Vol. 52, No. 7 July 2009
Barbara Pierce, editor
Daniel B. Frye, associate editor
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 52, No. 7 July 2009
On the Origin of Our Rights and Our Struggle
by Ari Ne’eman
Dear Mr. President
by Fredrick K. Schroeder
I Am Blind
by Ronza Othman
A Vision for the Future
by Hannah Adams
The Nature of Independence
by Kenneth Jernigan
A Choice of Virtues
by Deborah Kent
Canadian Cool to Tropical Tan
by Nancy Burns
Cruising Then and Now
by Jim Babb
by Neil Bernstein and Judith Dixon
by Daniel B. Frye
Ask Miss Whozit
Introducing Bridging the Gap: Living with Blindness and DiabetesMaking the World a More Readable Place
Copyright 2009 by the National Federation of the Blind
Through work with early intervention specialists; educators of the blind; and, most important, parents of blind children, the National Federation of the Blind aims to identify and address the most critical issues affecting young blind people and to develop priorities for the NFB Jernigan Institute. A theme that emerges over and over in this area is the lack of positive, appropriate early education for families with blind children. This is especially disturbing because research in early childhood education shows that the family has the greatest impact on child development. Parents are frequently told that their children are incapable of developing age-appropriately because of blindness, encouraging parents to lower their expectations and creating a vicious circle of learned helplessness. Because this circle can be overcome with effective early education, the Institute has made early childhood education a primary education initiative.
In order for parents to help their children become the best adults they can, they need a clear blueprint for success. This blueprint and many of the tools needed for its construction were presented in May to a group of parents of young blind children at the 2009 NFB Beginnings and Blueprints Early Childhood Conference held at the NFB Jernigan Institute, which jointly sponsored the conference with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. It included a number of early childhood resources and served more than thirty parents of blind children.
Families from several states filled their tool boxes as they attended a number of panels and breakout sessions. Such topics as play and exploration, early Braille and orientation and mobility instruction, and developing Individualized Family Service Plans filled the agenda. Attendees agreed that the panel of blind adults was one of the highlights of the conference. “What I Wish My Parents Had Known about Blindness” helped answer a lot of parents’ questions and provided an example of what they would like their children to grow up to be. The conference also included visits to the Independence Market, tours of the National Center, a cane walk, and an exhibit hall. It provided something for everyone as blind children and their sighted siblings participated in exciting child-care activities led by positive blind role-models. These included a rousing game of goal ball, hands-on art projects, and a visit to the Jacobus tenBroek Library. Having the children on site also allowed great interaction between families and presenters as well as lots of one-on-one instruction for parents with their children in orientation and mobility and active explorative play. It was a great sight to see toddlers getting their hands on a cane for the first time.
This was the second such conference the NFB Jernigan Institute has conducted. As is the goal with most of the Institute’s projects, this program aims to be a model for other states and regions interested in providing similar conferences. The education team at the NFB Jernigan Institute hopes later this fall to make many of the sessions and PowerPoints from this conference available online through its early childhood initiative page. The team also hopes to be a resource to states interested in facilitating their own conferences. To learn more, view pictures, or read comments from participants, visit <http://www.nfb.org/nfb/Parents_and_Young_Children.asp>.
by Ari Ne’eman
From the Editor: Ari Ne’eman is the founding president of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, a nonprofit organization of adults and youth on the autistic spectrum. He is currently a Sondheim scholar of public affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He delivered the luncheon address at the Jacobus tenBroek Law Symposium on April 17, 2009. This is what he said:
The past half century has seen a great proliferation in new kinds of conversation about rights. Once primarily relevant in the context of criminal justice and property disputes, rights-based discourses have expanded their scope throughout our society. We have civil rights, human rights, gay rights, women’s rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, commercial rights, social rights, privacy rights, animal rights, children’s rights, student rights, parental rights, and countless more. Though we may not all agree on the extent or even legitimacy of them, it cannot be disputed that we have broadened our global conception of the role for this concept called rights in our social, legal, economic, policy, and societal frameworks. Yet, at the same time as we have updated the role of rights-based conversations in our society, we remain with some very obsolete ideas about where rights come from. That holds us back.
We go out to the world and tell them in many ways that it is time for our rights to be realized. We talk about inclusion, we talk about integration, we talk about access, but when we are asked why, our answers are typically phrased in the language of either cost-benefit or desperate need. The one turns our civil rights struggle into a conversation on policy technicalities; the other evokes the very charity-oriented model of disability support that we have been trying to escape. Neither type of response brings the understanding and the knowledge necessary to communicate both the nature and the urgency of our priorities because both talk about rights without talking about where they derive. To legitimize our rights, we have to explain where they are from and so show that they do exist in the ways we talk about.
But from what do rights derive? That is the question. The Enlightenment political philosophy that our country was based on put forward the idea of a social contract, arrived at by individuals in a state of anarchy, determining to place some of their G-d-given natural rights in a central government for the purpose of securing the remaining ones. This theory carries with it much charm—it fits with our nation’s philosophy of government by the people, for the people; it recognizes and respects rights as inalienable, not temporal whims to be overridden by the first tyrant with a passing fancy. Unfortunately, it is anachronistic and also inaccurate. There has never been a state of nature, and our modern ideas of rights go far beyond the negative right protections against government intervention that are all this model allows for. The disability community would not be the only one left out by such a limited conception of rights, but we certainly would be one of the first and one of the worst served.
What does that leave us? Where do rights come from? The United States Declaration of Independence says that men are “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” I believe that to be true—for both men and women, it should be noted. And yet, for our purposes, this does not help us very much. Because the very reason we seek a source for rights in the first place is to help us understand what they are. Barring a theocracy tied to a particular holy text, the belief that rights are divinely inspired does not shed much light on their nature.
You, the people here gathered today, represent some of the most important leaders of a movement devoted to securing and advancing recognition of the rights that have been denied them for a segment of the global population, perhaps more extensively and more pervasively than for any other. For generations upon generations the very idea that our population was discriminated against, was deprived of rights, was not even on the agenda. Disability was—and in many senses still is—perceived as a problem that should be solved by charity, whose persistence could be blamed only on the lack of sufficient humanitarian instincts on the part of the public and the as yet too slow progression of medical science. Disability rights were not on the agenda as for other rights crusaders—that was a province for those who ministered to the poor unfortunates of the world, the sad accidents, the there-but-for-the-grace-of-G–d-go-I angels who gave of themselves and found meaning in those tragic burdens.
Then things started to change—not so much with the world, though it is starting, slowly and not yet by any means surely, but with ourselves. We stopped conceiving of our existences as mistakes, our misfortunes as G–d’s will, and our utility as being grateful for that which hath been given us. We got activated. We got interested. We got angry. We looked out on the world and found the blame for our misfortune lay not with G-d or with medical defects but with a society built up for centuries upon centuries without any thought to the prospect that people like us might live in it. In that moment–and we have each found it at different points in our lives—but in that moment we saw power abused, we saw injustice—in short, we saw wrongs, and so our rights were born. In that moment—that epiphany—the world changed for us, and disability rights were born.
The foundation of our legal system comes from something very similar. Why do we guarantee freedom of speech, freedom of petition, freedom of assembly, the right to a speedy and public trial or not to have troops quartered in one’s home? It is a direct outgrowth of our experiences with the British crown, and it was only once we had that experience with injustice that we could properly understand what justice looked like. A quick look across history will reveal much the same thing. Our national experience with slavery imprinted us with the right to freedom from forced servitude on the basis of race. The gains of the civil rights movement were not just the result of superior organization and a superb moral cause, they were our nation’s recognition—still partial—of the legacy of lynching, segregation, and racism. Anti-Semitism was driven from the country club to the conspiracy-theory fringe when knowledge of the Holocaust came into our homes. Gay rights have advanced because of public awareness of brutal hate crimes such as the torture and murder of Matthew Shepard. Rights come only from wrongs.
Let us be clear. This does not mean that we are purchasing social goods with our victimhood. There are those who would put it in those terms—the people who claim that we are owed something not because it is objectively just for us to receive it but because of our community’s having been deprived of something else that would justly have been ours. Many aspects of the disability policy framework built in decades past are built on that idea, the retributive model of disability. This is the concept behind much of our Social Security Disability infrastructure. The result of it has, in fact, been a form of inaccessible infrastructure unto itself, with individuals forced to swear, even as many are only just starting their lives, that they are incapable of ever working in meaningful employment in order for them to gain the government support necessary to survive. This system was built on old assumptions of dependency. It was built for the conversation about need, not for the one about rights and about justice. It is one of many examples of the kind of infrastructure we must radically alter if we hope to bring the conversation about disability into the twenty-first century. Another example can be found in the recently-signed-into-law ADA Amendments Act. For what reason did the disability community have to reestablish its original intent to work eighteen years after the ADA first came into effect, work once again for a considerable portion of the disability population? It is because the judges who wrote the narrow definition of disability that the amendments sought to fix interpreted the ADA as a law about charity—specifically charity for the most severely impaired—not justice for all those who are being discriminated against.
What does the idea of rights coming from wrongs imply then, if not compensation for having been victimized? It should show us what direction our advocacy should take, and, much more important, it should show the public the reason why our goals are important. For too long our civil rights movement acted by stealth. Even as we built tremendous political power and created civil rights laws and social welfare programs, we often did it, not by making a credible claim that this is the way the world should be, but by playing on the idea that society should show compassion and pity for the disabled. This was not entirely our fault. We’re dealing with media and, as a result, a general public that have not even begun to understand the nature and implications of disability rights. But, regardless of why we are here, we still have to deal with the results of having won our legal and political victories while bypassing the social ones that should have come first. The consequence is that our movement with all the progress it has brought is still seen, in most circles, as one of charity or, worse still, as a stopgap until—be it by eugenics, euthanasia, or medical cures—disability is no longer a part of the human experience. This is what Dr. tenBroek meant when he wrote about our “right to live in the world” and the failure of the broader community to accept that right.
This knowledge places our struggle for recognition of even our victories on the civil rights front in context. Why, almost twenty years after the ADA, do we still see such extensive discrimination and lack of access in employment and places of public accommodation? Why, ten years after Olmstead, do we still see institutions and nursing homes that are nearly impossible for our people to escape? Why, after “Deaf President Now” and many similar such actions are there so many disability organizations and groups that speak about us without us? Why after “Jerry’s Kids” and “Ransom Notes” and countless other examples of unethical fundraising and advertising tactics do we still see media campaigns that devalue our very personhood and cast us as less than human?
The answer is that when we come to the public with our demands of rights and speak those rights to the world with all the passion of our epiphany, the public see only part of the message. They see the demand for rights but not the wrongs from which the rights were born. They look at the individual who uses a wheelchair but cannot enter an inaccessible building and the autistic student who is excluded, as I myself have been, from his home school, and what they see is not an inaccessible infrastructure but needy, pitiful dependents. They may meet our immediate demands for laws and public programs because charity is still seen as necessary and good and proper by many well-meaning souls. However, the enforcement of those laws and the implementation of those programs will never be as urgent or as meaningful a priority to them as it is for the true civil rights movements.
To them this is still very much a conversation about need—not injustice. This is not a petty distinction. To have a conversation about justice is to call for a civil rights movement that all members of the human community should feel a moral obligation to join and support. To have a conversation about mere need is to call only for charity conducted mostly by those who usually do not feel that need themselves and have their own ideas about the manner in which it should be fulfilled.
I am reminded of an experience my group had when leading a protest against offensive advertisements depicting children with disabilities as kidnap victims posted across New York City. The campaign, called “Ransom Notes,” consisted of faux ransom notes from the disabilities that had taken the normal children that were supposedly once in the bodies of now disabled young people. We mobilized thousands of autistic people and those with other disabilities, brought support from two dozen national and regional disability rights organizations, and also garnered some support from sympathetic segments of the parent and professional community. Finally, after thousands of phone calls and emails, our story began to hit the media—with the UPI headline, “Ads Anger Parents of Autistic Children.”
Of course the story was accurately reported in other news sources, and we did succeed in getting the ads withdrawn, but there is a certain sense of frustration over the lack of agency that is allowed our community. Even when every single one of the organizations doing press outreach and explaining our case to the public was a consumer-controlled disability rights organization, the only available paradigm that the media could place this in was one in which we were only passive onlookers as our parents fought on our behalf. Every disability group and most disability rights activists have similar stories.
So, even as we spend more money and more political will on disability issues than we ever have before, we are limited in what we can achieve because the conversation is not one about justice, not one about recognizing wrongs and reforming the institutions that continue to commit them. It isn’t about putting power in the hands of the people who have been deprived of it. It is about charity and dependency and all of those other things that infantilize and marginalize us, controlled by those who speak for us on our behalf and without our permission.
The average member of the public does not know about Buck v. Bell or the tens of thousands of Americans with disabilities or perceived to have disabilities who were involuntarily sterilized as a result of the eugenics movement. They do not know about Willowbrook or the countless Americans with disabilities who have had to live out their whole lives in institutions—much less the many Americans with disabilities who still must suffer this segregation. The people in charge of our futures do not understand our history. They don’t see ADAPT calling out, “We Will Ride” or “Free Our People.” They don’t see “Deaf President Now” at Gallaudet. All they see is the Jerry Lewis MDA telethon or the Autism Speaks fear-mongering television advertisements or Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carey promoting pseudoscientific claims of pharmaceutical company-government conspiracies to poison their children with vaccines. It isn’t just because the money and the media power are in the hands of those other groups. It’s because the public narrative about disability doesn’t know where to place groups like mine and a movement like ours. The ideas about dependency run so deep, the charity and victim models are so ingrained, that the response of most reporters and members of the general public to our message is cognitive dissonance before pigeonholing our movement into whatever disability narrative is easiest for them to classify us in. Maybe this is why the disability movement has not yet had our Rodney King or Matthew Shepard moment. Since the concept of disabled people as suffering is a natural, normal, expected thing in the eyes of the media and the public, suffering brought on from discrimination or abuse is simply placed in the same, unfortunate-but-unavoidable category as all disability-related misfortunes tend to be.
A perfect example of this can be found in the Supreme Court’s Alabama v. Garrett decision, where the Court struck down Congress’s attempt to abrogate the sovereign immunity of the states from damages under ADA lawsuits on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to “identify a pattern of irrational state discrimination in employment against the disabled." To a slim majority of the justices of the Supreme Court, disability discrimination is not the result of having built infrastructures for only a portion of the population but a perfectly rational act that the equal protection clause cannot be expected to serve as a remedy for. To quote the Court, “The Fourteenth Amendment does not require States to make special accommodations for the disabled, so long as their actions toward such individuals are rational. They could quite hardheadedly—and perhaps hardheartedly—hold to job-qualification requirements which do not make allowance for the disabled. If special accommodations for the disabled are to be required, they have to come from positive law and not through the Equal Protection Clause.” Here, once again, disability rights are not matters of equal protection given to full citizens under the law; they are portrayed as matters of charity that good-hearted people engage in.
The good news is that this does show us what our next steps should be. It explains that the biggest obstacle for the disability rights movement’s ascent to the next level of rights discourse in America—placing us on a par with other minority groups based on race, religion, sexual orientation, and similar attributes—is the failure to take our message to the public. I’m pleased by the progress that we’re seeing in that direction in the growing Disability History movement, attempting to incorporate the history of people with disabilities and our civil rights struggle into the classroom just as the experiences of other American minority groups have been incorporated. In many ways finding a way to cement our past into the American national narrative will be the best way to ensure that we have a future. It is important for us to memorialize and to educate the public about the achievements of men such as Dr. Jacobus tenBroek as well as other disability leaders like Ed Roberts and Justin Dart, not just to pay respect to those who have gone before, but to show the world that we have a history of taking control over our own lives and that there is a real and legitimate civil rights movement of, by, and for people with disabilities. To quote Ed Roberts, “The greatest lesson of the civil rights movement is that the moment you let others speak for you, you lose.” Showing the world those parts of our past where we have confronted the wrongs that are being committed against us and have restored agency to our community is one way for us to take back our voice.
Another thing that we must do is begin to confront, and to confront vigorously, those organizations and groups that speak about us without us. When Jerry Lewis and Voice of the Retarded and Autism Speaks go to the public and claim to represent the needs and perspectives of the disability community with their calls for more pity, more segregation, more eugenics, and more distance from our dream of being recognized as equal citizens in this society, they perpetrate an obscenity upon us. This obscenity nevertheless has use in that it teaches us about how important to the disability rights movement it is for us to take control of our own message and our own community. We must organize not just around laws but around the public conversation on disability, confronting those corporate donors and political infrastructures that give support to these repressive, fear-mongering groups that challenge our right to live in this world. To quote Dr. tenBroek himself, “There are…large and powerful agencies abroad in the land, considerable in number and vast in influence, which remain hostile to our movement in thought, in speech, and in action. Under the guise of professionalism, [they] would perpetuate colonialism. [Their] philosophy is a throwback to the age of the silent client, before the revolution in welfare and civil rights, which converted the client into an active and vocal partner in the programming and dispensing of services. In…[their]…lofty disregard of the organized blind as the voice of those to be served, [they] betray bureaucratic bias that is…[an]…image of the blind client not as a person to be served but as a defective mechanism to be serviced.”
Finally, in order to communicate our message to the public, we must also realize that the most effective social change comes not from activist groups but from individuals and from individual discussion. For the public to understand that the disability message is a civil rights message, they must hear that message from their friends, their family members with disabilities, and their coworkers with disabilities. Beyond this, for us to accomplish that, we must succeed in broadening the base of the disability rights movement to encompass a broader scope of people with disabilities. There remain too many people with disabilities who do not yet have the chance to participate in our community and whose identity is explained to them only in medical terms. We must broaden our community and give every disabled person access to the disability culture and perspective. I would like to end by quoting American philosopher Henry David Thoreau, who said, “You have built castles in the clouds. Now you must build foundations underneath them.” As we talk about how to imprint the American public with the meaning and message of the disability rights movement, we talk about what must be done to build the foundations that will show that our vision is no dream. This is what we must do. This is what we can do. This is what we will do. Thank you for your attention, and I look forward to working with all of you to bring that dream to reality.
by Fredric K. Schroeder
From the Editor: Attention everyone who believes in Braille. We need your help immediately if you have a compelling personal story about Braille in your life. Read on for all the details:
So far our Braille Readers are Leaders initiative has been a resounding success. We have sold so many Braille coins that we have exceeded the mint’s production schedule, and at the time of this writing the coins are currently back-ordered by as much as six weeks. We have distributed tens of thousands of Braille alphabet cards, held dozens of events in celebration of Braille, and appeared in newspapers all across the country. Our campaign has achieved so much momentum that we have even been able, with the help of NASA, to send two Louis Braille commemorative silver dollars into space.
Our work, however, is far from complete. In order to sell all 400,000 Braille coins by the end of 2009, we must continue to spread the word about the importance of our campaign. Today far too many blind children and adults are being refused Braille instruction by both schools and rehabilitation agencies, and many who are receiving a Braille education are given inadequate instruction. The Braille literacy crisis in this country must be brought to an end, and we must make it happen. We are the experts in blindness, and it is our knowledge and experience that will shape the future for blind people everywhere.
Many who have not received quality instruction in Braille can tell compelling stories of missed opportunities and difficulties at school or on the job arising from their lack of Braille. Others who have experienced a full education in Braille can tell stirring success stories of the way literacy has changed their lives and helped them to participate fully in society. Our goal is to collect these stories—the inspiring and the compelling, the positive and the negative—and compile them into a book about Braille literacy. From the submissions we receive we will select one hundred of the most powerful stories for our book, and the author of each chosen testimonial will receive a free Louis Braille commemorative silver dollar.
If you have been educated in Braille either in school or through a rehabilitation agency and you lead a productive life because of this knowledge, or if you have been denied Braille instruction at any point and you believe your life has been affected by the struggles you have faced in becoming literate in Braille, the world needs to hear your story. If you are a parent or teacher who has seen the positive effect Braille can have on your children or students, your story needs to be told.
On October 1, the first day of Meet the Blind Month, we will present our collected stories to President Barack Obama, demonstrating through our own voices the power of Braille literacy for all blind Americans. We will share our hopes and dreams with him; we will tell him about the struggles we have faced in becoming literate and the success that has come from our knowing Braille. Through our personal stories we will show him that Braille provides independence to blind people and makes us free.
One of the major goals of the Braille Readers are Leaders initiative has been to educate the public about the importance of Braille for all blind people. We have accomplished this through media exposure and word of mouth. We have educated our local and national legislators about the necessity for Braille instruction. By reaching out to the highest office in the United States, we can teach President Obama about the critical link between Braille and independence. If we can enlist his leadership, we can insure a brighter future for Braille literacy.
We need your help in sending this message. To add your story to our collection, please send it by August 28 in print or Braille to Letters to President Obama, c/o National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230. Be sure to include your full name, address, phone number, and email address if you have one. You can also submit your story online by visiting <www.braille.org> and clicking the link entitled “Letters to President Obama.” If we decide actually to publish this collection of letters, contributor contact information will be omitted.Whether we are seeking competitive employment, a quality education, or integration into society, Braille is key to our success. It is the crucial component that enables us to be literate and productive, and it is necessary for our independence. We must take the initiative and inform the president about the absolute importance Braille plays in each of our lives. Working with one another, the president, and the public, we will bring an end to the literacy crisis.
by Ronza Othman
From the Editor: By the time you are reading this, the 2009 Motor City March on the morning of July 6 will be history. At this writing, mid-May, we have no idea how much money will have been raised. We can be sure that well over a thousand people will have marched the three miles and enjoyed the camaraderie of shared endeavor and rousing presentations. In an effort to solicit contributions from friends and family many of us will have written letters inviting financial support. The following letter was one of these efforts. It was so effective and inspiring that we thought others might take heart and learn from it.
Ronza Othman has been a leader in the Chicago Chapter and the Illinois affiliate. She is a practicing attorney who recently took a prestigious job with the federal government and now lives in Baltimore. This is what she wrote to friends and family under the title “I Am Blind”:
Once upon a time those were three words I couldn't say. To be blind meant to be incapable, to be weak, to be flawed, to be broken. But I've learned that I was wrong. I am blind, and I am whole. I have potential, I have plans, and I need your help to help others find that they can say "I am blind" too.
I grew up using my limited vision to try to get along as though I was sighted. That meant I stumbled over curbs; now my cane tells me they're there so I can keep walking without breaking stride. I went to bed every night with a headache from the eye strain caused by trying to read regular print; now I read more quickly than my family members and well into the night using my talking software and Braille books. I was afraid to leave my house at night without someone to hold on to; now I come and go as I please (though Mom's still my boss and imposes curfews). I never traveled far from my house independently; this year alone I moved across the country to accept a new job, leaving behind my support system and everyone who ever guided me. Since I've learned independent mobility skills, I've traveled to Mexico, Hawaii, the United Kingdom, and the Caribbean, as well as throughout the United States both for work and pleasure.
What has changed? My attitude, my skills, my confidence, and as a result my life has changed. Why? Because the National Federation of the Blind found me. A few years ago I received an NFB scholarship. I went to a convention and met people who were blind (yes, even blinder than me), and I learned from them. They were doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, pharmacists, rehabilitation professionals, students, spouses, parents, travelers, pioneers. They had something I lacked—belief in their abilities and faith in the blind community. They helped me to accept my blindness, so I went from a "visually deficient" person to a blind one. That was the most liberating event of my life.
So I learned from them, gained from them, befriended them. Now they are my teachers, my family, and my inspiration. I found my mentor through this organization, and I have found my best friends. I found a place where I could fit in, no matter what. They attached the name of their organization to me all those years ago when they gave me money as proof they believed I could be a successful lawyer. They taught me, by example and through nagging, that, if I learned blindness skills like the use of the long white cane and Braille, I could be more efficient and effective. So I absorbed, I pondered, and eventually I accepted who I was and what I could do given the proper tools.
So you see, I am a government official because I was introduced to other government officials who serve our country with pride and effectiveness regardless of blindness. I have been a successful litigator because the NFB gave me a scholarship and taught me how it could be done. I am an independent traveler because someone put a cane in my hand and taught me to use it. I am a faster reader and a deeper thinker because someone taught me Braille. I am a stronger advocate because people advocated for me until I learned how to self-advocate. I am confident because I learned who I really was instead of who I was trying to be. I am happier because of the family that's adopted me.
Now I need your help. Thousands and thousands of people are out there in the world just as unenlightened as I used to be. I need you to help me march toward opportunity for them. I need you to support me as a marcher so that I can help change the life of someone too. I need you to help me pay it forward.
I will be marching on July 6, 2009, in Detroit, Michigan, along with thousands of blind and sighted people in the NFB's March for Independence—a Walk for Opportunity. I'm asking you to sponsor me in this event. Your money will help the organization that helped me in a thousand little ways and in many more big ways. Please support me in trying to pay the organization back by paying it forward. Thank you, friends, for your support in my journey. If you can't walk with me in person on July 6, please walk with me in spirit by supporting me financially.
by Hannah Adams
From the Editor: The following article is reprinted with permission from the May-June 2009 issue of LifeGlow, a magazine published by Christian Record Services of Lincoln, Nebraska. Though the Nebraska adult training center is not operated by the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska, Federationists are active in its administration and operation, and the NFB’s philosophy of blindness and belief in the abilities of blind people shines through in this story. Here it is:
Fear would have driven many out of the room—sighted and blind alike. Not Alex. Smooth pieces of wood taken from a poplar tree wait on the table before him. Wood essence permeates the surrounding area jumbled with equipment—a band saw, table saw, drill press, and many other woodworking tools sit ready for use.
The Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired doesn't kid around. Empowering people who are blind, promoting opportunities, and building belief in oneself is more than just the organization's motto. "We want people to be totally confident in their life, not just pass by," says Fatos Floyd, director of the Nebraska Center for the Blind, a part of the Commission. "Anybody can pass by. But are we on this earth for that? I'm not."
Teaching woodshop skills (see cover photo), an area that often creates anxiety, is only one of many services offered by the commission. "If I can run a power tool, I can do anything," Floyd laughs. But thirty-four years ago Floyd couldn't run a power tool—or even function independently in day-to-day situations. The summer before she was to start at Bosphorus University in Turkey, two brain surgeries left her completely blind. Unwilling to give away her hard-earned spot at the institution, Floyd pressed ahead and graduated a few years later with a double major in psychology and teaching. "After I finished, I realized I was one of the most educated, but most illiterate persons in Turkey," she recalls. "I couldn't read and write, and I was functionally illiterate."
Moving to America, Floyd attended what was then called Arkansas Enterprises for the Blind, now Lions World Services for the Blind. By age twenty-four she had learned basic life skills, including Braille—opening up an entire new world for her to experience. For the past fourteen years Floyd has directed the Nebraska center to give others a similar chance at a self-sufficient life.
“Society in general believes that blindness is something to be feared, that blind people are helpless and hopeless," Floyd explains. "There are a lot of misconceptions. So, if we live in such a society, we begin to believe these things. We need to educate. It is not out of negativity that people say that blind people are helpless and hopeless—it is out of ignorance. People do not understand how a blind person will live a productive life."
Blind individuals are shattering stereotypes. Erik Weihenmayer, blind since the age of thirteen, has climbed the seven highest mountains in the world. In 1997 he got married at the height of 13,000 feet on Mount Kilimanjaro. In England private pilot Jim O'Neill was blinded due to a sudden stroke while flying. However, he was able to safely land his aircraft with aid from the Royal Air Force.
"We have people doing really interesting jobs, jobs that people might think you need vision to do," Floyd says. "The only jobs that I do believe blind people cannot do are truck driving and car driving. We know that blind people can do things. The reason they're not isn't blindness. Society believes the myths and misconceptions about blind people."
It isn't easy changing society's views. Movies and books portray people who are blind as incompetent. As the visually impaired are a minority, the sighted don't often meet a person who is blind or get to see how successful many truly are. Ignorance harms all involved, even in the form of compliments. "We forget you're blind, because you act so natural," Floyd was told during a meeting with other master's-level professionals. "Well, I forget you're a woman because you drive so well," she shot back.
Floyd says that, before offering a supposed compliment, people should think about what they're getting ready to say. "When you make a comment about blind people, if you just change the blindness to another minority—woman or Jewish or whatever—then you begin to realize it's really not a compliment that you're saying. It's really putting that group down," the center director explains.
In Lincoln people who are blind work hard at changing, not only perceptions, but also their own lives. Considered one of the top four centers in the United States, the Nebraska Center for the Blind is a busy place. Ninety percent of the clients live in apartments downtown and commute each day to the center, where their training course may last anywhere from nine to twelve months. How do they make it to and from the center?
Jeff Altman, a tower beside the tiny, vivacious Floyd, trains students in cane travel techniques. Clients learn everything from basic long cane use to locating street addresses and using Lincoln's bus system. Altman doesn't teach specific routes, such as going to the post office. Instead he gives clients skills they can use anywhere.
"Jeff has a good analogy. Imagine us dropping you with a parachute in Turkey. You've never been there and don't know a word of Turkish," Floyd says. "We can drop you by yourself—nobody there to help you. At the end of the year you will have learned Turkish, but will have gotten into a lot of trouble. Or we can drop you with a native Turk whose second language is English and they can interpret everything. Would you learn Turkish by the end of the year? No. Our way is that we will drop you with someone else. They will teach you the basics but then let you practice things by yourself."
That philosophy guides the way the students learn everything, not just travel. From navigating buffet lines to communication—such as handwriting and computer programs like Excel—students begin with 100 percent assistance from the instructors. But by the end of the year students are able to accomplish it all by themselves. "We teach the basic structure but set it up so people have a time and place to practice what they learn and problem-solve by themselves," Floyd says. Instead of teaching the students how to brown a burger, for example, Cindy Zimmer, home management instructor, teaches them how to tell when the burger is brown. Many of the center's clients were previously sighted and must learn alternative ways of managing.
"When you're at a party and you're the only blind person, guess how many people are looking at you?" Floyd asks. "Everybody. We need to realize that it's okay; I don't care if people look at me. But we are representing, as one person, the whole group. It is a big thing to carry on our shoulders, but that is the reality. From one blind person others are going to deduce that all blind people are like that."
The sense of responsibility may seem heavy, and, although Floyd jokingly refers to the center as a boot camp, the clients' search for independence is often full of laughter and fun. They attend cultural activities, such as local theaters and festivals, as well as work on community projects. Jokes are cracked in the classroom; meals made by clients are set up for newcomers as well as entered into cooking competitions. The family-like atmosphere pushes students toward an assurance that soon becomes integral to who they are.
"Blind people need to have the confidence in themselves to go into an interview and say, `You will benefit from hiring me. This is not a hand-out. I will do a good job,'" Floyd explains. It's not just the feeling of self-assurance the center teaches. The practical ways of successfully living instead of simply existing are paramount to the operation. Some things aren't written in a guide somewhere and must be discovered along the way.
At one point a client asked, "Can a blind person be a waiter?" The dining room was then set up as a restaurant, and he was given four tables to wait on. Calling last names, just as in a regular restaurant, Floyd played the role of a hostess. "What would be the most functional way of taking orders?" the group asked one another. Slate and stylus wouldn't be practical to carry around. A digital recorder, however, turned out to be the perfect solution. "He served all of us that day, and realized, 'Yeah, it can be done,'" Floyd says.
The Nebraska Center for the Blind continues to teach its students important skills. A wooden desk taking form in front of Alex, a middle-aged client, is a tangible representation of what he's learning at the center. "I'm gaining confidence to know that I'm working on these tools with no guards or anything, and that I can do it," he explains. As Alex picks up his woodworking tool, he begins shaping his future. Fear is not an option.
An Address Delivered by Kenneth Jernigan
at the Annual Convention of the
National Federation of the Blind
Dallas, Texas, Tuesday, July 6, 1993
From the Editor: I was lucky enough to be in his office when Kenneth Jernigan received letters from students at the Louisiana Center for the Blind questioning him about his independence. Dr. Jernigan was never loath to tackle a complex issue or piece of criticism, and yes, though the letters were polite, they were definitely critical. Dr. Jernigan immediately began reading them to people and discussing the ideas they contained and the issues they raised. The letter he wrote to the students became the foundation of one of the most influential speeches he ever delivered. It is fitting that he gave the speech on Jacobus tenBroek’s birthday in 1993. Though the speech is always to be found on the NFB Website, it has been many years since it appeared in these pages. It is well for us all to remember and take to heart Dr. Jernigan’s wise words about the nature of independence. Here they are:
Shortly after last year's convention, I received a number of letters from students at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. It was clear that the letters were written as the result of discussions held at the center and that, although the apparent topic was independent mobility, the real issue was independence in general and how blind persons should live and behave. I want to share those letters with you, then tell you how I answered them, and finally say a few things about what I think independence really is. The letters are all dated July 23, 1992. Here is a composite of them:
Dear Dr. Jernigan:
I am a sophomore in high school. Right now I am in a teenage program that the Louisiana Center for the Blind is sponsoring. It is the STEP program. That means Summer Training and Employment Project. We are allowed to get jobs and make money as well as have classes.
A few weeks ago I attended the national convention. I really enjoyed all your speeches and everything. People noticed that you and Mr. Maurer walked sighted guide sometimes, [I interrupt to call your attention to the almost code-word use of the term “sighted guide.” Not “walking with a sighted guide” or “walking with a sighted person” or “holding the arm of a sighted person,” but “walking sighted guide.” This makes it clear that the concept of “sighted guide” has been the topic of considerable conversation. But back to the letter.] and we thought you all would never walk sighted guide, because you all are so highly involved in the NFB. I never thought sighted guide was OK until then. So why did you all use sighted guide? I know there are many reasons why this might be. We discussed this in one of our talk times and came up with one reason this might be. We know that you all have to be at meetings all the time, and it would be faster if you would use sighted guide. [I interrupt again to call your attention to the use in the following sentences of the depersonalized “it.” Now, back to the letter.] I am sure you don't use it so much that you lose your cane travel skills. I am not trying to say this is wrong. I was just wondering why you do this. Someone brought up that if we, as the people being trained at the moment, were caught using sighted guide, they would fuss at us. And I realize that you are not the one in training, so it is not wrong. We couldn't use sighted guide, because we might want to use it more than the cane if we use too much of it.
Dear Dr. Jernigan:
During this past convention in North Carolina some of us noticed that you did not walk with a cane. I do not understand this at all. I can understand that you have to be in many places in a short amount of time at the conventions, and that might be the reason you went sighted guide. But I also know that, when you came for a tour of the center, you also went sighted guide. We do not understand this.
We all have our own theories as to why you went sighted guide, but we want to get the correct answer straight from the horse's mouth.
Your fellow Federationist,
That's a very clear-cut letter, and I am pleased to be called that end of the horse. Here is the last one:
Dear Dr. Jernigan:
This year I came to Charlotte to attend my third national convention of the NFB. I am currently a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind in the STEP program for blind teenagers. This program stresses cane use, Braille literacy, employment readiness, and self-confidence based on achievement. While at the convention I heard from a friend that you were never actually seen using your cane. I discussed this with a group of friends, and it was decided that you most likely had many places to go and had to get to them quickly. This made sense, and the question seemed settled. Then one of the group remembered you using sighted guide during a tour you took of the center while passing through Ruston on the way to the Dallas convention in 1990. This was such a hectic situation, and the question was no longer settled because the only alternative travel technique anyone noticed you using was sighted guide.
I do not mean this letter to imply any disrespect towards you, the Federation, or its many achievements. If the Federation had not pushed so hard for independence for the blind, I would have no grounds on which to write this letter. It is because of my own personal convictions about independence that I ask why the figurehead of the NFB is not himself using the alternative techniques that his student, Joanne Wilson, has been teaching for nearly ten years in Ruston.
I would prefer to end the letter on a positive note. I realize that you are responsible for the training I am currently receiving, and I am grateful for it. I am not implying that you have no cane skills, because I do not honestly know.
These are straightforward letters, seriously written. They raise fundamental questions, questions that deserve a reasoned answer. Here is the expanded substance of what I wrote:
July 29, 1992
Under date of July 23, 1992, the three of you wrote to ask me why I didn't travel alone with a cane during the national convention in Charlotte and why on a visit to the Louisiana Center in 1990 I took a sighted person's arm instead of walking alone with a cane. I appreciate your letters and will tell you why I do what I do.
In the first place let us assume that I didn't have any cane travel skills at all. This might be comparable to the situation of a parent who had no education but dreamed of an education for his or her child. That parent might preach the value of education and might work to send the child to high school and then to college. The parent might, though personally uneducated, feel tremendous satisfaction at the learning and accomplishment which his or her effort had made possible. In such circumstances what attitude should the child have toward the parent? The child might be critical of the parent for his or her poor grammar and lack of education and might even be ashamed to associate with the parent—or the child might feel gratitude for the sacrifice and the work that had made the education possible.
This is not an apt analogy since I have perfectly good cane skills, but it has elements of truth about it. When I was a child, there were no orientation centers or mobility training. The only canes available were the short heavy wooden type, and we youngsters associated carrying a cane with begging, shuffling along, and being helpless.
It was not until I finished college and had taught for four years in Tennessee that I first carried a cane. It was made of wood and had a crook handle. I might also say that it was longer than most of those in vogue at the time, forty inches. I started using it in 1953, just before going to California to work at the newly established state orientation center for the blind. The center had been in operation for only a few months and had enrolled only four or five students by the time of my arrival.
In those days the California center was using forty-two-inch aluminum canes. They were a tremendous improvement over the forty-inch wooden cane I had been carrying, and I immediately adopted the new model. Even so, it seemed that something better was needed. I worked with the person who had been employed as the travel teacher, and we experimented with different techniques and canes.
In the mid-1950s the solid fiberglass cane was developed. It was first made by a blind man in Kansas, but we at the California center popularized it and brought it into general use. We also worked to improve the tip. Our students received intensive training, those with any sight using blindfolds (or, as we called them, sleepshades), and our students and graduates were identifiable in any group of blind persons because of their competence and ease in travel. Since they had enjoyed the benefit of our study and experimentation, as well as intensive instruction and the time to practice, many of them probably became better travelers than I—and I felt pride and satisfaction in the fact. We were advancing on the road to freedom and independence.
In 1958 I went to Iowa as director of the state commission for the blind, and I carried with me the experience and knowledge I had acquired in California plus a forty-eight-inch fiberglass cane and a head full of new ideas and hopes for the future. I hired a young sighted man who had no experience at all with blindness and spent several days giving him preliminary instruction in mobility, using blind techniques. First I had him follow me all over Des Moines, watching me use the cane while crossing streets and going to various places. Then he put on sleepshades, and I worked with him to learn basic skills. Next I sent him to California for three or four weeks to gain further experience and to compare what I had taught him with what the California center was doing. Finally he came back to Des Moines, and I spent several more weeks working with him until (though sighted) he could (under blindfold) go anywhere he wanted safely and comfortably using a cane.
During all of that time I worked with him on attitudes, for, unless one believes that he or she is capable of independence as a blind person, independence in travel (as in other areas) is not truly achievable. This travel instructor's name is Jim Witte, and he developed into one of the best I have ever known.
Iowa students rapidly became the envy of the nation. You could single them out in any group because of their bearing, their confidence, and their skill in travel. As had been the case in California, some of them undoubtedly traveled better than I, and I felt a deep sense of fulfillment in the fact. Joanne Wilson (the director of your own Louisiana Center) was one of those students, and I am sure she has told you how it was at the Iowa center—how students were treated, what was expected of them, the relationship between staff and students, our dreams for the future, and how we set about accomplishing those dreams. Arlene Hill (one of your teachers) was also an Iowa student. Both Joanne and Arlene are living examples of what we taught and how it worked. So are President Maurer, Mrs. Maurer, Peggy Pinder, Ramona Walhof, Jim Gashel, Jim Omvig, and at least fifty others in this audience.
It was in Iowa that we developed the hollow fiberglass cane. It was an improvement over the solid cane, lighter and more flexible. We also gradually began to use longer and longer canes. They enabled us to walk faster without diminishing either safety or grace. As I have already told you, I started with a forty-inch wooden cane. Then I went to forty-two-inch aluminum—and after that to solid fiberglass, then to hollow fiberglass, and (three or four years ago) to hollow carbon fiber. As to length, I went from forty inches to forty-two, then to forty-five, forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty-one, fifty-three, fifty-five, and fifty-seven. At present I use a fifty-nine-inch cane. It seems about right to me for my height and speed of travel. Will I ever use a still longer cane? I don't know—but at this stage I don't think so. Obviously there comes a time when a longer cane is a disadvantage instead of a help.
I've told you all of this so that you may understand something of my background and approach to independence in travel, and independence in general. The doctors who established the medical schools a hundred years ago were (with notable exceptions) not generally as competent and skilled as the doctors they trained, for they did not have the benefit of the kind of concentrated teaching they themselves were providing. Obviously they could not stand on their own shoulders. Through their students they extended their dreams into the future, building possibilities that they themselves had not known and could never hope to realize.
So it is with me in relation to you. You are the third generation of our mobility trainees, having the benefit of what I have learned and also of what Joanne and the other Iowa graduates have learned. Unless you make advances over what we have done, you will, in a very real sense, fail to keep faith with those who have gone before you and those who will follow. In this context I would expect and hope that some of you will become better travelers (and, perhaps, better philosophers and teachers) than I, and if you do, I will take joy in it.
Having said all of this, let me come back to my own travel skills. During the 1950s I traveled completely alone on a constant basis throughout this entire country, going to almost every state and dealing with almost every kind of environment—urban area, city bus, taxi, complicated street crossing, rural setting, hired private car, country road, and almost anything else you can imagine. During late December and early January of 1956 and 1957, for example, I traveled alone to fourteen states in eleven days, writing testimony for the NFB's Right to Organize bill. It was no big deal and not something I thought about very much. It was simply a job that had to be done, and the travel was incidental and taken for granted. I have taught travel instructors and have developed new techniques and canes. I travel whenever and wherever I want to go in the most convenient way to get there—and sometimes that means alone, using a cane.
Once, when I was in Iowa, students observed that I walked to a barber shop one day with another staff member, and they raised with me some of the same questions you have raised. That afternoon in our business class (you may call it by some other name—philosophy or something else) I dealt with the matter. I told the students some of the things I have told you, and then I went on to say something like this: “Although what I have told you should mean that, even if I couldn't travel with much skill at all, I might still not merit your criticism, we don't need to leave it at that. Follow me. We are going to take a walk through downtown traffic—and see that you keep up.”
I took the lead, and we walked for eight or ten blocks at a fast clip. When we got back to the classroom, I didn't need to tell them what kind of travel skills I had. They knew.
Then we talked about why I had walked to the barber shop with another staff member. In that particular instance I had matters to discuss, and I felt I couldn't afford the luxury of doing nothing while going for a haircut. As a matter of fact, in those days I often made a practice of taking my secretary with me to the barber shop and dictating letters while getting my hair cut. Of course I could have made a point of walking alone each time just to make a visible demonstration of my independence, but somehow I think that such insecurity might have made the opposite point and would certainly have been counterproductive.
In the Iowa days I was not only director of the state Commission for the Blind but also first vice president and then president of the National Federation of the Blind. Both were full-time jobs, requiring me to use to best advantage every waking minute. I was up before 6:00 to go to the gym with the men students; I wrote over a hundred letters a week; I entertained legislators and other civic leaders an average of two or three nights a week to gain support for our program; I traveled throughout the state to make speeches; and I spent long hours working individually with students. Besides that, I handled the administrative details of the commission and the NFB on a daily basis. At the same time I was doing organizing in other states and dealing with problems brought to me by Federationists throughout the country.
In that context it would have been a bad use of my time (and both Federationists and Iowa students and staff would have thought so) for me to spend much of my day walking down the street to make a visible show of my independent travel skills. I traveled alone when I needed to, and I gave demonstrations to students, legislators, and others when I needed to do that—but I never did either to convince myself or to establish in my own mind the fact of my capacity or independence. It didn't seem necessary.
So what about the NFB convention in Charlotte? I was in charge of convention organization and arrangements, and there were a thousand details to handle. There were four hotels and a convention center, each with its own staff and each requiring separate handling and a myriad of decisions. Sometimes I had not only one but two or three people with me as I went from place to place, talking about what had to be done and sending this person here and that person yonder.
Even so, I might (you may say) have refused to take the arm of one of the persons with me and used my cane to walk alone. But for what reason? When a blind person is walking through a crowd or down a street with somebody else and trying to carry on a meaningful conversation, it is easier to take the other person's arm. This is true even if you are the best traveler in the world and even if both of you are blind.
In fact I contend that there are times when refusing to take an arm that is offered may constitute the very opposite of independence. If, for instance, you are a blind person accompanying a sighted person through a busy restaurant closely packed with tables and chairs, do you create a better image of independence by trying to get through the maze alone, with the sighted person going in front and constantly calling back, “This way! This way!” or by simply taking the sighted person's arm and going to the table? What is better about following a voice than following an arm? From what I have said, I presume it is clear which method I favor. Of course, if no arm is conveniently available, you should be prepared to use another method, regardless of how crowded the restaurant or how labyrinthine the path. In either case you should do it without losing your cool.
But back to the convention. When you are trying to get through crowds quickly to go from meeting to meeting and possibly also trying to find different people in those crowds in a hurry, the efficiency of sighted assistance multiplies. Incidentally, even if I were sighted and doing the things I do at national conventions, I would want two or three persons with me—to look for people in crowds, to send for this and that, and to talk and advise with.
As an example consider what happened at last year's convention with respect to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander. He has normal eyesight and is in every other way, so far as I know, able-bodied and energetic. I am sure that he can drive a car and walk vigorously. Yet he sent an assistant to Charlotte a day in advance of his arrival. The assistant scouted out the convention and then went to the airport to meet the secretary. The assistant drove the car from the airport to the convention, accompanied the secretary into the meeting hall, went with him to the platform, met him at the edge of the platform when he finished speaking, and drove him back to the airport. If the secretary had been blind, I wonder if somebody would have said, “Just look! He's not independent. He has to have a sighted person with him at all times, accompanying him everywhere he goes and driving his car.”
Since I am not a student trying to learn to travel independently or to establish within my own mind that I can compete on terms of equality with others, and since I can and do travel by myself when that is most convenient, I feel no particular obligation to make a demonstration when it is more efficient to do otherwise. If I were a student, I should and would behave differently. As an example, I think a student should always use a rigid (not a collapsible) cane. But I generally use one that is collapsible. Why? Students are often uncomfortable with canes, and, if they are allowed to use those that fold or telescope, they may tend to hide or conceal them because they think (even if subconsciously) that it will make them look less conspicuous. I have carried a cane for so long that I would feel naked without it, and I always carry one whether I am with somebody or not. Because they were so rickety, I refused to carry a collapsible cane until we developed the telescoping carbon fiber model. I pull it to such a tight fit that it doesn't collapse as I use it, and I almost never collapse it unless I'm in close quarters. Again, it is a convenience, and my sense of independence is not so brittle that I think I have to carry the rigid cane to prove to myself or others that I am not ashamed to be seen with it or uncomfortable about blindness.
When I was teaching orientation classes in California and Iowa, I often said to those in attendance that students at a center tend to go through three stages: fear and insecurity, rebellious independence, and normal independence—FI, RI, and NI. During fear and insecurity one tends to be ultra cautious and afraid of everything, even if at times putting on a good front. During rebellious independence one tends to be overly touchy, resenting anybody who attempts to offer him or her any kind of assistance at all, even when the assistance is appropriate and needed. In the rebellious independence stage one is likely to be a pain in the neck, both to himself or herself and others—but this is a necessary step on the road from fear and insecurity to normal independence. Unfortunately some people never get beyond it.
Hopefully one will eventually arrive at the stage of normal independence, with relatively little need constantly to prove either to oneself or others that one is capable of independence and first-class citizenship. This means maturity in dealing with condescending treatment, and it also means flexibility in accepting or rejecting offers of assistance, kindness, or generosity. Sometimes such things should be graciously or silently taken, sometimes endured, and sometimes rejected out of hand—but the reason should never be because you doubt your own worth, have inner feelings of insecurity, or wonder whether you are inferior because of blindness.
Normal independence also means not rationalizing your fear or inability by saying that you are just doing what is convenient and efficient and that you don't feel the need to prove something when in reality you are just covering up the fact that you are as helpless as a baby—and it means not going so far the other way and being so touchy about your so-called independence that nobody can stand to be around you. It means getting to the place where you are comfortable enough with yourself and secure enough with your own inner feelings that you don't have to spend much time bothering about the matter one way or another. It means reducing blindness to the level of a mere inconvenience and making it just one more of your everyday characteristics—a characteristic with which you must deal just as you do with how strong you are, how old you are, how smart you are, how personable you are, and how much money you have. These are the goals, and probably none of us ever achieves all of them all of the time. Nevertheless, we are making tremendous progress—and we are farther along the road now than we have ever been.
I am pleased that you wrote me, and I am especially pleased that you are able to receive training at the Louisiana Center. It is grounded in Federation philosophy, and it is one of the best. You are getting the chance while you are young to learn what blindness is really like, and what it isn't like. You have the opportunity to profit from the collective experience of all of us— the things we tried that didn't work, and those that did. On the foundation of love and organizational structure which we have established, you can make for yourselves better opportunities than we have ever known—and I pray that you will. The future is in the hands of your generation, and I hope you will dream and work and build wisely and well.
That is what I wrote, and there have been a number of subsequent developments. One person, hearing these letters, said, “I can see your point, but don't you think you should try to be a role model?”
To which I replied, “I thought that was what I was doing.” Then there was the letter I got about a month ago from a person who attended a seminar at the National Center for the Blind last Christmas. She said in part:
The discussion about the letter from the students at the Louisiana Center for the Blind has stuck with me and helped me in two ways. I no longer feel the deep embarrassment I had been experiencing about being unable to read Braille and having less-than-perfect travel skills. I remain painfully aware that I could be much more efficient than I am, particularly if I could read and write Braille, but I no longer feel that I am less worthy because of the lack. And, by the way, I hope to take care of my deficiencies in that area soon.
The discussion also helped me better to appreciate and respect my dad, who was blinded by an on-the-job accident when he was twenty-six. After he became blind, he went to law school, and I have always admired his relatively quick adjustment to blindness. On the other hand, I have always felt somewhat embarrassed that, when traveling, he uses a sighted guide the majority of the time. (For instance, I was horrified and disbelieving when I heard my dad flew to Alaska by himself to go fishing without his guide dog or a white cane!) He has a guide dog but only used him when he was going to work. I have never seen him use a white cane although I have just learned that he used one while in his office at work. However, the seminar discussion helped me to understand that everyone's situation differs and that the opportunities available are not uniform. My dad has accomplished a lot: he was an administrative law judge until he retired last month; he is an avid fisherman; and he is as pro-Braille as anybody I have ever met.
That is what the seminarian wrote me, and her letter makes a point. It is simply this: we must absolutely not become so rigid and dogmatic about the means and precise details of achieving independence that we make ourselves and everybody else around us miserable. Down that road lies bigotry as well as the loss of any real independence or true normality.
Usually, when I go to bed at night, I read myself to sleep with a recorded book. A few months ago somebody took me to task for this. The person said something to this effect: “You should not read recorded books. You should use Braille. After all, the Federation advocates Braille literacy, and, if you use tapes and Talking Books, you decrease the circulation of Braille from the libraries, and you also set a bad example. What kind of statement are you making? What kind of image are you creating? You have an obligation to serve as a role model.”
I didn't argue with the person. It wouldn't have done any good. Yes, I use Braille; and, as you know, I find it helpful. More than that. My life would be poorer without it. But Braille is a means. It is a vehicle, not an article of faith. I am conscious of the fact that I have an obligation to be a role model, and I do the best I can to meet the requirement. But the kind of role model I want to be (for anybody who cares to see me that way) is that of a competent, well-balanced human being, not a caricature. The fact that I don't want to die of thirst doesn't mean that I want to drown.
What is independence? I would define it this way. With respect to reading, it means getting the information you want with a minimum amount of inconvenience and expense. For me that means Braille, but it also means using live readers, recordings, and (despite my limited competence in that area) a certain amount of work with computers. For somebody else the combination may be different, but any active blind person who lacks skill in Braille will be limited—not necessarily unable to compete but definitely limited.
As to travel, independence is the ability to go where you want when you want without inconvenience to yourself or others. Probably none of us (blind or sighted) ever fully achieves that goal all of the time—and almost all of us achieve at least some of it some of the time. Usually we are on a continuum.
If I could not travel by myself without discomfort or great expense, there are times when it would be a real problem. What about the trip I made to Kansas City in May of this year to meet with local Federationists and speak at a JOB seminar? My wife had other things to do, and it would have been inconvenient to take somebody else. I went alone. Did I have any assistance during the trip? Yes. At times—when it was convenient for me and not inconvenient to others.
What about the time last month when I was called for jury duty? It would have been very difficult for a guide to have accompanied me to the jury box or the jury room—so, of course, I went by myself. Does that mean that nobody showed me where the jury box was or gave other assistance? No. It means that I went where I needed to go without inconvenience to me or those around me. That is what I call independence.
Just as with the sighted, there are times when you as a blind person want privacy—want to go somewhere (to see a boyfriend or girlfriend, for instance) without being accompanied by your daily associates, want to buy a present for a friend or a loved one, or just feel like following a whim. In such cases a dog or a cane is helpful. On the other hand, there are times when the assistance of a sighted person is extremely beneficial. Taken by itself, the use or lack of use of a sighted guide has very little, if anything at all, to do with real independence. In fact, the whole notion of independence (not just in mobility but also in everything else) involves the concept of doing what you want when you want, and doing it without paying such a heavy price (either monetarily or otherwise) that the thing is hardly worth having once you get it or do it.
In conclusion, I say to each member of this organization: Hold your head high in the joy of accomplishment and the pride of independence—but not because of dog or cane or human arm, and not because of your ability to read Braille or use a computer. These are the trappings of independence, not the substance of it. They should be learned and used when needed—but they should be regarded only as means, not ends. Our independence comes from within. A slave can have keen eyesight, excellent mobility, and superb reading skills—and still be a slave. We are achieving freedom and independence in the only way that really counts—in rising self-respect, growing self-confidence, and the will and the ability to make choices. Above all, independence means choices and the power to make those choices stick. We are getting that power, and we intend to have more of it. That is why we have organized. That is why we have the National Federation of the Blind. We know where we are going, and we know how to get there. Let anybody who doubts it put us to the test. My brothers and my sisters, the future is ours! Let us meet it with joy; let us meet it with hope; and (most important of all) let us meet it together!
Giving a Dream:
One of the great satisfactions in life is having the opportunity to assist others. Consider making a gift to the National Federation of the Blind to continue turning our dreams into reality. A gift to the NFB is not merely a donation to an organization; it provides resources that will directly ensure a brighter future for all blind people.
Seizing the Future:
The National Federation of the Blind has special giving opportunities that will benefit the giver as well as the NFB. Of course the largest benefit to the donor is the satisfaction of knowing that the gift is leaving a legacy of opportunity. However, gifts may be structured to:
NFB Programs Are Dynamic:
Your gift makes you a partner in the NFB dream. For further information or assistance, contact the NFB planned giving officer at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2204.
by Deborah Kent
From the Editor: Many Federationists know Deborah Kent Stein as an occasional contributor to these pages and a leader of the Illinois affiliate. I first met her when she entered Oberlin College, where I was an undergraduate. Neither of us knew much about the NFB at that point in our lives, and I, at least, was busy staying away from other blind people in case their problems and oddities might rub off on me. Through the years, however, I continued to hear scraps of news about Debbie, who was making a name for herself as a successful author of books for young people.
We met and became friends at the 1988 NFB convention in Chicago. Steve Benson, president of the host affiliate that year, brought Debbie to my room so that we could get to know each other. He wanted me to convince her that the NFB was a fine organization and that she should become active. We had a wonderful evening, and Debbie did become active. Her NFB work has largely been with blind parents and blind children and students. As of May of this year, she has also become the editor of Future Reflections, the NFB’s quarterly magazine for parents and educators of blind children.
But Debbie also continues to maintain an active life as a professional writer. She recently contributed a chapter to a book titled Unseen Childhoods: Disabled Characters in 20th-Century Books for Girls, edited by Helen Aveling (London: Bettany Press, 2009). We are delighted to have the chance to reprint Debbie’s chapter in a somewhat abbreviated version without the footnotes and bibliography but retaining the publisher’s British spelling. Now meet Mary Wilder and Susan Oldknowe:
For me, as a blind child growing up in the 1950s, books were scarce and precious commodities. I lived in a quiet New Jersey suburb, where nothing exciting ever seemed to happen, and reading opened the door to the life of adventure that I craved. In my favourite books young heroes (and, better yet, heroines) explored the wilderness, championed the oppressed, and battled daunting enemies. I longed to live in such stories myself.
Time and place melted away as I joined each exploring party and rescue mission. Yet one sliver of reality never completely disappeared. All of the adventurers I so admired could see. Didn't blind people ever have adventures? Weren't they interesting enough to be portrayed in fiction?
For a number of formative years the only blind character that I encountered in my reading was Mary Ingalls in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series. To my mind Mary embodied the worst possible image of a blind girl. While her sister Laura scrambles through life finding adventures, Mary sits in her rocking chair. She is protected and loved, but most of the time she remains so passive that she barely exists at all. I felt that the world expected blind girls to be much like Mary Ingalls. We were supposed to stay out of the way, to sit on the sidelines, and to leave real life to others.
Then, when I was eleven, I discovered a very different blind character, Susan Oldknow in LM Boston's novel, Treasure of Green Knowe. The novel is a fantasy in which a modern boy meets his eighteenth-century ancestors, Susan among them. Susan's mother sees her daughter as a burden and a family disgrace and tries to keep her out of sight, but Susan does not let her mother's attitude define her. She seizes every opportunity to stretch toward independence and engagement with the world. Susan has plenty of spirit, and she is not always sweet. In fact, sometimes she is even angry over the way that her family treats her. Unlike Mary, Susan is never passive and resigned. When adventures come her way, she springs into action.
Both the negative stereotype reflected in Mary Ingalls and the positive, self-directed image of Susan Oldknow played important roles in shaping my identity. Mary Ingalls showed me what I might become if I yielded to the fears and beliefs of others. Susan demonstrated that I was not alone in imagining that a blind girl could be bold and adventurous--somehow, an English author named LM Boston had conceived of the same idea.
Mary Ingalls in the Little House Books
In the Little House series, first published between 1932 and 1943, Laura Ingalls Wilder tells the fictionalised story of her childhood and adolescence on the American frontier of the late nineteenth century. Throughout these books, beloved by generations of readers in the U.S. and overseas, Laura's family is shown to be caring, courageous, and boundlessly resourceful.
Laura, the main character, is the second of the four Ingalls girls. Her older sister Mary appears in nearly all of the books and plays an important supporting role. In the first three volumes--Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, and On the Banks of Plum Creek--Mary is fully sighted. In the first chapter of the next book in the series, By the Shores of Silver Lake, we learn that Mary has just lost her sight due to scarlet fever. Mary then appears as a blind character in four of Wilder's books--By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years.
From the beginning, Wilder establishes the fact that Laura and Mary possess very different personalities. Laura is adventurous by nature, while Mary is retiring and domestic. Laura firmly believes that her older sister is prettier, more capable, and in general a better person than she is herself. For the most part she holds Mary in great admiration, but on rare occasions she reveals a flash of resentment. In a scene toward the end of Little House in the Big Woods, Laura accidentally tears the pocket of her dress and reflects that Mary would never be so careless. She goes on to observe that:
Mary was a good little girl who always kept her dress neat and minded her manners. ... Mary looked very good and sweet, unrumpled and clean, sitting on the board [seat] beside Laura. Laura did not think it was fair.
When Mary becomes blind at the age of thirteen, her response is totally in character. Wilder describes Mary's convalescence after the scarlet fever attack:
She was able to sit up now, wrapped in quilts in Ma's old hickory rocking chair. All that long time, week after week, when she could still see a little, but less every day, she had never cried. Now she could not see even the brightest light any more. She was still patient and brave.
By the time that Mary recovers, the rocking chair is no longer Ma's, but hers. It is her refuge of comfort and safety. Whenever the family moves to a new location, Mary's rocking chair is one of the first pieces of furniture to be put in place. Once it is set up, Mary sits patiently while the rest of the family unpacks and sets the new house in order.
Even before Mary lost her sight, Laura perceived her as patient and good. Her blindness only accentuates these traits, which were already strongly embedded in her character. In one regard, however, Mary's blindness brings about a radical change. As a sighted child she kept busy helping with endless household chores, but her blindness renders her nearly incapable of playing a useful domestic role. This shift is apparent in an incident which occurs early on in By the Shores of Silver Lake. Pa plans a trip to Kansas, a journey that will require him to be away from the family for two months. Ma assures him that she will have no problems managing the household in his absence, since Laura and Carrie will be there to help her. In this statement she discounts any possible help from Grace, her youngest daughter, who is only a toddler. Her comment also dismisses any thought that Mary, once her mainstay, can be of help any longer. Now that Mary is blind, she and her baby sister share the same status.
Over time Mary resumes some family responsibilities. She learns to sew, to make beds, and to wash dishes. She helps to care for little Grace, rocking her for hours in her lap and telling her stories. In The Long Winter, when the Ingalls family is besieged for months by one blizzard after another, both Mary and Laura perform tasks essential for everyone's survival. They spend back-breaking hours each day grinding wheat into flour in Ma's coffee mill and twisting hay to make "kindling sticks" to keep the kitchen fire alive. But when Ma takes in a stream of boarders, it is Laura who helps with the mountains of cooking and cleaning. Mary never lends a hand, staying upstairs with the younger children.
Not only is Mary shut out of opportunities to be useful at home after she becomes blind, she is also excluded from a variety of recreational activities. In The Long Winter Pa makes a checkerboard and checkers out of wood. The family fills the winter evenings with lively games--everyone, that is, except Mary. It never occurs to anyone that Pa could make a board with raised squares so that Mary would be able to join in the fun. In another scene in the same novel Pa plays the fiddle and encourages Laura and Carrie to learn the waltz. He exclaims proudly that both of them are going to be fine dancers some day. Mary, meanwhile, sits by the stove, listening quietly to the music, her hands folded on her lap. No one suggests that Mary too could learn to dance, and Mary never asks for a lesson. Mary's exclusion from the dancing lesson implies a far deeper exclusion--as a young woman who is blind, she is no longer seen as a sexual being.
In By the Shores of Silver Lake, Pa tells Laura and Carrie to stay away from a nearby railroad camp, where rough men use vulgar language. Laura and Carrie receive further admonitions from Ma, who cautions them not to walk where the men might see them. No such warnings are extended to Mary; there is no likelihood that she might venture near the camp or become a temptation to the workers. Both the pleasures and the dangers of sexual expression are outside Mary's sphere.
Mary's patient acceptance of exclusion is completely in keeping with the role that she is given by her family and the community after she becomes blind--that of moral example. A conversation between Ma and Reverend Alden, a visiting preacher, reveals their belief that blindness has made Mary especially virtuous. Ma tells the preacher that Mary is a great comfort to her and marvels that Mary has never once repined. Reverend Alden replies that Mary is a lesson to all of them. He goes on to say that "a brave spirit will turn all our afflictions to good." Thus he implies that Mary's patient acceptance of her disability will help to build character in those around her.
Just as Reverend Alden suggests, Mary's blindness furnishes Laura with the opportunity to learn self-sacrifice. In By the Shores of Silver Lake, the Ingalls family sets off by wagon to a new home in Dakota Territory. The children spend long hours each day confined to the jolting wagon. Laura yearns to get down and walk beside the wagon for a while, but she does not express her wish out loud. She is certain that Mary would not be able to walk fast enough to keep up with the wagon; therefore Mary does not have the option to get down and walk, and, because Mary cannot get down, Laura feels it would not be right for her to do so herself. Silently she endures her discomfort and continues to keep her older sister company.
Mary's blindness presents Laura with a far greater challenge: a shift in the family's expectations about her future. Until Mary lost her sight, her parents had hoped that she would become a teacher. However, a teaching career is out of the question for her as a blind girl. Laura, the next daughter in line, is therefore expected to become a teacher in Mary's place. Laura has no innate gift for teaching and no wish to spend her life inside a classroom. Nonetheless she accepts her fate with fortitude; uncomplaining, she studies for her teaching certificate.
By the standards of her family, Laura has a rebellious spirit that must be brought under control. With uneven success Laura strives to emulate Mary's goodness. In Little Town on the Prairie, she confides to Mary that she wants to be just like her. She laments that she can never come close to the example that Mary sets every day. Mary modestly denies that she is as good as Laura thinks she is and admits that she sometimes has angry thoughts. However, she nearly always manages to keep these thoughts to herself, safely hidden away.
The reader is never told what triggers Mary's secret angry thoughts. One possibility might be her exclusion from school upon the loss of her sight. Before the scarlet fever Mary was an eager and diligent student. Blindness automatically interrupts her formal education. Each night Mary listens intently as Laura and Carrie do their homework. With their help and encouragement she learns their lessons beside them, but no one considers that Mary could go with her sisters to the school in town and learn orally with the sighted pupils. Though Mary's mind is as agile as ever, her blindness somehow precludes her from sitting in a one-room schoolhouse. The whole family is thrilled when Reverend Alden describes a special college in Iowa for blind students. When Ma asks the reverend about the cost, Laura thinks her voice sounds "choked and hungry." In one scene Mary sheds her usual stoic decorum and bursts forth with a torrent of enthusiasm. She exclaims:
Oh, I do care about [going to school]. I want it more than anything. There's so much to learn, I always wanted to go studying on and on. And to think that I can, if we can save the money, even now that I'm blind. Isn't it wonderful?
The Ingalls family works with single-minded focus to save for Mary's education. Laura redoubles her commitment to teaching, knowing that her salary will help Mary fulfill her dream. Of the four sisters, Mary is the only one to go away from home to study. Homebody though she is, she is willing to leave her family (and the ever-present rocking chair) and venture into the unknown.
Mary leaves for the school in Vinton, Iowa, midway through Little Town on the Prairie. At this point she largely drops out of the narrative, though there are occasional references to her weekly letters. These letters--though never quoted directly--assure the family that Mary is making excellent progress. She reports that she has learned to run a sewing machine and sends home samples of her fancy beadwork. She is even studying the organ. Thrilled, Pa buys an organ and has it shipped to the Ingalls' Dakota homestead as a surprise for Mary when she comes for a visit.
Mary is away for three years, only once returning to spend a summer with her family. During this visit Laura and Carrie are struck by their sister's increased independence. When Carrie asks Mary if she had been afraid, riding home alone on the train, she replies: "Oh no, I had no trouble. We like to do things by ourselves at college. It is part of our education." The family observes that Mary seems much more sure of herself, moving freely around the house instead of sitting quietly. When Pa brings in her trunk, Mary unlocks it "quite as if she saw it." After Mary hands out presents to her parents and sisters, Laura reflects: “Mary had often smiled, but it was a long time since they had heard her laugh out, as she used to when she was a little girl. All that it had cost to send Mary to college was more than repaid by seeing her so gay and confident.”
Despite Mary's accomplishments, however, Ma and Pa foresee a bleak future for their eldest daughter. At the end of Mary's visit Ma shares her thoughts with Laura. She points out that Mary will return home to stay when she finishes the programme at school and that she might never again have the chance to travel. She tells Laura that it is nice for Mary to have these wonderful experiences and the opportunity to make new friends. Ma concludes: "She will have it to remember." Mary's education is not seen as a springboard into a future of productive work or one of marriage and children. Instead, it is a gift of sweet memories to help buoy her through the empty years that stretch ahead.
At the end of These Happy Golden Years, Laura prepares to marry her sweetheart, Almanzo Wilder. The First Four Years, based on a manuscript left unfinished at Laura Ingalls Wilder's death, chronicles the early years of Laura's marriage and the birth of her daughter Rose. Mary's name appears only once in this final volume of the Little House series--in a passing reference to her rocking chair.
Susan Oldknow in Treasure of Green Knowe
LM Boston published six novels in the Green Knowe series, of which Treasure of Green Knowe (1958) is the second. Green Knowe is an ancient house in the English countryside, alive with memories of its past inhabitants. In The Children of Green Knowe, seven-year-old Tolly visits his great-grandmother, Mrs. Oldknow, at Green Knowe during his school holidays, and she tells him stories about the children who lived in the house long ago. In Treasure of Green Knowe, Tolly returns on his spring holiday and hears another set of stories. This time the central figure in Mrs. Oldknow's tales is Susan Oldknow, who grew up at the end of the eighteenth century. Susan also makes brief appearances in An Enemy at Green Knowe and The Stones of Green Knowe, but Treasure of Green Knowe is the only book in the series in which she plays a major role.
Tolly first hears of Susan when he asks about the patchwork quilt on his bed. He learns that it was made for Susan by her grandmother. Tolly's great-grandmother goes on to tell a short story about the quilt. She explains that Susan's grandmother loved quilting and made a patchwork quilt for Susan's mother Maria. However, Maria had refused to have a patchwork quilt for her bed, preferring satin or lace. Offended, the grandmother declared that Susan could have the quilt some day when she married. On hearing this suggestion,
Maria said Susan was hardly likely to get an offer of marriage, but if Granny liked to go on making patchworks, Susan could have them in bundles of a dozen. Susan wouldn't mind how old-fashioned anything was.
For some reason which Mrs. Oldknow does not yet reveal, Susan's mother does not hold Susan in high regard. Soon Tolly gathers other clues about Susan's history. He opens a chest in his great-grandmother's room and discovers a box filled with exotic sea shells and polished stones. At the bottom of the chest he finds the model of a sailing ship, the Woodpecker. Mrs. Oldknow explains that these were gifts to Susan from her father, a sea captain who was often away from home for a year at a time. Susan cherished all of her father's presents, especially the Woodpecker, a model of his own ship.
Finally Tolly comes face to face with Susan's spirit in the doorway to the music room (Mrs. Oldknow refuses to use the word "ghost" to describe the ethereal children who share the house with her). When he tells Mrs. Oldknow about this brief meeting, he comments that Susan is somehow different from the other spirit-children he has met. He feels that she looked at him as if he wasn't there.
At this point Mrs. Oldknow explains that Susan was blind from birth and goes on to tell more stories about her childhood long ago. She begins her first story about Susan with a clear statement that sets the tone for everything that follows: "What is really hard to believe is that her mother and old Nanny Softly did everything they possibly could to keep Susan from learning to find her way about." The reactions of each member of the household, upon learning that baby Susan is blind, reveal both character and social milieu. Maria, Susan's mother, laments: "Whatever shall I do with a blind daughter--I can't take her into society--she'll never be married--there will be no pleasure in dressing her--she won't even be able to dress herself, and we'll have her for always."
According to the grandmother, "It was a judgment on Maria for her flighty life, and though the child would be little more than an idiot, she would try to see that it was at least a Christian one." Sefton, Susan's spoiled older brother, is secretly delighted to learn that Susan is blind, sure that she will never compete with him for money and favours. Caxton, the butler, "would pinch her cheek and talk baby talk when Susan's father or mother were present," but "when only Nanny Softly was there, he would say, `It should have been drowned like a kitten.'"
Old Mrs. Softly, the children's nanny, is the person who spends the most time with Susan and has the most devastating impact on her life. “Nanny Softly rocked and wept and clasped the child to her featherbed bosom and said at least the poor little thing wouldn't be without someone to love her. What bumps her poor dear little head was going to get! But she would watch her day and night and never let her out of her sight. Her old Nanny Softly would always be with her”.
Wisely, Mrs. Oldknow points out to Tolly that Nanny's relentless coddling was far worse for Susan than her mother's indifference, "because though it was good for her to be loved, it was dreadful never to be allowed to try to do anything herself." True to her word, Nanny hovers over Susan constantly with an endless litany of warnings and reassurances. Nanny fetches Susan's toys, buttons her shoes, and ties her hair ribbons. She even feeds Susan at the table so that she never learns to use a knife and fork. Nanny does her best to convince Susan that the world is a very dangerous place that Susan cannot possibly negotiate on her own.
In all the busy household of family and servants, only Susan's father, Captain Oldknow, believes in her innate abilities and understands her need to explore. He recognizes that Nanny and Maria are mishandling Susan grievously, forcing her to be helpless when in fact she is full of eagerness and curiosity. Each time he returns home from one of his ocean voyages, he is pained to see that nothing has changed. The situation makes him feel helpless himself. He longs to make life better for his daughter but does not know what to do for her.
LM Boston, in the voice of Mrs. Oldknow, places the attitudes of Susan's family within their historical context. Mrs. Oldknow tells Tolly that in those days Braille and schools for the blind were not available. If a blind person was poor, she or he had to live as a beggar. Blind people from wealthy families were "prisoners with servants." The captain, for all his good intentions, has no guidance, no positive example to follow. He is entirely on his own.
Boston is remarkably insightful in her descriptions of Susan's early life. She recognizes the critical need for a blind child to explore through touch and conveys a poignant sense of Susan's deprivation. To prevent Susan from falling or breaking things, Nanny Softly keeps her strapped in a chair most of the time. Her only toy is a large wooden doll, which is also tied to the chair. Mrs. Oldknow points out that no one wants a toy that is tied to her. With mischievous approval she adds, "It was a wooden doll, and [Susan] could hit out nicely with it, and once Nanny Softly caught a good rap over the head." Susan is liberated from the chair only when someone leads her through the house by the hand.
In leading her they were impatient, because their idea was to get her quickly where they were going, while Susan's idea was to feel everything possible on the way there. Everything was to her most mysterious, because she only felt a bit of it as she was dragged past, a ledge or a knob, a fold of curtain, or perhaps she felt nothing, but there was a different smell or a hollower sound. She had no idea how big things were or what shape. They stuck out of space like icebergs out of the sea. For this reason she enjoyed the continuous pleasantly shaped stair rail and liked to draw her fingers along the banisters as she went up and down, pushed and pulled by Nanny Softly.
Captain Oldknow encourages Nanny to let Susan touch things but meets with solid resistance from her. Nanny is determined to break Susan of her incorrigible habit of "fingering" everything within reach. If Susan had her way, Nanny insists, everything in the house would be lost or broken. Susan's hands and clothing would always be dirty, and Susan would be sure to injure herself. The captain appeals to Maria, urging her to teach Susan to do things for herself. Maria retorts that teaching Susan would require an angel's patience--patience which Maria lacks in abundance. Maria reminds the captain that Susan's grandmother teaches her about religion, and that is the only education she will need.
Despite their best efforts, Maria and Nanny Softly are powerless to quench Susan's natural curiosity. Mrs. Oldknow tells Tolly: “[S]he wanted to catch everything in the act of being real. She even put her finger in the candle flame to see what being burned was like.”
Because her experience has been so severely limited, Susan has large gaps in her knowledge about the world around her. When she hears frogs croaking in the moat, she pictures them as little men dressed in suits of wet leather. When Captain Oldknow tries to tell Susan about his life at sea, he is aghast to discover that she does not understand what a river is or what he means when he uses the word "float." To help Susan understand what a boat is and how it floats on the waves, Captain Oldknow gives her a model of the Woodpecker, which she can play with in her bath. However, he is painfully aware that she needs far more than a few toys to nourish her ravenous mind.
When Susan is seven years old, Captain Oldknow hires Jonathan, the seventeen-year-old son of a neighboring pastor, to be her tutor. At first Jonathan is doubtful that he can teach Susan anything. The captain urges him to teach her orally and to use his imagination. Above all he tells Jonathan to answer Susan's questions and to make sure she understands his answers. Despite Sefton's mockery and his own misgivings, Jonathan finds Susan to be an apt pupil. Taking the captain's advice, he answers her questions and reads her stories out loud.
Even so, the captain longs to widen Susan's world still further. The following year, during a stop at Barbados, he strikes upon an unconventional solution. He buys Jacob, an eight-year-old slave recently brought to the Caribbean from Africa. The captain promises Jacob his freedom if he will be a companion to his blind daughter in faraway England. Thus Jacob comes to Green Knowe and transforms Susan's life forever.
Like Susan, Jacob possesses immense curiosity and a vivid imagination. The children take to one another at once and instantly become fast friends. At their first meeting Captain Oldknow sends them to play in the garden together. When he looks out the window, he sees them marching along the paths playing a newly invented game. He exclaims to Maria that this is the best thing he has seen in years and that Susan is playing like any other child at last. Conveniently, Nanny Softly falls ill soon after Jacob's arrival, and the children are left to their own devices.
With Jacob as her mentor, Susan's education truly begins. The contrast with her earlier life is dramatic. Mrs. Oldknow tells Tolly: "Susan had always been taught to walk as carefully as if it were the most difficult thing in life not to fall, in a world beset with water, fire, staircases, high windows, open doors, and pits." Jacob has no such apprehensions. With his liberating guidance, Susan explores her surroundings and learns to walk freely through the house and garden. She gets her dress muddy as she turns somersaults on the lawn. She learns to climb to the top of the tallest beech tree at Green Knowe, pretending that she is perched in the rigging of the Woodpecker. In response to Susan's eager questions, Jacob captures frogs, birds, hedgehogs, and other creatures to show her. Jonathan, the tutor, is inspired to teach Susan her letters, shaping them with bread dough.
Confident and independent, Susan becomes a full-fledged player in the dramas of the household. Sefton has seized every opportunity to humiliate Jacob. Susan helps Jacob to retaliate through a series of nettling pranks. Sefton never thinks to suspect her. He does suspect Jacob, however, though he can prove nothing against him. When Sefton forces Jacob to climb into the chimney like a chimney sweep, Susan rushes to her friend's defense. She flies at Sefton and kicks him squarely in the shins.
Finally, Susan and Jacob work together to rescue their friend Fred, the gardener's son. Thirteen-year-old Fred has been caught poaching rabbits and will be hanged or sold to a press gang for service in His Majesty's Navy. The children hide Fred in an underground chamber and smuggle food to him until he can make a safe escape.
As Tolly's visit draws to a close, he asks his great-grandmother what happened to Susan and Jacob when they grew up. Mrs. Oldknow tells him that Jacob became a groom at Green Knowe, caring for the horses and driving Susan in her carriage. On a trip to Barbados with the captain, he married a woman of African heritage and brought her back to England with him. Susan married Jonathan, her former tutor, "and had lots of children, who could all see." Jacob's wife served as their nanny. Susan and Jacob remained the best of friends all their lives.
Unlike Mary Ingalls, Susan is granted a happily-ever-after ending, complete with marriage and family. She grows up and takes on the responsibilities of motherhood with the help of a nanny, as befits her era and social class. The statement that all of Susan's children could see hints that the ending would have been less happy if any of them had been blind and that blindness is not entirely acceptable, even for the enlightened Mrs. Oldknow. Within its context, however, the comment seems intended as further assurance that Susan led a fulfilling life and made a positive contribution to the family.
A Choice of Virtues
The Little House series and Treasure of Green Knowe are books by twentieth-century authors that portray children of earlier times. Mary Ingalls and Susan Oldknow are shaped by the eras in which they lived, when opportunities for blind people were severely restricted. Yet the girls grow up in very different environments, within very different philosophical frameworks.
On the American frontier the Ingalls family lives by the Protestant ethic of hard work and fortitude. For the most part Mary's blindness exempts her from hard work; she is no longer expected to be an active, contributing member of the family unit. But Mary is cast in a new role--she is a model of patience. For the Ingalls family, and apparently for Wilder herself, patient acceptance is one of the highest possible virtues. Wilder refers frequently to Mary's patience and goodness, as though these traits are almost synonymous. Mary's willingness to sit on the sidelines in her rocking chair is never portrayed as laziness. Rather, Wilder conveys her admiration for Mary's graceful acceptance of her fate.
As a blind child reading the Little House series, I was appalled by Wilder's depiction of Mary. Mary's silent acceptance of limitations and exclusion collided with everything that I aspired to achieve in my own life. To me her uncomplaining patience was not a sign of goodness, but of an infuriating passivity. What on earth was so enthralling about that rocking chair of hers? How could she be so content to sit on the outskirts of life? Why did she relinquish her right to play an active part in the world? Why didn't she seize every opportunity to prove that she could still be useful and active, whether or not she could see?
Almost as distressing to me as Mary herself was the attitude of her family. Mary's parents and sisters love her deeply. Yet no one in the family challenges the assumption that blindness has put an end to Mary's active participation in life. When it comes to including Mary in the full range of family and community activities, the Ingalls family shows a profound lack of will and creativity. This is ironic, since their very survival on the frontier depends on their ability to find solutions to unexpected problems. The Ingalls family is endlessly resourceful when it comes to building shelters, gathering food, traveling where there are no roads, and having fun in spite of hardships. Somehow, though, this can-do spirit founders before Mary's blindness. Instead of tackling the challenge of blindness with pioneering resilience, the Ingalls family falls back on time-honored beliefs, equating blindness with helplessness. To their credit, they never treat Mary as if she is a burden and are never embarrassed by her presence. But their gentle, almost reverent treatment of her helps only to ensure her isolation. When they see her patience as admirable, a manifestation of goodness, they quietly justify keeping her in a special place apart.
At first I thought that Mary's experience at school would transform her perspective on life and would awaken her family to new and endless possibilities. In fact, Mary makes dramatic changes, even travelling hundreds of miles alone on the train. This is an amazing feat for a girl who previously would not rise from her rocking chair to unpack a trunk. However, to my vast disappointment, Wilder strongly hints that Mary's school years are an aberration. When she completes the program, she will return home, where sweet memories of friendships and adventures will help her bear with patience the empty years before her.
When I was growing up, I knew that, despite their relative newness, the Little House books were considered to be classics. People had already been reading about sweet, passive Mary Ingalls for years, and they would go on reading about her for countless years to come. It dismayed me to realize that the majority of these readers probably accepted the author's view of Mary without question. They would carry away the image of patient Mary in her rocking chair, glowing with goodness. I feared that the image of Mary Ingalls would reinforce some of the worst stereotypes about people who are blind.
In Susan Oldknow, I felt that I had found a kindred spirit. Susan is an explorer, stretching out her hands to discover her surroundings despite the reproofs of Nanny and her mother. It is not her blindness that holds Susan back, but the stifling behavior of the people around her. Susan's experience resonated deeply with my own. I too had heard endless warnings about stairways, fire, sharp objects, and myriad other components of daily life. Like Susan, I had learned not to take most of these warnings as truth but to test reality for myself. Fortunately, like her, I had significant people in my life who believed in me and who made sure that I had the opportunities I needed.
In striking contrast to Mary's life on the frontier, Susan is a child of Regency England, growing up amid servants and luxury. Her father sees Susan's blindness as a difference that need not define or hamper her. He does not expect or want her to sit patiently with folded hands; instead, he seeks to help her engage with the world. As he points out to Jonathan, her tutor, it is only a matter of finding creative approaches to her education.
The approaches to blindness in Treasure of Green Knowe and the Little House books represent two distinct philosophical views of humanity. The Protestant ethic which rules the Ingalls family regards human nature as intrinsically bad, although humans can be saved from evil by resisting temptation. Mary Ingalls could easily be tempted to anger and self-pity (clearly regarded by Wilder as negative emotions to be overcome), but she rises above such impulses and holds to higher ground. Captain Oldknow is guided by the philosophy of Rousseau and other Enlightenment thinkers of the eighteenth century. Rousseau and his followers saw human nature as essentially good and believed that organized society had a corrupting impact on the child's innate purity. Susan Oldknow is an innocent, a pure child of nature, untainted by the materialism of her mother and brother; she embraces life with eagerness and joy. Her father delights in her spontaneity and encourages her spirit of adventure in defiance of the strict rules that govern the behavior of proper little girls of her era.
Jacob, Susan's invaluable teacher (Boston's version of Helen Keller's Annie Sullivan), is a child of nature himself. Jacob spent his early years in Africa, among the lions and elephants, and he still carries a host of animistic beliefs. When Susan and Jacob are at play, the garden at Green Knowe bears a passing resemblance to Eden. Captain Oldknow selects Jacob to be Susan's mentor because he is a free spirit, full of playfulness and imagination. Despite the hardships of slavery, Jacob is morally and emotionally intact. His nature has not been twisted by the constraints of uppercrust English society. As an outsider to that world, he is able to appreciate Susan for who she is and to meet her with intuitive understanding.
Although Susan is very different from Mary Ingalls, she too shines with a kind of goodness. She is loving and loyal. She has not learned affectations and judges others on their merits rather than their social status. Her lifelong friendship with Jacob is a case in point. Susan is free from racism and is outraged when others treat Jacob insolently. Perhaps, if she were sighted, Susan would have been as arrogant and self-absorbed as her brother Sefton. Her blindness allows her to follow a very different path.
In a sense both Boston and Wilder idealize their blind characters, investing them with virtues that stem from their disabilities. Yet as a blind girl, trying to find friends and heroines in books, I found Mary Ingalls cloying and rejoiced upon meeting Susan. I cheered when Susan kicked Sefton and celebrated when she climbed to the top of the giant beech tree. I thrilled as she discovered that her life brimmed with possibilities. Susan was learning exactly what I myself wanted to believe and wanted the rest of the world to know.
by Nancy Burns
From the Editor: Nancy Burns is the past president of the NFB of California. She and her husband Don have retired to New Mexico. As we settle into summer, Nancy offers a vacation report. This is what she says:
Packing for a twelve-day cruise in a midsize suitcase and one carry-on became more challenging than I had anticipated. Adding to this challenge was the fact that we would board the ship in Vancouver, British Columbia, sail around the Hawaiian Islands, and disembark in Honolulu. We had planned this trip for several months because Don and I were celebrating our fifteenth anniversary. We were traveling with our friends Jim and Mary, who were celebrating their fortieth. All of us had previously traveled to the islands, but it had been several years before, and we were all very excited about this cruise.
After leaving Vancouver, we set sail for Kauai and were at sea for five wonderful days. With the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean surrounding us, there were times when the sailing became a little rough. Our favorite thing to do during this part of the cruise was to stand on our balcony and listen to the waves crash against themselves and the ship, creating whitecaps as far as one could see. There is nothing like this incredible experience.
As the ship continued to bounce through the Pacific, we found plenty of activities to occupy us. Shipboard shops provided everything from the necessities of life like toothpaste and sunscreen to duty-free gifts and souvenirs. The outside decks provided an opportunity to walk. For those who preferred a bit more exercise, there was a complete spa. A beauty salon helped the women prepare for formal evenings, and games for passengers of all ages kept us entertained. A casino was available while we were on the open sea, and a variety of bars and coffee shops served up our drinks of choice. Afternoon tea at sea was always fun. Then there was food—lots of food. Any time, twenty-four hours a day, food was available and plentiful, from pizza to gourmet soups and salads to steaks and seafood. During my first cruise, when I complained to a waiter who was passing a large platter of cookies, he advised me not to worry because it was the ocean air that caused our clothes to shrink.
The meals and desserts were not only tasty but creatively presented. My favorite dessert on this cruise was something called chocolate melting cake. It was an individually baked chocolate cake with a sort of pudding-like filling. On the same plate there was a small dip of vanilla ice cream, usually decorated with something chocolate. Yummm.
As we docked at the first island, Nawiliwili, the lush, green tropics provided a startling contrast to the blue ocean. Because of the heavy rainfall this is the only island of the Hawaiian chain with navigable rivers. The other islands provided contrasting scenery and endless shopping opportunities.The last day of our trip before flying back to Albuquerque we spent in Honolulu. The warm, gentle trade winds softened the effects of the tropical sun. We wandered through the International Market, picking up chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, Kona coffee, and other goodies to take to family and friends. As we settled into the airport shuttle and said goodbye to Hawaii, we lingered over the wonderful memories but were now anxious to return to the Land of Enchantment.
by Jim Babb
From the Editor: Here is another cruising article. Jim Babb is president of the Albuquerque Chapter of the NFB of New Mexico. This is what he says:
Our first cruise was in the spring of 1969, about six months after we were married. We cruised the Caribbean, leaving from Miami. We stopped in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, St. Martin, and Nassau. The ship was of German registry and was of average size for the time, about five hundred passengers. It bobbed around like a cork in the water, and my wife Mary was constantly seasick. I had some usable vision then, and mobility aboard was not difficult. The hallways and dining rooms were laid out in the usual grid--in other words, logical, unlike the monster cruise ships of today. Mary said she would not cruise again, not because of the food or great ports, but because of the seasickness.
We both took early retirement in 2001 and decided to try cruising again. We had heard that the ships were larger, employed stabilizer fins, and rode the seas much more smoothly. We can both attest to the fact that they do indeed ply the choppy oceans much more smoothly and they are astronomically larger. A small to medium Royal Caribbean cruiser has fifteen hundred to two thousand passengers, a medium to large ship has three thousand to forty-five hundred passengers, and the truly big ones have over six thousand. Some of these larger ones would be like laying the Empire State Building or the Sears Tower on their sides. I find mobility aboard the behemoths a real challenge. On the cabin floors the hallways often do not go straight through; you may need to go up or down a few floors to get to the other end of the ship. The dining and entertainment floors constantly curve to the left or right, often through noisy gambling areas, etc.
Our latest cruise ship had tactile and Braille numbers at eye level near each cabin door, where they should be. Our first cruise ship had flat numbers. The elevators on our modern cruiser were Brailled, and there were a few wheelchair-accessible cabins. The daily ship newspaper was available in standard print only, as were the meal menus. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply to international cruise lines. I have seen a few blind cruise passengers with white canes, but I have never seen a guide or support animal. I have heard of some serious problems with guide and support dogs on shore in some foreign ports.
Last September Mary and I celebrated our fortieth anniversary by taking a twelve-day cruise from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Hawaii, including several stops among the islands. We found a fabulous cruise deal from a travel agency in Seattle that I have used several times in recent years. Once we were aboard the 2,100-passenger Carnival Spirit, the good times began. The food, service, and accommodations were awesome. We had gourmet food at every meal, and our bed and bath were cleaned when we left the room for breakfast. The first five days were at sea, but we found plenty to do, including cooking classes, a tour of the massive kitchen facility, other classes, a library, miniature golf, shopping at the numerous stores aboard, exercise room, swimming, and much more. Mary took some library books, and I took my Victor Stream and listened to hours and hours of books, podcasts, etc., as I watched the ocean and people on deck. If I had taken my Talking Book player and vinyl records in 1969, I would have needed an extra-large suitcase to carry an equivalent amount of reading material.
We stopped at about five of the Hawaiian Islands and had about eight hours in port to shop, walk around, or take a ship-sponsored tour. We could even take local transportation. We didn’t do the onshore luau since it was pricy, but many passengers did and raved about it. We did take the Honolulu tour, which included the castles of the Hawaiian monarchs and the Arizona Memorial. The memorial was both sobering and inspiring. It was interesting to note that about 80 percent of the visitors to the memorial were Japanese.
I was also surprised to find a bit of New Mexico in Hawaii. I brought my radio. While I was listening to a local Hilo station, I heard an advertisement for Sierra Blanca mini ranches for sale in Ruidoso, New Mexico. We had a great time; may a cruise be in your future.
by Neil Bernstein and Judith Dixon
From the Editor: Earlier this spring the National Library Service brought its new permanent Website online. It is remarkably user-friendly, and many patrons have had no trouble moving around it, finding what they want to download, and then doing so. Others have found things a bit confusing, so we asked the staff if they could prepare a description of the site and instructions of how to use it. The following article is the result. Neil Bernstein is a research and development officer, and Judy Dixon is the consumer relations officer at the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress. This is what they say:
On April 30, 2009, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, launched the Braille and Audio Reading Download service (NLS BARD). BARD, a free service for eligible patrons, allows readers to download any of more than fifteen thousand NLS digital Talking Books or issues of forty-four different audio magazines. New books and magazine issues are added continually. There is no limit to the number of items readers can download, and the materials do not expire. The downloadable books are identical to those distributed on flash-memory cartridge by the national network of cooperating libraries.
Any NLS patron in good standing is eligible to use the Website. Simply fill out an application by following the link called “BARD application instructions” at <https://nlsbard.loc.gov>. You will need basic computer and Internet skills, such as filling out online forms and downloading and unzipping files, and a high-speed Internet connection. NLS digital Talking Books can be read using the new NLS digital Talking Book machine, which is free on loan to eligible patrons. Users may also elect to purchase one of four commercial players.
Despite its name, the BARD service does not yet offer Braille materials. For now the NLS Web-Braille service continues to serve that purpose. Eventually the two services will be brought together under the BARD name and site, offering readers one-stop shopping for Talking Books and magazines, Braille books and magazines, and NLS music materials.
This article gives an overview of NLS BARD. The site is subject to future changes, but the basics of BARD will remain the same.
Many of the elements on the BARD pages are consistent throughout the site. Every page begins with a header and ends with a footer. The header is either a brief description of the contents of the page or the library’s name. The footer includes four links:
Within the book listings BARD uses consistent heading levels to help screen-reader users navigate quickly. For example, book titles are listed at heading level 4 on all pages. JAWS users can simply press the “4” key to jump from one book title to the next. Window-Eyes users can press the key sequence “4-H.” Other screen readers have similar facilities. Also on all pages index letters (where used) are at heading level 2. Heading level 3 is always used for each page’s main grouping.
All download links begin with the word “Download” and, for books, are found after the NLS annotation (a short description of the book). Pages with book listings also feature many common navigational links, such as “Next page,” “Last page,” and “Start over.” The “Start over” link always takes you back to where your search began, which is usually the BARD main page.
BARD Main Page
After logging in, users are presented with the BARD main page. This page is the base of operations for the site. Everything you need can be found by starting here, and every page includes a link back to this page. The BARD main page has eleven links and fourteen headings. The content of the main page is divided into three sections: “Find books,” “Find magazines,” and “Additional links.” Each of these sections is at heading level 2.
Within the “Find books” first section are six elements, each at heading level 3:
Each of these is described below.
Within the “Find magazines” section are two elements, both at heading level 3:
The third section, “Additional links,” includes two elements, both links:
Recently Added Books
The first link on the BARD main page leads to the “Recently added books” page. This page lists books that were made available for download during the past thirty days. The number of links and headings on this page will vary over time.
The title of the page, which appears in the title bar, is “Selection by recently added books displaying items 1 through X of Y,” where X is the number of items on this page and Y is the total number of books added in the past thirty days.
At the top of the page is a header (at heading level 2) “BARD books sorted by date of addition during the past 30 days.”
Following the title are “Displaying items 1 through X of Y” and navigational links for moving to subsequent pages or starting over.
The content of the page is divided into sections using the dates that books were added to the site in the past thirty days with the most recent date listed first. Each of these sections is at heading level 2, and the individual titles, listed from highest to lowest book number, are at heading level 4. Each book entry includes the book’s title, author, narrator, reading time, and subject heading, followed by the book’s NLS annotation and a link from which to initiate its download. The bottom of the page has the four footer links described above.
Most Popular Books
The second link on the BARD main page leads to the “Most popular books” page. This page, entitled “Selection by most popular books displaying items 1 to 40 of 40,” lists the twenty most popular fiction downloads and the twenty most popular nonfiction downloads, compiled within the past ninety days. This page has forty-six links and forty-three headings. At the top of the page is a header “Most popular BARD downloads in the past 90 days.”
The content of the page is divided into two sections: fiction and nonfiction. Each of these sections is at heading level 2, and each of the twenty books within each section is at heading level 4. The format of each book’s entry is identical to that on the “Recently added books” page. Entries are not numbered but are listed in order of popularity. The page ends with the standard footer.
Search the Collection
To search the collection, use the sole entry field on the BARD main page. Type one or more terms into the edit box and then select the corresponding “Go” button. The resulting page is titled “Selection by keyword displaying titles 1 through X” where X is the total number of entries found to match the search term.
The header says “BARD books containing keyword” followed by the keyword or words you entered to search. This is followed by the number of matching records and six index links. These six links tell you how the search terms match the records found and allow you to narrow the book search to the part of the record that is of interest to you. They read (with “X” representing the search term used):
Use these links to jump immediately to the type of match you are looking for. (For example, if you have searched on the word “Dowling” because you are looking for a book by Colette Dowling and not for the Father Dowling Mystery series, you would use the link that says “1 in the author” to jump straight to the book in which your search term, “Dowling,” appears in the author’s name.)
At the bottom of this list is another line indicating what is being displayed and a link to start over. The content of the page is six sections at heading level 2. If there are books in a section, they are at heading level 4.
Book Browsing Links
Back on the BARD main page, the next three elements are used to browse through the collection. Use these, not to search for a particular item, but to browse through the listings when you are not sure exactly what you want. These elements are also useful if you are not sure of how a name is spelled or a title is phrased.
The first two elements, “Browse by author’s last name” and “Browse by book title,” work similarly. Each element has a combo box and a corresponding “Go” button. The combo box contains the letters of the alphabet. To browse items beginning with a particular letter, select the letter from the combo box and then select the corresponding “Go” button.
The titles of the resulting pages are respectively “Selection by author” and “Selection by title,” with an indication of the items being displayed. The index letter chosen is at heading level 2, and the book titles are at heading level 4. On the “Browse by author’s last name” page, the author’s name is at heading level 3, with each title by that author after the name at heading level 4. The “Browse by subject” element works in the same way, except that the combo box contains a list of subject areas instead of letters.
The second major section of the BARD main page contains two links that are used for finding magazines. The first is “Recently added magazine issues.” This link leads to a page containing download links for the most recent issue of every magazine title available on BARD, approximating the magazine rack at a newsstand or public library. As new issues are added to BARD, this page is updated to show the newest one. Your Web browser’s “visited link” status is a good indication of whether or not you have already downloaded a given issue.
The page title is “Recently added magazine issues displaying items 1 through X of Y.” Each magazine is at heading level 3. Below each magazine’s title is a link to download its most recent issue available on the Website.
The next element on the BARD main page is “Magazines by title,” consisting of a combo box and a “Go” button. To see all available issues of a particular magazine, select its title from the combo box and then select the corresponding “Go” button. The resulting page is titled “Selection by magazine title displaying items 1 through X of Y.” The magazine title is at heading level 3. The content of the page contains links to the past twelve months of issues, with the newest first, and a link for “Older issues of [magazine title].”
There are two more links before the footer of the BARD main page. The first is “Update account settings.” This link leads to a page by that name holding eight links and other controls. At the top of the page is the text “Update account settings. Current settings for [login email address].” The page then has links to change your password, change your email address, or request an authorization key for a purchased digital Talking Book player. Those links are followed by a combo box for setting the maximum number of books to be displayed on any one page of the site and edit boxes for a security question and secret answer. These last two are used in combination if you need to reset your password because you have forgotten it. All of this is followed by an “Update” button to update these settings and the standard site footer.
The last link on the BARD main page before the footer is “Help.” The “Help” page contains only two links:
Both of these links lead to pages that contain in-depth information on the use and content of the BARD Website.
The Future of BARD
NLS will continue to add features and content to BARD. Some changes, like the inclusion of Braille and music materials, will be immediately obvious. Others will serve to make the site easier to use, more robust, and faster. Whatever the change, please be assured that BARD is now a permanent service of NLS and its libraries.
by Daniel B. Frye
Jury service is one of those civic responsibilities that most people accept only reluctantly--sometimes even grudgingly. I am in the minority here; serving on a jury has always appealed to me as an exercise in watching human behavior. Both the characters in criminal and civil trials and the chemistry of a group of strangers deliberating on questions of fact and law seem to me ripe with potential for observation and thought.
Despite being registered to vote since the age of eighteen, I had never been summoned to jury service until February of this year. After graduating from law school, I concluded that my opportunities for jury service would now be limited, since people with a legal education are often excluded during voir dire (jury selection). So I was pleased to receive a summons to appear in the Maryland Circuit Court for the City of Baltimore on March 31, 2009.
I arrived a half hour early at the juror entrance of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse in downtown Baltimore, where I met Stephanie, a cynical young administrative assistant for a property management company who had taken the bus into the city for what she called “a day of jury hell." We made small-talk about books and local politics on the steps of the courthouse before prospective jurors were admitted to the building. She had served three times in the last three years, and she agreed to take me under her wing until we were separated. Then Judy, a financial analyst for a health insurance company, arrived, grumbling that this would be her fourth time to serve and, she hoped, her fourth time not to be selected. As we filed through security, I commented that, if I had to invest a day here, I hoped to be put to use. Both Stephanie and Judy good-naturedly offered to give me their juror numbers to increase my chances for selection.
After scoping out seats in the rear of one of the three jury holding rooms, we were told that one of the judges had died in the last several days so all 999 of us were expected to be called since they were trying to reduce the backlog of cases caused by the court's closure for the funeral the previous week. We watched a video extolling the virtues of jury service as a civic duty and reviewing the history of trial by jury as a constitutional right. We were then advised of the local courthouse rules for jurors, informed of the general grounds for juror exclusion, and invited to register by number and collect our $15 pay for the day.
When jurors four hundred to five hundred were called, I went forward to be processed. Stephanie and Judy wished me luck. They were not part of my group, so they promised to save my seat for the long wait ahead. I presented my identification card and summons to the woman behind the table. She paused uncomfortably, then asked me to wait while she turned to one of her colleagues for a whispered conversation about the fact that I was blind. Returning her attention to me, she explained that courtrooms in the circuit court were in two buildings, the main building, where we were, and one directly across the street. She told me that she would indicate for the record that I was not to be called for a jury pool outside the building. I replied that I appreciated her thoughtfulness but that I would be fine crossing the street, especially considering that jurors were escorted in a group by court staff from the jury holding room to any of the courtrooms in the complex. She acknowledged my reply and assured me that she would take care of the matter. By the way, I was wearing a jacket and tie in case I was legitimately excused from service and could go to my office, so she could not have written me off as a ne’er-do-well.
I returned to my seat and told Stephanie about the staffer’s doubt of my ability as a blind person to function. Abandoning the banter of our morning's conversation, I explained the challenges that blind people face being seated on juries. I talked about our legislative campaign to adopt jury nondiscrimination laws in the fifty states. Stephanie was sympathetic and commented that in the past as an African-American woman she too would have faced arbitrary exclusion from jury service. Lightening the mood, she again said that she did not really want to serve today, but she would not want to be excluded because of her race. I assured her that I had resolved the matter, and we settled back to wait for the first jury pool call.
Within half an hour the lead staff member called for jurors 428 to 547, with the exception of juror 458, to report to Judge Pearson's courtroom, number 329, across the street. They were told to meet at the front door of the courthouse to be escorted by circuit court staff across the street and into the appropriate courtroom. Alarmed to be the only one excluded from this series of numbers and mindful of my experience during registration, I immediately inquired why I had not been assigned to this jury pool.
I was met by a deputy sheriff, in the room to answer questions and keep order. I explained my concern and said I suspected I had not been selected because I was blind, so he made further inquiries on my behalf. He returned to report that the decision was to have me assigned only to courtrooms in the main building. I protested that such a restriction would not be necessary, but he assured me that because of the backlog there would be ample opportunity to serve on a jury and that the decision was final. Preferring to serve on a jury rather than fight the battle for public education, I returned to my seat. I told Stephanie that I had been excluded from the pool because the courtroom was across the street. She wished me luck addressing the issue before she left as part of the next call.
When my name was not listed in two additional calls for jury pools assigned to courtrooms in the main building (the protocol appeared to be to progress up the juror numbers without going back to include previously excluded jurors), I began to worry. By lunchtime my patience was exhausted. We were all excused for an on-your-own lunch break. I quietly simmered at the irony of being determined to be unable to cross the street in a group of jury pool members while no staff member even offered simple directions, much less an escort, to the front door of the building. I left the courthouse, grabbed a sandwich at a deli down the street, and returned prepared to resolve the issue respectfully but firmly.
Before we gathered again after lunch, I visited the office of the jury commissioner to register my complaint and see if I could speak to somebody with the authority to remedy the situation. An administrative assistant in the office of the jury commissioner greeted me. I briefly recounted my experience and asked to speak with the jury commissioner. She said the commissioner was out of the office for the afternoon but took me to Lisa Dungee, a supervisor in the jury commissioner's office.
I began by saying I appreciated the intention that had motivated the staff member's decision to exclude me from assignments in courtrooms across the street, but I also told her that I had indicated that such an accommodation would not be necessary. I pointed out that I had crossed several streets en route to the courthouse for jury service earlier that day, and I mentioned that I crossed these same streets every day to reach my place of employment. I told her that my job required me to travel extensively and independently throughout the nation, and I reviewed my educational background. I said that, considering the dearth of qualified jurors in Baltimore, excluding me seemed a waste of a qualified--and for that matter fairly eager--juror candidate. I explained that I was perfectly willing to be excluded from selection for a particular jury based on any number of legitimate factors that either the judge or the attorneys might identify, but I was not willing to discard a perfectly good day without being given the chance to be fairly considered for this important civic duty.
To her credit Ms. Dungee was apologetic and understanding. She agreed that the staff member should have honored my request to have no restrictions placed on my availability for jury pool assignments, and she attributed the poor judgment of the staff member to the fact that extra, untrained staff were required to help process the day's larger-than-normal jury pool. I replied, perhaps a little wryly, that I did not think much training was required to teach employees that they should honor the decisions and statements of competent blind adults. Laughing, Ms. Dungee conceded that I had a point. She then told me that several more calls for jurors were scheduled for after lunch, and she promised to see that I was immediately assigned to one of these.
Within a few minutes of reconvening, I was called to be part of a twenty-person supplemental pool that a judge--in the building I had been in all along--requested be sent to her courtroom, since she expected to exhaust her original pool before a panel was seated. We trooped upstairs to courtroom 600 and, after sitting for about half an hour, returned to the jury holding room because we had not been needed after all. An hour later we were excused for the day with the gratitude of the Maryland Circuit Court for the City of Baltimore.
Needless to say, my first experience with jury service was bitterly disappointing. If I am called again--and I am assured that, once you are in Baltimore's system, you will almost certainly be called every year—I hope that I am given a real opportunity to serve. Stephanie returned to the jury holding room and told me that she had been excused from service by Judge Pearson on what was going to be a fairly lengthy murder trial. While it would not have been convenient for me to be absent from work for an extended trial, I would have preferred to be legitimately excused for professional reasons rather than excluded from consideration by a clerk who had unilaterally decided that I was not equal to crossing the street. In this instance not even our jury nondiscrimination legislation had a chance to be tested. My opportunity to perform my civic duty was thwarted by the simple but profound ignorance about blindness of much of our society. We still have much to do to educate the general public, but perhaps my one-person campaign will make a difference for future potential blind jurors summoned to service. In time we will reach a verdict on the effectiveness of our public education campaign. We will make the case for our competence as blind people one experience, one anecdote at a time.
From the Editor: From time to time Miss Whozit answers reader questions about etiquette and good manners, particularly as they involve blindness. If you would like to pose a question to Miss Whozit, you can send it to the attention of Barbara Pierce, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, or email me at <email@example.com>. I will pass the questions along. Letters may be edited for space and clarity. Here are the most recent letters Miss Whozit has received:
Dear Miss Whozit,
I am blind, but my question is not personal. I was with a group of blind people at a public event where some of us were going to speak. A sighted professional with an agency in our state that works with blind people came over to a blind man sitting near me and told him in tones loud enough for me to hear that his coat and slacks did not go together and that his shoes were different colors.
My immediate reaction was annoyance with her because I recalled Miss Manners giving the advice to provide such information to a person only when he or she has the ability to correct the situation—a spot that could be removed or made less obvious, a slip showing, a button undone, etc. She went on to say that, when the person could do nothing about the problem (as in this case when the man was two hours from home), the most considerate thing one can do is to pretend that the problem is invisible. So I was all ready to take the woman to task, in my own mind at least, for having embarrassed a man to no purpose.
Then the man’s sighted wife spoke up and changed my reaction entirely. She said, “What difference does it make? He’s blind. No one expects him to look good.” I was immediately furious with the wife for saying such a thing and the husband for agreeing, I assume--at least he did not object to her statement.
Miss Whozit, I want your opinion on this matter. I said nothing at the time, but on the way home, when we were able to conduct a private conversation, I tried to explain my view that blind people have a responsibility to do the best we can to look professional and well turned out when we are in public and especially when we are going to address people who know nothing about blindness. The couple got indignant with me. The chapter president, who is a professional and dresses well, blew the whole incident off, saying that he would have the same problem if his wife didn’t tell him what to wear and when to send it to the cleaner or put it into the wash. What do you think?
Disconcerted but Still Angry
You need not continue to be disconcerted, or at least Miss Whozit is shuddering along with you and patting her brow with her lace-edged handkerchief. The very fact that “No one expects him to look good” is the very reason that he should dress so as to confound the stereotype of the blind beggar dressed in rags. I suspect that the wife’s attitude that mismatched clothes and shoes don’t matter because her husband is blind was somewhat defensive since one would have expected her to advise him on such matters in order to avoid his embarrassment in important professional and social situations.
I have heard sighted members of the families of blind people argue that they themselves do not care whether they are wearing unmatching or stained clothing as long as it is clean. That is their right, of course, but they are judged as individuals when they dress carelessly. The blind person who makes that decision reinforces a stereotype that damages all of us. Whatever their own attitudes about dress and good grooming, parents and spouses should in Miss Manners’s opinion do all they can to teach blind children and newly blind adults to identify clothing and remember what garments go together. Color identifiers and systems of organization are often important tools in such efforts. Those who have no idea how to begin helping a blind family member take control of his or her wardrobe should look around them and ask a blind person who consistently dresses appropriately how to begin.
Miss Whozit would like to think that all blind people care about furthering our efforts to persuade the public that we can compete on terms of equality with our sighted neighbors. Blind people who do not care whether their clothes fit well and are clean and matched are working against our contention that we are like everybody else except that we don’t see.
In an ideal world the sighted professional would have waited till the meeting had ended before calling attention to the unfortunate choices the blind man had made. You are correct that there is no point in causing embarrassment when nothing can be done about the problem. In this case, however, the comments probably did not damage his confidence or self-image, but that is no reason to make statements that would cause embarrassment to a person with normal sensibilities who is powerless to change the situation. In the instance you describe, there was plenty of blame to go around, but you can comfort yourself that you did what you could to educate people who should have known better.
Dear Miss Whozit,
I must be a rather old-fashioned sighted woman. I got on an elevator the other day with a blind man, a work colleague. The elevator was in our building, so I know he was familiar with the control panel. When the car door opened, he stepped on before me and then stood at the rear waiting for me to push the button for his floor as well as my own. I do not object to pushing elevator buttons, and I am used to waiting for others to board the car before me.
It seems to me, however, that most sighted men of my acquaintance would have stepped back for me to precede them and then offered to push the button for me. At the very least they would have taken the responsibility for pushing their own button rather than assuming that I would do it for them.
Am I missing something here? If blind people want to be treated equally, it seems to me that they should be alert to making the small gestures of civility that, even in this era of gender equality, courteous men make as a matter of course. If he had had his hands full or had not been familiar with the panel, I would have been delighted to help by pushing his button. Even then, however, I would have preferred to have been asked rather than having him assume that I knew where he was going and would as a matter of course be prepared to let him enter first and then push the button for him.
Am I expecting more of my colleague than is reasonable? It seems to me that I am merely holding him to the general standard of social behavior.
Looking for Chivalry
Miss Whozit devoutly hopes that neither chivalry nor courtesy is dead, but she fears that both are sometimes much put about. In explanation of your blind colleague’s thoughtless behavior, one might point out that sighted people very often step back, waiting for a blind person to enter or exit an elevator ahead of them. It is easy for a blind person to begin thinking of such special treatment as normal. It is also true that, when blind people reach for the control panel, hands fly from all directions to push the button before we can locate it. Even when we ask if we can push it for someone else, a finger usually descends from over our shoulders to do the job.
These facts may explain your male colleague’s behavior; it is, however, not Miss Whozit’s intention to offer an excuse for him. Ladies and gentlemen should conduct themselves with civility at all times. The fact that a blind person does not actually see people trying to get off an elevator or other people waiting to step on does not excuse us from allowing them to leave or get on ahead of us. Miss Whozit hopes that, gender equality notwithstanding, men who aspire to conduct themselves as gentlemen will begin or continue to invite women to enter or exit ahead of them. Ladies should certainly do the same when appropriate. You are to be commended for expecting to hold your blind colleague to the same standard of civility as you do others in your workplace.
From the Associate Editor: At our convention in Detroit the first week in July, the National Federation of the Blind released a new book, Bridging the Gap: Living with Blindness and Diabetes. It focuses on nonvisual methods of managing diabetes. Since the NFB's quarterly publication addressing issues of blindness and diabetes, the Voice of the Diabetic, is no longer being published, this volume has been prepared to answer common questions from blind diabetics. The book includes a collection of some of the best articles from the Voice of the Diabetic and a useful resource section. The NFB is making this free guide to living with blindness and diabetes available to everyone interested in this subject, particularly blind diabetics and healthcare professionals. Contact the NFB Independence Market at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2216, or email <Independencemarket@nfb.org> for further information or to place your order. To give readers an idea of the volume’s organization, its target audience, and the features that make it especially useful to blind and low-vision readers, here is the book’s introduction:
Diabetes can be difficult, especially if one lacks essential information about managing it. Blindness or vision loss can be all the more frustrating when one lacks critical know-how. So what happens when one is experiencing both diabetes and blindness? Where can one turn for answers? Where does someone with diabetes turn when he loses vision? Where does a blind person turn when she develops diabetes?
Bridging the Gap: Living with Blindness and Diabetes, a one-of-a-kind resource, provides the necessary link between diabetes and blindness, and the facts about successfully managing diabetes as a blind person. The word “blind,” as used in this volume, refers to any significant degree of vision loss that a person experiences that markedly limits the ability to do things visually.
This five-part volume draws from articles originally published in the Voice of the Diabetic, a magazine that the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) published for twenty-four years that met the informational needs of blind people with diabetes. We begin with “Personal Portraits: Success Stories about Living with Diabetes and Blindness.” Readers of this book (particularly blind people who also have diabetes) need to know that they are not alone and that people everywhere are adopting a positive approach to coping with these dual conditions.
Next, we present “Diabetes Basics: What Everyone Should Know.” Few diabetes resources are available in accessible formats, so in this section we make sure that readers have access to necessary information. In “Secrets of Success: Managing Diabetes as a Blind Person,” we offer a wealth of wisdom developed especially for and by the real experts, blind people who manage their own diabetes. Seasoned diabetes specialists and rehabilitation professionals, as well as blind diabetics, will find this section enlightening and instructive.
In “Continuing the Journey” we share personal stories and important technical information from medical experts in the field. This should prove especially informative for those blind diabetics who may also be encountering concerns like dialysis, amputation, wound care, neuropathy, and gastroparesis. Finally, in “Resources” we gather a treasure trove of useful community-based resources for enhancing independence, many of which are free for the asking. We have even included sample jumbo-print diabetes logs, available for the first time.
Designed with Optimal Accessibility in Mind
Bridging the Gap: Living with Blindness and Diabetes is unique. This new resource guide has been created by the Diabetes Action Network (DAN) of the NFB and has been designed with maximum accessibility in mind. It is produced in large print so that some blind people can read the print independently. But accompanying it is a disc that includes an audio CD recording of each article (in an MP3 version) along with an electronic text-only version. In addition, people can read this book online, where they can also find printer-friendly versions of each article.
A Special Message to Healthcare Providers
If you serve blind diabetics, this book is for you too. Here you will find essential tools so that blind diabetics can independently manage their diabetes every day. Feel free to reproduce its articles to share with coworkers, diabetic patients, and clients.
What Is the NFB Diabetes Action Network?
Since 1985 the NFB Diabetes Action Network has educated, empowered, and inspired blind diabetics to live their best and fullest lives. The DAN encourages its membership, advocates for accessible diabetes technology, and does everything it can to put essential information about diabetes into the hands of blind people. This Federation division fosters positive attitudes and offers practical advice to blind diabetics, family members, rehabilitation specialists, and healthcare professionals working in the field of diabetes. We encourage you to join the DAN and benefit from its peer support and advocacy efforts.
The Changing Demographics of Diabetes and Blindness
When the NFB established its diabetes division, most of our members were type 1 diabetics who had lost their vision after years with the disease. Back then far less was known about diabetes, and hardly any tools existed for reliably measuring and controlling blood sugar.
Today our members also represent two other quickly expanding demographics, most of whom have type 2 diabetes. Some have lost or are losing vision from type 2 diabetes; others have been blind for some time and have mastered independence as blind people, but, like too many other Americans today, they have developed type 2 diabetes as experienced blind adults. Whether you were born blind or are blind from other diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, or glaucoma, you can turn to the NFB Diabetes Action Network for both accessible diabetes information and tips for managing diabetes without vision.
With Gratitude to Our Sponsors
Special thanks go to the generous donors that have helped fund this important work. They are GlaxoSmithKline, the Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation in Washington, D.C., and the St. Agnes Hospital Foundation in Baltimore, Maryland. Without their support this critically needed resource would not be in your hands today. Enjoy reading Bridging the Gap: Living with Blindness and Diabetes.
From the Editor: Lou Fioritto is a member of the East Hillsborough Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida. He owns and operates a small business that was profiled in the St. Petersburg Times on May 25, 2009. Despite Lou’s being a blind man running a business in the blindness field, the reporter resisted the temptation to gush over his skills or the nature of his company. Articles like this one are heartening, not just because they spotlight blind people who are successful in their chosen work, but because they help to emphasize our place in the mainstream of community life. Here is the story:
Owners of Brailleworks found a niche to fill
by Ashley Grant
What began as a business of helping the blind to gain independence became a mission of making the world a more readable place. Lou Fioritto, sixty-two, who has been blind since birth, was out of a job and needed a way to make money. He wanted to help people like himself. He and his wife Joyce opened Brailleworks in Cleveland in 1994. They moved the company to Seffner [Florida] in 1996 and have been going strong ever since. The company mainly handles restaurant menus, but it also prints Braille bank and credit card statements for financial institutions as well as a few other commercial businesses.
Why did you start Brailleworks?
My wife and I went to a restaurant, and they gave me a Braille menu in 1993. I had never been given one before. The menu didn't have a table of contents, and there were quite a few pages of Braille. So, if I was looking for something, I'd have to touch every single thing on the page to find items. The first thing I thought was, if I had a Braille company, we'd do a table of contents. We were both entrepreneurial-minded, and we decided to start a Braille company at that table. I started doing research, and in December of 1993 we locked in our first contract, although we didn't have any software or any equipment. We got our first job out for the phone company in Cleveland, Ohio, and then we picked up Applebee's, Bob Evans, Outback Steakhouse, and other major restaurant chains.
What is your favorite thing about what you do?
Knowing that we are making a difference out there. We are a Christ-centered company, and we work at that daily. We make sure that our products have integrity. I can read my menu for myself, and I know that thousands of other people are able to read their menus and credit card statements for themselves and have the privacy to do so. This gives them one more step toward their own independence.
What is the income like for this kind of business?
The company makes more than six figures annually in gross sales. We have thirteen staff members now. We've grown every year since we came to Florida.
What has been the biggest challenge in your job?
Money. It got pretty tight there for a while. We self-financed, and the stuff (we needed) wasn't cheap. It took everything we had. In 1994 or 1995 we took our last bit of my retirement savings out of the bank and put it in our checking account. I went to the Small Business Administration in hopes of getting a loan, and this lady who had a master's degree in business helped me write a business plan. Finally I walked in one day, and she said the plan was acceptable.
Why is the plan so important?
I had a lot of people telling me we should go after certain kinds of corporations and government accounts, and I took my eyes off of the restaurant industry and started marketing to government agencies and big business. I'd be up at three in the morning praying, saying we're going under. As a last resort I pulled out the bottom drawer of my desk, and the whole business plan was centered on restaurants. The next morning I told (Joyce) we were going to be okay, and I got back on the phone and started calling restaurant after restaurant. I went back to my plan, and the deals came through. Basically, we quickly learned that sticking to the business plan would always save us and keep us successful. When we divert from the plan, it is a risk for failure.
What are your plans for the future for yourself and the company?
I'd like to see the company be able to get bigger clients, major bank and health care accounts as well as government accounts. For myself I want to have more of an advisory role.
This month’s recipes come from members of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah.
Simple Swedish Meatballs
by Bill and Sandy Gibson
Bill Gibson is the director of the Utah State Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He is also the newly elected treasurer of the Weber/Davis Chapter of the NFB of Utah. Bill and Sandy are the parents of five children. They also have a few cows in their backyard, otherwise known as a pasture.
2 pounds lean hamburger
1/2 cup unflavored cracker or breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg (or more to taste)
Pam or other nonstick cooking spray
3 tablespoons oil
1 can Campbell's condensed cream of mushroom soup
3/4 soup can of milk (use evaporated milk for a richer taste)
Method: Mix the first six ingredients together until well combined. Form into balls. Coat a skillet with cooking spray, then add the oil and preheat. When oil is hot, slip the meatballs into the pan and turn with spoons to brown on all sides. Reduce the heat and drain excess oil if necessary. While browning meat, combine condensed soup and milk. Pour mixture over meatballs. Simmer for twenty to thirty minutes, depending on the size of the meatballs. If you like a thicker gravy, leave the lid off; covering the pan for part or all of the simmering time will result in a thinner sauce. For more gravy add more soup and milk. Serve over hot cooked noodles or hot mashed potatoes. Great served with peas.
Utah Sheet Cake
by Jerry Nealey
Jerry Nealey was elected president of the Weber/Davis Chapter of the NFB of Utah in March of 2009 after attending a membership seminar at the National Center for the Blind. Jerry took what he learned at the membership seminar to heart and increased his chapter membership from seven to thirty-four in two months. He and his wife Julie are the proud parents of a son, Daniel.
2 cups self-rising flour
2 cups white sugar
2 sticks butter
1 cup water
4 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 cup sour cream
Method: Combine self-rising flower and sugar. In a saucepan bring to a boil butter, water, and cocoa. Remove from heat and beat into the flower and sugar. Add eggs and sour cream and mix well. Pour batter into a well-greased 9-by-13-inch pan and bake for twenty-five minutes at 350 degrees. Do not overbake.
1 stick butter
4 tablespoons cocoa
6 tablespoons milk
1 pound confectionary sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups pecans, chopped (optional)
Method: Over low heat combine butter, cocoa, and milk. Blend by stirring constantly until mixture is homogeneous. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract and enough confectionery sugar to make the frosting spreading consistency. If you like nuts, you can add chopped pecans. Pour over cake while it is still hot.
Fiesta Chicken Rice Bake
by Kris Cox
Kris Cox is the executive director of the Department of Work Force Services for the State of Utah, which is a cabinet position. She is also a member of the board of directors of the NFB of Utah. Kris and Randy have two boys, Tanner and Rylie.
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 cup Pace thick and chunky salsa
½ cup water
1 cup corn
¾ cup uncooked white rice
4 chicken breast halves
½ to 1 cup shredded cheese
Method: In two-quart baking dish mix soup, salsa, water, corn, and rice. Place chicken on top. Sprinkle with paprika. Cover and bake at 375 degrees for forty-five minutes. Sprinkle with cheese.
Irish Style Pot Roast
by Everette Bacon
Everette Bacon serves as president of the Salt Lake Chapter and as a member of the board of directors of the NFB of Utah. He is a technology specialist with a master’s degree in rehabilitation teaching. He is married to Dr. Angela Peters.
1 4- or 5-pound rump roast
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
6 medium potatoes, washed, peeled, and quartered
3 carrots, sliced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 12-ounce can stewed tomatoes
A sprig of fresh dill weed
1 head green cabbage, cut into moon-shaped wedges
1 16-ounce bottle Guinness draft
Method: You can cook this roast in a crockpot or a Dutch oven. Combine flour, salt, and pepper on a large plate or cutting board and dredge all sides of roast in the flour mixture. In a frying pan or the Dutch oven, cook roast on all sides until it is lightly browned. Layer potatoes, carrots, and onions in bottom of crock pot. Place roast on top and pour tomatoes over it and sprinkle with dill weed. Arrange cabbage wedges on top and pour Guinness over all. Cover and cook on low in the crock pot for eight to ten hours or on high or in oven at 300 for four to five hours. Serves four to six people. Don't worry, the alcohol is cooked out of the dish.
Five-Minute Microwave Caramel Popcorn
by Marla Palmer
Marla Palmer and her husband Michael are proud parents of three children (Megan, Adam, and Lauren), two of whom are blind. Marla also serves as the president of the Utah Parents of Blind Children. The NFB of Utah boasts that it has the best parents division anywhere in the country. This is due to Marla and many other parents in Utah who make it all happen.
2 packages of microwave popcorn, popped according to package directions
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white Karo syrup
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
Method: Pour popped corn into large bowl. Set aside. Cook butter, brown sugar, white Karo syrup, and sweetened condensed milk in the microwave on high for three to five minutes, until melted and boiling. Stir sauce and pour over popcorn. Mix until sauce coats all the popcorn. Let it cool for about five minutes before eating.
Willie B's Gumbo
by William Black
William Black is a 2008 national scholarship winner. He is the secretary of the Salt Lake Chapter of the NFB of Utah. He is currently working on a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts at the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Salt Lake. Willie and his wife Amanda are the proud parents of two girls, Erica and Christin.
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup bleached all-purpose flour
2 cups yellow onions, chopped
1 cup green bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
14 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed but uncooked
8 cups chicken stock
1 pound smoked sausage, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup green onions (scallions), chopped (green part only)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
Steamed white rice, for serving
Method: Combine the 3/4 cup oil and flour in a large nonstick saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the roux mixture is dark brown, the color of chocolate, thirty to thirty-five minutes. Add the onions, peppers, celery, salt, cayenne, bay leaves, and garlic. Cook the vegetables, stirring often, until they are soft and tender, about ten minutes. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large nonstick skillet. Season chicken with Creole seasoning (recipe below), and, when oil is hot, brown the chicken on all sides and remove from pan. Add the stock, cubed chicken, and sausage to the pan with the vegetables. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, uncovered, until the chicken is very tender, about one hour. Skim off and discard any fat that rises to the surface of the gumbo. Remove the bay leaves. Stir in the green onions and parsley. Serve immediately in shallow soup bowls over steamed white rice.
Creole Seasoning Ingredients:
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
Method: Combine all ingredients thoroughly. Store in a tightly covered jar. Yields two-thirds of a cup.
by Sachin and Margee Pavithran
Sachin Pavithran won the top NFB national scholarship in 2007. He is the president of the Cache Valley Chapter of the NFB of Utah and serves on the board of directors of the NFB of Utah. Margee is the treasurer of the Cache Valley Chapter. They are the proud parents of a new baby, Maya Anne. Sachin and Margee chose this recipe because they love Indian food (Sachin was born in India), and this snack is easy to make and very tasty. Sachin became a United States citizen on September 10, 2008.
1 package spring roll pastry
3 large potatoes
3/4 cup frozen peas
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 small onion, chopped
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon water
Oil for frying
Method: Boil potatoes until tender, then set aside to cool. Pour water into a small bowl with flour, and mix until it has a thin, glue-like consistency. Set aside. Chop the potatoes into small, bite-sized pieces. Place them in a medium bowl, then add peas, chopped onions, spices, and lemon juice. Mix everything together. To make samosas, place each sheet of pastry on a cutting board. Lift one corner of the pastry and brush some of the paste on the underside of the corner. Coil it toward the center and press paste-side-down against the center of the sheet so that it is glued in place. Brush paste on the other corner of that long side of the sheet and coil into a cone, pressing the pasted corner firmly against the back side of the sheet to seal. Hold the cone in one hand and stuff the open end of the samosa with about a tablespoon of filling. Coat the open lip with the flour glue. Fold the edge over. Press to seal. In a deep pan over medium heat fry three samosas at a time on one side until they brown. Then turn them over and fry on the other side. Lift them out of the pan and drain on a paper-towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil. You can serve samosas as an appetizer or as part of the main course.
News from the Federation Family
Braille Coins in Space:
The NFB circulated the following press release in early May:
The 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar, the first coin ever to feature readable Braille, flew on NASA space shuttle Atlantis on May 11, 2009. The coin was launched into space on mission STS-125, which serviced NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
The Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar was released by the United States Mint on March 26, 2009. Sales of the coin will be used to support the National Federation of the Blind Braille Readers are Leaders campaign, a national initiative created to double the number of blind children learning Braille by 2015. NFB President Marc Maurer said: "The Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar symbolizes the power of knowledge and future opportunities for blind children across America. It is therefore fitting that this historic coin is part of a mission to uncover the secrets of the universe. Perhaps someday a Braille reader will also be part of such a mission."
"NASA believes strongly in the importance of educational opportunities for everyone," said Joyce Winterton, assistant administrator for education at NASA headquarters in Washington. "That is why we have partnered with the National Federation of the Blind to help create programs that enhance scientific study for blind youth. Launching the first coin to contain tactile, readable Braille into space symbolizes NASA's commitment to the spread of knowledge by every means and to every individual."
The Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar is currently on sale. Those interested in ordering a coin should visit <www.usmint.gov> or call (800) USA-MINT (872-6468). For more information about the National Federation of the Blind and the Braille Readers are Leaders campaign, visit www.braille.org>.
On March 7, 2009, the Kankakee Heartland Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois held its annual election. The following officers were elected: president, Bill Isaacs; vice president, Frank Einfeldt; secretary, Carol Kwaak; treasurer, Ruth Isaacs; and board member, Raymond Kwaak.
Bud Publishing Company of Bremerton, Washington, recently introduced Ivan Weich as its newest author and released his first novel, The Bloody Shield. The novel looks at the anatomy of homicide investigations. It is a virtual ride with a homicide team leader in a large city. The publisher is working to produce the book in an alternate format as quickly as possible and has spoken out about print-disabled people’s recent problems with the Authors Guild. Ivan is a longtime Federationist who currently serves as president of the NFB Public Employees Division.
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.
Book Angel Program Reminder:
Seedlings Braille Books for Children has a free program open to all blind children in the United States that enables them to receive two free Braille books a year. So sign them up now if you haven't already done so. It is called the Book Angel Program, and you can register your children online at <http://www.seedlings.org/bkangel2009.php> or call Seedlings toll-free at (800) 777-8552.
Free Christian Magazine Available in Braille:
The Apostolic Faith Church publishes the Higher Way, a free quarterly Christian magazine in standard print and Braille. When subscribing, readers should indicate format preference. For further information or to subscribe to the magazine, contact the Apostolic Faith Church at (503) 777-1741 or email <Subscriptions@apostolicfaith.org>. Recent editions of the Higher Way can be read online at <www.apostolicfaith.org>.
Summer Experience at the Oral Hull Foundation for the Blind:
Blind adults are welcome to attend one of the week-long camps at the Oral Hull Foundation for the Blind in Sandy, Oregon. This is our twenty-seventh annual summer camp series. Featured this summer are Adult Adventure Camp (August 1 to 7), Alumni and Friends Camp (August 9 to 15), and Explore Oregon Camp (August 17 to 23). For further information about the Oral Hull Foundation for the Blind's summer camp programs, weekend retreats, and other special events, contact Jeff Lann, executive director, at (503) 668-6195 or email <Oralhull@teleport.com>. Visit the foundation's Website at <http://www.oralhull.org> for camp registration forms and a description of its facilities and history.
Pen Pal Wanted:
Jamie Thompson writes: I am a thirty-seven-year-old female seeking a pen pal with whom I can exchange letters in uncontracted Braille. I would like to meet someone with whom I can share thoughts and insights and with whom I can practice my Braille writing skills. My address is: 1819 Corning Lane, Midland, Michigan 48642.
ASB Ends Magazine Production:
Associated Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ASB) ceased its recorded periodicals service operation on May 15, 2009. ASB also closed its RICB radio reading service at that time. Some people have subscriptions to recorded periodicals that are paid up beyond May 15. If so, ASB will issue refunds for the unexpired portion and hopes to send refunds by the end of June.
Music Instruction by Ear:
Learn to play your favorite musical instrument without having to read printed or Braille music. Bill Brown's Music for the Blind offers beginner courses for a dozen instruments, including piano, guitar, bass, violin, banjo, and flute. These courses are taught by ear in all-audio formats, so no reading of music is required. Each course contains at least four cassettes or CDs and costs as little as $39.
In addition to these beginner courses, over six hundred individual song lessons are taught in the same all-audio format. Prices start at $11.95. For further information visit the Website at <www.musicfortheblind.com>; call (888) 778-1828; or address correspondence to Bill Brown's Music for the Blind, Valdosta Music and Publishing, 704 Habersham Road, Valdosta, Georgia 31602.
Independence Is Cross-Country Skiing:
The thirty-fifth annual Ski for Light International Week will take place from Sunday, January 31, through Sunday, February 7, 2010, in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. We will stay at the Marriott Hotel & Conference Center in downtown Provo, Utah. We will ski at the Soldier Hollow cross-country ski area in nearby Midway, Utah. Soldier Hollow was the cross-country skiing venue for the 2002 Winter Olympics.
If you are a visually impaired adult who would like to spend a week skiing or learning to ski, you will want to attend the thirty-fifth annual Ski for Light International week, January 31 to February 7, 2010. Nearly three hundred skiers and guides will converge for a week of recreational skiing, fun, friendship, and fellowship. Visually impaired skiers are matched with sighted guides and ski together for the week while working on developing the skills and techniques of cross-country skiing.
For additional information contact the VIP Coordinator Renee Abernathy (704) 263-1314 or <firstname.lastname@example.org>; or Lynda Boose at (906) 370-7541 or <Lyndab@sfl.org>. Visit the SFL Web page, <www.slf.org> to learn more about the program and to put in your application for a fantastic week of fun.
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.
Perkins Braillewriter with cover, in excellent condition. Asking $275. Will ship by UPS (insured). Contact Bill at (719) 547-1611 or email <email@example.com>.
Tony Sohl has a K-NFB Reader Classic that he is willing to sell. This is the first handheld unit manufactured. Included is all the documentation in print, Braille, cassette, and CD. Also included are the case for the unit, charging adapter, and software version 3.8.1. The software is on an SD (Secure Digital) memory card. The data is stored on a compact flash card that can be used with other notetakers such as the BrailleNote and PAC Mate for reading.
The only problem he reports was that, when the PDA needs to be recalibrated, sighted assistance is required. He is asking $1,200 or best offer. If you have any questions, contact Tony at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
This Patriot Platinum Magnifying America CCTV is in perfect condition and includes camera, color TV screen, and movable table. The original price was $3,895; the asking price is $1,775 or best offer. The owner has to move and does not want to take the CCTV with her. Selling this technology is an immediate priority. For further information and to negotiate all other terms, contact either Sylvia Cohn, owner, or Sue Ellen Goldman at (410) 484-7110 (home) or (410) 375-4866 (cell). Email inquiries can be sent to <Segoldman2@verizon.net>.
Sarah Harris would like to sell a BrailleNote MPower BT 32. The unit is three years old and in good condition. Carrying case and battery charger are included. Asking $4,100. If interested, email <email@example.com> or call (806) 886-1340.
Contact Alice McDonough at (404) 626-6621 to inquire about any of the following items:
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.