teaching it (Schroeder, 1989; Stephens, 1989), negative attitudes toward Braille (Holbrook and Koenig, 1992; Rex, 1989), greater reliance on speech output and print-magnification technology, and a rise in the number of blind children with additional disabilities who are nonreaders (Rex, 1989). The greatest controversy over whether to teach a child Braille arises when a child has some residual vision; such children account for around 85 percent of the total population of blind children (Holbrook and Koenig, 1992).

Pressure from consumers and advocacy groups has led thirty-three states to pass legislation mandating that children who are legally blind be given the opportunity to learn Braille. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act also mandates that the teams who help to write educational plans for students with disabilities presume that all blind children should be taught Braille unless it is determined to be inappropriate. But these laws have not ended the controversy. Whereas professional groups have called for a renewed emphasis on teaching Braille (Mullen, 1990), others have opined that Braille is only one educational option. Braille should be viewed as one tool among many, a tool that allows blind people to operate at a high degree of proficiency when performing a multitude of functional tasks (Eldridge, 1979, Waechtler, 1999). But rather than seeing Braille as a tool that every blind child should have in his or her toolkit for dealing effectively with vision loss, to be used in conjunction with and not to the exclusion of techniques that rely on the child’s remaining vision, some educators insist that a choice must be made between print and Braille and that only one reading medium must be used (Federman, 2005). These disagreements translate in the field into disputes among professionals in planning meetings researching how to deal with individual children. Parents caught in the middle of these disputes and often themselves confused about the best course of action find that they and their children become the real victims in these academic battles.

The Crisis Facing the Blind Today

The American Foundation for the Blind (1996) has estimated that fewer than 10 percent of people who are legally blind in the United States and fewer than 40 percent of the estimated number who are functionally blind are Braille readers. The American Printing House for the Blind estimates the Braille literacy rate among children to be around 10 percent. Experts estimate 1.3 million blind people live in the United States, and approximately 75,000 people lose all or part of their vision each year. These numbers may increase dramatically as the baby-boom generation reaches retirement age. Macular degeneration, the most common form of blindness in older Americans, is likely to increase as this population increases, particularly since Americans are living longer. The nation’s leading cause of blindness, diabetes, has reached epidemic proportions in this country, so a higher incidence of blindness can be expected.

The Teacher Crisis

U.S. education faces a chronic shortage of teachers qualified to teach Braille. In 2003 there were approximately 6,700 full-time teachers of blind students serving approximately 93,600 students (Spungin, 2003). Far too few teachers of blind children have graduated from accredited programs; a 2000 report observed that the total number of new professionals graduating from university programs to work with students who are blind or have low vision fluctuated between 375 and 416 per year during the previous seven years (Mason, et al., 2000). Not all of these teachers are qualified to teach Braille. Many teachers who are considered qualified to teach Braille have not necessarily learned it themselves. There is no national consensus on what it means to be certified to teach Braille, and states have a patchwork of requirements for certification. Local school districts depend upon state education agencies to set the certification standards for teachers. All states have specific certification standards for those who teach children who are blind or have low vision; however, these standards vary across the country (Vaughn, 1997).

States license or certify candidates who want to teach children who are blind or have low vision in three ways: requiring the candidate to graduate from an approved bachelor’s or master’s program from an approved college or university; requiring the candidate to have a generic degree in special education; or requiring the candidate to have an endorsement to an existing certificate in early childhood, elementary, secondary, or special education, with certain courses needed to gain that endorsement (Frieman, 2004). In order to approve a program, the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education requires performance-based criteria. The Council for Exceptional Children has developed performance-based standards for programs to train teachers of students who have a visual impairment. If a candidate graduates from an approved program that follows the Council for Exceptional Children’s standards, an administrator can predict that the teaching candidate will have the necessary background to teach Braille. However, only nineteen states require candidates to have graduated from an approved program. Seven states require that candidates have only a generic degree in special education with no specific mention of Braille. Twenty-four states require candidates to have taken courses in order to earn an endorsement. These standards specify that the teacher has taken at least one course in Braille, but give no guarantee that the individual is actually competent in Braille or is able to teach it (Frieman, 2004). Teachers who are uncomfortable with Braille are likely to be reluctant to teach it, especially when they can get by without doing so for students who have low vision but can read some print.

To act in the best interests of blind children and adults, schools must require that every child who is blind will have the right to be taught Braille and that Braille be taught by someone who is competent in its use. This is not what is currently happening in schools (Vaughn, 1997). Today there is no guarantee that a teacher, even one with formal credentials, will be fluent in Braille. In order to assure Braille fluency, teachers of blind children must be tested on their actual Braille skills by way of a comprehensive and validated test. States should require Braille teachers to pass the National Certification in Literary Braille (NCLB) in order to assure competency and fluency in the literary code. Passing the NCLB examination will not in itself ensure effective Braille teaching, but it will provide a measure of how well a person knows and uses Braille.

Even assuming a teacher is competent in Braille, the size of the teacher’s case load will often influence how well his or her students learn Braille. An itinerant teacher is essentially a consultant who is responsible for meeting the needs of several students. Teachers of blind students often must travel within or even between school districts each week to help a number of students. They are typically expected to teach sixteen or more students who are widely spread over large geographic areas (Caton, 1991). As a result many students are trained in Braille for only two to three hours a week, and some even less than that.

Attention Box page 9: There is a chronic shortage of teachers who are qualified to teach Braille. It was reported in 2003 that there were approximately 6,700 full-time teachers of blind students serving approximately 93,600 students.

Teachers of blind students must often teach a number of skills, including cane travel and the use of technology such as a computer with text-to-speech screen access software, and there is evidence that Braille instruction is not prioritized. According to one survey respondents spent an average of 35 percent of their instructional time using assistive technology with students in grades 7-10 (Thurlow et al., 2001). The primary goals most often cited for instructional time were “become a proficient user of assistive technology” (42 percent) and “read using a combination of approaches” (30 percent), with “become fluent Braille reader” (18 percent) selected less often. Respondents spent an average of 27 percent of reading instruction time on direct instruction of how to use assistive technologies to assist in reading, 19 percent of time in supported reading aloud, and only 9 percent of time in direct instruction of phonemic strategies (Braille or print). Furthermore, anecdotal evidence suggests that a teacher of blind students spends more time tutoring than teaching blindness skills (Amato, 2002).

Attention box page 10: Experts estimate that 1.3 million blind people live in the United States, and approximately 75,000 people lose all or part of their vision each year.

The Spiral of Misunderstanding

Attitudes about Braille, which are often based on myths and misconceptions about the system, are also a barrier to proper Braille instruction. One of the major reasons for the increasing illiteracy of the blind and those with low vision is the historical emphasis on teaching children with residual vision to read print (Spungin, 1996). Most blind children have some residual vision; they are legally blind but not totally blind. But many students who have residual vision cannot read print efficiently even with magnification; attempting to read print results in eye strain, headaches, and other problems. Furthermore, many degenerative eye conditions are progressive, meaning that the student’s vision will continue to decrease over time, making print harder and harder to read. Students with low vision are particularly at risk for not receiving appropriate instruction in Braille. These students tend to receive less direct service from teachers of blind students and are surrounded with more emphasis on “vision” over nonvisual skills and learning techniques. Additionally, if Braille is not introduced early, student motivation to accept Braille will greatly decrease due to frustration in learning Braille, emotional issues with looking and acting different from one’s peers, and issues involving emotional acceptance of additional vision loss. It is important for educators to give these students appropriate instruction based on their needs in the long term rather than simply considering only their most immediate needs.

Parents often find themselves battling with school administrators to get Braille instruction for their children with low vision. The Colton family of Park City, Utah, took out a second mortgage on their home in order to hire lawyers for litigation against the school district to get Braille instruction for their daughter Katie, who has a progressive eye disease (Lyon, 2009). “We’d had to argue a wait-to-fail model is not appropriate for a progressive disorder,” her mother was quoted as saying in the Salt Lake Tribune.

The Jacobs family was told that their blind daughter could read print if the font was 72 point or higher, so there was no need for Braille (Jacobs, 2009). Needless to say, the child will never have access to print that large in the real world, except perhaps on billboards. The school system justified having the child read print by claiming that she was “resistant to Braille.” But a school district would never refuse to teach a sighted child to read because he or she was “resistant” to reading. Furthermore, resistance to Braille is often a product of the way it is taught; if Braille is presented to a blind child as different and hard, rather than the positive way in which reading is presented to sighted children, then the child will naturally absorb the expectations of the adults doing the teaching (Craig, 1996; Stratton, 1999).

The experiences of the Colton and Jacobs families are not uncommon; they are merely examples of the experiences of hundreds of families across the United States. On the other hand, the experiences of parents of blind children who have successfully introduced their young readers to Braille and fought for inclusion of the system in the child’s education suggest that, when Braille is simply presented as reading and reading becomes fun for the family, children readily absorb the system.

Others argue that Braille isolates and stigmatizes students from peers who read print. This has never been backed by any kind of research; it is without foundation. Blind children will always have to use alternative technologies or methods to read, ranging from holding a book close to their face to using a magnification device or putting on headphones to listen to recorded text. Their peers notice these differences as surely as they notice that the child reads Braille instead of print, but they do not necessarily treat the child differently because of reading differences.

Ultimately, all of these mistaken beliefs about Braille come down to low expectations of blind students. Whether they will admit it or not, many of the sighted educators and administrators charged with providing instruction to blind students do not believe in the capacity of their students or in the effectiveness of Braille and other alternative techniques used by blind people to live successful, productive lives. As one commentator has put it: “A little honest reflection about this situation (decline in Braille literacy) suggests that the real culprit here is the inadequate and inappropriate education of the special education teachers who are not competent or confident themselves in using Braille and who also believe that their students should not be expected to compete successfully in school or in life” (Ianuzzi, 1999).

Blind students who are not properly taught Braille and other blindness skills and who therefore struggle with literacy ultimately experience low self-confidence and a lack of belief in their own ability to live happy, productive lives. By contrast, those who do receive effective Braille instruction and use the code effectively gain a sense of hope and empowerment. Dr. Fredric Schroeder (1996) commented that Braille literacy “should be viewed more expansively than simply as a literacy issue.” Schroeder’s analysis of interviews with legally blind adults “found that issues of self-esteem, self-identity, and the ‘stigma’ of being a person with a disability were integrally intertwined with the subjects’ reported feelings about using Braille…For some, Braille seems to represent competence, independence, and equality, so the mastery and use of Braille played a central role in the development of their self-identities as persons who are capable, competent, independent, and equal.”

Schroeder’s work connects to other valuable work in self-efficacy and demonstrates that blind people who learn to value and use Braille generally have a higher degree of confidence and do not spend energy attempting to reshape themselves as “normal” individuals. Schroeder’s work is reinforced by more recent investigations by Wells-Jensen (2003) and through the published first-hand experiences of hundreds of blind individuals—some who did and others who did not receive appropriate instruction in Braille in childhood.

Another misconception about Braille that has contributed to the decline in Braille literacy is the idea that reading Braille is always slower than reading print and that Braille is difficult to learn. While some studies suggest that Braille is slower than print and difficult to learn because of its 189 English contractions—symbols and letter combinations that reduce the size of Braille books by making it possible to put more Braille on a page instead of spelling each word out letter-by-letter—research in this area is unreliable since studies tend to be anecdotal. Other studies have found that Braille is an efficient and effective reading medium (Foulke, 1979; Wormsley, 1996). Furthermore, the experience of Braille instructors shows that reading speed exceeding two hundred words per minute is possible when students have learned Braille at an early age (Danielsen, 2006).

The Paradox of Technology

It is often said that technology obviates the need for Braille. The availability of text-to-speech technology and audio texts, for example, is advanced as an argument against the use of Braille. But literacy is the ability to read and write. While using speech output and recorded books is a way for students to gain information, it does not teach them reading and writing skills. Students who rely solely on listening as a means of learning find themselves deficient in areas like spelling and composition. Most teachers of blind students (89.4 percent [Wittenstein and Pardee, 1996]) agree that technology should be used as a supplement to Braille rather than as a replacement, even though as cited above, many of them spend more instructional time working with technology than teaching Braille. No one would seriously suggest that alternate sources of information, like television and radio, replace the need for a sighted child to learn to read; the same should be true for Braille.

For the sighted, technology has not replaced print; it has in fact simplified and enhanced access to the printed word. The same is true with respect to Braille; advances in technology have made Braille more available than it ever was in the past. Computer software can translate any document into literary, contracted Braille quickly and accurately, although work still needs to be done to make other Braille codes machine-translatable. Braille displays and embossers can be attached to computers to generate Braille documents on the fly. Thousands of Braille books are available from Internet-based services like the Web-Braille service offered by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress (NLS) and the online community Bookshare.org. While scarcity of Braille is still a problem, it is not nearly as bad as it has been in the past. Certainly improvements can still be made in Braille production methods and technology so that more Braille will be available, and this is one of the goals of the Braille Readers are Leaders campaign of the National Federation of the Blind. Assuming a commitment to Braille instruction and Braille literacy is renewed in America and proper steps are taken to ensure the production and distribution of more Braille materials, there will be no need to avoid teaching Braille because of a shortage of books.

Attention box page 12: Many teachers who are considered qualified to teach Braille have not learned it themselves.

The Truth about Braille

The crisis in Braille literacy is real. Thousands of blind children and adults who need adjustment to blindness training are being denied access to the most effective means of reading and writing for the blind ever invented. The effects of this crisis can be seen in the high unemployment rate (over 70 percent) among blind adults, the high dropout rate (40 to 50 percent) among blind high school students, and the lives of dependence and minimal subsistence that many blind people lead. By contrast, blind people who know the Braille code and use it regularly find success, independence, and productivity.

A recent survey of five hundred respondents by the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, conducted on a national random sample selected from a list of 10,000 people who had had contact with the NFB within the last two years, demonstrated that contact with the NFB increases the likelihood of knowing Braille. Unlike the general sample of blind individuals, where the AFB estimates that only 10 percent read Braille, more than half (59 percent) of those interviewed in the NFB Jernigan Institute study are Braille literate. This is probably due to the Federation’s emphasis on Braille literacy; those who have had contact with the National Federation of the Blind tend to believe strongly in the efficacy of Braille and to be committed to learning and reading it. In this sample the ability to read Braille was also correlated with a higher educational level, a higher likelihood of employment, and a higher income level. These relationships were statistically significant.

Most disciplines accept that the primary indicators of socioeconomic status in this society are employment and education leading to self-sufficiency. A study by Dr. Ruby Ryles, now the director of the orientation and mobility master’s program at the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University, began to provide the objective information needed on the question of Braille versus print. In a comparison between two groups of blind people, one consisting of Braille readers and the other of print readers, the study revealed that those who were taught Braille from the beginning had higher employment rates, were better educated and more financially self-sufficient, and spent more time engaged in leisure and other reading than the print users (Ryles, 1996).

Dr. Ryles’s work showed a striking difference between those who had grown up learning Braille and those who had relied primarily on print. She found that 44 percent of the Braille-reading group, as compared to 77 percent of the print-reading group, were unemployed. In other words the unemployment rate for the print group was actually higher than the generally reported unemployment rate among the blind as a whole (70 percent) (Riccobono, et al.), while the unemployment rate among Braille readers was much lower. The Braille-reading sample had significantly stronger reading habits than the print group, including more hours in a week spent on reading activities, reading more books, and subscribing to more magazines. While the overall educational rate between the two groups was not statistically significant, a dramatic difference was observed at the advanced degree level. Thirty percent of the Braille group had an advanced degree compared to only 13 percent for the print group, with only the Braille group having any individuals with doctoral degrees.

Last, the Braille group was over-represented in the higher income level and under-represented in the lowest income level, while the print group was under-represented at the high income level and over-represented at the low income level (the two groups were comparable at a medium income level). The print group contained significantly more people receiving non-employment-related funding from the government (such as Social Security Disability Income) as compared to the Braille group.

Dr. Ryles’s research on the education and employment outcomes for Braille readers, combined with the difference in confidence, self-efficacy, and reported independence of Braille readers, suggests that Braille is extremely valuable for those blind people who learn and use Braille in their lives. The results of this study suggest that teaching Braille as an original primary reading medium to children with low vision may encourage them to develop the positive lifelong habit of reading as adults, enhance their later employment opportunities, and increase the possibility of financial independence.

The Future Is in Our Hands

There can be no doubt that the ability to read and write Braille competently and efficiently is the key to education, employment, and success for the blind. Despite the undisputed value of Braille, however, only about 10 percent of blind children in the United States are currently learning it. Society would never accept a 10 percent literacy rate among sighted children; it should not accept such an outrageously low literacy rate among the blind. The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute is committed to the reversal of this downward trend in Braille literacy in order to ensure that equal opportunities in education and employment are available to all of the nation’s blind.

The overall goals of this effort are that:

For over 150 years Braille has been recognized as the most effective means of reading and writing for the blind. Hundreds of thousands of blind people have found Braille an indispensable tool in their education, their work, and their daily lives, even as professionals in the field of blindness continued to debate the merits of the system. Certainly more empirical research is needed to break down the wall of misunderstanding that still stands between all too many blind people and proper Braille instruction. The Braille codes and the technology to reproduce them can and will continue to improve. But the lives of successful blind people testify to the usefulness of Braille, and in the face of that testimony the only truly professional and moral course of action is to ensure that all blind people have access to competent Braille instruction. In the hearts and minds of blind people, no alternative system or new technology has ever replaced Braille where the rubber meets the road—in the living of happy, successful, productive lives. That is why the National Federation of the Blind is asking all who are concerned about the future prospects for blind children and adults in this country to help us make Braille literacy a reality for the 90 percent of blind children for whom reading is a struggle, if not an impossibility. The future of sighted children depends on a proper education, and the future of blind children is no different. Let us make the commitment that no blind child or adult who needs Braille as a tool in his or her arsenal of blindness techniques will be left without it.

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The Mythology of Discrimination

by Marc Maurer

From the Editor: This address was delivered by President Maurer at the University of Notre Dame on Friday, March 6, 2009. He was invited to keynote a conference on blindness. Here is the text:

The idea that blindness and joy may be contemplated at the same moment is strange to our society. Nevertheless, contemplating these thoughts simultaneously is a fundamental element of the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. It isn’t that we believe that blindness should bring joy—we haven’t lost our minds. However, we know that blind people can have joy and that, properly understood, the lives of blind people can generate joy for others.

A community is thought to be an aggregation of human beings who share similar interests. Many communities are being created in the United States identified by characteristics such as race, educational attainments, political standing, heritage, sex, and economic possessions. How valuable is it to be a member of a community; what is required to be accepted as a part of it; what is lost to an individual from joining a community; and how are communities created? Answering these questions is part of what I do as president of the National Federation of the Blind, the largest organization of blind people in the United States.

In the past discrimination meant discernment—a positive characteristic. “Discrimination” is a term that today signifies arbitrary, improper, and illegal classifications of human beings. Our community is composed of blind people and their friends who want to foster independence for the blind and who reject as unfounded mythology—the mythology of discrimination—the assumption that blind people have less ability than that possessed by the sighted. Challenging established norms is controversial, and one identifying characteristic of any group challenging discriminatory practices is that it will become controversial. So much for the oft-repeated argument that in matters dealing with blindness there can be no rancor. Many people have told me that I should get along with the people who disagree with the assessments of the National Federation of the Blind, as if peace were the ultimate objective. In the past we had all the peace we could tolerate along with massive discrimination. One way to interpret the demand that we have peace is to recognize that others wish to tell us that we should give up some of the fundamental beliefs that make us what we are. This we cannot do. For somebody else to tell me that I should prefer peace to participation is to assert that they know more about my business than I do—that they know what is good for me.

Disability denominates a physical or mental characteristic that prevents a person from performing tasks that others regard as among the customary features of human interaction. The legal definition says that disability interferes with a “major life activity.” In the past disability meant a legal or ecclesiastical prohibition. In the second half of the twentieth century, the two terms, “disability” and “discrimination,” came together. The legal system of the United States recognized disability as a characteristic often unreasonably employed to prohibit disabled individuals from participation in otherwise lawful activities.

The change in legal thinking was no accident. Blind people, led by a constitutional scholar, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, who was blind himself, joined in a struggle to demonstrate that most prohibitions based solely upon blindness or other disability are fundamentally unsound. Dr. tenBroek and his colleagues created a civil rights movement for the blind and for others with disabilities. To accomplish an alteration in thought and in law, a community was required. A group of people needed to come together who shared a point of view and a set of goals. This group is known as the National Federation of the Blind, and this organization began the process of creating the civil rights movement for the disabled. The Federation is not the only organization that has stood forth in battle to combat the prejudicial stereotypes of incapacity that have bedeviled the lives of the blind, but it was the leading contingent in the struggle for equality, with its leaders and members walking the halls of Congress and the state legislatures as early as the 1940s.

Blindness is an isolating condition. The frequently expressed assumptions about blind people are that the blind will not participate except in limited circumstances and that blind people have very little to contribute. Even when no intent to limit participation by the blind exists, these assumptions effectively limit participation.

Blind people need more time to complete assignments than their sighted peers, it is said. In school blind students need additional time to complete homework, or the amount of the homework should be limited. If sighted students are assigned fifty questions, it is acceptable to assign only twenty-five to the blind. Blind people cannot participate effectively in sports. Blind people are ineffective as public speakers because they cannot gain eye contact with the audience. Blind people cannot be effective lawyers because they cannot observe the expressions on the faces of the jury. Blind people cannot be effective teachers because they cannot react to the nonverbal communication of their students. The often repeated customary belief is that vision is essential for learning, life, and love. The stimulating significance of the passionate glance is recorded in song and story and described in poetic imagery around the world. Although such arguments are incomplete or incorrect, they are a part of the current coin of the language, and the effects are inescapable.

Blind people are now teaching classes; appearing in court on behalf of clients; engaging in sporting activities, including Olympic events; doing their homework; performing assignments in school and on the job completely and speedily; climbing mountains; riding horses; water-skiing; and even giving public speeches. The portrayal often made of us is false, but it persists. Is the false portrayal deliberate misrepresentation, or does it arise from ignorance?

In 1829 the first school for the blind in the United States came into being. For the first time educators believed that blind people could learn. However, students did not leave the school to accept employment. Employers did not want blind workers. Consequently, fairly soon after the establishment of schools for the blind, sheltered workshops for the blind came into being. They supplied an outlet for blind graduates seeking work, and they were frequently a source of revenue for the schools.

Most of the work in the workshops was simple and repetitive. Rug weaving, broom making, and chair caning are examples. Of course much of the work in workshops for the sighted during the nineteenth century was also simple and repetitive. However, the tasks in workshops for the blind have not progressed much. When I myself attended a school for the blind in the 1950s and early 1960s, I learned chair caning. I was told that this form of employment was likely to be my future. Of course I had no basis upon which to challenge the assertions of my teachers, but I hoped fervently that they were wrong. I left the school for the blind before I learned to make brooms, but I imagine that I still remember how to cane chairs.

As I have observed, because of the difficulty in finding employment for blind workers, workshops specifically oriented to work for the blind were created. In 1938 the Congress adopted legislation supporting these workshops through a system requiring government agencies to purchase commodities produced in them. These commodities frequently bore the symbol, “Blind Made.” More than eighty of these workshops currently operate for the blind in the United States. Although workers in these shops are often paid at rates above the federally established minimum, no minimum wage protection exists for these workers. Sheltered workshops for people with disabilities other than blindness have also been established.

Hundreds of millions of dollars of government contracts run through these sheltered workshops each year. The executives of the workshops (most of them not disabled) receive very substantial rewards for serving as the primary officials in them.

Despite the segregated conditions of these workshops and despite the inequities built into the employment relationship, these workshops have served a very useful purpose. Not only do they represent the assertion that disabled workers have value, but they have served as a gathering place. Blind people and other workers with disabilities could come together to share ideas, to inspire one another, to plan for the future, and to hope to build opportunities greater than had ever been available to them before they knew each other. In other words, they were establishments in which a community of like-minded people might be formed—most of the time without the knowledge of management and without consent.

Today the schools for the blind are largely anachronistic, and the workshops are waiting their turn. Most blind students attend the public schools, in accordance with the provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Blind students are mainstreamed. Because blindness is a low-incidence disability, the concentration of resources at the school for the blind, such as Braille maps, Braille texts, machines for producing Braille, optical scanning equipment, and other material, is in many cases no longer available. The public schools are overwhelmed by the multiplicity of needs of both disabled and nondisabled students. In many cases they can’t or won’t provide adequate education to blind students. They have few teachers who know how to read and write Braille, they have fewer teachers who know how to teach blind people to travel with a cane, and they have precious little experience or background in the specialized techniques for teaching the blind. This summation signifies that quality education for blind students is almost unattainable. Furthermore, the parents of these students are very often isolated from one another. They do not know what expectations are reasonable for their children, and in the name of privacy the public schools refrain from telling parents about others who are similarly situated. The community of those with similar interests is restricted.

Education in schools for the blind was segregated from instruction for the sighted. Employment in sheltered workshops was segregated from employment for the nondisabled. The administrators of the specialized schools and shops argued that activities in these establishments could be conducted in no other way. At the time these institutions were first created, this proposition was probably true. Public opinion would probably not have accepted widespread education of the blind in the public schools, and widespread employment of the blind is still a goal to be attained. The unemployment rate for blind people is estimated at 70 percent or greater. Although this rate is tremendously high and although it has remained high in spite of government programs directed at employment, the rate in the 1950s was estimated at 95 percent or above, and the rate in the 1940s was estimated at 98 percent or above.

At the beginning of education for blind people, all blind students (or all students who were identified as blind) were taught at schools for the blind, were educated at home, or remained uneducated. At the beginning of sheltered employment, almost all blind workers gained employment in sheltered workshops. Although several thousand blind people still work in them, many, many more blind people have jobs outside of the sheltered industries. The valuable benefit of assisting with the creation of a community of interest in these institutions has also diminished—almost disappeared. However, the need for this community is as great today as it has ever been.

High expectations are central to achievement; and without a sounding board, without a reflection of hope, without a support structure to reinforce the faith of a blind person seeking to attain success, the accomplishments that may be expected are diminished. What did the administrators of schools for the blind want their students to do and what were the aspirations of the bosses in the workshops for their employees? Did they glory in the creation of a community of independence-minded blind people? Were they supportive of dreams bigger, more aggressive, and more startling than they had tried to instill? Did they actively challenge those in their programs to exceed the possibilities that they had imagined?

In the 1950s the National Federation of the Blind, which had been formed in 1940, created a form of rehabilitation training previously unknown. This form of training, led by the most imaginative teacher of the blind of the twentieth century, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, and incorporating the philosophical underpinnings of the National Federation of the Blind, expected of blind people that full participation in society—in schools, in work, in social activities, in politics, and in almost all other pursuits—is practical if the specialized skills used by the blind for participation are mastered and if opportunity to use them can be created. One of the elements of this specialized training is a grounding in the comprehension of disability. What does it mean to be disabled, and what are the myths and the false assumptions surrounding the idea? What is reasonable to expect from a disabled person, and what alterations in the pattern of activity are required to permit disabled people to make contributions? Blindness is a characteristic of those who have it rather than a severe limitation.

Probably the most misunderstood and controversial statement about blindness current today is: “The real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight. The real problem is the misunderstanding and lack of information that exist. If a blind person has proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to a physical nuisance.” This statement is controversial because some have charged those who have said it with believing that blindness is a minor matter. Blind people who have faced severe isolation and discrimination have vociferated that their blindness is no small hindrance. Officials who have believed that they are responsible for the blind have taken this statement to mean that their jobs are unimportant and their service to blind people negligible.

Blindness can be devastating, but with proper training and with opportunity it need not be. Misunderstanding and lack of information are endemic to the customary thinking about blindness. With misunderstanding comes prejudice. This is the common experience faced by the blind. However, being misunderstood is not the total experience of blind people.

The founding president of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, was a lawyer, a professor, and a constitutional scholar, as well as being blind. In 1955 he asserted that constitutional principles apply to the blind and otherwise disabled. He said that civil rights for the blind are an essential part of the legal structure of our nation and that laws must be established to assure that the blind and otherwise disabled have the same protections as are available to others. Furthermore, he recognized that the laws are not self-executing—they must be enforced. The National Federation of the Blind was challenging assumptions about employment possibilities for blind people. It was demanding that rehabilitation agencies assist blind people to find employment outside sheltered workshops. It was insisting that blind people had the right to speak on their own behalf. It was denying the authority of agencies for the blind to tell legislatures, members of the public, and entities in government (as well as blind people themselves) what blind people wanted or needed. It was saying that agency officials could work with the blind but could not speak for the blind.

In 1957 so much controversy had been created, so many blind people had lost their jobs for speaking out, so many blind people had been denied the right to rehabilitation services that a bill to protect the right of blind people to join an organization of their own choice was introduced by Senator John F. Kennedy in the Senate of the United States. The Right to Organize bill brought into stark focus the reality that agencies for the blind fight to protect their own interests, not the interests of the blind. They want to preserve and expand their own turf. If they can do this while advancing the interests of the blind, everybody benefits. If they believe that their best interest is served by diminishing the aspirations of blind people, they will take this course. By 1957 the battle between the blind and the agencies for the blind had been joined. It lasted into the 1980s. Vestiges of it still exist, but today most of the picket lines are gone.

These things occurred half a century ago. One argument asserts that, because blind people are different from the sighted, differences in treatment are appropriate. If blind people are, in some essential way, different from the sighted, differences in treatment are not only useful but necessary. However, if the fundamentals of the blind and the sighted are the same, differences in expectation or responsibility or performance or remuneration or involvement must be classified as inappropriate or discriminatory or otherwise improper. We believe that blind people are normal—or as normal as anybody else. The obvious difference is that sighted people have sight and blind people do not. This demands that blind people approach the task of performing jobs that sighted people would do with their eyes from a different point of view.

The techniques used by the blind are not always the same as those used by the sighted. But the expectations for blind people should be no less dramatic, no less fulfilling, and no less rewarding than those for the sighted. For example, many of us use Braille to read and write. Louis Braille invented the system early in the nineteenth century. His teachers at the school for the blind in Paris were not amused. They looked upon this new reading and writing system with suspicion and annoyance. Blind kids could pass notes that the teachers couldn’t read. Braille, the reading and writing system for the blind that has become known worldwide, was not adopted in France, the home of Louis Braille, until after Louis Braille’s death.

Although Braille had been used in the United States as early as the 1860s, and although its use has opened career opportunities to hundreds of thousands of blind people, in most public schools Braille is not taught to blind students, and the right to learn Braille was not codified in federal statutes of the United States until 1998. Two thousand nine is the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille. His reading and writing system for the blind is the most important invention ever created for blind people; it has brought opportunity and joy to the hearts of millions. The National Federation of the Blind has declared this year the year of Braille literacy—the year of Braille Readers are Leaders. We want to double the Braille literacy rate for the blind of the nation, and we have received support for our aspirations from many quarters. The United States Mint has been instructed by Congress to strike a commemorative silver dollar with readable, properly-made Braille embossed upon it. If our society believes that blind people have something to contribute, then we will believe in the tools used by the blind, and Braille is one of the most important.

Much of what I have had to say so far is a reflection of conditions for the blind in the past. How are we faring today? In 1997 José Saramago published a book entitled Blindness. The story line is that a society of human beings is afflicted by a mysterious disease that suddenly and unexpectedly causes blindness. The disease is communicable, and most people are susceptible. Those who become blind are quarantined in an abandoned facility, where they are forcibly detained. The society established by the blind inhabitants of this facility is brutal, licentious, chaotic, and filthy. Blind people are depicted as having virtually no ability to establish an orderly and decent mode of existence or to care for themselves or their companions. However, some of the internees find the capacity to create gangs in order to prey upon the others, controlling the food supply and exacting sexual favors. Apparently Saramago did not notice the inconsistency. If blindness signifies complete lack of ability, it should also eliminate the possibility of organizing for the purpose of engaging in criminal behavior.

A movie was made from this book that was released in theaters in October 2008. Protest demonstrations conducted by the National Federation of the Blind occurred throughout the United States, challenging the content of the movie as an evil and false depiction of the blind. José Saramago complained about these demonstrations, saying that the movie was an allegorical portrayal of society as it currently is, not intended to depict blind people as we are. He said that we should recognize allegory when we encounter it and refrain from making complaints. The movie is not meant to be taken literally, and we should have enough good humor and self-possession to go along without a fuss. In other words, he can say whatever he pleases about us, but we are not to respond. Such an attitude boggles the mind. It tempts a human being to reply to the argument with short, sharp phrases. Freedom of speech is as much a right for us as it is for Saramago, and it will be exercised. We are not playing blind people; we are blind people. To portray us as immoral and unclean is to add to the isolation that is all too often a part of our reality. We reject the role of being somebody else’s metaphor.

On December 13, 2008, Saturday Night Live broadcast a skit featuring an actor playing the role of Governor David Paterson of New York. Governor Paterson is blind. He assumed the office of governor when Eliot Spitzer resigned in the midst of scandal. The actor portraying the governor behaved as if he were disoriented and unaware of his surroundings. In one scene during the skit he held a statistical chart on display with the chart upside down. The language of the skit (a purported interview with the governor) indicates that the governor cannot be expected to perform adequately in office because, after all, he has used cocaine and he is blind. Equating blindness with drug addiction is just part of the fun. The point of the skit was that blind people are incapable of participation in the activities that others manage with ease and grace. Saturday Night Live made fun of the governor because of his blindness.

Once again protests of this depiction of blind people occurred. A number of individuals responded to these protests by telling blind people that we should be willing to laugh at ourselves—that we should have a sense of humor. Mark Twain said, “Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” In other words, laugh at the people you want to despise. Find a way to make them the butt of your jokes.

Saturday Night Live broadcast more David Paterson blindness so-called humor in January of 2009. How am I as the leader of the organized blind movement in the United States to respond? What choices have I? I do not believe in belittling my neighbors, and I do not intend to let them belittle me.

Blind people are not humorless, touchy malcontents. Finding the humor in life provides relief from the emotional pressure that often surrounds us, and humor lifts the spirit and frequently offers perspective. If, however, the humor is intended to belittle—to express superiority for the sake of domination—its value is eclipsed by the damage it causes. However, humor has other aspects. It can be employed to bring a group together to express a common spirit. It is one tool in the arsenal for creating a community.

A persistent theory about the capacity of blind people is that our hearing, taste, smell, and touch are superior to those of the sighted. When one of our senses is lost, the brain uses its mental agility to increase the intensity of the others, we are told. The mental ability which had been assigned to five senses is now spread over four.

While you ponder this supposedly scientifically based assertion about the talent and abilities of the blind, consider some others that have intrigued or bemused. When I was a student, I was told that one of the best professions for blind people is perfume tester. Our senses of smell are supposedly superior to those possessed by sighted people. Consequently it would be easier for us to select the best perfumes. A description of the HBO movie Blind Justice declares that the hero, a blind gunfighter, shoots by the sense of hearing and by the sense of smell. Apparently the bandits in his town don’t bathe all that often. On the other hand, I was informed a number of years ago that blind people do not smoke because smoking is largely a visual experience. Then we are told that our sense of touch is superior to that of the sighted in part because of brain plasticity and in part because we are not distracted by the sense of sight. Our increased acuteness in the sense of touch means that we are better at kissing than the sighted. I leave this thought with the hope that interest in blind people will increase but that crazy notions will diminish.

What makes a community? Individuals with similarity of purpose come together to achieve common goals. However, something else may also be occurring. Those who have been isolated meet others possessing the same characteristics that they have, and they interact. These individuals challenge one another, and they come through common, shared experience to inspire one another. In the process of challenge and inspiration, they create an identity. They identify who they are, what they want, what possibilities exist for them, and what limitations are reasonable. They formulate the expectations that will be sought and the program to reach them.

For the blind our community was once circumscribed by the school for the blind. Later it was expanded to the sheltered workshop. Later still it became the statewide organization of independent blind people who had the courage and the energy to believe in each other and to set about the complex task of altering the legal system to protect the rights of the blind. In 1940 seven of these statewide organizations came together to form the National Federation of the Blind, a nationwide organization that also works with others internationally.

One hundred and fifty years ago Irish immigrants to the United States were frequently unwelcome. Signs were posted on places of employment bearing the legend, “No Irish Need Apply.” Today Americans with Irish ancestors are not shunned. Rather they are regarded with honor and respect. The respect is not diminished even though the humor about Irish Americans is a broad subclass of the jokes in circulation.

One element of building a community is the acquisition of political ability. The Irish have certainly managed that. From political action comes recognition within the legal structure of the nation. However, legal rights do not equal participation. Integration and social acceptance are far more complicated than any legal structure. A fundamental step in the process of integration is the creation of identity for the individuals who seek to be integrated. This demands the formation of a community.

Joining a community imposes limitations on an individual. The necessity to think about and plan for the wishes of the other members of the community diminishes freedom of choice and restricts individuality. Participation within the community requires diplomacy and the application of political skill. Even the most benign communities can be threatening as well as welcoming. However, mastering the disadvantages of being a part of a community offers benefits. The power that can result from collective, concentrated action and combining resources creates opportunities that would not otherwise exist.

Those who complain that the blind have created a community do so because they do not want to face combined, collected power or because they wish that they had the power. The blind do not object to having other people possess power, but we also want to share in the community, which demands that we find a mechanism for obtaining this commodity. We do not believe that our participation will diminish anybody else. Rather we believe that our possession of power will enhance the opportunities available to others. We represent a resource that has often been written off—been declared to be unusable and undesirable. We reject this assessment no matter who makes it, and we insist upon our right to join with others in building the world to be the kind of place that we all want to share. We are serious about this, but we are also fun-loving. Blindness and sorrow are very often found together, but increasingly, in the hearts of blind people throughout the nation, you will find joy and a spirit of adventure.


Low-Cost Screen Readers

by the Access Technology Team

From the Editor: In the following article the International Braille and Technology Center Access Technology Team reviews four free or low-cost screen readers: Thunder, NVDA, System Access, and WebAnywhere. This is what they say:


Thunder is a free screen-access program as long as its use is personal. If Thunder is being used in a work setting, the company is asked to contact Screenreader.net CIC to discuss pricing. Thunder can be downloaded from <www.screenreader.net> and installed on any computer running Windows 2000, XP, or Vista. Windows 98, ME, and earlier versions are not compatible with Thunder. A pro version is available for a fee that runs from a thumb drive.

Thunder is compatible with the following programs: Outlook Express, Microsoft Word, WordPad, Notepad, MS Calculator, MS Excel, Nod32 AntiVirus, Listen Again radio, and MS Sound Recorder. When you download Thunder, an additional program called WebbIE is automatically downloaded and installed with Thunder for browsing the Internet.

Thunder is controlled by standard Windows commands, and there are special commands for controlling Thunder. Its greatest limitation is Web browsing. The only way to navigate the Web is by using WebbIE. It is important to read the hot keys list at <www.screenreader.net> because there are several special commands for Web browsing. When filling out a form on the Web, you must press Enter before typing in the form field.


The next screen reader is NVDA, which stands for NonVisual Desktop Access. It is free and can be downloaded by visiting <http://www.nvda-project.org>. This is experimental software and may contain bugs. We find it very responsive and easy to use. NVDA will run on Windows XP and Windows Vista. NVDA supports both SAPI 4 and 5 voices, Audiologic, Display, and Silence; it comes with eSpeak as the default speech synthesizer. It can be installed to a PC, or the files can be placed on a CD or USB thumb drive for portable use. If the installer is downloaded to a PC, voiced instructions will guide the user through the installation. If the program is placed on a USB thumb drive, the user will need to start the program manually.

NVDA supports MS Word 2003, Firefox, Thunderbird, Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, MS Excel 2003, IBM Lotus Symphony, and many other programs. It is worth being cautious about using these screen-access software packages outside of their stated scope. For example, NVDA performed less than desirably with Microsoft Outlook 2003 (as opposed to Outlook Express). While it was possible to read the Inbox message list and read messages, a number of areas caused NVDA to stop responding. When composing a new message, we could not read the auto-complete options for an email address. Additionally, when reviewing the To, Cc, and Bcc fields, we found the addresses unreadable. The address book, which opens when Outlook prompts the user to confirm an address, did not read at all. Our system also stopped responding when we reached the message edit area of the new message form. We could enter text, but NVDA did not allow us to review or edit it. The Outlook calendar and contacts folders were not read at all. A blind user has no way of reviewing this information in the standard views.

There is currently no support for Microsoft Office 2007. When you are in an edit field while browsing the Internet, Enter or the space bar must be pressed before filling in the form or choosing a radio button. We recommend that Firefox be used to browse the Web; however, we have used Internet Explorer successfully. When you are going to a Web page that needs to refresh automatically, Firefox will yield better results. When navigating the Web, the user can move to forms, tables, headings, lists, and links by pressing a single key. NVDA has built-in keyboard help. When NVDA is installed on the computer, start-up time is very fast. User settings can be changed and saved within the Preference menu of the program. Voice settings, mouse settings, speech synthesizer, mouse, and many other options are available from this menu.

System Access

Another screen-access software package is System Access. This low-cost screen reader is available from <http://www.serotek.com>. It can be purchased outright; alternatively, the user can get a monthly subscription. Prices vary depending on the package you choose. Contact Serotek for current pricing information or visit <http://www.serotek.com/cas.html>.

The AIR Foundation and Serotek now also offer System Access to Go, which gives free screen access using the Website <www.satogo.com>.

System Access by default comes with Dectalk voices. For an additional fee two Real Speak voices can be downloaded and installed. This program runs on Windows 2003 Server, Windows XP, and Windows Vista. System Access supports the following applications: Notepad, WordPad, Outlook Express, Email Center on a Vista machine, Excel, PowerPoint, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office 2007, Skype, and many other programs. System Access is easy to use because it uses many standard Windows commands. Moreover, many screen-reader commands are the same as those in other screen readers on the market today. When using Internet Explorer, you can get a links list, tab to move by link, use first letter navigation to move to headings, tables, lists, and many other elements as well. In Internet Explorer, if a Webpage requires a lot of refreshing, this program may not always work. If you are a subscriber to the System Access mobile network, the page can be opened by the browser. With a System Access U3 USB thumb drive, you can walk up to a computer, plug in the drive, and have System Access begin talking. If users have System Access on a computer at home or the office and have enabled remote access, they can use that computer from any machine as if they were sitting at it. With System Access the user can also remote-control another user’s computer if that person accepts a request from the other machine.

System Access provides access to the Microsoft Excel interface. The user can input and manipulate data and formulas and interact with the menus and toolbars. The user can also create a chart and, depending on the type, read the data it contains. A dialog box, accessed by pressing the System Access modifier key and F7, displays list boxes for all cells containing data, cells containing links, totals cells (those containing totals derived from a formula), and the worksheets contained in the Excel workbook. Selecting one of the totals cells and pressing the space bar toggles the automatic reading of that cell if the data it contains changes.

Access to the Microsoft Word word processor is also available with System Access. Menus, toolbars, and dialog boxes are usable. When you move by character or word, formatting details such as bold or italic are spoken in a different voice after the word or character is read. However, elements such as heading levels are not spoken. The spell check is accessible, and System Access speaks the misspelled word and the recommended replacement. System Access also supports the Alva Braille Controller 640 as a Braille display; no other Braille support is documented.

Web Anywhere

Web Anywhere (WA) is not a screen reader in the traditional sense of the word. It does provide audio output of screen contents but is restricted to the Web browser solely. The Web Anywhere site was developed by the Computer Science Department of the University of Washington and can be accessed at <wa.cs.washington.edu>. When this page is launched, your computer should begin reading Web Anywhere's start page. This page describes the Web Anywhere system and provides a list of keystrokes that can be used with Web Anywhere.

In a basic sense Web browsing can be achieved with Web Anywhere in a traditional way. Users can arrow around the page and tab and shift tab between the links. Above the page content is a box for typing in the URL that you would like Web Anywhere to navigate to. WA loads your desired page into the browser window that contains Web Anywhere, which is evident if you examine the window with a screen reader like JAWS. However, with all other screen readers shut down, you have access to only the part of the Web browser where Web Anywhere and your desired page are located. You will not be able to use any third-party applications while using WA.

In its current form Web Anywhere is an alpha release. It offers basic Web browsing that includes navigation by heading, link, and input control. There are also commands to read from the current cursor position, read from the top, and move to the next and previous form control, regardless of what type of control it is. WA currently lacks a traditional table-reading mode but does offer ways to move through a table by row and by cell. It is difficult to understand how the table is formatted because you cannot easily navigate to cells and multiple rows. Web Anywhere also does not provide ways to list links, controls, or other elements as you can in more powerful screen readers.

Web Anywhere is an alpha project. It is available free of charge from <wa.cs.washington.edu>. Since it is a Web-based application, you will always have the latest version whenever you launch the site.

We have written this article to make users aware of free and low-cost screen readers. System Access is the most powerful of the screen readers we have discussed. JAWS, Hal, and Window-Eyes allow the user to write JAWS and Hal scripts or Window-Eyes scripts or set files to customize programs to work better. If a person wants to have basic use of the computer, the screen-access software discussed in this article will allow this. We believe that Thunder is the least powerful screen reader followed by NVDA, and then System Access. Other than the limited Braille support for System Access mentioned above, none of the screen-access software discussed in this article has Braille support at this time. If you have further questions, give our access technology line a call at (410) 659-9314, option 5.


Going Round in Circles at the Detroit Marriott

by Doug Boone

From the Editor: If you attended the 1994 convention, which was held at the Renaissance Hotel in Detroit, then under other management, you may find, like me, that your only enduring memory is of walking around in circles, hoping to find the room for which you were searching. This experience was shared by blind and sighted conventioneers alike. The facility has undergone substantial renovation since that last convention, so much has changed. One thing, however, that has not changed is that the facility is still circular, so figuring out where you are in relation to where you want to be will undoubtedly save you steps and minutes of exercise at this summer’s convention. Even if articles like this one send you to the aspirin bottle, I urge you to read on. Absorbing even part of this information will hold you in good stead when you arrive at the Detroit Marriott in July.

Imagine that the Renaissance Center is the number five on a die. The dot in the center of the five is our convention hotel, the Detroit Marriott and the four dots at the corners are the four General Motors office towers. The 100 Tower is at the northwest corner of the complex, the 200 Tower is at the northeast corner, the 300 Tower is at the southeast, and the 400 Tower is at the southwest. The Detroit River flows along the south side with the RiverWalk following its north bank between it and the hotel. Our Motor City March will take place in this general area, and we will exit and reenter the hotel on this south side of the facility. The main entrance of the Renaissance Center is on the north side, and the main entrance of our hotel is on the west side. The first-floor area of the complex, called the Motor Lobby, has high security. These guards have been trained to be helpful and give directions. If they are not already very busy, they may be a little more enthusiastic in offering help than you would prefer, but they do know their way around and can help you get where you wish to go.

The hotel lobby is actually on the third floor. Our meeting rooms are mostly on the fourth and fifth floors. All elevators in the central area will travel to these floors and to the fortieth floor, which is the crossover level. This is important to know if you find that you have stepped onto the wrong set of elevators. You will also find escalators near the elevator lobby, which is at the very center of the hotel. These escalators connect the third, fourth, and fifth floors.

When you want to go to Level A to find the food court, you will need to walk around the circle on the third floor (lobby level) to the south side, where you will find an escalator that will take you down in three stages to the food court on Level A. You will enter the food court at the Coney Island hot dog stand. If you prefer using an elevator to get to the food court, take the main elevators to the first floor and go to the 100 Tower, where you will find a single elevator that goes to Level A. You will enter the food court just to the right of the popcorn shop. This means that, when you wish to return to the hotel, you should find the popcorn shop, and the hallway leading to the elevator will be just to your left as you face the shop.

Here are a couple of facts that may help as you are mastering this hotel. The Ontario Exhibit Hall, where the Independence Market and exhibits will be located; the Renaissance Ballroom, where the board meeting and convention sessions will take place; and the Mackinac Ballroom are stacked one atop the other on the third, fourth, and fifth floors. Taxis, limos, and private cars pull up to the Motor Lobby on the west side of the hotel, off River Road. Parking for the hotel is across River Road in what Michiganders call a parking ramp. The main entrance of the complex, and the one you are most likely to use when coming and going from the hotel, is the GM Lobby on the north side of the Renaissance Center, with Jefferson, a very busy street, running east and west just to the north.

Now that you have this overview of the Renaissance Center and the Marriott’s place in it, you should be ready to read Doug Boone’s description of the hotel. Doug is an expert in orientation and mobility. Here is the information he has gathered for us:

We begin our tour in the hotel lobby, which is on the third floor at the west end of the hotel. Leaving the lobby, traveling east over the bridge, you will find an up escalator on the right and an escalator coming down from the fourth floor on the left. An identical set of escalators is located just past the two banks of elevators on the east end of this hallway.

Continuing east past the first escalators, the area opens up. Here you have several options. Option 1: Continue walking straight ahead (east). As the hall closes in again, you are entering the elevator area. The first six elevators (three on each side) will take you to floors one, three, four, and five and the sleeping rooms on floors forty to seventy. There is only one call button for these elevators; it is located between the first and second elevators on the left (north) side. Continuing east, past the first six elevators, you may hear an echo in the center of the elevator area. You will then find six more elevators, which give access to floors one, three, four, and five and the sleeping rooms on floors nine through forty. The only call button for these elevators is on the south side, between the last and next-to-last elevators on the right side. Please note that the fortieth floor is a crossover floor, which allows access to the other set of elevators. Option 2: Continuing straight past the elevators and the east escalators will take you to the Ambassador Ballroom at the far east end of the hotel. Option 3: Immediately after passing the west escalators, when you reach the area that opens up, turn to the right and begin a counterclockwise route. It is possible to follow this hallway in a complete circle, bringing you back to this point. If you progress only a quarter of the way around the circle counterclockwise, you will find on your right (south), a glass door or opening. At this point you have two more options. A. This is the entrance to the Coach Insignia reception desk and elevator to the premier restaurant, located on the seventy-second floor. B. Walk past the desk for the restaurant (stay to the right) to the back of the area, and you will find the first of three escalators needed to reach the food court (Level A). Finding the food court will be addressed later. Option 4: Turn left (clockwise) at the west end of the elevator area and go a quarter of the way around and then turn left (north) to find the walkway to the Ontario Exhibit Hall. It is also possible to reach this point once you have progressed three quarters of the way around the counterclockwise circle discussed in option 3 above. From that direction the walkway to the Ontario Exhibit Hall will be on your right (still north). Note: All of these choices give you access to destinations on the outer circle. It is also possible to walk in a smaller, concentric circle around the elevators.

Accessing the fourth floor by escalator: The fourth floor is composed of an inner circle, which wraps around the bank of elevators and connects to meeting rooms by bridges leading to the north, east, and west only. Once you across the bridges, there is an outer circle that allows you to get to all of the meeting rooms on this floor.

In the hotel lobby begin walking east across the bridge. Locate the up escalator on the right. The next floor will be the fourth. Turn left at the top and make a u-turn to the west and walk until you contact a convex wall in front of you. You can find the restrooms by moving forward and to your left. As you enter the restroom alcove, you will be heading south. Back at the curved wall, you now have options:

1. If you turn right while facing the convex wall, you will move clockwise around the circle. The meeting rooms will be on your left. Heading this way around the north side of the circle, you will find the Renaissance Ballroom consisting of the Cabot, Cartier, and Columbus rooms (named for explorers). The Renaissance Ballroom can be accessed more directly by turning left (north) at the top of the escalator and walking clockwise around the inner circle until you can turn left or north. On this bridge you will intersect the outer circle described above. Continue straight across an open carpeted area into the ballroom.

2. Back at the rounded wall, if you turn to your left, you will be making the counterclockwise revolution around the southern half of the circle. All of the meeting rooms will be to your right. These rooms are named for painters: DaVinci, Greco, Michelangelo, Monet, Renoir, and Raphael.

Accessing the fifth floor by escalator: The fifth floor has only an inner circle, though it is larger than the inner circle on the fourth floor. When moving clockwise, you will find the rooms in A-B order on the east half of the circle, and on the west half they are in B-A order.

From either the hotel lobby or fourth floor, take the escalator to the fifth floor. At the top of the escalator you are facing east. If you turn left to locate rooms, you will be looking for small bridges on your left. The rooms are in the following clockwise order, beginning at the west end of the elevator hall: Duluth B & A, Mackinac Ballroom, Joliet A & B, Marquette A & B, (east end of elevator hall) LaSalle A & B, Cadillac A & B, Banquet Services, Richard B & A, and Brule B & A. Braille and print markers are located at the intersections of the circular hall and the bridges, about four feet from the floor. All rooms have these markers except the Mackinac Ballroom, which has a bridge about twice as wide as the other bridges on this floor. Restrooms on the fifth floor are located at the north end of the bridge, just before entering the Mackinac Ballroom.

Locating the food court, Level A: In the hotel lobby go east over the bridge, and, when it widens, turn right, circle around (counterclockwise along the right side of the circle) to glass doors. This is the entrance to the Coach Insignia Restaurant. Turn right and then bear right (you are circling around to the back of this small area). Stay to the right and locate the down escalator. At the bottom you will be on the second floor. Go right about forty feet and find another down escalator. At the bottom you will be on the first floor. The next escalator will take you down to Level A, where the food court is located. These escalators are close together. Head toward the center of the building, and you will enter a circle, which, when followed either clockwise or counterclockwise, will take you to the food court. As of March, these were the purveyors located in the food court: Arby's, Burger King, Coney Town, Fish City, Gyroland, HotPOP!, McDonald's, Salsarita’s, Fresh Cantina, Subway, That Sandwich Place, Venice Italian Market, and Zoup!

Elevator access to the food court, Level A: Go to the hotel lobby, take the elevator down to the Motor Lobby level. Upon exiting the elevator, turn right and continue until you locate wood-clad glass doors. Go through the doors and up a carpeted ramp until it levels off, then turn left. Continue clockwise around this circular area, about 150 feet, until you hear escalators on the left. Continue past the escalators. Stay left until you can turn left and go down a ramp. Continue staying left (about thirty feet) and locate a glass wall. Keep the glass wall on your left, and it will circle counter clockwise to an opening. The elevator is located in this area, which is about fifteen feet in diameter. It will open very near the McDonald’s in the food court.

Access to the People Mover: Greektown is ten to fifteen minutes away; the train runs clockwise to this destination. Go to the hotel lobby. Take the elevator down to the Motor Lobby level. Upon exiting the elevator, turn right and continue walking until you locate the wood-clad glass doors. Go through the doors and up a carpeted ramp until it levels, then turn left. Continue clockwise around this circular area, about 150 feet, until you hear escalators on the left. Find and go down the short flight of steps to the left. You will pass the escalators you heard before starting down the stairs (these go down to the lower level). At the bottom of the steps, continue forward until you hear escalators, which will take you up to the next level. You will be near the CVS drugstore. Find CVS and make sure it is on your right. Stay to the right and go down the hallway, a bit more than fifty feet. Go through the glass doors. Tokens can be purchased at a machine about ten feet inside the entrance to the area (slightly to the right). One dollar will get you two tokens, good for your outbound and return trips. I was told you can also use exact change or pay with a dollar on the train and get a token for the return, but this has not been confirmed.

There you are. By July 9 you will have it down cold. But if you read this article over several times between now and the convention, you will be surprised how much it will help you to grasp the floor plans of the various levels. Good luck; see you in orbit.


Blind Voters Are Registered Voters

by A.J. Chwalow, L. Blake, and M. Riccobono

From the Editor: Since passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), the NFB has been deeply involved with training blind voters and election officials to use accessible voting machines. We have evaluated equipment and written manuals. Immediately following the 2008 presidential election the Jernigan Institute staff conducted a study of how well the election process had gone for blind voters. Here is a layman’s version of the final report:

November 2008 was an exciting time for us all. No matter what your politics, you had to be excited by the level of interest and eager to see the results of the national and state elections. The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute (NFBJI) has been one of the leaders in advocacy for blind voters and has been working with the government since the passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Our primary goal has always been to make voting more accessible to blind voters at the national, state, and local levels. The NFBJI has been active in training poll workers, preparing manuals, and setting up training sessions for blind voters by providing voting machines to practice on. As a part of HAVA the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute has been awarded grants in the past that have allowed it to evaluate the voting experience for blind and visually impaired voters and to develop training curricula for polling place workers that make the experience accessible. In support of this objective, we commissioned a survey to be conducted with legally blind voters immediately after the 2008 presidential election.

Between November 6 and 17, 2008, the NFBJI provided a list of 10,000 households located all over America. In order to be included in a telephone survey, 994 households were contacted and screened for inclusion. Of these 581 indicated that a member of the household age eighteen or older cannot read regular print, such as newspapers, at a normal reading distance, even with best corrected vision. Of those 566 individuals were able and willing to speak with an interviewer; of these, 560 were confirmed legally blind and were interviewed.

Almost all (94 percent) of the legally blind people interviewed in this study said they are registered voters, and nearly all of these registered voters (96 percent) voted in the November 2008 election. This strengthens any future advocacy efforts of the NFBJI, because we can show that 96 percent of our members vote. Of these, a third (38 percent) voted by mail or absentee ballot, while nearly two-thirds (62 percent) voted at the polls.

Half (51 percent) of the blind voters who cast their ballots at a polling place did so independent of assistance, while more than a third (39 percent) relied on the assistance of a family member or friend, only a tenth (9 percent) required the assistance of a poll judge, and a few (1 percent) used a paper ballot and/or a magnifying glass.

Just under two-thirds (63 percent) who cast their votes at the polls said they requested or were offered the use of an accessible voting machine. Most said that the voting machine was up and running upon their arrival (87 percent) and that the poll workers had no problems setting up or activating the machine (81 percent).

A majority (87 percent) of voters who cast their votes using accessible voting machines experienced no problems with the machine. Of the 13 percent who did encounter problems, the two most frequently mentioned issues were that the workers were not trained and did not know how to operate the machine or the machine was not set up, or they could not adjust the audio speed or the audio did not work.

A majority (86 percent) who used accessible voting machines were able to cast a secret ballot. The 14 percent who could not cast a secret ballot most often said workers could not operate the machines, there were no working machines available, or they felt more comfortable with assistance.

Blind voters appear to have felt they were treated well by poll workers since nearly all believed that they were treated with respect (94 percent), they were treated with the same dignity as other voters (91 percent), and they were given the same privacy as other voters (85 percent). In addition, most felt that they had not been rushed (94 percent), poll workers did not make them feel as if they were a bother (92 percent), they were not treated as if they lacked the capacity to vote (90 percent), and they were not treated as if they were incapable of voting independently (89 percent).

Including those who voted by mail and in person at the polls, 89 percent were satisfied with their overall experience, so it is not surprising that a majority (61 percent) offered no suggested ways to improve the experience. The most frequent suggestions were to make accessible voting machines available (6 percent), educate or train poll workers (5 percent), be sure accessible voting machines are set up and working properly (4 percent), provide larger print or magnification (4 percent), and make it possible for blind voters to cast an independent and private vote (4 percent).

Survey participants were also asked if they would be interested in receiving training on the use of accessible voting machines. Those most interested in receiving training were among those who were less than satisfied with their most recent voting experience (72 percent).

More than half (59 percent) of the individuals interviewed in this study can read Braille. The likelihood of being able to do so is higher among those who are younger (81 percent under age twenty-five), the more educated (73% with postgraduate education), the employed (68 percent), and those with an income above $50,000 (65 percent).


We know the history of the NFBJI in advocacy for blind and low-vision people. We can see that NFB members are more likely to read Braille and be employed and educated. Since passage of the Help America Vote Act, Federationists have been aware of the NFB’s efforts to make voting for the blind more accessible. With this evaluation we can now say that we have had an impact at all levels of voting: national, state, and local.


The State of Blindness
A Current Assessment

by Stanley Greenberg

From the Editor: Dr. Stanley Greenberg is not a member of the National Federation of the Blind, but you will see from the article that follows that he is very familiar with our philosophy and is largely sympathetic with our view of blindness and blind people in the world. He is now retired and lives happily with his wife. They have four children and eight grandchildren. He earned his doctorate from the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, and he has worked and traveled all of his adult life using a white cane and, in recent years, a guide dog.

Stan has had two careers, first as a successful phonograph record producer, arranger, and executive and second as a human services leader. He retired from active employment in 1996 when he was executive director of the Westside Center for Independent Living in Los Angeles. His music activities include conducting orchestras, choruses, and theatrical performances as well as being a professional pianist. Since retirement he has been a member of several nonprofit boards and was chair of the Vermont State Independent Living Council. He has devoted much of his life to advocacy for the rights of African Americans, farm workers, and people with disabilities. He is an avid sports fan and a voracious reader.
I find myself agreeing with many of Stan’s assessments of the situation blind people find ourselves in today. As frequently happens, I am left with the conclusion that everything depends on whether you think the glass is half full or half empty and how much time you spend fretting over what is missing from your life. Everyone lives with some disadvantages: I have a friend who cannot carry a tune and another who has no appreciation of books. My husband is absent minded, and my daughter is allergic to animals and flower and tree pollen. I know sighted adults who cannot read or read well, and others who could not drive or have given up their cars. Each of us has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses, abilities and inabilities. Our skills and interests make us the individuals we are.

In what follows you will find an objective and unsentimental catalog of the limitations that blindness imposes. But I find myself raising questions about the significance of a number of these limitations. If I now have available to me more newspapers than I can read (and have them earlier than sighted readers get them) and if I am overwhelmed by the number of audio and Braille books that I can read at any moment, how much more deprived am I than my husband, who hangs out in the college library every morning and can read whatever he wants? I don’t have access to a frustrating number of household appliances and other equipment—a problem that the NFB is addressing in Congress and with manufacturers--but my husband also is often frustrated by modern gadgets. It is frustrating to have to wait for our children or younger friends to figure out the mysteries that surround us, but we would both classify this situation as a nuisance. Be all that as it may, here is a contemporary assessment of what blindness entails. I am still of the opinion that, given the public’s tendency to pity us and presume our incompetence, as an organization and as well-adjusted blind people, we are better off minimizing our challenges and refusing to dwell on them, dismissing them as nuisances. That is just one reaction. See what you think:

“It’s respectable to be blind.” “We’re changing what it means to be blind.” These mantras along with several others have been passed down through the years from one blind person to another. They have been used as rallying cries to educate the public, boost the spirits of the blind people who have repeated them, and galvanize our advocacy efforts to gain our rightful place in society. They have also helped us to accept the reality that being blind is really okay in spite of conventional beliefs to the contrary.

The most frequently quoted of these maxims is, “With appropriate training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to the level of a nuisance.” It is this assertion which we will examine with the benefit of twenty-first century experience, knowledge, and understanding. We will measure its validity against the generally accepted definition of disability and suggest a new and more relevant clarion call.

First, however, it is important to retire an obsolete concept. If there ever was a homogeneous group labeled “the blind,” this group no longer exists. While it may have been true in 1940, when the National Federation of the Blind, the first consumer-driven blindness advocacy organization, was founded, all blind people can no longer be lumped together into a unique body with monolithic aspirations, jointly held principles, and a common agenda. Certainly groups of people who are blind can and do come together to achieve goals that individuals would be unable to accomplish alone. However, these individuals differ from one another as much as do any collection of people who are unique in every respect except for their common interest. It is essential that we abandon the notion that there is a discrete identity called “the blind” and instead devote our energy and talents to “walking alone and marching together.”

Less than seventy years ago, if you were a typical blind person, you were all but shut out of society’s mainstream. Your chances of obtaining a traditional job were virtually nonexistent. You might find menial employment caning chairs or tuning pianos, but even these opportunities were few and far between. The public and private agencies established to provide skills training, employment opportunities, and so-called adjustment training served to perpetuate the same stereotypical images held by society in general. Sheltered workshops run by highly paid sighted managers and trainers used their legally protected status to pay their blind workers unbelievably low wages. Managers of public places routinely denied entrance and service to blind patrons. Our entertainment options were limited largely to listening to Talking Book records and radio programs. The image of a blind individual, dressed in tatters and begging for pennies, was the caricature called to mind when most sighted people thought about a blind person. Many of us were hidden from public view in the back rooms of our families’ homes. Some of us were sent to nursing homes or establishments created to warehouse us. Naturally there were some glaring exceptions, but for most of us our lives consisted of endless hopelessness, lack of fulfillment, and degradation.

The group of determined individuals who founded the National Federation of the Blind in 1940 undertook a bold strategy to change what it meant to be blind. The effort consisted of three equally important objectives. First, they set out to change public perceptions about blindness through education and advocacy. Second, they undertook to redirect the purpose of agencies serving blind people to provide the skills and adjustment training necessary for us to be included fully in the world around us. Third, they considered it mandatory to re-educate blind people ourselves about our intrinsic value as human beings in general and as individuals who happened to be blind in particular.

Approximately seventy years later the picture is dramatically different. While the unemployment rate among blind people is unacceptably high, we are filling a variety of positions in a wide spectrum of employment disciplines. Sheltered employment remains an option for some, but many of the workshops established for that purpose are either managed by blind people ourselves or by sighted managers who understand their duties as well as the aspirations of their blind employees. Blind people are out and around, enjoying the broad array of leisure and entertainment opportunities available to those who are not disabled. Many of us travel locally, nationally, and internationally without incident or special notice. We are educated as children and trained as adults by people, many of whom are themselves blind, who understand our issues and promote our full inclusion in a diverse society. The percentage of us warehoused in facilities designed for that purpose has decreased and is continuing to drop. Certainly the goal of equal status has not been reached, and there is much more work to be done. However, many of us have achieved the status of respectability. Moreover, our efforts to change what it means to be blind have been largely successful. What about reducing blindness to the level of a nuisance? Is that goal achievable?

The generally accepted definition of disability, included in the Americans with Disabilities Act, refers to a condition which “limits one or more major life activities.” The legislation goes on to list many of those activities, one of which is “seeing.” The law’s framers, in consultation with many people with disabilities, recognized that, while it was eminently possible to ameliorate the impact of a handicapping condition to some extent through education, training, accommodation, and acceptance, the disability itself imposed as yet unavoidable limitations. This reality does not mean that disabled people in general and blind people in particular can not and do not live full and productive lives. Many of us provide living testimony to the contrary. It does mean, however, that obstacles are imposed by our disability that rise far above the level of a nuisance.

Travel presents the first factor to be examined. To a great extent we move from place to place easily and elegantly. We use canes, dog guides, and other travel aids to assist us in getting from one place to another. We have acquired the skills to know where we are, assess vehicle traffic, and determine the best and safest way to get to our destination. We have access to public and special transportation options, and of course we have family members, friends, and coworkers to drive us to locations not served by other means. We do not, however, have the ability to go wherever we want, whenever we want, as quickly and as conveniently as we would like. Blindness will not be just a nuisance until we are able to walk out of our door, get into our own automobile, and drive ourselves to whatever location we choose just as does a person who is sighted.

Next comes information. We have access to a voluminous amount of data, literature, news, signage, and a mass of material on all subjects. We use Braille, commercially recorded as well as government produced Talking Books and newspapers, computers with speech and Braille access, radio and television audio, and a variety of other sources to stay abreast of current developments. However, that which we can access independently is a tiny fraction of what is available to people who are not blind. Blindness will not be just a nuisance until we can examine any document, read any book, peruse any newspaper, check out any sign, and read any note written by anyone who leaves it for us as do people who are sighted.

Our access to electrical appliances, communications equipment, games, tools, and a wide variety of devices is increasing. Laws have been enacted requiring manufacturers to make their products accessible if doing so is “readily achievable.” Some suppliers have gone the extra mile to include blind consumers among their most valued customers. Of course a wide variety of products are fully usable by us without modification of any kind. While progress with the others is encouraging, the amount of inaccessible equipment manufactured far exceeds that which is usable by us without sighted assistance. Blindness will not be just a nuisance until we can order any appliance, open any box, plug in any machine, and operate any device without sighted assistance of any kind at any level.

As the spendable income of blind people increases, we are observed regularly shopping in a wide variety of places. We dine out; purchase goods and services in a broad spectrum of restaurants and stores; enjoy entertainment in clubs, theaters, and stadiums; and make purchases on the Internet. However, much of our shopping requires sighted assistance. The vast majority of restaurants do not have Braille menus, and most of us can not afford portable reading machines. Labels on most inventory are inaccessible, and the cost of a barcode or currency reader is beyond our available funds. An increasing number of Websites are becoming accessible, but an overwhelming number are still beyond our ability to review. Blindness will not be just a nuisance until we can enter any shop, order a meal in any restaurant, appreciate any form of entertainment, and surf any Website by ourselves.

We use our senses to have a wide variety of experiences. We listen to a multitude of sounds, some artistic and pleasurable, some informational and educational, and others simply in the background. We taste foods that we enjoy and some that we would prefer not to eat, as well as medicines that can be either pleasant or otherwise. Our entire bodies feel an infinite number of sensations, and our noses inhale all kinds of smells. These four senses enable us to have a rewarding, satisfying, and full life. It is also true, however, that the wide spectrum of experiences available to people who are not blind are available to us secondhand. We are told of the beauty of visual arts by those who can see it. A multicolored sunset, the majesty of a scenic view, the beauty of birds and animals in the wild, and the magnificence of nature are made accessible to us through the eyes and words of people who tell us about them. The faces of those we love, the joy of seeing our new baby for the first time, the pleasure of watching our children grow into adults, and the thrill of observing rites of passage all come to us through the eyes and words of others. The selection of clothing, the decoration of a home, the choice of the color of our cars, and the decisions regarding all sorts of visual choices must be accomplished through the descriptions of those who are with us. Blindness will not be just a nuisance until the time comes when we can experience the visual independently, without our eyesight.

As blind people we have developed a variety of techniques and strategies enabling us to live as independently as possible. While our hearing is no more sensitive than that of the average person, we have developed the ability to use it to a far greater extent than people who are sighted. We work at remembering and identifying sounds, even those whose differences are marginal. We recognize and can recall the names of people by the sound of their voices. We determine when it is safe to cross the street by listening to the sound and movement of vehicular traffic. Some of us have learned to be aware of that which is in front of us by the feeling in our faces, a phenomenon known as “facial vision.” We use our memory to recall the arrangement of furniture in a room, the number of steps in a staircase, the location of items on a table, and countless activities that we experience daily. We carefully arrange our clothing, our print materials, our toilet articles and drugs, and many others of our possessions so that we can find them easily, but we simply can not compensate for all of the ways to replace the countless situations in which vision is used merely as a matter of course. We can not walk into a room, glance around, and locate something for which we are looking. We can not look across an expanse, recognize a person in a group, and make eye contact with her or him. We can not know if someone is waving a greeting to us across a street or ballroom. We can not read someone’s mood by recognizing a facial expression. We can not anticipate the subtle visual signals which potentially dangerous situations transmit and which are received only by the eyes. Blindness will not be just a nuisance until we can do virtually everything without our eyes that a sighted person can do with them.

If blindness is really not just a nuisance and if blind people can and do live independent and fulfilling lives in spite of the limitations imposed by this severe disability, we would be wise to develop a new rallying cry that embodies our present situation and our hopes for the future. We must continue to educate both ourselves and those who are not disabled about our intrinsic worth, our stunning capabilities, and our insistence on being a seamless part of the world around us. We must settle for nothing less than full inclusion, full recognition, and an uncompromising determination to be completely integrated into the real world.

Consequently, in an effort to embody all of our hopes, our goals, and the task ahead of us, the following should become our rallying cry: “With appropriate training, opportunity, research, and full inclusion in the world around us, blindness will be reduced to just another personal characteristic.”


My Tree Branch Cane
How I Became Blind and Then What

by Ed Bryant

From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the Voice of the Diabetic, Volume 10, Number 4, Fall 1995, published by the Diabetes Action Network (DAN) of the National Federation of the Blind. It was updated in March 2009. Ed Bryant has been one of the formative figures since the DAN was founded as the NFB Diabetics Division in 1985. When Karen Mayry became too ill to continue as president of the division, Ed unhesitatingly took on that task in addition to editing the quarterly publication, which he had done from its beginning. Here is the story of how one man found the organization that shared his personal philosophy:

Diabetes is a sneaky disease. It usually takes fifteen to twenty years for chronic complications to be noticed, and many can stem from the disease. Here are my story and some observations about blindness.

Fifty years ago I was diagnosed with early-onset diabetes. After the initial shock of discovering I had sugar diabetes and learning how to give myself insulin injections, my lifestyle returned to one of a very busy and active teenager. The only differences were that I had to give myself one shot a day and watch my diet. Eating a lot of sweets could cause problems.

At first I did not adhere to good diabetes practices. I was not good at watching what I ate and drank. I did what my peers did, and I felt just fine. I was not worried about my diabetes. Then, after I'd had the disease almost sixteen years, I began to notice blurred vision. It was like looking through a smoky haze.

At first I didn't pay much attention. In St. Louis, where I was administrative manager for a corporation specializing in child photography, my job required a lot of paperwork. I assumed I needed to see an eye doctor and get glasses. But I didn't get glasses, and with time my vision deteriorated. Finally, admitting I'd been foolish, I saw an ophthalmologist, who diagnosed proliferative diabetic retinopathy. I had no functional vision in one eye, and the prognosis for the other was not good. The doctor recommended I see a diabetes specialist and get my disease under good control. Then, maybe, he could give me laser treatments.

I immediately saw a physician who specialized in diabetes. I worked to regulate my disease far more closely. In time, with my diabetes under good control, the vision in my functional eye became substantially better. I was elated. I could see well enough again to do almost anything. Working as a photographer, I had driven in every state in America, and of course I thought driving a car was essential to everyone's lifestyle. Now I could even drive my little blue sports car again.

When I revisited my ophthalmologist, we decided to try vitrectomy surgery in my bad eye. With luck the surgery would restore some of my vision. It failed, as did a second vitrectomy on the same eye several months later. I knew that by law I was legally blind, but I didn't consider myself blind since I had so little trouble getting around and doing what I wanted to do.

During the daytime my only troubles came while facing direct sunlight. My main difficulties were at night. Unless an area was well lit, I had trouble seeing where I was going. Late one evening I started walking home. The area was well lit, but as I progressed, there were fewer and fewer street lights. Soon I could barely see my path. At a wide point in the sidewalk, landscapers had planted a preposterously huge tree right in my way. I was walking at a pretty good clip―I ran into the tree. After my very close encounter and a few frank words to that tree, I walked the rest of the way home. As I look back, I can only laugh. If I'd had more wisdom, I'd have been using a long white cane. Then I could have avoided both possible injury and the tree.

Several years later my employment was phased out, and I found myself out of work. I moved to Columbia, Missouri, home of the University of Missouri. I would work out my future from there.

I had been offered upper middle-management positions with several different companies with lucrative salaries, but, as soon as I told prospective employers I was legally blind or that I had a severe eye problem, their offers vanished. The jobs were either no longer available or offered to me at wages less than half their original offer. It didn't matter that I could do the work proficiently. My experience in business administration and public relations didn't count. When employers heard the words "blind" or "legally blind," they immediately assumed I was incapable of doing the job.

I was out one night in Columbia when a friend accidentally poked me in my good eye. I felt excruciating pain. My ophthalmologist recommended a retina surgeon in Memphis, Tennessee. The specialist told me the eye was in bad shape; however, vitrectomy surgery might help. Once again I underwent surgery. However, it allowed me to see only in a very limited way.

In the following few months I lost my vision completely. I was totally blind. I lived in an apartment, and I really had no way to get around. After having managed my personal business and being independent for years, I found it very difficult to let anyone help me. My parents offered to build an extra room onto their home so I could live there. Although the offer was loving and gracious, I would never consider such a thing. I'd always been an independent person, and, if I'd moved into my parents' home on a rural route, I would have been more or less trapped, since the area had no bus service and the cost of a taxi to and from the country was very high. I couldn't expect my parents to provide my transportation everywhere. They had their own life.

I was an active person, used to travelling independently. I decided to keep my apartment. I had no wish or reason to become dependent on others. I knew I was perfectly capable of doing the things I'd always done. My biggest problem was not being able to draw up my own insulin. For three or four years my mother drew up a seven-day supply every week until I learned of devices that allowed blind people to draw up their own insulin accurately. Such a device allowed me to self-manage my disease.

My blindness made me angry and frustrated. Like many other newly blind folks, I felt trapped and limited in what I could do. The fact was that I was blind. But it seemed unreasonable to give up and abandon independence simply because I couldn't see. I began to realize that in actuality I wasn't limited. I could function very well in my apartment. I knew where everything was. And with a little ingenuity I discovered I could cook and do anything in the kitchen. Every day I discovered alternative techniques that allowed me to do things just as well as I had done them when I was sighted. I was learning how to help myself.

I telephoned Missouri's Bureau for the Blind and asked for a white cane and someone to show me how to use it. After waiting two or three weeks, I got angry. How could I be independent if I had to stay in my apartment? So one day I took a hatchet and a kitchen broom and went outside, using my broom as a cane. I headed for a spot where I knew a little tree was located, and I chopped off a long branch. Returning to my apartment with my prize, I chopped and whittled until the branch developed into what I called a cane. I didn't know anything about cane dimensions, but I figured it should be about as tall as I was. I ended up with a makeshift cane about six feet long.

I went for short walks. I chuckle about it now, but I was probably a danger to society with my tree branch cane; I was certainly a danger to myself. The end of the cane kept getting stuck in the ground, and I came close to rupturing my midsection on many occasions. Even though my cane was homemade out of a tree branch, it helped me to get around the apartment complex and many nearby roads. I had all the confidence in the world.

At last the man from the Bureau for the Blind arrived, bringing me a better cane. After he left, I went for a walk. The top of my new cane reached somewhere between my navel and breastbone. I had to bend over as I walked with it, and it was obviously too short, but I could do a lot better with it than with my tree branch. I knew where the city bus stopped, so I took a bus downtown and spent the afternoon exploring.

I never had any formal mobility lessons, but I trained myself without great difficulty. I finally moved to the downtown area, primarily because there were sidewalks. I lived in a high-rise apartment close to the University. There were many social activities, and something was always happening. I could always find plenty for a guy like me to do.

At some point I found out about the National Federation of the Blind. After attending a few meetings, I was more impressed with it than with any other organization I had ever been involved in. It was a united body of blind people doing everything possible to serve blind people, without regard to the cause of their blindness. Federation philosophy ran parallel to my own observations, made since I had become blind, that much of the general public simply does not understand blindness. Many friends, neighbors, and family members simply pity the blind person, thinking he or she is not capable of doing very much. Along with the pity and sympathy comes a great deal of discrimination, due to society's many myths and misconceptions about the blind and blindness. The situation is improving, but we in the National Federation of the Blind still need to spread the word.

The key word is “education.” We Federationists are aware that, with proper training and use of alternative techniques, we can do just about anything we decide to do. The NFB knows that society's perception of inabilities can mislead blind people. If all they hear is talk of their helplessness and that they can't, they may become convinced and think themselves into helplessness and inactivity. This holds true as well for blind diabetics, told incorrectly by many that they cannot draw insulin, test blood glucose, or perform the other tasks of diabetes self-management.

Limitations, for most blind people, are self-imposed. The NFB strives to enlighten society about the capabilities of blind people while striving to improve the way many blind people think about themselves. We encourage them to think "I can" rather than "I can't." We are a self-help and advocacy organization. We show blind folks they are not alone and that, whatever their situation, they have options. Our members are living proof that blindness is not synonymous with inability.


2009 Brings ADA Changes

by Greg Trapp

From the Editor: Greg Trapp is an attorney by training. He is the director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind and a longtime member of the National Federation of the Blind. In the following brief article he explains in layman’s language the impact of the recent important amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act. This is what he says:

The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) took effect on January 1, 2009. The ADAAA, which was signed by President Bush on September 25, 2008, is intended to restore Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provisions that had been eroded by a series of Supreme Court decisions. The ADA, originally signed into law in 1990 by the first President Bush, had used an expansive definition of disability that did not consider the use of "mitigating measures." For those of us who are blind the new law has the potential to produce positive changes, even though the ADAAA primarily applies to people with disabilities other than blindness.

The issue of vision was central to the Supreme Court case of Sutton v. United Air Lines, the 1999 case that began the erosion of the definition of disability. The ADA defines "disability" as a "physical or mental impairment" that "substantially limits" one or more "major life activities," a "record of such impairment," or being "regarded as having such an impairment." Congress intended this definition of disability to encourage that decisions be based on a person's merit and not merely on his or her impairment. This precept was established in School Board of Nassau County v. Arline, a 1987 Supreme Court case which granted protection under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to a person with a “record” of a disability. In Sutton, a more conservative court was confronted with facts that caused the Court to interpret this language in a way that was different from what Congress had intended and from what the Court had recognized in Arline. Sutton involved a pair of twin pilots who had corrected vision of 20/20 but who had uncorrected vision of 20/200. The twins were not hired because their uncorrected vision did not meet the vision requirements of United Air Lines. Confronted with this difficult set of facts, the Supreme Court engaged in some linguistic gymnastics and found that "substantially limits" was a "present indicative verb," and that it required that the person be presently and not potentially or hypothetically limited. The Court reasoned that, because the twins had corrected vision of 20/20, they were not substantially limited and were therefore not disabled.

The Sutton decision opened the door to consideration of other "mitigating" measures, such as the taking of medications as in the subsequent case of Murphy v. United Parcel Service. This meant that people with conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, emphysema, and even cancer were not necessarily covered by the ADA. To be covered, it had to be shown that they were presently substantially limited by their condition. The definition was further narrowed in the 2002 case of Toyota Motor Mfg. v. Williams, which required consideration of an employee's ability to perform activities that were of "central importance to most people's daily lives." Toyota also required the impairment to be "permanent or long-term."

The Sutton and Toyota decisions dramatically limited the number of people covered by the ADA. In the unfortunate words of former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the ADA was for "the wheelchair bound," not people with "carpal tunnel syndrome or bad backs."

In passing the ADAAA, Congress stated that it “intended the ADA to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities and provide broad coverage.” The ADAAA overturns the holdings in Sutton and Toyota and reestablishes the standard of disability under Arline. With one exception the ADAAA states that “mitigating measures shall not be a factor when determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity.” The only mitigating measures that can be considered are “ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses that fully correct visual acuity or eliminate refractive error,” a recognition of the facts in Sutton that open the door to the narrowing of the definition of disability and the consideration of mitigating measures.

By expanding the definition of disability, the ADAAA brings into the community of people with disabilities millions of Americans who can contribute to the life, economy, and prosperity of the nation. Confronted with millions of additional employees and prospective employees, employers will be forced to familiarize themselves more fully with the provisions of the ADA and ADAAA and revise their policies and procedures to comply with the law. Enhanced compliance should translate into expanded opportunity for all employees. By expanding the number of persons with disabilities, the ADAAA also helps to normalize disability, making it a more natural part of the human experience. While no law can ever substitute for good blindness skills, we can hope that the ADAAA will give us a greater opportunity to apply those skills.



The recipes this month were to have been offered by members of the NFB of Tennessee. As you will read later in this issue, before he could gather the recipes, NFB of Tennessee President Michael Seay died very suddenly. As a result we are filling in with several recipes that first appeared in the Voice of the Diabetic. These are healthy choices for diabetics but also nutritious and tasty for everyone.

Baked Stew
by Gail Bryant

If you are constantly on the go or don't want a messy range top, this recipe is just for you. Gail Bryant is the wife of longtime Diabetes Action Network leader Ed Bryant and an active member of the NFB of Missouri.

2 pounds stewing beef, diced
2 tablespoons flour
1 bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons shortening
6 stalks celery, diced
6 carrots, diced
4 potatoes, peeled and sliced small
1 cup water
1 pound fresh green beans, cut up
 Salt and pepper to taste

Method: Dredge meat in flour. In the shortening in a large frying pan, brown the meat. Add onion and bell pepper and brown. Arrange meat and browned vegetables in baking dish. Add celery and carrots. Cover with water. Bake one and a half hours. Add potatoes and green beans and bake an additional one and a half hours.

Yield: 8 servings; calories: 300; diabetic exchanges: 1 1/2 meat, 1 bread, 2 vegetable, 1 fat.

Green Beans with Mushrooms and Garlic
No Attribution

1 pound fresh or frozen whole green beans
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
Dash freshly ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt (optional)

Method: Trim fresh beans. Combine with two tablespoons water in a microwave-proof 1-1/2-quart casserole. Microwave covered on high eight to ten minutes or until beans are tender crisp. Stir at least once during cooking. Drain. Set aside. In microwave-proof one-quart casserole combine onion, garlic, mushrooms, and olive oil. Microwave covered on high one minute or until vegetables are tender. Stir in remaining ingredients and microwave covered on high for forty seconds. Toss with cooked beans.

Yield: 6 servings; calories: 50 per serving; diabetic exchanges: 1 vegetable, 1/2 fat.

Krupsua (Finnish Oven Pancakes)
by Marsh Mayry

Marsh Mayry is from Rapid City, South Dakota. His wife Karen was a founder and leader of the Diabetes Action Network and president of the NFB of South Dakota before her death.

2 cups 2 percent milk
1 egg
1 cup flour
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup melted butter

Method: Melt butter on rimmed cookie sheet in 350-degree oven. Mix remaining ingredients together. Pour into cookie sheet and bake for forty minutes. Serve with butter and syrup, sprinkled with sugar, or spread with jelly.

Yield: 9 servings; calories: 125; diabetic exchanges: 1 bread and 1 fat.

Raspberry Sour Cream Dip

This recipe appeared in the Volume 1, Number 1, August 1993 issue of the Equal Sweet News, reprinted with permission. Equal Sweetener is a registered trademark of the NutraSweet Company.

1 cup nonfat sour cream
1 cup low-fat custard-style raspberry yogurt
2 tablespoons minced or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried mint leaves
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1 to 1 1/4 teaspoons Equal Measure
Assorted fresh fruit, sliced and cubed

Method: Mix sour cream, yogurt, mint, lemon rind, and Equal Measure. Refrigerate several hours for flavors to blend. Spoon dip into bowl; serve with fruit for dipping.

Yield: 2 cups. Nutrition information per tablespoon serving: 25 calories, 2 g. protein, 5 g. carbohydrate, trace fat, less than 1 mg. cholesterol, 19 mg. sodium. Diabetic exchanges: 1/2 fruit.

Low-Cholesterol, Low-Fat Meat Loaf
by Gail Bryant

3/4 pounds ground round
3/4 pounds ground turkey
1/2 cup regular oats
1 8-ounce can tomato puree
Approximately 1/4 cup onion, chopped (1 small onion)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon black or lemon pepper (lemon preferred)
1 clove garlic, minced

Method: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients well. Press mixture evenly into an ungreased loaf pan or use a 9-by-13-inch pan and shape mixture into a loaf. Bake uncovered for one and a quarter to one and a half hours or until center is no longer pink. Great with salad and steamed vegetables.

Yield: 8 servings; calories: 200; diabetic exchanges: 2 1/2 meat.

Low-Fat, Low-Calorie Slaw Dressing
by Gail Bryant

1/2 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1 package sugar substitute
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/3 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Dash red pepper

Method: Combine all ingredients in a container with a tight lid and shake well. Pour over large bowl of grated slaw greens. Allow to marinate at least eight hours.

Serving size: 1/2 cup; diabetic exchanges: free for 1/2 cup.

Cherry Fluff

We do not know where this recipe came from, but it sure sounds good.

2 tablespoons frozen apple juice concentrate
1 package (4 servings) sugar-free cherry gelatin
1/2 cup boiling water
8 ounces nonfat plain yogurt
16-ounce can water-packed dark cherries, pitted and drained
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method: Dissolve gelatin in boiling water and cool slightly. Combine all ingredients in blender and whirl for thirty to forty-five seconds or until smooth. Serve in fancy dessert glasses.

Yield: 5 servings; calories: 60; diabetic exchanges: 1 fruit.

For a slightly different twist prepare a box of sugar-free chocolate fudge pudding according to package directions using 1 1/2 cups cold skim milk. Pour evenly into the bottom of eight fancy dessert glasses and top with the above cherry fluff. It will taste like chocolate covered cherries and is still allowed in your meal plan.

Yield: 4 servings; calories: 100; diabetic exchanges: 1 fruit, 1/2 starch.



Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

Resolutions for Convention:

Here is a message from Sharon Maneki, who chairs the NFB resolutions committee:

Do you think we should change a government policy, take a stand concerning an agency for the blind, or create new regulations? If you do, consider writing a resolution. At the 2009 national convention the resolutions committee meeting will be held on Saturday, July 4. The committee will debate and discuss resolutions on a wide variety of subjects. If passed by the Convention, these resolutions will become the policy statements of the organization.

To ensure that your resolution will be considered by the committee, please send it to President Maurer or to me by June 18, two weeks before the committee meeting. If you miss this deadline, you must get three members of the committee to sponsor your resolution and then get it to the chairman before the meeting begins. I will be pleased to accept resolutions by email, <[email protected]>; fax, (410) 715-9597; or snail mail, 9013 Nelson Way, Columbia, Maryland 21045.

The Y Is Silent, But the Seay Is Not:

On Thursday, March 5, the news began spreading across the Federation family that NFB of Tennessee President Michael Seay had fallen down his stairs and been gravely injured. Gradually we learned that a heart attack had caused the fall and that, although he was on life support, the chances of his survival were poor. So the report of his death two days later was not a surprise, but it was a shock to everyone who had known Michael. The preceding weekend the affiliate presidents had been together at the National Center for intensive leadership training, and Michael was apparently the life of the party. When the announcement was made on the affiliate presidents listserv, the expressions of grief and loss were immediate and general. I asked Anil Lewis, president of the NFB of Georgia and a member of the NFB board of directors, to write a tribute to Michael. Here it is:

My first memory of Michael Seay was at an NFB national convention during the roll call of states. I recall a big, booming voice over the microphone, “Dr. Maurer, I bring you greetings from the great state of Tennessee!” His voice seemed to fill the hall. I thought he must be over six feet tall. I met him later during the week and was surprised to find that he was only a few inches over five feet. Although the big, booming voice did not match his body, I quickly realized that it definitely matched his heart. Mike was quick to engage me in conversation, asking questions rather than making statements. He seemed genuinely interested in getting to know me, and I came to know him as a truly friendly, caring, compassionate person, full of humor and love. He was like this with everyone he met.

Mike had worked for the Social Security Administration for many years but had recently left to pursue a new career. Ron Brown, president of the NFB of Indiana, had convinced him to attend Louisiana Tech University to earn a master’s degree in orientation and mobility. Mike seemed extremely happy as he worked to obtain this degree. He commented that he was challenged by the program but very pleased that he had made the decision. I was truly excited because from personal experience I knew that he would have a tremendously positive impact on the lives of the blind people with whom he would come in contact.

In addition to classes at Louisiana Tech, Mike participated in the immersion program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, where Kathy Davis, president of the NFB of Florida, came to be a student to work on improving her alternative blindness skills and I followed sometime after to become a more competent blind person. By the time I arrived, Mike had charmed the staff and entire student body. Never one to be shy, he was involved in many of the student activities. Moreover, he was active in the lives of many of the students. As always, he took the time to listen and advise, to engage and entertain, to care and to love. Because of his full, bold, unique voice and constantly upbeat style, everyone knew when he entered the room and was glad of it.

In February of this year Michael Seay, Pam Allen, Kathy Davis, and I were on our way to the NFB national office in Baltimore for the affiliate presidents seminar. We had recently returned from attending Mardi Gras in New Orleans with LCB students and staff. Our conversation was fun and free flowing. Although I had known Michael Seay for many years, I realized that I did not know how to spell his last name. So I asked him. He replied, “S-E-A-Y; the Y is silent.”

I repeated, “The Y is silent,” and then added, “but the Seay is not.” Michael, never known to be the silent one, reflected on what I had just said and laughed in the unique way that made you feel really good inside. The phrase continued to be our mantra for the rest of the weekend.

I was in South Bend on Friday, March 6, on the campus of Notre Dame University when I heard the news. A few members of the NFB board of directors had just attended a Louis Braille symposium, at which President Maurer had offered an excellent keynote presentation. We were winding down at the end of a long day in the lounge of the Mission Inn on campus. Dr. Maurer called me over to tell me that Pam Allen had just gotten a phone call saying that Michael Seay had had an accident and a heart attack and was in the hospital on life support. The next morning, as I was on my way to the airport, Pam called to tell me Michael had passed away. It was extremely comforting that Mike and I had recently had so many opportunities to spend quality time together--Mardi Gras, the presidents seminar, and the casual conversations at LCB. I reflected on each of these recent, and some not so recent, interactions with him, and I was comforted by my wonderful memories.

The outpouring of love and affection expressed on the NFB affiliate presidents listserv, the many telephone calls of sadness and regret, and my many personal conversations with those whom Mike had known validate his existence and worth. He truly had purpose and stood for something greater than himself. His compassion and caring, his love of life, and his love for others are an example to us all.

I count myself blessed to have known him. My prayers are with his daughter, Michael Joye Seay, and the rest of his family. His presence will be sorely missed, but his legacy lives on. The influence he has had on me and many others lives on after him. His big, booming voice still rings in my heart and the hearts of so many of our Federation family that it will never be silenced. The Y is silent, but the Seay is not.

Useful Detroit Bus Information:

You will spend about twenty-five minutes and $40 traveling by taxi from the airport to the Detroit Marriott. If the $1.50 price of a bus ticket seems more attractive, here is information you will find helpful. Current city route descriptions and schedules are available on the Smart Bus Website, <www.smartbus.org>, or by calling customer information toll-free at (866) 962-5515, press 2 for customer information. They can also take orders for regular print, Braille, large print, or audio bus schedules. Audio schedules are available on CD or cassette.

The 125 bus route between our convention hotel and the airport, Fort Street to Eureka Road, follows:

Operates Monday through Sunday. Metro Airport-North Terminal and McNamara Terminal. Between Downtown Detroit and Metro Airport by Fort Street, West End, Jefferson, Outer Drive, Fort Street again, Eureka Road, Racho Road, Pardee Road, Eureka Road, Middlebelt Road, Goddard Road, and Rogell Drive—the access road to the airport. Hours of operation are 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Saturday, and 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Sunday. Total trip time from the airport to one block north of the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit is between seventy-five and eighty-five minutes, depending on traffic conditions.

You have several options for walking from the bus stop to the Renaissance Center. 1) Exit the bus at Fort and Cass and take the Downtown PeopleMover to the Renaissance Center Station. 2) Exit the bus on the far side of Randolph, walk south a half block on Randolph to a building entrance of the Millender Center, go to the second floor, and take the enclosed walkway to the Renaissance Center.

3) Exit the bus on the far side of Brush Street and walk one block south on Brush to Jefferson. Jefferson is divided, and it is impossible to cross both the eastbound and westbound lanes in one light cycle. Once on the south side of Jefferson, continue straight up the steps to the Renaissance Center main entrance. More adventurous travelers can turn right before entering the building and follow the 100 Tower around to the hotel entrance located on the west side of the building. It’s a half block west, then a half block south from the main Renaissance Center entrance to the main hotel and valet entrance.

Michael Patten provided this information. He is the ADA coordinator and travel trainer at SMART Travel, Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, 535 Griswold Street, #600, Detroit, Michigan 48226; (313) 223-2304 desk, <[email protected]>.

Please note that bus transportation within the city, which includes getting from the bus station or train station to the Detroit Marriott, is operated by the Detroit Department of Transportation (D-DOT), not SMART. Route and schedule information for D-DOT is available from (888) 336-8287.

Convention Hotel Cash Credit Policy:

Every year some people attending the national convention do not have a credit card to present to the hotel at check-in and want to pay cash or use debit cards linked to their bank accounts. If you are paying in actual currency, the hotel will want enough cash up front at check-in to cover your room and tax charges for the entire stay, plus a one-time $50 advance deposit for incidentals to cover meals, telephone calls, Internet charges, and other things you may charge to your room. The unused portion of the incidentals deposit will be returned. Unused cash deposits for incidentals are returned at checkout, and unused check deposits are returned by mail after your departure. Understand, however, that, if your incidentals charges exceed the $50 deposit credited, you will be responsible for payment of the full balance at checkout.

If you are using plastic, it is much better to use a credit card rather than a debit card when checking into the hotel, and we encourage you to do so. If you must use your debit card, however, remember that the hotel will put a hold on money in your checking account to cover the estimated potential balance of your stay at the Marriott for the entire room and tax charges for your stay plus the one-time $50 incidental deposit. You should be aware that the hold can therefore be a considerable sum and that you will not have access to that amount for other purchases or payments.

Holds can remain in effect for three to five days or even a week after you check out. If you have preauthorized payments from your bank account or you try to make a purchase with your debit card and it's refused, the hold from the hotel can cause you trouble or result in overdraft fees for purchases you thought you had money in your account to cover. Hotels also put holds on credit cards, by the way, but those are not often a problem unless they exceed your card’s credit limit.

This means that, if you use a debit card, you’d better be certain you have a high enough balance in your checking account when you come to convention to cover any debit card holds. (Some travelers even open a separate checking account used only for debits.) Remember, a hold will be placed on your debit card, regardless of the way you end up paying the bill, and the hold is not necessarily released right away, even if you pay with a credit card or cash when you check out of the hotel.

Attention Writers:

Robert Leslie Newman, president of the NFB Writers Division, reports that during national convention the Writers Division is hosting two events. The first is a workshop on Friday, July 3, from 1:00 until 3:00 p.m. with Lev Raphael, a Michigan author of fiction and nonfiction (Nick Hoffman mysteries and My Germany, a new book about his parents, who were Holocaust survivors). This event is open to everyone for a charge of $5 at the door. The Writers Division annual meeting is Sunday, July 5, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. If you are at all interested in the world of writing, please come join us.

Time to Prepare for the Braille Book Flea Market:

If you have gently used Braille Children's books that are no longer being used, the 2009 Braille Book Flea Market would love to find them a new home. At our 2009 national convention in Detroit, the Braille Book Flea Market will once again provide many young readers with Braille books to love and cherish at no cost to the children, so we need your children's books.

Please send your Braille books by U.S. mail to UPS, 29855 Schoolcraft, Livonia, Michigan 48150. Attention NFB―Hold for Book Fair. Books can be mailed using the Free Matter for the Blind privilege. If you have any questions, contact Peggy Chong at (515) 277-1288 or at <[email protected]>.

In Brief

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

Online Course Available:

Julie Goldbeck wants other Federationists to know that she is teaching a course called Introduction to Children’s Literature for ten clock hours. This is a self-paced course you can complete in the convenience of your own home or place of work. It is intended for educators. All that is required is Internet access. The course will cover all areas of children’s literature including special events in children’s literature, U.S. and international children’s literature awards, authors, illustrators, children’s book publishers, picture books, chapter books, middle grade, young adult, etc. To register, you can email the instructor, and she will email you the course materials. The course is offered through the instructor, Julie Goldbeck, MIT, <[email protected]>.

Special Week Vacation in Cancun:

American Star Travel offers blind and visually impaired people seven luxurious nights at the Oasis Cancun Hotel in Mexico from September 5 to September 12, 2009. The group will have private check-in at arrival and special tour orientation. Guide dogs are welcome.

The resort has something for everyone with up to twelve restaurants, large relaxation areas, one of the biggest swimming pools in Latin America, and tropical gardens. In addition to restaurants, it has eight bars, a nine-hole (par three) golf course, quay for nonmotorized sports, two tennis courts, multipurpose field, spa, and gymnasium. In addition Wi-Fi is available in both guest rooms and main areas.

Our all-inclusive plan rate includes room accommodations; unlimited food and drink (domestic and imported liquor); house wine; all resort fitness and recreation facilities (spa services not included); all resort activities and entertainment; nonmotorized water sports available at our marina, located lagoon-side; green fees at nine-hole golf course; private beach section; twenty-four-hour room service; Club Up and Down Dance Club; and taxes and gratuities. Not included are in-room safes, motorized water sports, night tennis and basketball, babysitting, massage and beauty services, telephone and fax charges, Internet access, laundry and dry cleaning, and outside tours and excursions.

The Oasis Cancun Hotel is located in the center of Cancun’s hotel zone, above a magnificent white sandy beach, very close to shopping centers, bars, and restaurants, only twenty-five minutes from the airport, and twenty minutes from Cancun’s downtown. Depending on the number in our group, American Star Travel will host a cocktail party on the first day to welcome and introduce group members to each other.

For more information or to book for this one-week adventure, call American Star Travel at (508) 815-4327. Fares for standard rooms start at $459, taxes included. Airline bookings are not included. All room rates are per person, based on double occupancy; triples are by request only. American Star Travel will arrange any special assistance needed in airport transfers and on your flights. You can arrange to stay as few as five nights or more than seven. To guarantee this fare, you must book not later than May 15, 2009. The earlier you book, the better airline fare you will get. For more information visit <www.cancun09.com>. Remember, since 2007 all American citizens must have a valid passport in order to reenter the country by air.

Monitor Mart

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

Braille Bible Available:

Braille King James translation of the Bible needs a new home. Complete edition in very good condition (eighteen volumes). Free to anyone who wants or needs it. Call Matt Lyles at (870) 837-2155 or email <[email protected]>.

NFB Pledge

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