Vol. 52, No. 8 August/September 2009
Barbara Pierce, editor
Daniel B. Frye, associate editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
The National Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, president
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
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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. 8 August/September 2009
The 2009 March for Independence
A Photo Report
The 2009 Convention Roundup
by Daniel B. Frye
The Journey of Braille: From the Hands of the Creator To Earth Orbit
by Marc Maurer
Presidential Report 2009
by Marc Maurer
Awards Presented at the 2009 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind
The 2009 Bolotin Awards Presentation
by Gary Wunder
Meet the 2009 Scholarship Class of the National Federation of the Blind
The Value of Decision
by Marc Maurer
The Value of a Coin, of a Communication System, and of a Class of Human Beings
by Fredric K. Schroeder
From the Center of History:
Five Years into the Future of the NFB Jernigan Institute
by Mark A. Riccobono
Dancing in the Rain
by Barbara Loos
A Call to Collective Action
by Sharon Maneki
The 2009 Resolutions of the National Federation of the BlindConvention Miniatures
Copyright 2009 by the National Federation of the Blind
Monday morning, July 6, dawned clear and refreshingly cool for Detroit in the middle of summer. This was a welcome pleasure for the more than one thousand Federationists who assembled in the Wintergarden outside the convention headquarters hotel to prepare for the third annual March for Independence. Designated affiliate representatives picked up state signs while other marching teams and delegations found one another and hoisted homemade banners in anticipation of the 5K walk-a-thon, a route that largely followed the beautiful RiverWalk Promenade and culminated in a rally at Rivard Plaza.
Since this year's rally location was close to the convention facility, event organizers were able to orchestrate a mini-march for those unable to walk the entire distance. Starting about thirty minutes later, these march participants were easily able to join the enthusiastic parade as it passed back by the hotel en route to Rivard Plaza. Bedecked in March for Independence T-shirts and caps--premiums awarded for raising different levels of money for the Imagination Fund--Federationists were easily identifiable as a uniformed and united mass of humanity.
As the march began, Kevan Worley, chairman of the Imagination Fund, told the marchers that NFB President Marc Maurer had lit the Torch of Freedom, a large torch symbolizing hope, opportunity, and ambition for the blind of the nation. Cheered by this gesture and buoyed by the good-humor of the unified throng, marchers chanted slogans and casually talked among themselves as they wound their way around the scenic, pedestrian-friendly march route. As often happens in large Federation gatherings, these occasions become opportunities for experienced blind people to mentor those in need of support or simply to show a little human kindness to one another. One marcher’s cane was broken while walking along, so another marcher offered him a cane to use.
As people streamed into the plaza, they were greeted with music from the platform public address system that energized the early-morning gathering. Many were given freedom bells to ring while others received small white flags featuring our logo, Whozit, to wave. Kevan Worley, dressed in a sharp white blazer, served again this year as the master of ceremonies for the march rally. As people settled in for the rally program, Kevan announced that several of the youth from the Michigan affiliate were bringing the Torch of Freedom into the plaza and onto the stage. He also promoted our Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar, even enticing the crowd to chant "<USMint.gov.>"
Kevan then introduced Michigan favorite son and longtime Federation leader Allen Harris to welcome the marchers and to introduce his protégé and current Michigan affiliate president, Fred Wurtzel. President Wurtzel welcomed all to Michigan and lauded the participation of the several Michigan youth who carried the Torch of Freedom into the rally.
Marchers were next introduced to a series of local dignitaries in attendance to salute the presence of the NFB in Detroit. Larry Alexander, chief executive officer of the Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau, took the stage to promise that Detroit's business community would roll out the red carpet for the NFB convention and to pledge his support and appreciation for the work of the Federation. He encouraged everyone to take full advantage of the many new attractions that Detroit had to offer during our stay. Former Detroit Pistons basketball star and now Mayor of Detroit Dave Bing said, "Continue to do what you do. Thank you for being here and God bless." Finally, Dave McCurdy, president and chief executive officer of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, came from his home in Virginia to offer tidings to us on behalf of the automobile manufacturing industry, still one of Detroit's biggest industries. Mr. McCurdy was scheduled to address the convention later in the day, and he came early to pass the entire day with the Federation.
Kevan next introduced Mark Riccobono, executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute, to preside over a brief program highlighting some of the Institute's initiatives. Since the work of the NFB Jernigan Institute is the main national beneficiary of Imagination Fund dollars, event organizers showcased the wide-ranging purposes that this hard-won revenue supports.
Mark first introduced NFB of Illinois President and National Board Member Patti Chang to talk about Freedom Link, the Illinois affiliate's version of the model Transition Club program that the Institute first piloted in Baltimore. According to Patti, Freedom Link provides hands-on experiences with blind mentors that cannot be obtained in school or in orientation and mobility lessons. Exporting this youth mentoring program to affiliates around the country is one effective way that the work of the Institute reaches out to blind people. Patti introduced Joe, a sixteen-year-old Freedom Link participant, who said, "My favorite part of Freedom Link has been meeting new people. I can't thank you enough for providing these Freedom Link outings to me. I'm now motivated to accomplish real tasks in the real world." Similarly, NFB of South Carolina President and National Board Member Parnell Diggs spoke of the Imagination Fund grant that his affiliate received to promote Braille literacy. He presented two Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollars to a teacher and student who directly benefited from the Braille literacy program made possible through the Imagination Fund grant awarded to South Carolina.
Boniface Womber, a student from Ohio, spoke to those at the rally about his experience last summer at the Junior Science Academy for elementary-school-age students interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. "Before I went to JSA last year, I had good science instruction, but I had not had much hands-on experience. I was so excited about what we covered that I could not wait to tell my dad." Marla Palmer, president of the Utah Organization of Parents of Blind Children, spoke glowingly of attending the parent track that ran simultaneously with this student course: "I attended jam-packed sessions on Braille literacy, multisensory learning, IEP development, and nonvisual skills instruction. Let's raise money to educate, empower, and dream big."
Inspired by the stories of Federationists who have benefited from the work of the Imagination Fund and the efforts of the March for Independence, Federationists were primed to hear from NFB President Marc Maurer. Here is what he said:
The Emancipation Proclamation granting freedom to the slaves of rebellious states of the Union was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. What is emancipation? We are told that it is the act of setting people free from somebody else’s power or releasing them from dependence. When will the blind be emancipated? When will dependence be eliminated from our lives? When will others cease to assert that they have a right to control our destinies—to keep us in their power?
Our emancipation comes from our own actions, comes when we have decided it will, comes from the plans we make and the decisions we put into effect. As long as the administrators of rehabilitation programs can decide for us whether we will attend college classes of our own choice or be subject to their decisions, as long as the college administrators can tell us that electronic books are for everybody else but not for us, as long as the officials in the Department of Education can tell us that our right to choose the program of rehabilitation training where we will learn Braille or independent travel is limited by the decisions they make, for just this long we are confined, restricted, limited to the stultified imagination of ignorant bureaucrats. Do we have the right to learn? Do we have the right to read? Do we have the right to obtain rehabilitation training in the programs we find most beneficial? Why, why do the bureaucrats always think that they know more about what is good for us than we know ourselves?
This day we stride forth from the largest gathering of the blind to take place this year anywhere in the world. We take our destiny into our own hands, and we make our declarations with the joy that comes from an unquenchable determination. We have the power to march, we have the power to alter the future, we have the power for our own emancipation, and nothing can keep us from it. The process has already begun. We demand opportunity for ourselves and for those who come after us. We demand education for ourselves and for those who come after us. We demand access to information for ourselves and for those who come after us. We demand the right to full participation for ourselves and for those who come after us. We reject dependence, we reject control, we reject the notion that we are subject to the dictates of others. Our lives belong to us, and we demand all that the system of American law and political thought promises. Not in some future time, but today—not in some remote location, but here—not for a different generation, but for us and for those who come after us—we demand that this right be recognized, and we demand it now!
by Daniel B. Frye
Despite America's economic downturn, no sense of national gloom was apparent during the 2009 NFB national convention in Detroit, Michigan. A lift in convention registration figures over those from 2008 defied the trend for gatherings of national scope throughout the United States. Among those attending this convention were sixty-eight people who received convention scholarships from the Jernigan Fund for first-time delegates. The enthusiastic members of our Michigan host affiliate were joined by the excellent staff of the Detroit Marriott® at the Renaissance Center, our convention headquarters hotel, who greeted convention delegates with the warmth and fervor of those eager to benefit from an economic recovery that included the revenue from our convention and a devotion to marketing Detroit as a sparkling convention destination.
“New” was the watchword for the 2009 convention. New was our shortened schedule, which added a palpable sense of energy to the entire convention since no program items or major activities from previous years were omitted and fresh ideas and additional events were on offer. In typical Federation fashion delegates started earlier, ended later, and filled their days with an increased array of choices that have become a hallmark of NFB conventions. New was our creatively designed headquarters hotel because it had been substantially remodeled since our last convention in Detroit in 1994; consistent with the vision of the architect of this circular facility, a new surprise lurked around every twist and turn in the hotel. But Ambassador Committee Chairwoman Angela Wolf, her crew of friendly ambassadors, and scores of UPS volunteers were strategically stationed throughout the convention complex to ensure that these welcome surprises did not cause confusion. New was Detroit itself for many Federationists, boasting a large selection of restaurants and eateries, cultural attractions, and local history. The beautiful, pedestrian-friendly Detroit RiverWalk (part of which could be accessed from just outside the GM Renaissance Center) is a 5.5 mile promenade along the Detroit River running from the Ambassador Bridge to Belle Isle. Throughout the week Federationists sampled ice cream from the concession stands along the RiverWalk and enjoyed strolling along this scenic route between meetings and during the temperate early-July evenings.
Also new at this year's convention was our 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar, which Congress required that the U.S. Mint strike to help the National Federation of the Blind promote Braille literacy across America. In addition to coins being on sale from the Independence Market in our exhibit hall, convention delegates regularly heard about and could buy them at a special table in the Renaissance Ballroom during general sessions. President Maurer presented a Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar to most of our platform convention speakers, and random convention delegates won them as door prizes throughout the week. The 2009 NFB convention was one glorious national celebration of Louis Braille's two hundredth birthday and a tribute to the value of Braille in the lives of blind people in America and around the world.
Even our third annual March for Independence--A Walk for Opportunity--featured new wrinkles this year. On Monday morning, July 6, President and Mrs. Maurer; Mary Ellen Jernigan, chairwoman of convention organization and activities; Kevan Worley, chairman of the Imagination Fund; Fred Wurtzel, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan; local dignitaries; and the thirty boisterous members of the NFB scholarship class of 2009 led over a thousand Federationists and friends on the 5K route, closely trailing the Detroit RiverWalk, to Rivard Plaza, site of our rally just blocks away from the hotel. The proximity of the rally enabled march organizers for the first time to incorporate a mini-march to accommodate those unable to walk the entire route. President Maurer; Dave Bing, mayor of Detroit and former Detroit Pistons basketball star; and other guests addressed the assembly. The lead photo spread in this issue reports further on this year's march and rally.
Twitter, a relatively recent social networking phenomenon, added a new dimension for those interested in interacting with others at convention while offering some unable to be in Detroit an opportunity to follow snippets of activities from individual Twitterers at the convention. Mark Riccobono, executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute and avid Twitterer, organized a tweet-up (an in-person gathering of people attending the same event using Twitter) for Friday evening, July 3, at the Volt, the lobby bar in the Marriott. This event was so successful that it had to be divided into two large circulating gatherings inside the bar. Using a Twitter tag (a uniform identifying phrase associated with a particular event), we were able to determine that users generated at least 299 individual tweets about specific convention matters throughout the week; this measure, though, is quite conservative since its accuracy is dependent on people using the official NFB 2009 Twitter tag.
Again this year we broadcast the general sessions and banquet live on the Internet for the benefit of those unable to join us in Detroit. On the afternoon of July 7, just after the honor roll call of states concluded, President Maurer asked delegates to say hello to Barbara and Brad Loos, long-time leaders from our Nebraska affiliate, who were unable to attend this year's convention because Brad was recovering from his last chemotherapy treatment. Touched by this high-tech collective greeting, Barbara Loos has written a powerful report of her impressions of attending convention over the Internet, which appears elsewhere in this issue. Barbara and Brad's story, along with narratives from several other Federationists, offers a compelling reason to continue covering NFB conventions on the Internet for years to come.
NFB national conventions regularly serve as the premier showcase for assistive technology for the blind. The buzz at this year's convention was GW Micro's BookSense, a new digital book reader and competitor to the Victor Reader Stream. A further description of the BookSense appears elsewhere in this issue. Curtis Chong, president of the NFB in Computer Science and chairman of the NFB Committee on Research and Development, also told us that assistive technology enthusiasts devoted convention time to discussion and experimentation with the iPhone 3GS, Apple's mobile phone that incorporates VoiceOver (Apple's speech software program) into every unit. Apple has developed the first version of an application that makes a touch-screen nonvisually accessible. According to President Chong, when the VoiceOver software is turned on in the iPhone 3GS, "The user interface with the phone completely changes, and all of the built-in applications (and a lot of free applications that can be downloaded from Apple's App Store) can be operated without vision." No verdict can be fairly issued on the effectiveness or efficiency of the iPhone 3GS at this stage, but some convention delegates felt cause for optimism about this mainstream-accessible product. The staff of our International Braille and Technology Center presented seminars on mobile productivity on cell phones, creating DAISY books from a desktop; features of Web 2.0 with screen-access software; and information on lesser-known solutions in screen-access software, while our NFB-NEWSLINE® team offered hands-on instruction about our new newspaper-access initiatives in the new NFB-NEWSLINE suite throughout convention.
For the first time ever, parents of blind children and professionals in blindness education and rehabilitation jointly presented a seminar for parents and professionals. Sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), the National Association of Blind Rehabilitation Professionals (NABRP), the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University (PDRIB), and the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB), this day-long conference combined presentations and breakout workshops of interest to parents of blind children and blindness education and rehabilitation professionals. This collaboration allowed these distinct constituencies to discuss issues of common interest in face-to-face sessions. While such a collaboration seems like an obvious idea, this was the first time these parent and professional groups have conducted a joint day-long seminar at convention.
After spokespeople from each sponsoring organization greeted "The Future Is Ours and Theirs" participants, NFB President Maurer continued his tradition of inviting the children in the audience to come forward for a conversation about blindness and whatever else was on their minds. Those present for this seminar were then moved by the heartfelt remarks of June Maurer, President Maurer's mother, who told home-spun anecdotes about rearing her son and discussed her decisions about his blindness being informed at that time by nothing other than commonsense, hope, determination, and love.
NFB First Vice President Fredric Schroeder finished the morning's program with a keynote address that resonated with parents and professionals alike. The balance of this first-ever event included an awards luncheon for rehabilitation professionals, numerous workshops, and an evening reception for parents and professionals to review the day's business. The NOPBC, as usual, held other parent-related seminars, workshops, and activities throughout the convention week. Again this year a Youth Track for blind students thirteen and older, organized and executed largely by the Education Department of the NFB Jernigan Institute, complemented NOPBC programming.
Our Affiliate Action Department inaugurated yet another new membership-development program during this year's convention. In consultation with affiliate presidents, the College Leadership Program invited twenty-eight promising postsecondary students to attend the convention in Detroit. These students interacted with mentors and attended several Affiliate Action-sponsored orientation and learning sessions targeted at this community. After returning home, Jacob King, a participant in the program from Ohio, wrote to say:
The convention had so many high points for me. I finally met J.W., Ohio's affiliate president. We are planning to meet here in Ohio soon to discuss ways in which I might become more involved in the state organization. The Washington Seminar sounded interesting, and I would like any information on that when it becomes available. The student seminar and the exhibit hall offered me lots of information on what I will need to succeed in my master’s program. Last, I truly enjoyed the chance to connect with so many blind and vision impaired people. Meeting people who share common experiences with me has been an all-too-rare occurrence in my life. How wonderful it was to talk, room, travel, train, and yes even drink with my fellow Federationists.
The Affiliate Action Department also offered its full range of membership cultivation programs throughout convention. The Parent Leadership Program, managed in collaboration with the NOPBC; the Scholarship Alumni Program; the Back to Basics seminar; the Spanish seminar; and several group-specific sessions attracted participants all week long. The rookie round-up and special orientation session for first-time convention delegates held in the Affiliate Action suite eased everybody into the frenetic activity that is national convention.
New to blindness and the NFB were two service members of the United States Army who recently lost their sight on active duty in Iraq. Master Sergeant Jeffrey Mittman actively participated in convention through the entire week; Captain Ivan Castro joined Federationists early in the convention and remained through the March for Independence rally on Monday morning. Delegates were inspired with patriotic zeal in the knowledge that several American heroes were in our midst, and both soldiers benefited from a crash-course introduction to blindness and the NFB.
In addition to the things that were new during this year's convention, Federationists reestablished their bearings and took comfort in some of our cherished traditions as well. As usual the first convention event was an emergency preparedness seminar for Ham operators on Friday morning. By the second day all facets of convention operations were up and running. Convention registration opened to brisk business just before 9:00 a.m. The 1,996 Federationists who preregistered for the convention were able to drop by the preregistration square, pick up their already assembled packets with name tags and prepurchased banquet tickets, and be on their way. During its annual meeting on Saturday afternoon, July 4, the resolutions committee considered eleven resolutions and recommended “do pass.” A full report on resolutions adopted during the convention appears elsewhere in this issue.
Throughout convention, activities other than formal convention sessions abounded. A record number of Federationists were educated and entertained at the twelfth annual mock trial, where NFB lawyers presented the outlines of a child custody case in which the principal legal question was whether blind people could competently raise children. Vendors from a wide variety of assistive technology companies promoted their products in scheduled workshops. Staff from the NFB Jernigan Institute highlighted Institute programs and initiatives during several informational sessions. A variety of meetings and events focusing on Braille occurred, including the administration of the National Certification in Literary Braille examination, workshops on assessing student need for Braille instruction, the traditional Braille Book Flea Market, the Braille Carnival, and sessions for Federationists to learn about marketing our Louis Braille coin.
Various divisions and committees, including the National Association of Blind Students, celebrating its forty-second birthday as a Federation entity this year, gathered to conduct customary business. National conventions always prove an excellent forum for administering study surveys, evaluations, and focus groups about blindness-related issues outside the formal convention schedule. This year the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) asked Federationists to help evaluate the experimental Nemeth Uniform Braille System (NUBS), a researcher from Texas Tech University conducted studies on effective methods for marketing to blind consumers, and a focus group on accessible currency was held. On Friday night Federationists eager to unwind from the fast-paced preconvention weekend activities were invited to sing at BLIND Incorporated's annual Karaoke Night and to renew old acquaintance, while on Monday Nine, a nine-piece band, played a diverse selection of music at the NFB of Michigan's hospitality dance.
The NFB board of directors held its traditional open convention meeting on Sunday morning, July 5. President Maurer called for a moment of silence to recognize Federationists who had died since the 2008 convention. During this last year several well-known members have died, including Dick Edlund, former NFB treasurer; Michael Seay, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee; and Paul Kay and Harold Snider, past presidents of the National Federation of the Blind of the District of Columbia. This tribute also honored all other Federationists who had died during the previous year. Delegates then joined in reciting the American and Federation pledges of allegiance.
President Maurer then turned to the elections. He announced that the hold-over offices for 2009 were Marc Maurer, president (Maryland); Fredric Schroeder, first vice president, (Virginia); Ron Brown, second vice president (Indiana); Gary Wunder, secretary (Missouri); Pam Allen, treasurer (Louisiana); Amy Buresh (Nebraska); Patti Chang (Illinois); John Fritz (Wisconsin); Carl Jacobsen (New York); and Alpidio Rolón (Puerto Rico). President Maurer announced that Sam Gleese of Mississippi, elected to the national board in 2008, resigned from his position last fall, so it would be necessary to fill the one year remaining in this unexpired term. All other board positions would be up for election.
Fred Wurtzel, president of the Michigan affiliate, welcomed everybody to Detroit. He presented President Maurer and Mrs. Jernigan with gift bags featuring Michigan-made products.
President Maurer reflected that earlier Detroit conventions were in 1994 and 1962. He recognized Donald Capps (now retired), former NFB first vice president and the longest serving member of the organization's board of directors, to share his memories of the 1962 Detroit convention. All present congratulated Dr. Capps who was attending his fifty-fourth consecutive convention.
Mrs. Jernigan, chairwoman of convention organization and activities, briefed the audience on convention logistics. After noting that convention was running smoothly, she advised delegates that more people were registered for convention than there were chairs available in the ballroom, but she characterized this as an encouraging challenge that could be resolved with flexibility and effort.
President Maurer reported that the 2010 and 2012 NFB conventions will again be at the Anatole Hilton in Dallas, Texas. Room rates for the 2010 convention are $62 for singles, twins, and doubles and $68 for triples and quads. Plans have not yet been finalized for the 2011 convention.
Kevan Worley, chairman of the Imagination Fund, briefed the board and audience on logistics for the third annual March for Independence--A Walk for Opportunity. He energized delegates about the 6:45 a.m. plans to commence this year's 5K walk. Considering the Imagination Fund as a whole, Kevan told everyone present that, since its inception five years ago, almost two million dollars had been raised for the NFB. He recognized Joe Ruffalo, national board member and president of the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey, as the 2009 Imaginator of the Year, an acknowledgement of someone who demonstrates spirit and devotion by promoting the interests of the NFB through raising Imagination Fund dollars as part of the March for Independence. As Kevan ended his report, President Maurer publicly thanked him for his years of service as chairman of the Imagination Fund, and he announced that he was going to be giving Kevan a new fundraising assignment to work on generating income for the NFB through estates, bequests, and trusts. President Maurer promised that he would soon announce a new Imagination Fund chairman to lead our campaign for next year.
Dr. David Ticchi, chairman of the Blind Educator of the Year Award committee, presented the 2009 Blind Educator of the Year Award to Dr. William Henderson, principal of the newly named William Henderson Inclusive Elementary School in Boston, Massachusetts. The full text of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
Joyce Scanlan, chairwoman of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award committee, took the platform to present this year's award to Annee Hartzel, a teacher of the blind in the Yakima Valley Schools in Washington State. The full text of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
Various Federation leaders made important announcements throughout the morning. Sandy Halverson, chairwoman of the SUN committee, updated the board and membership on the status of the Shares Unlimited in NFB Program. NFB First Vice President Fredric Schroeder, in his capacity as chairman of the Braille Readers are Leaders (BRL) Campaign, discussed the fundraising objectives of the 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar program and promoted the coin's availability during the convention. Scott LaBarre, chairman of the Preauthorized Check (PAC) Plan committee, gave an update on this revenue-generating program. He challenged affiliates and divisions to enroll new members and urge existing participants to increase their contributions during the convention in pursuit of the coveted Pac Rat and Pac Mule prizes to be awarded at the end of convention. James Gashel, in his role with knfb Reading Technology Inc., promoted the knfb Reader Mobile to convention delegates. Finally, Tami Jones reported on the tenBroek Fund and the fund's elegant elephant sale at this year's convention. She promoted a convention raffle (new this year) for $200 in spending money and a trip for two to stay at the National Center for the Blind for up to three nights.
Wearing his lawyer's hat, Scott LaBarre introduced Isaac J. Lidsky, the nation's first blind law clerk to serve on the United States Supreme Court, working for Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mr. Lidsky attributed his advancement to the halls of the Supreme Court to the hard work and efforts of those blind attorneys who have successfully practiced before him. His has been an interesting career since during his childhood he was an actor, playing the role of Weasel on NBC's Saved by the Bell.
NFB of California President Mary Willows then approached the stage to make a special gift to President Maurer. She presented him with one of NFB founder Dr. Jacobus tenBroek's first canes, which his spouse, Hazel tenBroek, gave to her during the 1970s. President Willows described the cane as thirty-nine inches tall, made of wood, with a crooked handle and a red tip. She explained that about eight inches from the cane tip it is fairly chewed up, a tangible commentary on Dr. tenBroek's vigorous use of it. President Maurer committed to give this piece of tenBroek memorabilia an honored place in the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Library in the NFB Jernigan Institute.
At this point Anil Lewis, president of the NFB of Georgia, member of the NFB board of directors, and national scholarship committee chairman, asked the members of the 2009 scholarship class to come to the platform, where he introduced them. Their comments appear elsewhere in this issue as part of a full report of our scholarship program. Since no further business was brought to the board, the meeting was adjourned.
The balance of Sunday offered convention attendees a wide range of division and committee meetings, seminars, workshops, receptions, and theater productions. The Jerry Whittle play this year, Sometimes Truth Repels, was performed as usual by the Louisiana Center Players, made up of students and alumni from the Louisiana Center for the Blind. All proceeds from the two performances were used to support the center's summer programs for blind children.
Monday morning's opening of the plenary convention sessions was the culmination of our third annual 5K March for Independence. Invigorated by a pleasant stroll along the Detroit RiverWalk and inspired by the rally speeches, convention delegates assembled in the Renaissance Ballroom for the opening ceremonies of the 2009 convention. Freedom bells, widely circulated to delegates throughout this year's convention, rang as President Maurer gaveled the first general session to order. The Maryland affiliate reclaimed the attendance banner this year, proudly announcing that 237 Marylanders were present and registered in Detroit by the opening session.Fred Wurtzel, president of the host affiliate, welcomed everyone to Michigan. At Fred's urging, "NFB in the D" became the week's rally cry. After regaling convention delegates with trivia about Michigan's potato chip and cherry industries and acknowledging the role of Michiganders in helping the convention to run smoothly, he introduced Michigan Federationist Mike Powell and his combo to play some classic Motown sounds.
In accordance with recent Federation custom, convention delegates joined in a national celebration of freedom and in a brief ceremony recognized the veterans and active service personnel among our number. Active service personnel from the Huron Valley National Guard were introduced to call the cadence and post the colors. The MC then acknowledged the presence of Robert Crawford of Ohio, one of the last remaining Tuskegee Airmen. Twenty-seven former and active members representing all branches of the military answered the invitation to be recognized at the foot of the stage. Each person was invited to say his or her name, state of residence, and branch of service. All were given a tactile American flag produced by the National Braille Press. The remainder of the morning was devoted to the roll call of states. In addition to announcing the delegate for each affiliate, representatives made a variety of announcements and comments. Here is a sampling of the information that we learned during the morning:
Our North Carolina and Oregon affiliates announced that they had fought and won advocacy victories during the last year; Gary Ray, president of the NFB of North Carolina, explained that his affiliate resisted state legislative attempts to close its residential school for the blind and to eliminate funding for NFB-NEWSLINE. Art Stevenson, president of the NFB of Oregon, reported that the affiliate protected the existence of the Oregon Commission for the Blind and preserved the state-granted priority of blind vendors to operate concessions at state-sponsored community colleges. National Board Member and NFB of New York President Carl Jacobsen reported that the Jewish Guild for the Blind, headquartered in his state, agreed to work with us in producing a video to reflect a constructive view of blindness. Our Ohio affiliate won the prize this year for bringing the largest number of first-time convention delegates to Detroit. J.W. Smith, president of the NFB of Ohio, announced that at least thirty-three new Federationists were part of the Buckeye delegation. While he had the floor, President Smith also told the assembly that students from the Ohio State School for the Blind would be the first-ever blind marching band to appear in the Rose Bowl Parade in January 2010. The NFB of Washington, D.C., reported bringing its largest national convention delegation in the affiliate's history. All of the staff and students from the three NFB adult training centers attended convention. Likewise our affiliate presidents in Maryland and Utah announced that the staff and students from their states’ blindness rehabilitation training facilities were present. Our affiliate presidents in Indiana and Wisconsin reported that their delegations included substantial contingents from their states’ residential schools for the blind. Finally, Elsie Dickerson, president of the NFB of Idaho, shared the news that she had married Larry Dickerson earlier in the spring.
Following the lunch recess, President Maurer delivered the 2009 presidential report, which appears in full elsewhere in this issue. Addressing the topic "Policies to Enhance Employment, Inclusion, Safety, and Productivity," Representative John D. Dingell, Congressman for the 15th Congressional District of Michigan and the longest serving member of the House of Representatives, acknowledged the useful work of the Federation in the areas of peer support, public education, and provision of scholarships, but he said that much more advocacy needs to be undertaken. Citing concerns about high rates of unemployment and limited access to quality healthcare for all Americans, he urged the NFB to redouble its efforts in these priority areas. In closing, this institution of the House and champion of the people said, "We must see that the possibility and opportunity of America is available to all blind individuals."
The Honorable Dave McCurdy, president and chief executive officer of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, delivered a presentation, "Promoting Pedestrian Safety: A Priority for Manufacturers." In his remarks this former member of Congress said that manufacturers remain committed to all aspects of motor vehicle safety, including those situations in which quiet vehicles and the blind may come into conflict. Specifically Mr. McCurdy told the convention that automobile manufacturers support a collaborative, comprehensive approach to enhancing blind pedestrian safety, and he said that his organization is committed to working with the NFB and other industry players on a federal legislative package that will create a minimum sound standard for cars. Mr. McCurdy explained, however, that the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers values high-quality scientific research, and he said that much remains to investigate in identifying the dominant source of noise automobiles make at slow speeds since multiple sounds are generated and difficult to identify individually. In closing, Mr. McCurdy demonstrated his resolve to work with our community when he said, "Car safety is a shared responsibility among representatives of government, manufacturers, and consumers."
Deviating from the published convention schedule, President Maurer surprised everyone when he introduced Representative John Conyers Jr., chairman of the House judiciary committee and the second longest serving member of the lower chamber of Congress, to greet convention delegates. Judiciary Chairman Conyers welcomed the Federation to Michigan, and he pledged to cosponsor H.R. 734, our quiet cars legislation, immediately upon his return to Washington. Congressman Conyers delighted Federationists with his memories about working with Stevie Wonder for the adoption of a holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His genuine, unscripted remarks lent a sweet sense of authenticity to his presentation and to the convention programming for the entire afternoon.
President Maurer delivered "The Journey of Braille: From the Hands of the Creator to Earth Orbit." The full text of his remarks appears elsewhere in this issue. First Vice President Fredric Schroeder spoke on "The Value of a Coin, of a Communication System, and of a Class of Human Beings." The full text of his speech appears elsewhere in this issue.
The Monday afternoon session concluded with a presentation from Brian MacDonald, president of the National Braille Press (NBP). In "Providing the Fundamental Tools: Braille Books," Mr. MacDonald reviewed the eighty-two year history of the organization and said that NBP's focus is to provide books for children and to publish and provide access to information through lifelong learning. Mr. MacDonald went on to say that nobody should dispute that Braille is a critical skill with a strong correlation to employment, that knowledge of the code is a pathway that supports independence, builds self-confidence, and improves one's education. He warned, however, that many factors--particularly new technology--threaten this system of communication. In response to these challenges Mr. MacDonald announced that last October NBP founded the Center for Braille Innovation, a new policy arm of the Press, to concentrate on technologies that will improve Braille and tactile graphic processing while developing truly affordable Braille tools. He said that NBP is not an advocate for blindness issues or the voice of the blind; instead it is the steady tool maker, diligently working to promote Braille for everyone. In closing, he challenged us--the true advocates for blind people--to "help keep Braille alive. Despite changes, we will not let Braille disappear or become irrelevant.... Braille must not become the next Latin; it cannot become a dead language. It must become ubiquitous and integrated into mainstream devices."
Federationists, who had been up since before dawn, scattered to a full array of Monday evening events. An American Foundation for the Blind session, a Bookshare reception, a committee meeting about quiet cars, several parent workshops, recreational events sponsored by our Sports and Recreation Division, and much more provided delegates with plenty to do. For the first time the Performing Arts Division added a guitar seminar to its traditional lineup of convention events. Finally the exhibit hall opened on Monday night for a special evening devoted exclusively to this year's convention sponsors.
Tuesday morning included a mix of internal organizational business and convention programming. The convention first reviewed and adopted the financial report that President Maurer delivered. Following this, President Maurer turned our attention to organizational elections. All six national board incumbents were reelected by acclamation. These board members were Dan Burke (Montana), Parnell Diggs (South Carolina), James Gashel (Colorado), Cathy Jackson (Kentucky), Anil Lewis (Georgia), and Joe Ruffalo (New Jersey).
Michael Freeman, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington, was elected to fill the vacancy on the board created by Sam Gleese's resignation. After his election he said in part:
I joined the National Federation of the Blind in 1977. I was young; I was brash; I was idealistic; I was a bit of a skeptic (some would say that I was more than a bit of a skeptic); but I believed in the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. But it was an ideal, a goal, something to be striven for. As the years went by and I did the work of the Federation and became more adept in the skills one needs to change what it means to be blind, I suddenly woke up one morning and realized that the philosophy was not just an ideal; it was a way of life, and I was attempting my best to live it. This is a gift that all of you, from the leaders in the Federation to the rank-and-file members who have held no office, have given to me. It may be a payday loan, but it is a gift nevertheless.
I am deeply honored and humbled by the trust you have shown in me; I will do my utmost to merit that trust. Thank you.
Addressing the topic "Expanding Access to Digital Information for the Blind," Gilles Pepin, chief executive officer of HumanWare, surveyed the developments and general availability of the assistive technology products that his company promotes. He acknowledged that the effectiveness of products like the Victor Reader Stream and the Orator for BlackBerry Smartphones software (available for purchase soon) are attributable to the partnership between HumanWare and the NFB. Broadening his perspective, Mr. Pepin suggested a dual strategy for moving forward in assistive technology; he advocated that consumers continue to pressure mainstream companies to incorporate accessibility features into products and simultaneously that consumers work with assistive technology companies like HumanWare to encourage continued innovation in development of products. In response to audience concerns about HumanWare's record for timely repair of products, he said that, as of June 30, 2009, new centralized operations within the company should allow HumanWare to meet the goal of a two-day turn-around of products, excluding shipping. As always, representatives from HumanWare, a platinum sponsor of the 2009 NFB convention, were warmly received in Detroit.
Tyler Merren, a blind Michigander and member of the 2008 U.S. Paralympic Team in men's goalball, spoke about his experiences with athletics while growing up and about his 2008 Paralympic play in China. He urged us to make a concerted effort to be mobile and to increase our physical activity.
Steven Rothstein, president of the Perkins School for the Blind, addressed the topic "Developments at the First Educational Institution for the Blind in the United States: Perkins." He briefly reviewed the one-hundred-and-eighty-year history of the school and reported that today Perkins remains principally in the business of educating blind people. He announced that Perkins would offer direct service to almost one hundred thousand people this year, including several hundred students enrolled in the school's residential program and many thousands who receive outreach services in public schools throughout New England and in various programs around the world. President Rothstein told convention delegates that Perkins, like the NFB, is committed to promoting access in the disciplines of science and mathematics for blind students. Perkins delivers NLS library services to eligible residents in Massachusetts and six other states as well as helping with the distribution of NFB-NEWSLINE®. In addition to its educational mission, Perkins is involved with promoting products including the new Perkins Brailler and other mainstream assistive technologies. Working closely with the World Blind Union (WBU), Perkins is delivering services in sixty-three countries around the world.
Looking toward the future, President Rothstein declared that Perkins was interested in the "ABCs of advocacy." The school is interested in promoting access to information for blind people. Further, it wants to play a leading role in championing Braille in every respect. Finally, it believes that centers of excellence, which necessarily include residential schools for the blind as part of the educational continuum, must be preserved so that facilities that concentrate on blindness skills (the expanded core curriculum) will continue to exist.
Newly elected WBU President Maryanne Diamond of Australia closed the Tuesday morning session with a presentation, "The Federation in the World from the Perspective of the World Blind Union." She took this first opportunity to introduce herself to this largely American audience of blind consumers with a detailed sketch of her personal and professional background. She examined WBU history, citing organizational principles that guarantee that the WBU is responsive to the interests of blind people. Finally she discussed her objectives for her term as the WBU's seventh president. Under the Diamond administration the WBU aspires to create a community in which blind people are empowered to participate equally, It is recognized as the authentic voice of blind people at the international level, member organizations deliver their programs effectively, and the organization is an informational resource about blindness.
Delegates returned on Tuesday afternoon for another plenary session, reflecting the change in format this year. John Paré, NFB executive director of strategic initiatives, summarized the work of his department. He briefed delegates on the achievements or current status of managing the portrayal of blindness in the media, advocacy on the Kindle 2 issue, work on the Randolph-Sheppard program, promotion of the Federation's legislative agenda, assistance of the NLS with its congressional funding, and representation of blind people facing Social Security appeals. Jesse Hartle, NFB government programs specialist, joined Mr. Paré in emphasizing the importance of grassroots efforts as the Federation walks legislation, like our quiet cars bill, through Congress.
The next portion of the afternoon session was the honor roll call of states, in which affiliates and divisions announced their financial support for the White Cane, tenBroek, and other organizational funds. Finally, delegates considered the eleven resolutions forwarded to the floor of the Convention for action. The Convention adopted all eleven resolutions. The full texts of all resolutions passed by the Convention appear elsewhere in this issue.
Tuesday evening saw Federationists attending receptions for the Randolph-Sheppard vending program or the Council of U.S. Guide Dog Schools; exploring adult rehabilitation training at the Colorado Center for the Blind Night; learning about Social Security benefits at our annual information seminar; enjoying the annual showcase of talent; playing games at Monte Carlo Night, sponsored by the National Association of Blind Students; or taking advantage of other items on the convention schedule. No matter what individual delegates chose to do with their time, most were back in their seats on Wednesday morning for the final full day of convention.
The first item on Wednesday morning was "The Near-Perfect Audio Book." Frank Kurt Cylke, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress, updated everyone on the progress of the National Library Service's digital transition. Mr. Cylke reported that the new NLS digital machines are in production in Japan and that they will be produced at a rate of approximately twenty thousand a month. As has become his custom over the last several years, he yielded the balance of his time to a colleague working with him at the Washington headquarters of NLS. Mary Beth Wise, quality assurance specialist, delivered an informative and humorous account of how a book is painstakingly transformed from print to audio.
Dr. Edward Bell, director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University, addressed the topic "The Demand, The Crisis, The Solution in Education for the Blind." He told the assembly that two immediate factors influencing the outcome of educational opportunities for blind students are within our control: operating effective teacher preparation programs and advocating for national standards and benchmarks in Braille knowledge and other blindness skills. Dr. Bell urged interested candidates to consider enrolling in one of the three graduate-level programs offered at Louisiana Tech University to join the effort to direct educational opportunities for blind students throughout the country.
Speaking to the topic "The Theory and the Practice: Education for the Blind in the Public School," Dr. Denise Robinson, teacher and coordinator of programming for blind and visually impaired students in the Yakima Valley Schools, outlined her strategic approach for progressive instruction. She prescribes instruction in Braille where appropriate (even in instances in which the student can also use some large print); provision of blindness skills training classes for paraprofessionals; early introduction to blindness training and school for students; timely provision of accessible educational materials; and immersion of late-joining students in blindness skills instruction that incorporates their academic curriculum. According to Dr. Robinson, her objectives are simply to address the unemployment and literacy crises for blind students and change what it means to be blind.
Displaying a commonsense perspective on blindness education, Carol Castellano, president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, used incisive wit and wisdom to illustrate the colossal damage inflicted on blind youth when educators fear that training these students in the specialized skills of blindness will “make that child blind.”
Shifting the focus to teaching Braille to blind adults, Jerry Whittle, teacher-counselor at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, moderated a compelling panel during which five well-known Federationists described their struggles and successes with learning Braille as adults. While their individual stories varied, their consistent message was that learning Braille under Jerry's firm but loving tutelage transformed and liberated them as blind people. This diverse panel (ranging from college-age students to an accomplished senior citizen) raised their collective voices to plead with professionals and newly blind people alike about the importance of learning Braille. Together this panel refuted the prevailing stereotype that, if learned later in life, Braille cannot be put to meaningful use in the lives of blind adults.
Mark Riccobono, executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute, next delivered remarks titled "From the Center of History: Five Years into the Future of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute." The full text of his address is printed elsewhere in this issue.
The morning session ended with a presentation from Scott White, NFB director of sponsored technology, in which he detailed for convention delegates the four new initiatives that our NFB-NEWSLINE team has developed to give people even greater access to the hundreds of newspapers and television listings on the system. Further information about these initiatives can be found at <http://www.nfbnewslineonline.org>.
Daniel Goldstein, longtime attorney and friend to the NFB, began the final afternoon plenary session with remarks titled, "Shaping the Standard for the Legal Community: The Necessity for Access to Information for All." He lamented that, "The accumulated wisdom, the variety of our philosophical, scientific, religious, and political heritage has been a closed book to blind people." He continued, "There is no reason, in sense or decency, that digital developments could not benefit our community, but it hasn't turned out that way yet." Despite this bleak assessment of our history, Mr. Goldstein spoke positively about our prospects for access in the future. "I predict that you will soon find yourselves to be the first, but not the last, generation to have the same access to our great collective heritage as is afforded to everyone else. A great barrier is poised to topple." Having energized and encouraged convention delegates, Mr. Goldstein led them in the chant, "same book, same time, same price."
"Negotiating Accessible Electronic Books: A Massive Undertaking, A Smashing Success" was the topic of Jack Bernard, chair, counsel for disability concerns and assistant general counsel for the University of Michigan. Mr. Bernard reported on the preliminary terms of a settlement with Google that may result in millions of electronic books being made accessible to blind people all over the world. Federationists enthusiastically received this news.
Rob Sinclair, director of accessibility with the Microsoft Corporation, spoke on the topic, "The Commitment of Microsoft to Accessible Technology." He explained that Microsoft's mission is to enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their potential. According to him his job is to make sure that Microsoft achieves this lofty goal without respect to age or ability. He told the audience that Microsoft is working toward accessibility through its operating systems, in its products, and by collaboration with stakeholders. In closing, Mr. Sinclair said that his key message was that Microsoft is making new investments in accessibility and that the company is proud of this effort.
In keeping with annual tradition, Ray Kurzweil, president and chief executive officer of knfb Reading Technology Inc., delivered an address titled, "Transcending the Barriers of Yesterday, Anticipating the Romance of the Human Experience with the Technology of Tomorrow." He told attendees, "If you ever wonder why you are who you are, it is because we create ourselves." This topic is explored further in his new book, How the Mind Works and How to Build One. As always, everyone appreciated Mr. Kurzweil's abstract thoughts and reflections on the future.
Patti Chang, president of the NFB of Illinois and member of the NFB board of directors, talked to her Federation family about her experience representing the City of Chicago as senior corporation counsel. In addition to offering logistical details about how she functions as a blind attorney, Patti concentrated her reflections on the social significance attached to the fact that one of our own--a blind person--has been given a position of discretion and authority to oversee the health, safety, and welfare of a large segment of the sighted community. Using engaging anecdotes to great effect, she made it clear that today blind people are rewriting an old expression: more often than not we are taking two steps forward and only one step back.
Gary Wunder, NFB secretary, president of the NFB of Missouri, and chairman of the Bolotin Award committee, next presented the 2009 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards to several deserving winners. A full report of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
Ronald Medford, acting deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), was this year's last program speaker. He reported on NHTSA's efforts to work with all interested parties to address the quiet cars issue. Supportive and understanding of our organizational concerns, his comments left us optimistic that a workable resolution to this problem would in time be identified and implemented.
Our Wednesday evening banquet, truly the culminating highlight of this year's convention, was gaveled to order by Master of Ceremonies and NFB First Vice President Fred Schroeder. A state-of-the-art sound system accommodated the more than three hundred Federationists whose banquet tables were set up in the foyer to the Renaissance Ballroom; the banquet was one of our largest in history. Instead of the traditional commemorative convention mug, each place setting included two milk chocolate replicas of the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar for delegates either to sample or to save. Sprinkled among the anticipated national division drawings, convention sponsor prizes, scholarships, award presentations, and banquet address were valuable door prizes that animated an already spirited crowd. PAC Chairman Scott LaBarre announced that Nevada was the affiliate that had increased most on the program 200 percent during convention, and he awarded the PAC Mule to the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and the PAC Rat to Maryland, the division and affiliate that had the most individual activity with the program during convention.
Following introductions of the head table, First Vice President Schroeder turned the podium over to President Maurer to deliver his annual banquet address, "The Value of Decision." President Maurer evoked the most fundamental tenets of our organizational philosophy; one of this year's powerful messages (the idea that blind people are not defective sighted people) deeply appealed to many at the banquet. The full text of his address appears elsewhere in this issue.
Barbara and John Cheadle, longtime Federation leaders, jointly received the Jacobus tenBroek Award, the highest honor given to members of the Federation. A full report of this award appears elsewhere in this issue.
Anil Lewis, NFB scholarship chairman, next announced the thirty scholarships awarded by the Federation. A sense of familial support and joy was evident in the banquet hall as thousands of Federationists rooted for Anil, a recent graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, while he read in Braille the text of each award with increased fluency and self-confidence. Matthias Niska of Minnesota received the Kenneth Jernigan scholarship for twelve thousand dollars. A full report of the scholarship awards appears elsewhere in this issue.
Christopher Joyce of Michigan won the grand door prize that preceded adjournment of the banquet. NFB of Michigan President Fred Wurtzel explained to everyone that the Michigan Braille Transcribing Fund donated this year's grand prize in the amount of $1,809 in honor of the two hundredth birthday of Louis Braille.
As the banquet drew to a close, Federationists, now full both physically and emotionally, prepared to leave Detroit to carry forward the message and mission of the Federation. The climactic end to convention at the banquet's adjournment sent everyone home with more momentum than ever before. Shouted farewells and promises to keep in touch were heard as the delegates streamed out of the banquet hall and off to parties or to their rooms to pack for the journey home. The 2009 NFB convention will go down in our history as one that featured much that was new but also reaffirmed our long-held hopes, dreams, and aspirations for the lives of blind people everywhere.
by Marc Maurer
From the Editor: Late Monday afternoon, July 6, the ninety-eighth anniversary of the birth of Jacobus tenBroek, President Maurer made brief but thoughtful remarks about two seemingly disparate topics: Braille and space travel. This is what he said:
People who are invited to watch a launch of a space shuttle at the Kennedy Space Center occupy an observation site three miles from the launch pad. Two of the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollars were scheduled for inclusion in the payload of the shuttle to be launched on May 11, 2009. Launch time might be as early as 2:01 and 56 seconds p.m.
The day before the launch the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conducted a daylong seminar on aspects of exploration of space, origins of the cosmos, and scientific discoveries made through the use of the Hubble telescope. By focusing the Hubble telescope on the darkest parts of the visible sky, the scientists have discovered thousands of galaxies that have previously been unknown. The characteristics of the light observed by this instrument have permitted cosmologists to look back in time more than twelve billion years to a period near the beginning of time itself. Furthermore, these observations lead to the conclusion not only that the universe is expanding but that the rate of its expansion is accelerating. If the rate of expansion is itself accelerating, there must be a reason. At least part of the explanation lies in another astonishing conclusion that 96 percent of the matter and the energy of the universe is not observable directly but only calculable based upon the influence that it has on the observable segments of the universe. This 96 percent of nonobservable mass and energy is known as dark matter and energy. These are a few of the scientific conclusions discussed during the course of the symposium.
It is said that in about 1890 a physicist made the claim that the important theories of the physical universe had all been discovered and that the only work remaining to be done was to make more accurate measurements. Within a few years, however, Marie Curie had discovered radioactivity, and Albert Einstein had written his special theory of relativity. Now, with the observations from the Hubble telescope, we posit the existence of dark energy and dark matter, and we hear from the scientists who study such things that less than five percent of the universe we know is observable. This description suggests that, despite the astonishing amount we have learned about our universe, an enormous quantity is still to be discovered.
I reflect about this when I think about what has been said about blindness, about blind people, and about our capacity for intellectual effort. Too many people believe that everything worth knowing has already been learned about us, but we know better. We know that our horizons have been artificially restricted, and we postulate that they will be expanding at an accelerating rate to encompass fields of comprehension beyond everybody’s wildest imaginings.
An astronaut came to tell us about the rigors of her training to become a traveler in space. The plan for her initial ascent is that she will travel to the International Space Station sometime in the spring of 2010. This statement is awe-inspiring, and it stimulates contemplation of romantic adventure. However, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger told us that much of her training was hard, grueling work. She was trained to survive in the most hostile environments, and she was put to the most demanding tests. Achievement is frequently composed of the most romantic dreams and very hard work.
The space shuttle itself has three engines. It is launched with the aid of two solid rocket boosters. Officials of the Kennedy Space Center told us that at the time of launch 400,000 gallons of water are pumped onto the launch pad to diminish the noise and shock generated by the launch. Anybody within 800 feet of the launch pad would be killed by the heat. Anybody within 4,000 feet of the launch pad would be killed by sound, they said.
When the time for launch came, we were three miles away. When the shuttle began its climb, we were told that fuel was being consumed at 11,000 pounds per second. By the time we could no longer hear the sound of the shuttle, it had reached a height of several miles, on its way to orbit at 240 miles above the earth.The Louis Braille commemorative coin—representing knowledge, representing learning, representing the desire to join in the excitement of life—was lifted from the earth on a journey to a place higher than almost anybody has ever been at a speed faster than almost anybody has ever traveled. Braille has shown the way, and some of us will follow. The launch of the Louis Braille coin was astonishing in many ways. We heard the rumble and felt the vibration. It sounded like this: [What followed was a prolonged, floor-vibrating roar with voices from mission control periodically announcing the progress of the rocket. The experience was thrilling and wholly unexpected.]
by Marc Maurer
Although the past year has been one of economic uncertainty for our country, and indeed for most of the world, and although the National Federation of the Blind has felt the influence of this economic uncertainty, our unity as an organization has remained as strong as it has ever been, our dedication to securing progress for the blind remains unshakable, and our purpose is the vital force that makes the National Federation of the Blind an unstoppable agent for change. Problems may abound today, as they have in the past. However, we will not let them inhibit our progress. We will not let them dampen our enthusiasm. We will not let them alter our determination to achieve equality for all the blind. We are the National Federation of the Blind.
In 1987, after serving as president of the National Federation of the Blind for one year, I delivered the first of the banquet addresses to our national convention that it has been my honor to give, entitled “Back to Notre Dame.” In that speech I gave certain details about what it was like for me to be a student on the Notre Dame campus in the early 1970s. On March 6, 2009, I was welcomed back to the Notre Dame campus to give a keynote address entitled “The Mythology of Discrimination” to a disability symposium being conducted by the university. In the 1970s I had felt alone on campus. Nobody understood the normality of blind people the way that the members of the National Federation of the Blind do. When I returned in 2009, I was not alone. I was accompanied by certain officers and members of the National Federation of the Blind. Those who attended the seminar met a kind of philosophy that is unusual and refreshing—they met the National Federation of the Blind.
Louis Braille, who was born two hundred years ago, invented the reading and writing system for the blind used around the world before he was out of his teens. This invention is of such great significance to the blind that we in the National Federation of the Blind asked the Congress of the United States to recognize Louis Braille by instructing the Mint to create a Louis Braille Commemorative Bicentennial Silver Dollar. The Louis Braille commemorative coin launch occurred at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute on March 26, 2009. The director of the Mint described the coin and presented a plaque to the National Federation of the Blind on which four of them are mounted. The front of the coin bears the image of Louis Braille. The back contains a picture of a blind child reading Braille along with the Braille symbols that constitute Louis Braille’s last name. This is the first silver dollar minted in the United States with regulation-sized, readable Braille embossed upon it.
At the Louis Braille coin launch on March 26, the assistant administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) addressed the assembled gathering. The National Federation of the Blind has been working with NASA on education programs for blind children for several years. The assistant administrator promised that the commemorative silver dollar would be included in the payload of the space shuttle to be launched at the Kennedy Space Flight Center on May 11, 2009. On that date I was one of several Federation members who were present in Florida to observe the second Louis Braille coin launch. Braille—the symbol of knowledge, the symbol of energy, the symbol of education—has lived, thrived, and flown into space. We will hear more about the meaning of this adventure later during the convention.
In 1829 Louis Braille published the first version of his code in a volume entitled Procedure for Writing Words, Music and Plainsong Using Dots—in French, of course. Today, for the first time ever, we are making available to those attending this convention a fully digitized and translated version of this historic manuscript recreated on CD. This CD includes images of the half-title page, the title page, three unnumbered prefatory pages, and the thirty-two numbered pages of the book. For those who do not read French, we also include a page-by-page translation.
Also on March 26 the National Federation of the Blind issued a report to the nation on the status of Braille education in the United States. This report details the crisis in Braille literacy. The number of blind children being taught Braille is devastatingly low, the number of teachers who know Braille well is astonishingly small, the need for Braille literacy is great, and the failure of the educational system to meet this need is evident in the dismal graduation rates for blind high school students. The Associated Press carried an article on the Braille literacy crisis, and newspaper and television outlets reported the story throughout the nation. The importance of Braille was emphasized not only by our report but by the Louis Braille coin, which was featured on CNN Headline News.
Last summer I travelled along with a number of other Federationists to the meeting of the general assembly of the World Blind Union held in Geneva, Switzerland. Our participation in the World Blind Union offers us the opportunity to meet leaders of the blind from around the world, to gather information from programs serving the blind in other nations, to cooperate with others to stimulate development of technological aids or programs fostering independence for the blind, and to provide information that we have gathered to blind people throughout the world. I was featured on the program as the keynote speaker. The address, entitled “Breaking the Mold: The Power of the Unpredictable,” expressed the philosophy of independence of the National Federation of the Blind.
Some time ago the Google Corporation announced that it would be digitizing books in some of the world’s largest, most prestigious libraries, including those of the University of Michigan, Oxford University, and a good many others. Soon after this announcement challenges were raised to the Google plan. We visited with officials of libraries to point out that providing access to these books in an electronic form to the sighted but withholding them from the blind would be a violation of the law. We made a friend with a blind lawyer at the University of Michigan who was charged with managing this digitization process for the library there. When a lawsuit was initiated against Google on behalf of the authors in the United States, Jack Bernard, the blind lawyer from the University of Michigan, became one of the negotiators. A tentative settlement has been reached. Within a reasonably short time it is estimated that seven million books will be readable by the blind through technology to be implemented by Google, and eventually the number will exceed twenty million. We will be hearing from Jack Bernard later during this convention.
The Apple Corporation produces technology used for educational programs and entertainment. People can buy music from iTunes. A recent technological development is iTunes U, Apple’s technology used by colleges and universities to provide access to course material. This technology has not been usable by blind students or professors. In September 2008 the National Federation of the Blind, together with the Massachusetts attorney general, reached a landmark agreement with Apple to make iTunes, the iTunes Store, and iTunes U accessible to the blind by June 30 of this year. Apple has also created a download for the new iPod nano to make that device accessible to the blind.
Automobile manufacturers are developing and distributing vehicles that make almost no sound as they operate. These pose danger to pedestrians, including the blind. At the urging of the National Federation of the Blind, the United Nations World Forum for Vehicle Harmonization has formed an official task force to propose an international solution to the problem of quiet cars. We have also enlisted the support of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act has been reintroduced in the House of Representatives, and a companion bill has been filed in the United States Senate. We will not be denied the right to safe and independent travel. We will not become prisoners in our own homes. We have as much right to participate fully in the communities of our nation as these quiet cars and their drivers. We believe that our right should be protected by law.
On February 9, 2009, Amazon released the second version of its electronic book reader, the Kindle 2, which included a text-to-speech function. Although this device is not accessible to the blind, the text-to-speech program built into it can produce a hearable version of electronic books. The Authors Guild argued that the reading of a book out loud by a machine is a copyright infringement unless the copyright holder has specifically granted permission for the book to be read aloud. Amazon agreed to let the authors turn off the text-to-speech function.
The National Federation of the Blind responded to the conspiracy to impose censorship on the blind by creating the Reading Rights Coalition, representing over fifteen million people in the United States who cannot easily read print. The Reading Rights Coalition, led by the National Federation of the Blind, picketed the Authors Guild offices in New York City on April 7, 2009.
The authors say that people who buy electronic books are entitled to look at a visual image presented by this technology but are not entitled to hear an auditory rendering of the information contained in the digital file. People who buy these books do not receive a visual image. They get a file containing digital information, and they also get the right of access to that information. Buying a book, electronic or otherwise, means buying the noncommercial use of the intellectual property contained in it. Preventing us from gaining access to this intellectual property is an act of discrimination.
Electronic texts are being more widely used on college campuses than ever before in history. Some states have declared that electronic information will be the format of material used in grade schools and high schools. Unfortunately, many of the texts are being presented in formats not usable by the blind. A large-screen version of the Amazon Kindle is currently being introduced on a number of college campuses. If the electronic text programs continue to proliferate and if these programs continue to be built without accessibility for the blind as an element of them, blind students will be unable to compete. These trends are not merely disturbing, they are ominous, and they must not be permitted to continue.
If universities require students to use electronic reading systems for their education, the universities must ensure that they are accessible to the blind. We are challenging the action of these universities in promoting censorship for the blind. We declare that the blind shall not be shut out of our educational system, shall not be regarded as negligible, shall not be relegated to second-class status. This is the nature of the lawsuit currently pending in federal court to protect the rights of blind students. This is the nature of the education complaints we have filed in the last few days. We have said it before, and we reiterate it now: we must have access to books, and we will take every step necessary to ensure that we get it.
Several years ago the National Federation of the Blind notified the Target Company that its Website was not accessible to blind customers. A lawsuit ensued, but a settlement has now been reached. Target will ensure that blind customers have access to the products it sells on its Website. Target has agreed to pay our legal fees, and it has also agreed to pay blind Californians up to six million dollars to compensate for the inaccessibility of its Website—the largest blindness-related disability settlement reached to date.
Increasingly, an important method of getting at information in the electronic realm is the cell phone. I reported last year that complaints were being prepared to be filed against a manufacturer of this technology before the Federal Communications Commission. We are currently in the midst of promising negotiations. We expect accessibility of cell phone technology to increase dramatically in the near future.
Those who want to become lawyers must attend law school. The Law School Admissions Test is administered by the Law School Admissions Council, and the Law School Admissions Council requires all law school admissions applications to be made through its Website. However, the Website is not accessible to the blind.
Deepa Goraya is a blind member of the National Federation of the Blind who wants to become a lawyer. She has asked that the Law School Admissions Council make its Website accessible to her, but the Council has refused. This is not a newly discovered problem. The Council has taken this attitude for years. We have filed a lawsuit against the Council in the circuit court for Alameda County, California. When I think about this lawsuit, it occurs to me that the laws of our country apply to all human beings. Discrimination is prohibited for everybody—even the lawyers.
When the State of Arkansas installed an inaccessible statewide computer system in 2001, we filed suit and won an injunction preventing the state from using certain parts of the system. It took seven years, but the case was settled last summer. A new, completely accessible version of the computer program is being installed, which will be tested by the National Federation of the Blind later this summer. As part of the settlement, SAP, the company that built the inaccessible system, agreed to reimburse the Federation for its legal fees.
Aaron Cannon is a blind member of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa who wants to become a chiropractor. He was accepted for study by the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, but before he received his degree, the Palmer school changed its graduation requirements to say that "Candidates must have sufficient use of sense of vision.” This is precisely what they said. In the hearing that occurred before the local Civil Rights Commission, the school said that nonvisual techniques could not be used, those seeking degrees must be able to see. The decision of the Civil Rights Commission found a violation of law and charged the school with discrimination, but Palmer has ignored the decision. Court action is imminent. Blind people have been serving as chiropractors for more than half a century. However, proof does not impress bigotry. The only thing such folk understand is force. We will gather the energy to provide the only measure of comprehension that these people seem to know.
The Imagination Fund encourages all of us to raise money for programs of the National Federation of the Blind at the local, state, and national levels. Every state received funding through our Imagination Fund. We raise this money together. We do it through tenacity, perseverance, and dedication. During periods of financial hardship, the task is more demanding but no less important. The Imagination Fund campaign incorporates our March for Independence. Many people have told us that, because we are blind, we should sit and wait. However, waiting does not build programs or create opportunity, and we have long since decided to bestir ourselves. Marching to the sound of our own independent voices, we have made a statement in action. We are developing for the blind more opportunities today and within the foreseeable future than have ever before been available. This is the meaning of our Imagination Fund; this is the meaning of our March for Independence; this is the irresistible determination of the National Federation of the Blind.
On October 3, 2008, the National Federation of the Blind conducted a nationwide public education campaign against the Miramax film Blindness, because it depicted blind people as disgusting, immoral, stupid, and dangerous. This campaign consisted of seventy-two protests in thirty-seven states in front of theaters showing the film. Articles about the protest appeared in over one hundred news outlets. Some of the newspapers carrying the story included the New York Times, USA Today, theBoston Globe, and the Chicago Sun-Times. Fifty-one television stations across the country featured video clips about the protests, and many radio stations broadcast the news. The movie itself was really awful, but our protests helped it to disappear from theaters within a very short time, and our message about the capacity and energy of blind Americans reached the homes of millions.
NFB-NEWSLINE®, the newspaper service that provides the content of newspapers and magazines to the blind by telephone and through other methods, is currently available in forty-two states and the District of Columbia. Through the service we provide more than 285 newspapers and magazines along with television listings to more than 65,000 subscribers. Almost 6,000 new subscribers have joined the service within the past year. The number of calls to the service has increased by 35 percent, and news has been distributed through almost one and a half million email messages.
On March 31, 2009, NFB-NEWSLINE® launched the Website <nfbnewslineonline.org>. Two new NFB-NEWSLINE initiatives released in conjunction with this Website are “WebNews on Demand” and “NFB-NEWSLINE® In Your Pocket.” “WebNews on Demand” offers a customizable reading experience with the ability to send entire publications, particular sections, or single articles to an email inbox. “NFB-NEWSLINE® In Your Pocket” is a dynamic software application that permits automatic loading of newspaper content onto a digital Talking Book player.
On February 4, 2009, Congressman John Lewis of Georgia (a renowned champion of civil rights and a great friend of the National Federation of the Blind) introduced HR 886, the Blind Persons Return to Work Act of 2009. This proposed legislation would alter the Social Security Act to eliminate disincentives to work, which would return tens of thousands of blind people to productive employment.
Another piece of legislation being promoted by the National Federation of the Blind is the Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind. Visual displays are increasingly a part of the operating systems for products that use electricity. In the past operating a stove required turning a dial. Today operating electrical products often demands observing a screen. Refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, and dryers have been added to the growing list of products being built in a way that the blind cannot use. Many of us have found ourselves with the thought, “I want my oven back.” Our legislation would require accessible control systems.
In the past year the public relations department of the National Federation of the Blind continued to advance our mission of educating the public about the true capabilities of blind people. Media outlets throughout the country increasingly contact our public relations department with questions about blindness, blind people, and the issues that affect the blind. The National Federation of the Blind is often quoted in stories relating to blind people. Furthermore, we also receive questions from outside the United States. We have been featured this year in news reports carried by the BBC, the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, theBoston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, Good Morning America, CNN, CNN Headline News, the Baltimore Sun, the New York Post, and hundreds of others.
During this convention we release Bridging the Gap: Living with Blindness and Diabetes, a new publication addressing the interests and needs of blind diabetics. Drawn from articles originally published in Voice of the Diabetic, our former magazine for blind diabetics, this book is divided into five sections, including Personal Portraits, Diabetes Basics, Secrets of Success, Continuing the Journey, and Resources. This volume is produced in fourteen-point font and is distributed with a CD that contains MP3 and electronic text versions of the print content. For as long as they last, these books are available free.
We continue to maintain and improve our headquarters facility in Baltimore. We completely remodeled our kitchen, installing a new walk-in refrigerator, up-to-date restaurant-style cooking facilities, and all necessary accoutrements to provide food service to the thousands who come to participate in our programs. In our original building we have replaced twenty-year-old carpet in a number of offices, created an allergy-free sleeping room which has a high-efficiency particulate arrester installed in the heating and air conditioning system, placed reflective film on the windows to save energy, and replaced heating and air-conditioning systems in the harbor area to give individual thermostatic control to each sleeping room. In addition, we have replaced the roof on our original building and installed insulation in the process. Our new roof is a membrane type held in place with fasteners every few feet. Twenty-five years ago the standard for commercial roofs required laying down roof material and putting rock ballast over it to hold it. To prepare for the new roof, we vacuumed the rock from the one that we had installed in the early 1980s—more than 90,000 pounds of it.
In our new building we upgraded the computer system to control the heating and air conditioning and installed insulation mostly on exposed undersurfaces of the third floor. The cost for all these repairs is in the neighborhood of $1,600,000. We are in the midst of contracting for the installation of signage at the front entrance of our property at 200 East Wells Street, which also bears the honorary name Jernigan Place. This signage will declare the name of our building “The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute.”
We participated this year in the Consumer Electronics Show, the largest gathering of its kind in the nation, to heighten awareness of access to consumer electronics for the blind. The National Federation of the Blind cosponsored the Vision Free booth with Sendero Group and presented the Wonder Vision awards with Stevie Wonder, honoring companies that have done significant work in making consumer electronics usable, such as Audible, NPR, and Olympus.
In March we presented access technology information at the California State University annual Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference (CSUN). In November 2008 we presented similar information at the Accessing Higher Ground conference in Boulder, Colorado. We hosted visitors from the American Society for Engineering Education in the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, and Anne Taylor, director of access technology, presented blindness-related technology information to the plenary session of the ASEE convention. We and Towson University collaborated on the first symposium on accessing CAPTCHA [Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart] nonvisually at Carnegie Mellon University.
During the past year we have certified the Websites of Independent Living Aids; Diagnostic Devices, Inc.; CARF; and You Can Do Astronomy, LLC. We also conducted a workshop on Web accessibility for the Practicing Law Institute. We have consulted with companies on nonvisual access, including Microsoft, Google, eBay, Oracle, Amazon, Olympus, Adobe, HumanWare, Freedom Scientific, GE, GW Micro, IBM, JetBlue, Walgreens, and Newegg.
As part of the initiative to provide unbiased product evaluations to blind and low-vision consumers, we continue to maintain the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, the world’s most extensive demonstration and evaluation center for computer-related technology for the blind. On our Website we offer technology tips, a technology resource list of usable consumer electronics, and an access technology blog. In the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind this year we have purchased forty-seven new items, including a Sunshine e-Book Player, an iPod nano media player, and a SpeakEasy Media System and reading machine.
Programs for blind youth have become a substantial part of the work we do. Last summer we held our first Junior Science Academy for elementary-school-age children and their parents. Blind children want to participate in science, and their families are hungry for information about how this is done. Students learned about astronomy, meteorology, ecosystems, and alternative energy resources. One of the favorite activities was the making of fruit batteries. Students stuck a nickel and a copper nail into a lemon, lime, or apple and connected a talking multimeter to test the energy potential and acidity of the electrical system.
While we are on the subject of talking multimeters, I reported to you some years ago that a company making such devices had decided to take them off the market when they learned that blind people were using them. They said it was too dangerous for blind people to have their hands on such devices, and they thought they would be subject to liability when the accidents they thought would be inevitable occurred. We have discovered another source of talking multimeters, and we have brought them to the convention. The price for the multimeter of the past was several hundred dollars. We will be able to distribute our newly discovered supply at a price below fifty dollars.
At the end of this month the National Federation of the Blind will welcome approximately two hundred blind high school students and eighty blind mentors to the University of Maryland for the NFB Youth Slam II. This science, technology, engineering, and math academy will engage participants in hands-on activities that will expand their horizons. Students will participate in activities such as forensics, engineering, architecture, and chemistry. One of the engineering endeavors will be to test and further develop the first prototype of a vehicle that the blind can drive. Youth Slam participants will operate this vehicle. The Blind Driver Challenge is not finished, but the idea has its motor running. NFB Youth Slam II will end with a rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., a march down the Capitol Mall, and a closing ceremony in the Capitol Visitors Center, during which members of Congress will address the students, and NASA officials will present the Federation with the coins that flew in space.
Two years ago we conducted the first Youth Slam, a concept developed by Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, the first executive director of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, and carried into execution by our current executive director, Mark Riccobono. The work performed in that one week changed educational possibilities for blind children in the United States because it demonstrated that having belief in the capacity of blind children and collecting the resources required for education could easily bring advanced education to young blind people. The message of Youth Slam traveled from Baltimore to dozens of states throughout our nation. Mutual of America heard the extraordinary story of what we had done and during this past winter granted us the Mutual of America Community Partnership Award.
The 2009 Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium, “New Perspectives on Disability Law: Advancing the Right to Live in the World,” took place in the Jernigan Institute on April 17, 2009. Almost one hundred people from throughout the United States and around the world attended. Representatives from a total of fifty-seven academic, advocacy, and governmental organizations were present.
Kareem Dale, special assistant to President Obama for disability policy, headed the list of leading national and international advocates and scholars who made presentations at the 2009 symposium. Other presenters included Assistant Attorney General Maura Healey, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, who helped us in crafting the agreement with the Apple Corporation for accessibility of iTunes, and Professor Gerard Quinn, National University of Ireland, Galway, who spoke of the importance of the recently adopted international convention on the rights of people with disabilities, which was crafted in part by our own Dr. Fred Schroeder. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek invented disability rights law, and his leadership stimulated an entirely new method of thought in the legal community. The tenBroek Law Symposium advances the work that he began, and his spirit along with ours and those from many sectors of the disability community gives shape to the discussions and form to the plans for change that arise from this dramatic intellectual effort.
We are among the strongest supporters of Braille in the world. On January 4, 2009, we launched NFB ShareBraille, developed to facilitate the exchange of Braille books through a community-run library, <nfbsharebraille.org>. At this convention we are making available a DVD that includes four new Braille-related videos that we have produced: Braille: Unlocking the Code, Measure for Measure: Achieving Equality through Braille Music Literacy, Change with a Dollar, and What Braille Means to Me.
We continue our contract work with the Library of Congress, administering the courses leading to certification in Braille transcribing and proofreading. Since taking on the project, we have forwarded the names of approximately six hundred individuals to the Library of Congress, indicating that they have successfully completed the certification courses in literary, mathematics, or music Braille.
For many years we have been conducting the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. Twelve of the participants in this contest are here at our convention because they have demonstrated excellence in reading Braille. Our Braille Reading Pals section of the Braille Readers Are Leaders program is an early literacy readiness program. Print/Braille books and Beanie Babies have been mailed to families in forty-one states and the District of Columbia. Very small children have a pal to help with the reading and a book for parents in this effort to encourage reading for blind children under the age of seven.
During the past year we have been implementing an integrated library system that provides nonvisual access to all of the materials in our Jacobus tenBroek Library catalog. This is the first step in making our research library available across the World Wide Web. This is one of the elements that will make the tenBroek Library the most dynamic, fully accessible, digital research library on blindness anywhere in the world. We are committed to full accessibility in all administrative functions of our library. Although we are still at the very beginning of building a great research collection on blindness and although we are at the beginning of the task of entering records for the material we already own, we are very pleased to be demonstrating the online library catalog for the first time at this convention.
Last month the National Federation of the Blind received a federal grant that will assist us in improving the organization of the professional and personal papers of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek as well as the archives of the Federation. We will make finding aids for these collections available through the Federation Website, greatly facilitating research on the history of the blind and the struggle for equality in the United States and around the world.
This year, as an effort to reach more young people, we have entered the world of online social networks. We created two Facebook groups—Blindness 411 for blind high school students and NFB Cafe for blind college students and young professionals. We established a listserv for chapter presidents, giving them a forum in which to exchange ideas for effective membership building. In January our Affiliate Action department conducted two “Dwell in Possibilities” membership-building seminars. A number of Federationists returning to their affiliates from these seminars have started new local chapters and state divisions, pioneering new techniques for building membership.
This year we instituted the College Leadership Program, to bring more promising college students who would benefit from learning about the Federation to the convention. We have brought more than twenty of these new, enthusiastic students to Detroit. Our Affiliate Action department worked with our National Association of Blind Students to conduct a seminar for fifty of our student leaders and led leadership seminars for our state affiliates in California, Missouri, Delaware, Iowa, and Virginia.
Those new to blindness or the Federation are often daunted by the sheer volume of literature that we have available. We have, therefore, developed a CD, entitled “Messages of the Movement: A Selection of Classic and Contemporary NFB Literature and Publications,” to give people some understanding of blindness and the NFB without overwhelming them. This CD contains a selection of banquet addresses, Kernel Book stories, and brochures about Federation programs in MP3 and text formats.
In May we held the second Beginnings and Blueprints conference for parents of blind children ages birth to seven. Conducted with the inspiration of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and blind role models from around the nation, this conference featured educational program ideas inspired by the philosophy of the Federation. The curriculum included presentations about orientation and mobility for small children and early Braille literacy.
A summer program named Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) will begin immediately following the national convention, first in Georgia and then in Maryland. This program delivers instruction in Braille to blind children ages four through ten. If the schools will not teach these children Braille, we will do it ourselves.
Do blind children learn Braille? Some do, but most do not. Do the school systems in the United States offer Braille education to blind students? Some do, but most do not. Do blind students have their books in accessible formats at the same time that sighted students have theirs? Some do, but most do not. Do blind children have adequate education in access technology for the blind? Some do, but most do not. Do the school systems take the problems posed by these questions seriously? Some do, but most do not. For more than a year the National Federation of the Blind has been examining the serious lack of an adequate education for blind children in the public schools. Some of the difficulty in achieving a quality education for blind children can be charged to individual detrimental decisions made in individual cases. However, the lack of quality education is sufficiently widespread to demonstrate that some of the decisions with respect to education for the blind are systemic, and we are seeking system-wide alteration of programs to provide first-class education for blind children. We are filing two complaints, one in Utah and one in Maryland, to change the way school districts provide services to blind students. Blind students have a right to an education, and we intend to see that they get it.
With support from the United States Department of Defense, blinded veterans such as those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will have access to the high-quality training and empowering Federation philosophy offered by our NFB training centers. The Louisiana Center for the Blind, the Colorado Center for the Blind, and Blindness: Learning In New Dimensions will work closely with the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University and the National Federation of the Blind to equip these remarkable men and women with the skills and attitudes necessary for lifelong success.
There are a number of other programs. This year we have continued to operate the National Center for Mentoring Excellence, which brings together aspiring young blind people with successful blind role models. We have assisted Santa Claus by helping him prepare Braille letters to be sent to blind children who have written to him. We have conducted a pilot study of the effective use by blind individuals of an insulin pen, and we have coordinated efforts to solicit submissions for the Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. More than 4,200 people have visited the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute this year to work with us in developing innovative programs for the blind in our own country and throughout the world. We have served our visitors almost 7,000 meals.
Last year we initiated the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Program. The award selection committee reviews nominations and determines from among them those people who have in the last year made significant contributions to the lives of the blind. Last year we gave $100,000 to the selected nominees. Although the funds that we hold for this program have been diminished severely by the economic slump, we will this year be giving $50,000 because the spirit of Dr. Bolotin exemplifies the spirit of the National Federation of the Blind, and this spirit gives life and energy to the programs we conduct today and those that we intend to initiate in the years ahead. We will be hearing from our chairperson, Gary Wunder, later during the convention.
We talk; we think; we act. The beginning of change is in conversation of a kind that is frank, direct, and open. We have set for ourselves an ambitious goal—we want recognition for the equal human beings that we are. We have the capacity for self-reliance, and we have an independent spirit.
In the position I hold as president of the National Federation of the Blind, I find myself in meetings with people who believe they know about blindness and the needs of the blind. However, when I want to know about the reality of blindness, I talk with my colleagues in the Federation. Federationists tell me openly, frankly, directly, and insistently about the hopes they have, the needs they must fulfill, and the dreams of excitement they want to make real. One child, one blind senior, one blind merchant, one blind professional, one blind student at a time—we are changing the society in which we live to bring acceptance and freedom to the blind.
Together we have made much progress this year, but much still remains to be done. However, as I have examined our dedication to a philosophy of independence, our commitment to one another, and our willingness to meet the demands that lie ahead, I have no doubt of our ultimate success. Nothing can stop us because we will not permit it. We know our minds and our hearts, and we are on the move at an ever increasing pace. We have taken command of our own lives, and equality will be ours. This spirit has been reaffirmed for me again this year; this certainty has come to me from each of you; this unwavering resolve is at the heart of our Federation! This is my report for 2009.
From the Editor: In the National Federation of the Blind we present awards only as often as they are deserved. This year two were presented during the annual meeting of the NFB board of directors, and one more was presented during the banquet. In addition the Bolotin Awards were again presented. A complete report of those presentations appears elsewhere in this issue. Here is the report of the educator awards and the tenBroek Award:
Blind Educator of the Year Award
by David Ticchi
Thank you, Dr. Maurer. Good morning, everyone. It is indeed a pleasure and a privilege to chair this committee. I first want to tell you about the award. I will then announce the winner of this year’s award and make the presentation. Then the winner will have an opportunity to share thoughts with you and speak to the gathering this morning. Before doing that, I want to thank the members of the committee: Sheila Koenig and Judy Sanders of Minnesota, Ramona Walhof of Idaho, and Adelmo Vigil of New Mexico. Thank you very much.
The Blind Educator of the Year Award was instituted by the National Organization of Blind Educators, NOBE. It was established to pay tribute to an outstanding teacher for excellent classroom performance, uncommon community service, and outstanding commitment to the Federation. Because of the importance of classroom teaching and education and the impact they have on students, on faculty, on the community, and in fact on all Americans, in 1991 this became a national award that is presented in the spirit of our founders, themselves educators who nurtured our movement, leaders such as Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and now President Maurer. The award will have a plaque with it and also a check for $1,000.
Without further ado I want to tell you about this year’s winner. The winner of this award is a gentleman named William Henderson, who is the principal of the O’Hearn Elementary School in Boston, Massachusetts. I want to ask Bill Henderson to come forward, and I want to tell you something about this impressive gentleman. Bill has his doctorate in instructional leadership from the University of Massachusetts, his master’s in community development from Gordon College, and an undergraduate degree from Yale University in Latin American studies. His professional experience is over thirty-six years in the Boston public schools, where he began as a middle school teacher at the McCormick School, became a staff trainer, and in 1981 became assistant principal at Hernandez Elementary School, and then from 1989 to the present has been the principal of the O’Hearn school.
His professional experience is outstanding. He has conducted seminars at colleges and universities, including the Harvard School of Education, Roxbury Community College, and numerous other colleges and universities. He has consulted with school systems and has written articles, and I am proud to say he is a committed member of our Cambridge Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind and the NFB of Massachusetts, as well as helping out with seminars we have had for parents of blind children over the years.
Bill has received numerous awards over the years. Just to give you a sense, through the Department of Health and Human Services he received the Outstanding American Award. He has received the Community Hero Award from the Boston Celtics and has been the Milken Outstanding Educator of the Year. He has also received outstanding achievement awards from the Federation for Children with Special Needs. He has been on national TV with Katie Couric and in Time magazine—numerous, numerous awards. What distinguishes this school—and this really gets into the nature of the presentation I want to make—is that The O’Hearn school has been recognized for its inclusiveness. Bill has set the bar higher—expectations. He is a champion of inclusion. He recognizes the benefits of having a school that exhibits high standards and has expectations for students and welcomes all. It raises the comfort level. It increases respect for human differences. It maximizes opportunities, and it minimizes disabilities. The O’Hearn school has been recognized for that in the city of Boston, in the state of Massachusetts, and nationally.
I want to tell you something else. Those of you who know me well know that I am well organized, and I do things in advance. I had my notes for this presentation and on Bill’s background all researched and ready in Braille. Then on Sunday, June 21, Father’s Day, I had to change this a little bit. I got a call in the afternoon from Bill, and he said, “David, I just want to give you a heads up. This was supposed to be a secret, but I’ve gotten wind of it, and I’d like you to be present when it happens.” On Tuesday, June 23, the city of Boston, the Boston school committee, and the O’Hearn School decided to rename the school after Bill Henderson. It is now the William Henderson Inclusive Elementary School. [applause]
I was proud to attend that ceremony. It was very moving. I must tell you, to have every grade level represented, poems written and songs sung—all this spoke to the inclusiveness of the school, the community feeling, and the love that people have for this man. How rare is it—how extraordinarily rare—that a building or facility or institution is named after a person who is still living? What a tribute!
Bill, congratulations on the National Blind Educator of the Year Award. I’d like to read to people what this award says, then I will present you with the award and the check.
The Blind Educator of the Year
In recognition of outstanding
Accomplishments in the teaching profession.
You enhance the present,
You inspire your colleagues,
You build the future.
July 5, 2009
Bill, congratulations. [applause]
Thank you. David, thank you very much for those wonderful words, and thank you, NFB leaders, for this tremendous honor. When I started as a middle school teacher in the Boston public schools in the 1970s, I also started to lose my vision. I went for some advice. The first person I saw was a retina specialist. He suggested that I get out of education. The next person I saw was an assistant superintendant, and he told me not to worry because I qualified for disability retirement. These highly skilled professionals were obviously not that enlightened. I clearly recognized the importance of this organization and its leaders, past and present, creating opportunities for blind folks and for creating and changing people’s images and perceptions about what we can do. I have benefitted tremendously from this organization and from your leadership.
There are so many people, past and present, I could acknowledge. I do want to say here that David Ticchi was the trailblazer. He was the Jackie Robinson. He was the first teacher to be blind in Massachusetts, and, David, your doing an excellent job has made it easier for many of us.
I also want to recognize the current president of the Massachusetts affiliate of the NFB, Mika Pyyhkala, who, when I was going through the transition from sighted to blind, helped me learn some new blind skills and encouraged me to connect with others to become better prepared. And Dr. Maurer, you might not know it, but you’ve inspired me for many years with your speeches and your tenacity. Just recently you spoke to us in Massachusetts at our state convention, and you shared a message in which you asked all of us, not only to participate and to contribute, but also to be joyful. That message is something that I think is part of the philosophy at the O’Hearn Inclusive School. We want all of our students from diverse ethnic, linguistic, and ability backgrounds—whether they see or not, whether they use wheelchairs or not, whether they have autism or not—we want all of our children to participate in rigorous academic classes, to participate in rich arts experiences and extracurricular activities. We want all of our children to learn and figure out how they can best contribute, starting out in their homes and in their schools. But ultimately the goal of education is to contribute in our communities and contribute in the greater world.
We also want all of our children to be successful and to be joyful. That’s critical and very important for us. In this organization we talk about changing the attitudes of blind folks, and, because we are an inclusive school, our students see folks with a wide range of abilities all the time. In fact I had the advantage while I was at work of learning Braille. Once a month the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind used to send somebody out at four o’clock, the end of the school day, to help me with my Braille skills. This one simple story will illustrate how perceptions of blind people are changing. A young man was coming to our school and using the white cane. He would come into our school at the end of the day when most of the students had gone home, but some were still there. What do you think that students at an inclusive school who were used to a blind principal asked this young man who came into our school with a cane? Were they like that eye specialist saying, “You need to get out of education”? Were they like the educational administrator saying, “Disability retirement”? No. The question that young people have now who have the opportunity to meet, work with, and collaborate with blind people, asked him this question, “Sir, in what school are you principal?”
Thank you for creating opportunities. Thank you for this award. Keep shining. [applause]
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
by Joyce Scanlan
The committee appointed to select the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for 2009 has indeed chosen a most deserving person as the recipient of the award. As you know, the National Federation of the Blind recognizes outstanding educators of blind children who exemplify the very best qualities in addressing the specific needs related to blindness: a profound belief in the capacities of blind children to lead full and meaningful lives, the understanding of the value of teaching Braille reading and writing, the use of the long white cane for travel, and appropriate technology and a firm conviction that blind children must be prepared to achieve their personal goals and realize their individual dreams as much as their sighted colleagues.
I am pleased to tell you that the committee has identified as this year’s winner one who demonstrates the finest qualities in all of the areas we desire. She is Annee Hartzell. [applause] She is from Walla Walla, Washington. She is our Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for 2009. Let me tell you about her. Annee Hartzell has outstanding professional qualifications for the field she is pursuing. Her academic credentials tell of a well-rounded background. She earned a bachelor’s degree in 1992 with concentration in politics and Japanese. In 1995 she received a law degree from the University of Washington School of Law. In 2002 she earned an MS degree in special education with concentrations in severe needs, vision orientation, and mobility from the University of Northern Colorado. She has several relevant professional certificates, among them, from the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals, Orientation and Mobility Certificate. She has excellent teaching skills. She is fluent in Spanish and is proficient in using assistive technology and in instructing the technology, including notetakers, Braille displays, OCR software, and appropriate Microsoft applications. I can tell you I am truly impressed, Annee.
She is very competent to teach Braille in both literary and Nemeth codes. She says she has a functional understanding of the Japanese language and the Braille system. She studied the language for four years in college, including one year at Yoshida University in Kyoto, Japan. While I have been telling of Annee’s professional and academic qualifications primarily, I want you to know that all these fine certifications and degrees maybe impressive; however, the real reason we feel that Annee is an outstanding teacher and deserving of our award is that she practices in her daily professional work the high expectations and positive philosophy of our organization because she is a member of the National Federation of the Blind. Her professional practices are based upon personal experience. It has been demonstrated to her that students thrive best on a positive philosophy of blindness and the best alternative techniques when your eyesight doesn’t quite make it.
Annee has received a number of honors and awards. She has received scholarships from her state affiliate and also from the National Federation of the Blind. She has now had nine years of teaching experience in California and in Washington. She receives high praise from her principal, under whom she has taught for the past five years, and a glowing recommendation from a very pleased parent of one of her students. That tells us much about how she is valued by those who know her and work with her. She also has contributed ably to programs of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children at national conventions.
As the winner of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award, Annee receives transportation to this convention, the opportunity to speak at and participate in seminars and other significant events of the NOPBC, a check for $1,000, and a beautiful plaque, which I will present to you, Annee, so you can hold it up while I read the inscription on the plaque. It reads:
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
DISTINGUISHED EDUCATOR OF BLIND CHILDREN
FOR YOUR SKILL IN TEACHING BRAILLE AND OTHER
ALTERNATIVE TECHNIQUES OF BLINDNESS,
FOR GENEROUSLY DEVOTING EXTRA TIME
TO MEET THE NEEDS OF YOUR STUDENTS
AND FOR INSPIRING YOUR STUDENTS
TO PERFORM BEYOND THEIR EXPECTATIONS.
YOU CHAMPION OUR MOVEMENT;
YOU STRENGTHEN OUR HOPES;
YOU SHARE OUR DREAMS.
Congratulations to you, Annee Hartzell, and we are very proud of you and are pleased to have you as our Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for this year. Now, before we hear from Annee, I would like to thank the members of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award committee who made our work go smoothly and worked together as a fine team. They are Mark Riccobono of Maryland, Dr. Ed Vaughn of California, Carla McQuillan of Oregon, and Allen Harris now of Alabama. Thanks to all of you members of the committee.
Now let me present to you Annee Hartzell, our Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for 2009.
Good morning, fellow Federationists, board members, committee members. I just would like to thank you very much for raising me up in the Federation. I came to the Federation twenty-one years ago this week as a result of the National Federation of the Blind scholarship program. I came to Chicago as a result of the scholarship program. I thank Denise and Gary Mackinstadt for believing in me and writing such a glowing recommendation. I also would like to thank two people who aren’t with us today, my parents. Without my parents, who believed in me, who raised me, who expected so much of me--they expected that I would accomplish and achieve and do the same things as my twin brother and younger sister--without their belief I wouldn’t be standing here. And without the belief of the Federation, without that gift, I wouldn’t be standing here. It is my life purpose to reach out to the children I serve, that I can give that gift to them. So I hope that I can continue to just keep giving that gift to my kids. [applause]
I understand that a check goes along with this award that you guys are so generously giving me this year. I am intending to invest this gift in a knfb Reader, which is here. Mr. Gashel is here. He came to our area in eastern Washington, and we are starting a pilot program. We are going to take the knfb Reader to our little eastern Washington program and spread the gift of the knfb Reader to the K-12 system and find out what it can do for kids. We will report back.
The Jacobus tenBroek Award
by Ramona Walhof
The Jacobus tenBroek Award was first presented in 1976 to Perry Sunquist of California. It was presented twice more in that decade, and during the 1980s it was presented six times. In the nineties seven times. In the twenty-first century we have recognized an outstanding leader of the National Federation of the Blind each year, and the award has become a symbol that our leadership has now become both deep and diverse.
A study of the leaders we have chosen to honor with this award named for our founder, Jacobus tenBroek, demonstrates that our organization is healthy and strong. Those we recognize served, not for years, but for decades, not in one state, but in ways that benefit the blind of the entire nation.
In 2007 my colleagues chose to honor me with the award, and I have never been more humbled standing alongside some of our best leaders. Tonight we are presenting the Jacobus tenBroek Award to two people who have served separately and together and are known to all of you. They have lived and served in four NFB affiliates and in one large division. They joined the NFB in the 1970s, and I have been around long enough to have met them both in that decade. As they moved around, they grew in the Federation themselves and became builders and leaders. They have been leaders for more than twenty-five years. Only once before have we chosen to honor a sighted person with this award. That was Mary Ellen Jernigan, but tonight the Jacobus tenBroek Award goes to (you have figured it out, I think.) Barbara and John Cheadle. [applause]
John and Barbara joined the NFB before they were married, when they lived in the state of Nebraska and both worked for the rehabilitation agency for the blind there. After they were married and after the birth of their first son, they decided to adopt a blind child, now known to us as Charles Cheadle. In the early 1980s they moved to Missouri, where John worked with the rehabilitation agency and Barbara began to edit a newsletter for parents of blind children. Next they moved to Idaho, where both were extremely helpful to me and the NFB when we were under attack there. Barbara Cheadle was elected president of the parents of blind children division for the first time while they lived in Idaho. But in 1985 it was time for them to move on again, this time to Maryland, where John Cheadle has worked ever since as executive director of buildings and facilities at our national headquarters. In this capacity he does not receive a lot of recognition, but he is valued for constant and wise leadership, and his work makes us proud of our national headquarters. Constructing a large new commercial building is a huge undertaking, and John Cheadle worked as an essential part of the leadership team to bring the beautiful facility for our Jernigan Institute into being. He continues to supervise both the maintenance staff and contractors who are hired to do repairs and remodeling at our national headquarters.
After the Cheadles moved to Maryland, Barbara was reelected president of the parents of blind children division every two years until she had served for twenty-five years. She continued to build the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children all that time. Our publication, Future Reflections, was edited by Barbara Cheadle from its very beginning. As leader of the parents division she traveled throughout the country. She planned seminars and meetings at our national convention and elsewhere throughout the country. She organized state divisions of parents of blind children. She attended other conferences on parenthood and education as needed. She wrote and read widely in the field, and she headed the Braille book program for the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, which makes it possible for blind children to receive their very own Braille books as they grow up.
In short, she became deservedly the best known leader among parents of blind children throughout this country. After twenty-five years she decided to retire as president of NOPBC, and last summer the division celebrated its silver anniversary. Barbara retired as editor of Future Reflections this spring. There are and will be ripples in the waters of the division as transition occurs, but it is strong, and there are many leaders ready to move forward to take new positions, men and women recruited and groomed in the philosophy and experience in the Federation by Barbara Cheadle. There are also blind children and youth who have grown up and others who are now growing up in the Federation in a better world for blind people because of the work of Barbara Cheadle.
This year Barbara Cheadle is back with us at the convention, still working as a part of the NFB, and she always will be. Barbara and John have been far more than staff members at our national center; they have given of themselves, learned and grown in their work, shared what they have learned with others, and helped to train the next generation of parents, yes, and of blind children. Many of these children are now Federationists, as are their parents. We find them in the student division as scholarship winners and in chapters and state affiliates across the NFB.
The Cheadles have raised three children of their own, John Earl, now in Cincinnati; Charles, who has joined the Peace Corps; and Anna, who lives in England. These young adults like the blind children who have grown up in the Federation are testimony to the wisdom and strength of John and Barbara Cheadle. I say to you tonight, John and Barbara, we give you this Jacobus tenBroek Award as a sign of our love and appreciation for what you are and what you do. Congratulations to both of you. We have a plaque for you. Here is the text:
JACOBUS tenBROEK AWARD
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
JOHN AND BARBARA CHEADLE
FOR YOUR DEDICATION,
SACRIFICE, AND COMMITMENT
ON BEHALF OF THE BLIND OF THE NATION.
YOUR CONTRIBUTION IS MEASURED
NOT IN STEPS, BUT IN MILES,
NOT BY INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES,
BUT BY THE IMPACT ON THE LIVES
OF THE BLIND OF THE NATION.
WHENEVER WE HAVE ASKED,
YOU HAVE ANSWERED.
WE CALL YOU OUR COLLEAGUE
WE CALL YOU OUR FRIEND WITH LOVE.
JULY 8, 2009
John: I’m overwhelmed. I was trying to think earlier tonight how long I’ve been coming to these conventions, and Fred said they’ve been coming thirty-one years, and I think this is our thirty-fifth convention. [applause] We want to thank all of you for everything you have done for us. You have done more for us than we’ve done for you. When we first got into the field, we didn’t know about the Federation. We had to go off to these meetings in Kansas City for rehab regional meetings. We knew there was something better, someplace, there had to be. And here you are. Thank you.
Barbara: I was out to lunch with a couple of my wonderful friends and parents in the parents division today, and we were talking about this interesting hotel. Brad said he had heard that the architect who designed it wanted there to be a surprise around every corner. Believe me, I will remember this as the convention of surprises. I’ve been asked many things this week, and some people ask me if I feel lost or uncertain or sad about not having the position of parent division president or that I’m not sure what to do, and I’m not. I am so very happy. Part of what I am happy about is the wonderful leaders and the parents who are involved and the children. The greatest joy that I could have is that they are such wonderful people: Carol Castellano and that wonderful board who can take over so competently, so efficiently, and Debbie Stein to take on Future Reflections. It’s a source of great joy to me. I think the greatest sadness would be if everything started falling apart, because what would have been the point of all that work? Most of all, I am happy because this is my family. You are my friends, and I love you. Thank you.
by Gary Wunder
From the Editor: Two years ago the National Federation of the Blind was asked to administer substantial awards annually to individuals and organizations that have improved life for blind people in celebration of the life and work of Dr. Jacob Bolotin, a remarkable, totally blind pulmonary and cardiac specialist who practiced medicine during the early years of the twentieth century. President Maurer appointed Gary Wunder, secretary of the NFB and president of the NFB of Missouri, to chair the committee that chose the 2009 winners of the Bolotin Awards. Wednesday afternoon, July 8, Gary came to the platform to present them. This is what he said:
Let me start by asking a question: what do you call a medical student who graduates at the bottom of his class? Right, you call him doctor. Now a harder question. What do you call a medical student who finishes near the top of his class, invents all the techniques he will use to learn the theory and physical requirements to be a healer, and after his education finds it almost impossible at the beginning of his career to find patients who will accept his gift? Of course he too is called “Doctor,” but I suggest he has also earned other titles such as pioneer, inventor, and educator. We know about pioneers, inventors, and educators because we are all about blazing new trails, promoting new inventions, and trying to build and repair our educational and rehabilitation system so it helps blind people to live in a world where successful competition is essential.
Dr. Jacob Bolotin, the first blind doctor who was born blind and trained for his profession as a blind person, gave his many talents not only to heal, but to become a true evangelist for the proposition that blind people with training, ambition, and opportunity can compete alongside the sighted. No matter how many times he was told no, he continued to pursue his life's calling with enthusiasm, ingenuity, and perseverance.
All of the winners recognized today are involved in furthering the goals, aspirations, and life's work of Dr. Bolotin, so let's begin now to recognize them. As blind people, what words do we hear most often when we enter a room? I bet "Here's a chair," and "Sit right here," would be high on any list. The assumption seems always to be that, no matter how smart we are, no matter how well we travel, no matter how adventurous we are, people are most comfortable when we, the blind, are stationary.
The first award to be presented this afternoon goes to an organization dedicated to the proposition that blind people don't belong in chairs, that we must experience things for ourselves, that through experience comes self-confidence, and from self-confidence come success and a life filled with challenges and opportunities. The recipient we honor runs a camp where blind people canoe, swim, cook over an open fire, and participate in arts and crafts. This alone would make it a special place, but what elevates the program from special to award-winning is that it is run for and by blind people. This is one of the key ways in which our recipient differentiates itself from other programs for blind youth--a majority of the staff, leaders, and board members are blind. Youth who attend not only learn through hands-on experience, but through observation and interaction see that blind people are more than the recipients of programs; they are an integral part of some very, very good ones at all levels, from support staff to counselors to camp leaders.
Jobs for blind people--role models for younger blind people. What can you say except wow and congratulations? It is our pleasure to award $10,000 to Opportunities Unlimited for the Blind. This organization runs the superior Camp Tuhsmeheta or, as it is lovingly known, Camp T. To receive this award, I invite for some remarks the director of Camp T, Sharon Burton.
Sharon Burton: Thank you. Thank you. I thank you, not for myself, but for my organization, Opportunities Unlimited for the Blind. We run Camp Tuhsmeheta. It’s a Michigan treasure, where kids have fun and learn the skills of blindness. Camp Tuhsmeheta was named for the four senses you have when you are blind: touch, smell, hearing, and taste. We have thousands of campers and former staff; in fact I invite all the people who have attended Camp Tuhsmeheta to stand up right now. There should be lots of kids, lots of former counselors. Thank you. We all thank you for this award. Since 1972, when the Michigan School for the Blind purchased this land and started this camp, many, many thousands of kids have learned to do lots of great things.
It started out with just a log cabin, and money was raised. Two modern dorms, a kitchen and dining hall, a woodworking shop, and arts and craft shop building. We have 297 acres of wilderness and our own lake for swimming and boating and fishing. We even built our own adobe oven, where we bake bread and pizza. We have a Braille schedule. We have menus, and we encourage the use of canes for traveling. Our blind staff serves as mentors for our campers. This year we had twenty-nine staff, and sixteen of them are blind. Our board of directors has eight members, and seven of them are blind. We have a challenge every year like every nonprofit, to raise enough money to have camp. We have fewer sessions this year, but they’re great sessions. We struggle to raise money through tuition. I challenge the parents in this room and the kids in this room because, if we filled every camp session, we wouldn’t have trouble, and your children would gain independence, meet new friends, and do some things that they have never done before, and you would allow them to be independent and learn to be competent members of society.
I have a long speech, but I’m not going to give it all. Today, as I had dinner with my mentor, he got a fortune that said, “He can who thinks he can, and he can’t if he thinks he can’t.” This is an indisputable law. I want to thank people out here: Fred and Mary Wurtzel, Larry and Donna Possant, J.J. Meddaugh, Matt McCubbin, Adrienne Dempsey, Shawn Patterson, and my blind mentor George Wurtzel, who has a gift for you.
Hello. This is George Wurtzel. Our camp builds all kinds of things, and I want to make sure that at the National Center you have a little memento to recognize our camp, so, Dr. Maurer, here is a very nice bluebird house made by the kids at the camp for you to take back to the Center. Thank you very much, NFB, for supporting our cause.
All week we have focused on Braille: the need to receive training in learning to read and write it, the expectation that blind people should become proficient in its use, and the need to have ever more of it available for the fingers and minds of blind Americans. The next program we honor is the oldest and largest of its kind and is probably the most influential nationwide Braille contest conducted in the USA. It was established to stem the tide of Braille illiteracy among our nation’s blind youth. It also aspired to create a demand for more Braille books; improve Braille instruction to students; and raise the expectations of teachers, parents, and students in regard to what blind children can achieve when appropriately challenged. The success of the contest is and continues to be phenomenal. Since 1984 over 6,000 blind children have participated in it, and the names of former participants appear regularly on the scholarship lists of the National Federation of the Blind and other prestigious scholarship programs. Names familiar to all of us include Brooke Sexton, Jason Ewell, Kimberly Aguillard, Ryan Strunk, James Fetter, Jesse Hartle, Angela (Sasser) Wolf, Tai (Tomasi) Blas, and Jessica Bachicha, to name but a few.
The organizations we honor created a contest which provides these young blind leaders and thousands of others an opportunity to develop Braille skills during their formative childhood years. They learned they could compete equally with their sighted peers. Former participants have gone on to careers in science, law, public relations, human services, business, and some have even come to teach Braille.
For all that the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest is and will become, we present $10,000 to the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. To accept, we call on Carol Castellano, president of the NOPBC and Nadine Jacobson, president of NAPUB [National Association to Promote the Use of Braille].
Nadine Jacobson: Thank you so much. I am deeply honored to be here today to receive this honor on the part of all of our NAPUB members, all those people who go out and encourage kids to read more Braille. When I was five years old, I told my mom that I wanted to be a nurse. She said, “No, you can’t do that because you can’t see well enough.” I said, “Well, that’s okay; then I’ll be a doctor.” At that time we didn’t know about Dr. Jacob Bolotin. She didn’t know that she could tell me that, if I just learned Braille and became literate, I could accomplish anything I wanted to.
But life is different now; our kids know something different. They know that they can accomplish what they want to. Jacob Bolotin attended the Illinois School for the Blind in Jacksonville, Illinois. In his practice he went over many of these buildings that Patti Chang, I think, is still working on. They were often very dangerous. One of the things, though, at this school for the blind was its claim that he could read Braille through sixteen layers of a handkerchief. So I challenge all of you to go home and see how many layers you can read through and send your results to the NAPUB listserv. It is truly remarkable what our blind children are accomplishing. It happens because of the work that we all do together, and I encourage you to do everything you can to inspire kids to get in the contest because those readers will be the leaders in the future. Thank you so much.
Carol Castellano: Boy, it has been a good day. It is with profound gratitude that I accept this award on behalf of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and all the children who have been given the gift of literacy through the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. I would like to pass the microphone to someone who was there when it all began, one of the contest founders, my friend and mentor, Barbara Cheadle.
Barbara Cheadle: I really don’t know what to say. Carol kept this as a surprise from me. She knew about it, and I didn’t. She was pumping me before the convention about Braille Readers Are Leaders, and she said she wanted to say some words about the Braille Flea Market, but it turned out that she didn’t. I thought she got busy. That’s all right, so here we are.
Nadine may or may not remember this conversation, but, when we got together to think up this idea and to establish the contest, we had to decide when to begin the contest, at what grade level. What months would we use? What would be the rules? And I remember a very lengthy discussion about whether we really could start the contest with kindergarteners. The issue was this: it wasn’t that we thought blind kids in kindergarten couldn’t read, or couldn’t learn to read. If we scheduled the contest a little later in the year, they would have been up to speed. The problem was this: there weren’t enough Braille books for kids at that level. In the end I said, “You know, if we don’t do it at kindergarten, parents and teachers and others will assume that it’s all right that we don’t have Braille books for kindergarteners to read, and that’s not right. If we decide to start the contest with kindergarteners, it sends a message to the world that our kids deserve books and deserve lots of books at the same time that all the other kids have books. We will develop a groundswell of demand for Braille books. I think that we have succeeded.
Our next Bolotin winner came to her job from corporate America, where she held a position in healthcare. She knew nothing about the field of blindness, and her only contact with blind people came through service in Delta Gamma while in college. Bill Rader, the former director of the National Braille Press, lured her away when, after several unsuccessful attempts, he called on Valentine's Day to say, "This is my last call. What I'm offering you is creative license--you can do whatever you want." When placed alongside the job she had where she could do little without layers of corporate approval, our recipient took the plunge.
Her promised freedom was real--just how real she didn't realize until she arrived at work to find that she had no job description, no specific assignment, and an office with nothing more than a stapler, a tape holder, a telephone, and a typewriter. Her initial reaction: "I thought I had just made the biggest mistake of my life."
Starting with what she refers to as a clean slate, our recipient was the driving force behind the creation of the Children's Braille Book Club, offering books with print and Braille. She created the first program where blind people could buy titles in Braille for the same price as the print edition. Because of her work at the Press, there has come to be a Braille magazine of syndicated columns which lets blind readers enjoy the opinion section of major publications in the country. It is with tremendous appreciation for the drive, energy, and creativity she has used to enrich our lives that we present an award in the amount of $10,000 to Ms. Diane Croft.
Diane Croft: Thank you, Mrs. Jernigan and the committee, for this extraordinary award. Earlier today President Maurer suggested we be more joyful. I want to tell Dr. Maurer, I feel very joyful. Of course I’ve done none of these things myself. I want to recognize forty-seven other people, the employees at National Braille Press, who work so hard every day to keep Braille alive. A special thanks to the past president of the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts, Dr. David Ticchi, for nominating me and for being one of the finest individuals I have ever known.
People build communities, and communities build people, and no community has done more to build my character than this one. You set the bar very high, but by your example I have become more resilient, more responsible--just get the job done, more joyful, and more caring. Without caring there can be no community. I ask you, is there any other place in the world today where 2,800 people are vying for twelve elevators? And yet when a door opens and the cabin is packed, a voice says, “There’s always room for one more; come on in.” This is the community you have created, and this is the gift you have given to me. Thank you.
In 1959 Mrs. Jean Dyon Norris was talking with a blind friend who said: "My children can't understand why I can't read to them. If only someone would Braille me a little book." Mrs. Norris went home, took one of her own children's picture books apart, Brailled the text, inserted the Braille pages into the book along with the printed pages, and gave the book to her friend. Mrs. Norris continued to produce these little books at her kitchen table, but word of her project spread.
In 1962 the organization we honor today gave Mrs. Norris a grant to rent an office and purchase the equipment needed to mass-produce her works. Twin Vision® books they came to be called. Fifty years later this organization has a library of Twin Vision and other Braille books, the Kenneth Jernigan Library for Blind Children, and its collection now numbers more than thirty-five thousand volumes. Mrs. Norris, at age ninety-one, still manages the operation and reports to her Tarzana, California, office every day.
In addition to Twin Vision books, on a monthly basis this organization distributes to all blind children who request it a free Braille book. The books given include the Little House series, the Juni B. Jones story books, The Nancy Drew Mysteries, and other reading treasures beloved by young children.
It is with tremendous pride that we honor with a $5,000 award, the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, and we call on its second vice president, Sandy Halverson, to accept this award.
Sandy Halverson: Thank you very much, Gary, and members of the Jacob Bolotin Award committee. The American Action Fund for Blind Children sponsors the Kenneth Jernigan Library that Gary talked to you about. For those of you who aren’t familiar with how books were produced a long time ago, each page, each raised-line drawing (that today might be called tactile graphics) was done one page, one picture at a time. The calendars that many of you, I’m sure, received or picked up were distributed by the National Federation of the Blind and were a gift to you from the American Action Fund.
Several years ago, decades now, when the International Braille and Technology Center was established by the National Federation of the Blind, the American Action Fund made a substantial financial contribution to that endeavor because it was our belief that at least one piece of any kind of technology that was at all related to Braille should be available in one central location so that blind people would look at those production devices--Braille displays, Braille embossers--get their hands on them and make informed choices about what they were going to purchase.
Anil Lewis this morning mentioned the Kenneth Jernigan $12,000 scholarship, and we don’t know who the recipient will be, but it’s clear that we have high expectations of that winner and know that he or she will go on to accomplish great things. Gary talked to you about the Juni B. Jones series. The American Action Fund is now giving blind children an opportunity to request Braille cookbooks free. Think about it. How many of us in this room were expected to cook along with our siblings. Maybe some were, but I bet most of us were not. I can tell you I was not. I would like to get my hands on one of those cookbooks.
We very much appreciate and thank the committee for its generosity, and I assure you this award will be put to good use. Thank you very much.
All of us who read Braille know how frustrating it can be not to get what you want to read when you want to read it. No group of Braille readers knows this frustration more than blind musicians. Although gifted blind musicians who learn and perform everything by ear is a time-worn stereotype, in reality it is nearly impossible for blind musicians to learn complex musical compositions with complete accuracy unless they have access to the written score.
The individual we honor today has had a lifelong interest in music and developed an interest in Braille music when he met a gifted young student named Jessica Bachicha. So complicated were some of the pieces she needed to learn that to transcribe them accurately required collaboration between an expert in reading Braille music and someone expert in the software used for its transcription. Our winner tells the story of a deadline so pressing that it found him and Jessica working by phone from 1 to 5 a.m. to make a composition available to her that very day.
The man we proudly honor has decided his calling is to do the work of making Braille music available to the blind. It is our pleasure to present an award in the amount of $5,000 to Mr. John Andrew English.
Because of some confusion, though Andy English attended the convention, he was not present to receive his award.
If you are blind, how do you learn about the world? Well you can read about its people and its cultures, but how do you learn about the physical layout so you understand the shape of Michigan, where it is in relation to Texas, and get some concept of the distance which separates the two? Blind children and adults learn geography by using tactile maps to explore the world. Unfortunately, the creation of tactile maps is tedious and time-consuming, and as a result there are few for blind students and adults to use. The ones which are available are often quite expensive.
Today we recognize a very special organization, created and staffed by two dedicated senior citizen volunteers who work tirelessly to solve the dual problems of cost and availability. Since its creation this organization has produced twenty-seven Braille atlases and each year fills about one hundred orders, sending approximately 350 books to schools, organizations, and individuals.
The magic of the organization we recognize is not just in its work and the numbers of volumes it distributes, but in the two women who founded and staff it. I think two short biographies will leave you as spellbound as it did the committee. Ruth Bogia was raised during the Great Depression, and, when the time came to decide which sibling would go to college, it was her brother who got the nod. After Ruth sent her own son to college, she decided her turn had finally come, and at age seventy she got her bachelor’s degree in English, some twenty-one years ago. While working at Recording for the Blind, first affixing Braille labels to boxes and later acting as unit director, Ruth learned and began to transcribe Braille in 1967, and she's been at it on an almost daily basis for the last forty-two years.
Nancy Amick has a master’s degree in physics and moved to Princeton to take a job in 1959. When she married a colleague with a PhD in chemistry, the company would not employ a husband and wife team, so she was forced to leave her job. Turning lemons into lemonade, Nancy became a volunteer for Recording for the Blind, and it is there she met Ruth. When RFB decided to try producing raised-line drawings and Nancy thought she could do the job, she began to learn, not only how to make tactile drawings, but more important, how to make drawings blind people could understand.
When Ruth retired and RFB discontinued its raised-line drawing program, the two decided to form an organization which we proudly recognize today with an award of $5,000. The organization these two women created is called the Princeton Braillists, and I invite Nancy Amick and Ruth Bogia to receive this most deserved award.
Nancy Amick: We’d like to thank Debbie Stein, Gary Wunder, and the award committee for recognizing our work. We’ve never had so much attention, and we truly appreciate it. When we started making maps in about 1992, people would say, “Maps for the blind, why would they want maps?” Well, there is a young lady in Pittsburgh who uses our maps, and she got through her history of Western Europe, or the college professor in Utah who buys all of our maps, or the deaf-blind man in Massachusetts who called on a Saturday afternoon to find out if the Wilkins Ice Shelf was on his Antarctic map. It was. The many people who travel enjoy our maps. And then there’s Adrian, our blind man in Frankfurt, Germany, who collects maps. I can email him at midnight, and within an hour he is getting up to go to his job at the post office, and he emails me back. They all love maps, and we enjoy making maps. It gives us great pleasure to provide this service.
We are currently working on maps of the fifty-three countries in Africa, which will be our next offering. Any of you who have used our maps, we’d love to talk with you. Thanks for all your support and appreciation.
Ruth Bogia: Gary told you all about my life history, but he didn’t tell you that working with Nancy, who is a perfectionist, has been a real challenge to me. I am the Braillist. She is the designer. And between us we make the maps. It’s a great pleasure to work with her and also to do Braille, and I shall continue as long as I am able.
Gary Wunder: May we all do as well at age seventy-eight and ninety-one.
Our last award this afternoon goes to a man whose name will be recognized by almost everyone in this hall. If you read Braille, he has played a tremendous role in your education. What you may not know is that our honoree was almost diverted from his destiny when, some seventy years ago, he was sold a bill of goods which said that science and math weren't fields in which the blind could compete. Instead of pursuing his life's desire, our winner was trained as a psychologist, and only his inability to find a job in that field led him to throw caution to the wind and follow his real passion. One element in his decision was a most loving but pointed question from his wife, which was, "Would you rather be an unemployed psychologist or an unemployed mathematician?"
To help him with the concepts that would have to be mastered in his field, our winner began to improvise a new Braille system that would be consistent and make it possible for him to write down all the notations used by sighted readers. There is much much more I'd like to say about our final recipient, but, if I go on much longer, all of you will yell out his name before I can say that it is our honor to award $5,000 to Dr. Abraham Nemeth.
Dr. Nemeth: Wow, I didn’t recognize who I am. First I’d like to thank the Bolotin committee for considering me worthy to receive such a prestigious prize. I grew up in an environment of pure love. I had wonderful parents, wonderful grandparents whom I knew intimately. I had four of them. I had uncles and aunts who supported me and loved me. I had cousins and other relatives. I had wonderful teachers all through my life. I had wonderful friends. I had two wives who supported and indulged me. And most of the credit for all I did belongs to all of those people.
I have friends all over, including people from the National Federation of the Blind, and now I have developed a system called NUBS. NUBS stands for Nemeth Uniform Braille System, and just like print, which has no math code, no literary code, and no computer code, no other kind of a code, NUBS is just like that. If you feel the spectrum of Braille, you know that you have to deal with two sets of numbers and three sets of punctuation marks. In NUBS you deal with one set of numbers and one set of punctuation marks. NUBS is not finished. It is being reviewed by the Braille Authority of North America. I am ever so grateful to all the people who kept helping me along in my endeavors. The Lord has overwhelmed me with this kindness. Thank you.
All right, ladies and gentlemen, I have taken more than my time. On behalf of the committee I’d like to thank all of you who made this possible.
The following remarks were not delivered because of time constraints. In this presentation I've given only a brief synopsis of the organizations and individuals we honor today. So that you and many others can learn more about them, we've created a book that provides some very exciting details we just could not cover in the time allowed. I remind you about the biography entitled The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story, available from the National Federation of the Blind, proceeds from which go to fund these awards.
Mr. President, I close by thanking the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust, which funds these awards, and Rosalind Perlman, who selected the National Federation of the Blind to administer them. Thank you to the members of the National Federation of the Blind, who, even in this time of financial difficulty, decided to fund this program for 2009. Thank you to Ronald Brown and Mary Ellen Jernigan for reading several hundred pages of nominations and deciding on the very best to bring here today.
Congratulations to our recipients, to those who nominated and wrote in support of them, and congratulations to every member of the NFB, who allowed us to honor the memory of Dr. Bolotin and to support the individuals and organizations who share his passion and carry on his work.
From the Associate Editor: With every passing year we recognize the increasing value of the National Federation of the Blind’s scholarship program to our national organization. Members of previous scholarship classes stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done. Each year everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing now and planning to do with their lives in the future.
On Wednesday evening, toward the close of the banquet, Anil Lewis came to the podium to present the year's winners and give an academic and personal sketch of each after announcing which scholarship he or she had been awarded. This year each winner crossed the platform and shook hands with President Maurer and Ray Kurzweil. In addition to his or her NFB scholarship, each also received a $1,000 check and plaque from the Kurzweil Foundation, a brand new knfb Reader Mobile, presented by Ray Kurzweil himself, and the latest Kurzweil 1000 reading system software from Kurzweil Educational Systems.
The final award was the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship of $12,000, presented to Matthias Niska, who then spoke briefly to the audience. A summary of his remarks appears later in this article.
But earlier in the week, at the meeting of the NFB board of directors, the twenty-nine 2009 NFB scholarship winners and one tenBroek Fellow, who was receiving a second scholarship, came to the microphone and spoke directly to the Federation. Following is what they said about themselves. Each speaker was introduced by Anil, who announced the home and school states after each name.
Rachel Becker, Maryland, Maryland: Hello, everyone. I am attending the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. I am pursuing a degree in early childhood and elementary education. With the help of Barbara Cheadle and many other people from Maryland, I came to the NFB when my parents joined the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children when I was a young child. It is a great honor to be selected for a national scholarship and to be here with you attending my fourth national convention. I am just really honored by this wonderful opportunity. Thank you.
Sarah Biglow, Connecticut, Massachusetts: Hi, everybody. My name is Sarah. I will be a first-year law student in August at the New England School of Law in Boston. I earned my bachelor of arts degree in history from Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. This is my first national convention. I have attended the Connecticut state conventions all through college. I was a state scholarship recipient every year. I have so far enjoyed what I have learned at this particular convention. I am looking forward to some of the sessions later on and to seeing how the general session is run. Thank you very much.
Anne Brady, New York, New York: Hi. I’m Anne, and I’m from Buffalo, New York. I’m going to be a freshman at Daemen College in the fall. I am going to major in English and creative writing. This is my first time at the convention. My state commission counselor sent me a scholarship application, and I really didn’t know what this place was all about. Then I got here and I was really confused and overwhelmed, and it was kind of crazy. This is amazing, and I am really honored to be here and to be nominated for a scholarship.
Ashley Brow, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hi. My name is Ashley Brow, and I am going to Emerson College. I am going to be a junior studying communication science and disorders. I either want to be a speech language pathologist or an audiologist. I haven’t decided yet. I am just so honored to be here, surrounded by so many successful blind people. It really makes me hopeful for the future of what the lives of blind people will be like. Thank you so much.
Tara Carty, New Jersey, New Jersey: Good morning. My name is Tara Carty, and, as Anil said, I am from New Jersey. I just want to take this opportunity to thank the entire organization for this amazing experience. I will be attending Caldwell College as a sophomore next semester as an English major. I plan to write for a magazine or a newspaper and eventually to publish a book. I have been listening to many speeches this week, and many people have mentioned philosophies and the philosophy of the NFB. My own personal philosophy shadows that of the NFB, and it is an amazing experience to be involved and meet so many people that share that same feeling with me. I always tell people that I may have lost my sight, but I have not lost my vision. Thank you very much.
Lily Clifton, Washington State, Massachusetts: Hi. I’m Lily. I will be a freshman at Boston College this fall studying environmental geoscience. I just graduated from high school. This past year one of my greatest accomplishments was creating an environmental camp for blind and vision-impaired elementary-age kids. This has sparked many interests, including event planning, the environment, and working with our blind youth. As I step forward into college, I hope to contribute to things that are greater than myself, and I hope to continue to work with the NFB. I have never been to convention before, and this is a life-changing experience. I’ve loved every minute of it so far. Thank you, guys.
Juliet Cody, California, California: Good morning. I’m Juliet Cody from Cal State San Marcos, and I have my BA in communications. I’m one year into my master’s program. I want to become a communications specialist. I want to share that my first convention was actually here in Detroit, and I was still sighted at that time. But I did hear my freedom bell. I went back home, and I started two local chapters and one division with friends. I sit on the board of directors of the California affiliate. Not only did I hear my freedom bell, but I took the key of opportunity, and I am committed to the National Federation of the Blind.
James Cole, Indiana, Indiana: Hello. My name is James Cole. I am a recent graduate of the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. I had orientation at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, just a couple of days ago, and I will be headed there in the fall to study history and hopefully become a history professor one day. This is my third NFB convention. My first was in Louisville in 2005. My second was Dallas in 2006, and I haven’t been back since for all sorts of reasons. But I am glad to be back because I enjoy NFB conventions. I am having a great time here in Detroit. I've never been here, and I am happy that I have the opportunity to get this scholarship. We’ll see what happens next as the convention moves on. Thank you.
Blair David Douglass, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Good morning, everyone. My name is Blair Douglass, and I’m going to be a junior at the University of Pittsburgh. I’m studying political science, international studies, and history. This is my first National Federation of the Blind convention. I have been thoroughly amazed by the passion and energy that this convention has displayed. I am truly honored to be a scholarship recipient and a representative of the new generation of National Federation of the Blind scholars. I pledge to do my part to do whatever I can to improve the future for blind individuals. Thank you very much.
Sharin Duffy, New York, New York: Good morning, everyone. I am Sharin from New York. This will be my final year in the master’s of social work program at New York University. I am also a board certified music therapist, and I want to incorporate all of these skills to serve my community. I am not quite sure how exactly, but God will show me. This is my first convention, and I have found it to be energizing. As a single mom it has given me a greater passion to work with other blind parents on all the issues facing us from the serious things such as custody to the day-to-day support every parent needs to raise his or her children confidently. I want to thank the committee for giving me this wonderful opportunity to be here. Thank you.
Dawei Fu, Arizona, Arizona: Good morning, everyone. My name is Dawei Fu. I am a PhD student in the department of electrical engineering at the University of Arizona. I also have earned a master’s degree in reliability engineering from the University of Arizona. I have already passed my preliminary and comprehensive written examinations with great results; I am preparing to take my oral examination. I hope I will graduate by next year. It's a great pleasure to be here. Thank you very much.
Diane Graves, Indiana, Indiana: Good morning. My name is Diane Graves. Allow me to offer my sincere thanks to the scholarship committee. This is a tremendous honor and a privilege to have been selected. I plan to make good on the investment. I am currently in my fourth term as a student at Kaplan Online University, pursuing a bachelor’s in organizational communication. I am also currently working in the field of civil rights as a civil rights mediator, and upon completion of my degree I plan to remain in the field of civil rights and affirmative action. Thank you.
Sunish Gupta, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hello, everyone. I will be attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pursuing my master’s in system design and management. I joined the NFB six years ago when Dr. Maurer appointed me as a member of the research and development committee. It was a great honor to serve the committee, and I still serve the committee. I had the privilege and opportunity to work with Ray Kurzweil, Mr. Gashel, and Dr. Betsy Zaborowski to work on the knfb Reader Classic. It was a fantastic experience, and I think we should pursue it further in making sure that we can take advantage of other technologies too. I think we are not disabled; it’s the technology that's disabled. We need to fix that. Thank you.
Melissa Haney, California, California: Good morning. I’m pursuing a master’s in rehabilitation counseling. I’m currently the treasurer of the California Association of Blind Students. I just want to thank you all for the honor of being here today. About a year ago, when I met you all, there was only one person that believed in me. And believe me, he was not me. Thank you.
Rachel Jacobs, Florida, Florida: Hi. My name is Rachel Jacobs. I’m a graduate student at the University of South Florida, where I am studying rehabilitation and mental health counseling. I also received my bachelor’s from the University of South Florida in psychology and criminology. I became a member of the NFB one year ago when I won a state scholarship in Florida. I’m the newest president of the Manesota Chapter in Florida and the vice president of the Florida Association of Blind Students.
Mary-Anne Joseph, Ohio, Ohio: Good morning to the wonderful members of the NFB. I am a proud and excited member of the Ohio affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. I am a PhD student. I am in my third year. I’m working on my PhD in counselor education and supervision. I have my master’s in rehabilitation counseling. Don’t hold it against me, but I’ve worked as a rehabilitation counselor in North Carolina, and I loved it. It was work that I really enjoyed doing. I am working on my dissertation on visual impairment and blindness. I am really thankful for this opportunity--the opportunity to win a scholarship that I can use to complete that dissertation within the next year and do a lot of wonderful research. Thank you.
Brooke Jostad, Colorado, Texas: Good morning. My name is Brooke Jostad. I will be a freshman next year at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, studying international studies, religion, and Spanish. When I was a freshman, I heard a quote, and I couldn’t quite understand exactly what it meant, but now that I am here, I know that this quote should represent the NFB. It says that hopelessness accepts while hope criticizes. I feel as though the spirit of the NFB is one that will criticize things that are not right. We will not settle for less until we see change, and I am very proud of being a member of this.
Dare Justice, Alabama, Alabama: Hi. I’m Dare Justice from Alabama. I am pursuing my bachelor’s in psychology. I’m attending Auburn University. Six years ago I was involved in a car accident that left me blind. I’ve recently had to adapt to being blind and having to learn how to walk, talk, and all that good stuff. I appreciate this opportunity for you to show me how confident I can be as a blind individual. I appreciate the opportunity to come here. The NFB is a great organization. Thank you.
Jeannie Massay, Oklahoma, Oklahoma: Good morning NFB family. I’m going to tell a quick story. It’s relevant. There’s a reason that geese call out when they fly in formation. The first thing is the leader calls out so that people will follow. He is also the first line of defense. He encourages his family behind him. The other geese in line also do the same. They encourage each other as they fly through the air. For me the NFB has allowed me to fly as an individual. I lost my vision five years ago as an adult, and my life was completely changed. The NFB has given me hope and a passion for living life to the fullest. I hope to share that with other people. I am a second year graduate student in counseling psychology, and I am still contemplating pursuing a PhD, but regardless of what level of education I achieve, I will always fight for every blind person and hope to provide the hope that has been provided to me. Thank you.
Tyler Merren, Michigan, Michigan: Hi, everybody. It’s Tyler Merren. I’m a student at Western Michigan University studying exercise science and Spanish. As the president of the Kalamazoo Chapter of the NFB, I understand that there are a lot of challenges that we face as blind people. One example I will give is the local library. Even in the great city of Kalamazoo, the public library has been inaccessible to the blind until this summer. The Kalamazoo Chapter has worked with the library, and it is going to be fully accessible by the end of this summer. For most of my life I have faced challenges, and I know that many of you have too. I’ve had people tell me that I can’t. I want to let you guys know that it’s really refreshing to be among a group of people who, I am thoroughly convinced, don’t even know how to say the word can't. So receiving this scholarship is exciting, and I am honored. I hope I can further my education to help lead this Federation to a higher standard of achievement for all blind people.
Chikako Mochizuki, Kansas, Kansas: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Chikako Mochizuki, and I am currently working on my PhD in East Asian history at the University of Kansas. This is a very humbling experience. I am honored to be here to take part in all this. With the support of the NFB scholarship, I would like to complete my dissertation by the spring of 2011. Through my work as a historian, teaching and researching, I intend to contribute to society and to the world. Thank you very much for this opportunity.
Ashley Nashleanas, Iowa, Indiana: Hello, everyone. My name is Ashley Nashleanas, and I am going to be a senior at the University of Notre Dame next year. It’s a wonderful school. I am studying chemistry, and my goal is to pursue a master’s and a PhD in chemistry. I am specializing in either organic or biochemistry; I am not sure which one. Anyway, I really got more involved with the NFB when they were doing a thing at Notre Dame in which I was included. It was an awareness event, and I got to know a lot more of their philosophy. The more I’ve gotten to know about the organization, it’s been wonderful being a part of the NFB. It’s an honor and a blessing to receive this scholarship. Thank you.
Hani Nasser, California, California: Hello, everyone. I grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, during a civil war, and I witnessed a lot of death and destruction to my country and people. At the age of nine I started going blind. I had no help and got kicked out of school. I had no guidance. The only blind people that I saw were those sitting on the sidewalk begging for money and saying, “Please, can you spare some money? I am blind.” I lived that way for twenty-two years--running away from my blindness--until I found the NFB at the national convention in 2006 in Dallas, where I met some amazing and accomplished people who helped me become who I am today. I am here today as a scholarship winner and proud to be here. I am going to school at USC. I am a junior studying kinesiology and pursuing a doctorate in physical therapy. I am a California Association of Blind Students board member and the chair of its fundraising committee. Thank you so much for having me.
Matthias Niska, Minnesota, Minnesota: Good morning. I’d first like to thank Dr. Maurer and the Federation leadership, Anil and the scholarship committee, and you all for giving me the opportunity to benefit from this wonderful scholarship program. I am truly humbled to be a part of all of this. I would also be remiss if I did not thank the amazing staff and students of BLIND, Inc., in Minneapolis, where I am lucky enough to be finishing the comprehensive adult training program right now. You guys have no idea how much your support has meant to me. I would not be standing up here without you guys. I love you all. I will be a first-year law student at the University of Minnesota Law School in the fall, where I will be pursuing a JD. I hope to focus on child and family law, especially adoption law, but no matter where my career in law, or my path in the Federation takes me, I plan to serve others because my religious faith teaches me that there is a far greater claim on my life than simply pursuing my own self-interest. Thank you.
Corbb O’Connor, Virginia, District of Columbia: Thank you. You know, chefs and cooks always want sharp knives in their kitchens. It makes work a lot easier and safer. The work that all of you do is sharpening the knives for all of us scholarship winners up here. Whether it’s raising your money or an outreach program to get one more kid a cane, you’ve helped me and these twenty-nine others gain and keep our independence. It’s an honor to be here as a tenBroek Fellow. Thank you.
Kayde Rieken, Nebraska, Nebraska: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I planted a flower when I was a little girl, and I kept checking every day to see if it had grown yet. My sister told me in her all-knowing big-sister fashion that it wouldn’t grow overnight, and I had to wait. In my childhood I had an idea of a philosophy of blindness. I didn’t view myself as amazing. I didn’t view myself as helpless. I just viewed myself as me. When I found the Federation, it helped this idea grow, and, as I’m moving forward in my life, as I’m going into Spanish interpreting at Nebraska Wesleyan University, as I’m involved in my student division, this philosophy of the Federation has helped me every step along the way. I’m honored to be here. Thank you.
Kyle Shachmut, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Good morning, everybody. I would like to offer a special thanks to the board and scholarship committee for bringing us here. My name is Kyle Shachmut. I’m originally from Arkansas. I’ve just finished a master’s degree in education at Boston College. In the fall I’ll be working toward a doctorate in education at Boston University. I’ll be focusing on educational media and technology in education. I’m really excited to be here. This is my first national convention, and particularly with my interests it is great to see all the work the Federation is doing to ensure that all the technology that we all have to use in education is accessible. I’m excited to be working with the Federation. Thank you.
Thanh Kim Tong, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hi. I’m Thanh. I will be pursuing my bachelor’s in biochemistry at Mt. Holyoke College. I found out about the NFB and the scholarship a couple of weeks before the deadline, and I just want to say that initially I was just here for the money, but, now that I’m here, truly the money is just one great part of being here. It is a true honor, and I am so humbled to be with a group of people who believe and expect blind people to be better--to be great. It's good to be a part of a group of people dedicated to bettering the lives of all blind people. Thank you.
Andrew Wai, Pennsylvania, New Jersey: Good morning. I’m Andrew Wai from Philadelphia. In the fall I will be beginning my freshman year at Princeton University. I don’t know what I want to study yet, but I’m interested in natural and social science. I intend to go to Princeton to find what my passion is to study. I’ve been a lifelong Federationist. This is my third convention. I am a multiple time alumnus of the Colorado Center for the Blind high school summer program, and this last summer I was honored to serve as a cane travel mentor at a summer sensations camp in Philadelphia. I would like to make one final note. I haven’t as many life experiences or accomplishments as many fellows in my scholarship class, and I’ve only taken a few steps on my life’s path, but I owe the few steps I have taken to the National Federation of the Blind and the philosophy that this organization espouses. I intend to repay that debt. Thank you.
Katherine Watson, Wisconsin, Wisconsin: Hello, everyone. My name is Katherine Watson. I will be a sophomore in the fall at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater, majoring in journalism and minoring in Spanish. I just want to say that each and every one of you in the NFB and each and every one of you at this convention has given me a reason to live out the NFB philosophy. We talk about this philosophy a lot throughout the convention, but it doesn’t really mean anything unless you take it to your home, to your job, to your college campus. I want to thank each and every one of you, whether you are an outgoing lawyer who has inspired me, a travel instructor who has encouraged me, or a student that I am encouraging to attend one of the training centers. Thank you everyone for everything that you do, and I just want to encourage you to keep on keeping on. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity.
Anil Lewis: That is the scholarship class of 2009.
Near the close of the banquet on Wednesday evening, the thirty students were called to the platform to receive their awards. After Matthias Niska received the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, he addressed the banquet audience seated before him and those across the nation who were following the event on the Internet.
In addition to thanking everyone responsible for the NFB national scholarship program, Matthias acknowledged his peers in the 2009 scholarship class as a diverse pool of talented students. He urged all of them to share their life blessings with others instead of keeping them solely for their own personal growth and benefit. He suggested that in the long run this approach would enrich the lives of both the giver and the recipient. In short he urged convention delegates to be unselfish with the blessings they receive.
Here is the complete list of 2009 scholarship winners and the awards they received:
$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Anne Brady, Juliet Cody, James Cole, Douglass Blair, Dawei Fu, Mary-Anne Joseph, Dare Justice, Tyler Merren, Hani Nasser, Kayde Rieken, Andrew Wai, and Katherine Watson
$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Educator of Tomorrow Award: Rachel Becker
$3,000 NFB Computer Science Scholarship: Sunish Gupta
$3,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship: Tara Carty
$3,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship: Sarah Biglow
$3,000 Lawrence Kettner Scholarship: Diane Graves
$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Ashley Brow
$3,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship: Ashley Nashleanas
$3,000 E. U. Parker Scholarship: Corbb O’Connor
$3,000 Guide Dogs for the Blind Dorthea and Roland Bohde Leadership Scholarship: Sharin Duffy
$3,000 Jeannette C. Eyerly Memorial Scholarship: Jeannie Massay
$5,000 Hank LeBonne Scholarship: Kyle Shachmut
$5,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Melissa Haney, Rachel Jacobs, and Brooke Jostad
$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship: Chikako Mochizuki
$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship: Thanh Kim Tong
$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Lily Clifton
$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship (donated by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults): Matthias Niska
An Address Delivered by
at the Banquet of the Annual Convention
of the National Federation of the Blind
Conflict has been created by the inappropriate classification of a society or its people. In our own country we were once regarded as a people to be directed by others from across the Atlantic. When the judgment of the colonists about the position that they should have became sufficiently different from that of the leaders of the British Parliament, conflict erupted; the American War of Independence began.
Alfred Marshall said that the value of a product is based upon its utility or cost of production. Karl Marx said that value is based upon labor: either the amount of labor required to make a product or the quantity that somebody else is willing to expend to get it.
Thomas Paine offered the opinion that the things which are hard to get have the most value. He said, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.” In law school classes the professors say that the value of property is what the buyer is willing to spend when both the buyer and the seller are at liberty to close the deal or walk away.
With Marx and Marshall the value appears to be a calculation—determine the cost of labor or the cost of production, and the value is set. With Paine and the professors valuation is more a matter of judgment, although even in Marshall’s formulation at least one question remains. If a product may be valued for its utility, what is the meaning of the term—useful to whom, for what, and by what measure?
Although estimating the value of property can be difficult, contemplating the value of human beings is far more complex. Deciding that one human being is less valuable than another may seem offensive and presumptuous. When the judgments are based upon false assumptions or erroneous characterization, “offensive” is the polite term. Some of the characteristics that have constituted measures of value for human beings include beauty, artistic talent, physical prowess, intellectual ability, inventive genius, tenacity, possession of property, mechanical ability, generosity, spiritual understanding, leadership, outstanding temperament, vivacious personality, and the ability to inspire love and trust. Of course there are hundreds of others. This list concentrates on the positive side of the ledger, ignoring such traits as laziness, dishonesty, foolhardiness, and stinginess.
Despite the obvious reality that human beings are composed of hundreds of characteristics—physical, mental, spiritual, natural, and artificial—a phenomenon often occurs in which a single characteristic personifies an individual or a group. Ronald Reagan was the great communicator. Donald Trump is the tycoon with hair. Mother Teresa was the embodiment of saintliness. It is not only individuals who become known by a single characteristic but groups, societies, and sometimes nations as well. Germans are fierce, Italians are lovers, and the British are unemotional.
For the blind our characterization is that we are blind—that we cannot see. This characteristic is one of many physical traits that may make up the physical aspect of a human being. Nevertheless, it is often the primary trait considered by others who estimate the value of blind human beings, and sometimes it is the only trait—imparting meaning to all others as if this one characteristic is irresistibly dominant. Do blind people possess beauty, artistic talent, mechanical ability, or the capacity to inspire love and trust? Some would say we do not because we are blind. According to these we possess only one characteristic of significance. Its presence within our being leaves no room for anything else.
The incapacity or unwillingness of a person to judge another on the basis of the characteristics possessed by that person ensures that the estimate of value will be wrong. This fundamental fact is at the heart of nondiscrimination legislation. It is also a basic element within the struggle of the organized blind movement to ensure that the blind are incorporated within society on the basis of equality. Blindness is one characteristic among hundreds, and judging blind people on this characteristic alone is an elementary and destructive error. It signifies that our ability to contribute is undervalued, and it limits our opportunities. It also deprives the society in which we live of the full expression of our talent. Following this erroneous pattern of thought to its logical conclusion leads to absurdity.
Blindness, being outside the norm, is often regarded as abnormal. Normality is rarely defined, but being abnormal is frequently regarded as bad. Furthermore, blindness is often thought to be a medical condition to be repaired or cured. The important information about blind people, we are sometimes told, is not what we can do to build our own lives or what contributions we can make to our society. The important information is what must be done for us, what the doctors have to offer us, what is needed to comfort and support us. What we are told is that the thing we need most is sight. Those who cannot be repaired or cured are permanently diseased or broken. In our society broken artifacts must be fixed or discarded, or (if they are sufficiently rare) preserved for display under glass. This pattern of thought leads to the conclusion that blind people are sighted people—who are broken.
The diseases which cause blindness are, of course, medical conditions, which should be cured when this is possible. However, the blindness which results from these diseases is not a medical condition but a physical characteristic. Eyes that work can see; eyes that do not work are blind. However, it is false to say that eyes which are broken signify that the person who owns them is broken.
Value is measured not by a single characteristic but by the aggregate of those possessed by each individual. Each characteristic contributes to the whole, and each may strengthen or hinder the person possessing it. To say of a person who fails to possess a certain characteristic that the person is broken is to express an attitude of affinity for that characteristic, declaring allegiance to those who possess it. This is more a statement of political faith than of truth.
We the blind do not need to be fixed; we are fine the way we are. We are not diseased carriers of contagion who must be shunned or kept in isolation to prevent our blindness from rubbing off. We are not abnormal weirdoes to be placed under observation for the entertainment of others. We are the tough, independent, spirited people who have brought the organized blind movement into being, who have established its objectives, and who have carried its program into effect. Would we accept assets that we do not already have? Yes, of course, if the strings attached are not too many, if the demands made upon us are not too restrictive, and if the costs are not so high that they outweigh the advantages to be gained.
We in the National Federation of the Blind have decided to seek full opportunity for all of the blind, and we intend to reach this goal. We have found through the examination of the strength within our hearts that our lives have meaning and purpose without modification or alteration. The meaning does not depend on vision or the lack of it. Each of us has the value created by the characteristics of which we are made. Every one of these characteristics can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on the circumstances and depending on the inventive intelligence employed in managing it. We declare that we are not broken sighted people—we are the blind, we have value, and we intend to use it.
Do important, apparently knowledgeable entities within our society believe the blind are broken? Do they believe we need to be fixed or altered in order to succeed? Sometimes, when documents come to the National Federation of the Blind, they are sufficiently bizarre to challenge credulity. One that came to us in May of 2009 is entitled “Social Interaction Survey.” This survey is to be completed only by those fifty-five years of age or older with visual acuity of 20/400 or less, that is, by old blind people. The document seems to have originated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute. It is intended to help blind people with their social interaction. Apparently, if you are under fifty-five or sighted, you and your social interaction are on your own.
The concept behind the survey is that blind people need assistance in such arcane tasks as meeting other people, understanding them during the course of conversation, and shaking hands. The way the planners of the survey are thinking of providing this help is by devising a vibrating vest to be worn by the blind person. The vest also has an earpiece. How the vibrating vest and the earpiece interact is unspecified. Do the vibrations of the vest travel to the ear to be felt, or is there a sound system to carry the excited utterances of those who come close to the vibrating blind person? Here are excerpts from the survey:
If you could wear a vest that gave you information through a small earpiece to help you socialize at a party, which of the following activities would this device help you with the most?
[I interrupt this fascinating document to point out that those who created it do not bother to ask if you are feeling the need to improve your social interaction or if you like parties. They ask which of the socialization steps they have identified will be enhanced the most by their vest. That you need help is the unstated assumption. However, back to the survey. Here is a selection from the list of things that the vest is intended to help you do.]
Remembering people's names
Recognizing people by their voices
Listening to others when you are having a conversation with them
Understanding others by their voices
Introducing people you know to other people
Getting people's attention
If this same vest vibrated your sides and back to help you navigate in a room, are you likely to use it?
That, in part, is what the survey says. This is one smart vest. It can teach you to dance, remember people’s names, show you how to play games, keep you alert so that you don’t phase out when you are having a conversation with somebody else, and figure out when you want to get other people’s attention.
We do not have all of the technical specifications for constructing this amazing piece of technological clothing. All that we know for certain is that a vest is to be worn that vibrates and that has an earpiece. This garment is intended to provide assistance with the tasks listed in the survey.
Why does the vest vibrate? Do the researchers believe that blind people live on a special wavelength of their own? Do they believe that the vest provides sympathetic vibrations to get us in tune with the rest of the universe? What games does the vest want to help us play? Does it have innocent intentions or a scandalous outlook on life? Such questions are certainly no more ridiculous than the survey itself.
All of this comes from an American university, proposed by a professor and approved by its research board. Is blindness the only characteristic that these researchers believe is significant? Have they met any blind people? Do they believe that we are one-dimensional and without resources? If this is their assumption, they have much to learn, and we will provide the teaching. We are not broken sighted people—we are the blind, we have value, and we intend to use it.
Academia might not have faith in blind people, university researchers may think we are broken, but what does the United Nations think? The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has devised a game in its curriculum for [nonviolent] education denominated “The Blind People.” In this game some of the people have their eyes closed or are blindfolded. The other people in the game have vision. In other words there are no blind people in “The Blind People.” The sighted people are pretending to be blind people. The intended outcome of the game is to teach sighted people who are pretending to be blind people that they need the other sighted people to help them out. Independence is not an objective of this game.
Here is a portion of the description from UNESCO:
How to Play: In all of the ‘blind people’ games the players should close their eyes for a few minutes before starting the game; if some of them can't keep their eyes closed, they should be given blindfolds. At the end of the game find out what each player felt like as a ‘blind’ person or as a guide. Did they feel insecurity as a ‘blind’ person? Did the guides find their mission difficult to accomplish?
The Cars: The players should be split into pairs. One person is the driver and places himself behind his partner who is the car and cannot see. The driver then steers the car without saying a word, only pressing down on the shoulders of his partner to indicate which direction to go in. After a few minutes the players should switch roles. When the participants have some practice, the game leader can put some obstacles in their path.
What a wonderful game! When I imagine people engaging in this sport, I wonder if their inventive imaginations would take malicious satisfaction in altering the rules. Unspoken assumptions of this game are that the person acting as the driver will take care to insure that the person acting as the car is kept safe and secure and that the person acting as the car will take instructions from the person serving as the driver. Suppose the assumptions are incorrect. Suppose the driver wants to play at bumper cars. Suppose the car decides that it does not wish to be driven. Suppose the car decides to get even. Suddenly the game becomes much more interesting.
Several other games are described as part of “The Blind People,” but this description of “The Cars” is sufficient to make the point. Rather than fostering a sense of independence, rather than inspiring self-reliance, UNESCO is teaching that blind people should feel insecurity and that the sighted people that interact with us should get the sense that they are faced with a challenging, difficult, disagreeable chore. Or maybe it is even worse. UNESCO’s plan for the game is not to have sighted people experience interaction with the blind. Apparently this thought is beyond contemplation. Rather it is to have some sighted people interact with other sighted people who are pretending to be blind. As disagreeable as this might be, having real blind people in the game would be even worse. UNESCO is shamelessly unaware that it is deliberately belittling an entire class of human beings. It says, “Interest of the Game: . . . looking at how we feel and react when we have to take care of someone else or when we have to depend on someone.”
This game is misnamed. It should not be called “The Blind People.” Perhaps a better identifier would be “Creating Frustration,” ”Fostering Hatred,” or “Institutionalizing Discrimination.” Acting in the manner prescribed by this game is not the role that we would pick but the role that somebody else wants to force upon us. We reject it. Our lives have meaning; we are the blind; we have value; and we intend to use it.
An article that appeared in the New York Times in August of 2008 describes the life of a blind man living in Uganda. He was born with vision, but he became blind when he was in his midtwenties. Before becoming blind, he had been an athlete and a bricklayer, but blindness brought an end to these pursuits. When this man became blind, his family members departed. He sat in his hut for years, waiting for the orphans in the neighborhood to come to help him cook his gruel. However, a life in which this blind man existed as the object of pity and charity soon became dreary and disheartening.
Three years ago Mr. Ramathan, the blind person who had been a bricklayer, decided to return to athletic pursuits, specifically boxing. During these years his training has been intense, his physique and his spirits have improved, and his life has gained meaning for himself and for those around him. Today he enters the boxing ring planning to engage and defeat those who challenge him. Because blindness does have disadvantages, he asks that those who want to face him in the ring wear blindfolds, and he protects himself with a series of very rapid punches, some of which land on his opponent.
During the course of his training, he runs with the assistance of a guide. Sparring with partners, punching the heavy bag, and taking direction from his coach are part of the routine to perfect his technique. When he is engaged in a match, he hunts for his opponent by listening and smelling. The reporters have been fascinated by this man’s spirit. A film crew has taken footage of his fighting abilities, and he has inspired his neighbors in Uganda to believe in themselves from watching his example.
With no blindness training Mr. Ramathan has decided to rebuild his life. He has used whatever tools have come to hand, whatever alternative techniques seemed most likely to provide the desired results, and such imagination as he and those around him could bring to this demanding lifestyle. The rebuilding process has been conducted by the trial-and-error method. No high-powered technology has been involved; no well-trained rehabilitation specialist has been a factor; no psychological therapy has taken place; no studious academic journal has set forth the steps to regaining confidence. This reconstruction of a formerly energetic life has been created through guts, good sense, formidable spirit, muscle, and dogged determination. He has trained his body to fight, and he has decided that blindness will not stop him. Mr. Ramathan is seeking now to establish a worldwide blind boxing sport. At the end of the New York Times article he is quoted as saying, “There are a lot of blind people in America, right? Think any of them will want to fight me?”
Last fall I received a letter from a man who wanted to ask a seemingly straightforward question. This is what the letter says:
Thank you for giving me the chance to write to you. My wife is legally blind (right eye totally, left eye with macular disease).
My question, to which I cannot find an answer in any publication, is as follows: In an emergency how will the authorities recognize handicapped people, like blind people?
I hope you will find the time to answer this question. Your answer will be very much appreciated, not only by me, but also by other handicapped people.
Thank you for giving the question your attention.”
This is what the man asked, and when I had read the letter, I found myself facing a difficult choice. The man’s wife is blind with a small amount of remaining vision that she is losing. Within a foreseeable time she will be totally blind. The writer of the letter apparently retains his vision, but he has no faith that his newly blinded wife can manage without assistance, and he is undoubtedly fearful about his own ability to care for her. He anticipates a time when an emergency may arise and he is not available. His wife has apparently had no training in the skills of blindness and no exposure to successful blind role models. He wants the police, personnel of the fire company, and attendants in emergency rescue vehicles to know that his wife may need special assistance because of her blindness.
I am sympathetic to his wish to be helpful. However, the only way he can imagine achieving his objective is to find a method to brand his wife and all other disabled individuals with the badge of helplessness. He asks me to assist him in creating and disseminating the badge.
How can I adopt the plan he proposes in good conscience when I don’t believe the underlying assumption? I do not believe that blindness and helplessness are synonymous, and I cannot recommend that blind people be stigmatized by a publicly visible declaration of incapacity. My assumptions are different from his, but this makes his assumptions no less heartfelt. If I tell this man to change his mind, he may wonder who I think I am. If I do not, I am failing to give him the benefit of the thought that has created the organized blind movement. Although challenging his summation of blindness is risky, it is the only reasonable course of action available to me. No matter how difficult it may seem, I must reject, with as much gentleness as possible, the notion that we the blind should be subjected to the badge of helplessness, notifying all who wish to observe that we possess a disability and that we are necessarily in need of somebody else’s care.
When I have expressed these sentiments, I have been asked a question that goes something like this: “If you do not want to be identified as blind, why do you carry a white cane?” I respond that I am blind and that I am perfectly happy for everybody to know it. My objection is to the badge of helplessness that some people think is a part of blindness. I carry the cane because it is a tool that helps me travel. It is also a symbol of independence, not a badge of helplessness. The white cane helps me to achieve the freedom that I seek.
During the past year blind characters have been depicted on television and in movies in many different guises. Saturday Night Live featured an actor making fun of New York Governor Paterson because of his blindness. The movie Blindness appeared in theaters depicting blind people as filthy and depraved. However, a blind contestant also appeared on American Idol. This is a real blind person, not, as in the Saturday Night Live presentation or the movie Blindness, sighted actors pretending to be blind. Part of the reaction of the judges to this contestant exemplified stereotypical thinking about blindness during the initial appearances, but the references to the bravery of the blind person soon vanished. The evaluation of performance gained the same characteristics that the valuation of performance for other contestants has. The blind person was no longer seen as primarily blind but as a talented aspirant for fame and success. What outcome should have been the result in this contest of talent is beyond my ability to decide. However, the blind contestant performed on American Idol, expressing himself with all of his personality. He was one among those who sought dramatic entry into the entertainment world, and he did it using all of the characteristics that make him the talented person he is, including blindness.
Is it reasonable to believe that a culture of blindness exists? The definition of “culture” from the American Heritage College Dictionary says, in part, “The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought” or “The predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize a group or organization.” To have a culture, a group must be identifiable, cohesive, and uniquely different from others. It must also possess traits expressing the individuality of this group from others that are fundamental to the lifestyle of its members. Do blind people have these characteristics? Although individuals sometimes claim that the blind do not exist as a group, this segment of the population has been regarded as sufficiently cohesive to demand specialized laws and specialized programs. Although every blind person is an individual, for certain purposes it is desirable to think of the blind as a cohesive group.
Do blind people think differently from sighted people, behave differently from sighted people, talk differently from sighted people, perceive differently from sighted people, engage in activities different from those pursued by sighted people, or employ different types of adornment or dress from those of sighted people?
When I came to be a part of the National Federation of the Blind forty years ago, I heard arguments urging people to accept blind people as normal people who cannot see. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan was then our president. He expressed this sentiment, and I heard him say that Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, our founder and great leader before Dr. Jernigan, had also expounded this view. Although I have spent much effort to demonstrate that blind people are not fundamentally different from sighted people, I am perfectly aware that some differences exist. Nevertheless, throughout my travels I have never observed such a thing as a blindness-specific cuisine. I have been to Mexican restaurants and French restaurants. One time I was entertained at a night club for the blind, where sawing boards and pounding nails were some of the principal activities. It is the only night club for the blind that I have encountered during a life of seeking out programs and activities specifically designed to meet the needs of the blind.
In the lives of blind people what do the blind have that the sighted do not? Access technology for the blind has been devised. Braille and other raised-character reading systems have been invented for the blind. A few sports activities have been modified to be played nonvisually, and some of these activities have been invented solely for the blind. Audio description has been added to visual images for the blind. Certain surfaces have been altered for tactile identification by the blind. Educational and rehabilitation programs have been established to concentrate on alternative methods of learning for the blind. Guide dogs, white canes, and other specialized tools to assist with travel have been adopted by blind people.
Usually the study of culture includes an examination of dance, art, literature, manners, language, scholarly pursuits, farming methods, customs involving food, family structure and marital behavior, forms of architecture, the classification of persons within the structure of society, social mobility, and patterns of thought. If we do have a separate culture, a number of these elements must be unique to us and different from those employed by others. My observation tells me that we do not dance less wildly or well than other people, that our houses are not different, that the form of dress we wear is not at variance with that of our neighbors.
Some would argue that we do not think the same way that sighted people do, but I wonder how they know and what they mean. It is a truism that blind people cannot see or cannot see very well. Some would say that we do not perceive in the same way that sighted people do. Perception is not merely sense impression. It is observation coupled with analysis and (in certain important instances) imagination. That we cannot see light does not mean that we cannot know it or appreciate it. Do we know it in the same way that sighted people know it? Perhaps we do not. However, it is undoubtedly true that all sighted people who observe light at the same moment and in the same place do not have the same impression of it. Perception involves observation, analysis, imagination, and the influence upon today’s event that is stimulated by reflection, by preceding occurrences that encapsulate meaning, and by the anticipation of things to come that portend tragedy or hope. A sunset may signify to the observer the exploration of interplanetary distances or the forces comprising the formative elements of the universe. To the more prosaic the same sunset may have the appearance of a slice of underdone roast beef.
It is worth asking: would something be lost if blindness were eradicated? I think the answer must be yes. Blindness is often a powerfully emotionally charged characteristic. Some people are frightened by it; some are immobilized; some are challenged. Would Homer have worked as hard on the Odyssey if he had possessed the sight to till the land or herd sheep? Would the boxer in Uganda have been able to inspire his neighbors as much if he had not lost his vision? Would he have been able to inspire himself? This puts to one side those instances in which blindness is a physical advantage—those circumstances in which it is helpful to have the skill to work without light. When the New York electrical grid failed several years ago, blind subway commuters led the sighted out of the darkened subway stations.
If blindness were eliminated as a physical characteristic, our perspective as human beings would be less well informed, and our capacity to understand the fundamental human spirit would be diminished. Blindness is often regarded as abnormal and detrimental. Blind people are therefore often considered imperfect, damaged, or broken. What is it to be perfect? The answer to this question is at the heart of tragedy. However, the search for perfection deserves all that is good within us.
In determining the value of a human being, it is necessary to assess the usefulness of the traits possessed by that human being. These traits change over time. Those with the ability to learn will be trained by experience. As they grow older, they will also grow wiser. An individual can decide to focus energy on intellectual pursuits or avoid them. Those who focus this energy and demand excellence of themselves are much more likely to get it than those who do not. And learning is not limited to exercise that trains the mind—it can also train the spirit. Our characteristics can change and develop because we have decided that we want them to do it. Our value can increase if we decide that it will.
The opinions of those who believe the blind are inferior must be disregarded. This is challenging because human beings are often tempted to assess themselves based on the opinions of others. We are often told that we are wonderful—sometimes for the most mundane reasons. I have no doubt that we are wonderful, but I don’t believe that our value is great because we can tie our shoes or walk around the block. Being told that we are wonderful for accomplishing such simple tasks is the same as saying that we cannot be expected to do anything more spectacular than the most insignificant act and that, if we who are blind can accomplish anything at all, it is worthy of excessive praise. Beware the deliberate assertion of inferiority, and beware the extravagant praise. They are both destructive, and they are both false. Each must be written off, and another standard of value must be adopted. This standard must come from the forge of our own understanding, and it must bear the stamp of quality that we give it.
In determining the shape of our future, we have certain responsibilities both as individuals and as the organized blind movement. We must have some reference points for determining our own worth. We cannot rely on others because they are too frequently wrong. We must be demanding of ourselves. We must expect more of each other than society often expects of us. We must also find a method for exploring the limits of our own capacity. All of this can be done by joining with others in the organized blind movement. However, the ultimate determination of value must come from within each of us. Knowing our personal worth and determining our future is not a group decision but a personal one. It can be informed by interaction with others, and this interaction is of enormous importance, but the determination of value is always done alone. No person can live your life for you. Other people can provide ideas or give support or challenge your assumptions, but your life belongs to you.
On March 26, 2009, the National Federation of the Blind conducted an event at our headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, to announce the release of the Louis Braille Commemorative Silver Dollar, the first coin issued by the United States with full-sized, readable Braille.
Among the many dignitaries present for the Louis Braille coin launch was Brandon Pickrel, a seven-year-old totally blind student. He read a statement in Braille about his hope for the future. Some of the words in this statement were pretty big for a seven-year-old, but he got through it without great trouble. He loves Braille. He has been learning it on paper but also by the experience of a Braille display on a notetaker at school. When his friends learned that Brandon would not be able to take the notetaker home with him for the summer, they found a way to give him one. Brandon was so excited about receiving it that he had trouble sleeping. He didn’t want to go to bed. He wanted to read using his new notetaker.
Brandon does not know about the culture of blindness; he knows about the excitement of reading and the thrill of learning. He does not think of himself as a blind person who is incidentally a child growing up in the United States. Instead, he thinks of himself as a kid who looks forward to the excitement of life in the way that all kids do. He will learn about the complexity of intellectual debate and social structure as he grows. For now let us help him read.
Blind people have been misclassified by certain elements within society since the beginning of time. This misclassification leads inevitably to conflict. When we are told that we cannot dance or play games or shake hands or attend the educational program of our choice or engage in the professional activities we prefer, the temptation is to meet such ridiculous assertions with laughter—unless they are coupled with denial of opportunity. When that happens, the mirth may turn to wrath.
The value of a human being is defined by the characteristics possessed by that human being, and one of these is determination. When we decide that something will be done, the likelihood of its getting done increases dramatically. What can be said of an individual can also be said of an organization.
We in the National Federation of the Blind have decided to seek full opportunity and equal treatment for all blind people. This demands recognition of our value as human beings with all that this implies. If we have value, as indeed we do, we have the right to equal access to programs and activities of our country, to educational institutions, to employment, and to information of all kinds. When we are denied these opportunities, we are being told that we have no right to full participation and that our value is insignificant. When, for example, we are told that we cannot have access to books, the message being sent is that education for us is not important because we don’t matter. We reject this summation, and we demand our right to participate. The researchers who tell us we need vibrating vests may take their idiotic projects and consign them to the attic of forgotten gimcrackery, where they belong. The United Nations can forget about using us to exemplify helplessness. We are not broken, and we will not behave as if we were.
For the blind athletes who want to compete, inside the ring or elsewhere; for the aspiring blind performers who want to demonstrate their talent to entertain; for the blind kids who want to learn, to grow, to mature; and for all other blind people who seek opportunity that has so long been denied—we are the blind. We are the voice that insists upon equality for us all, that calls upon all who know the joy of freedom to join us in the struggle for full participation and equality. We have faced deprivation in the past, and we know it today all too often. But we have examined our hearts, and we know our value. We are not broken; we are strong. We are not damaged; we are resolved.
Our decision is made; we will not be left out, or slowed in our progress, or stopped. The journey toward full integration is not without cost, but we are prepared for the hardships ahead. Whatever resources are demanded, we will find them. Whatever challenges come, we will meet them. This is the choice we have made, and we will not quit until we reach the goal. Join with me and with Federationists throughout the land, and we will make it come true!
by Fredric K. Schroeder
From the Editor: On Monday, July 6, Dr. Fred Schroeder, NFB first vice president and chairman of our Braille Readers are Leaders Campaign to increase Braille literacy in part by ensuring that all of the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollars are sold, thereby generating $4 million in matching funds for Braille literacy programs, addressed the convention. This is what he said:
The U.S. space shuttle Atlantis returned safely to Earth on Sunday, May 24, after completing a thirteen-day mission to refurbish the Hubble Space Telescope. A lesser known fact is that Atlantis carried with it two Louis Braille commemorative coins. What a contrast. On the one hand we have the Hubble telescope, representing the value of seeing, and, at the same time we have the Louis Braille commemorative coin, representing the value of touch.
This morning, at our March for Independence, we heard from a number of young people. Boniface Womber spoke of his goal to become a scientist, specifically an astronomer. We know that science seeks truth; it seeks understanding. But what does that mean? How are truth and understanding known? We know the old adage “Seeing is believing." But is seeing the only or at least the best way to know, to believe, to verify truth? Is sight the definitive arbiter of fact? Will blindness keep Boniface from reaching his dream, his dream of becoming a scientist, an astronomer?
In 1910 the astronomer Percival Lowell captured the imagination of the public with his book Mars as the Abode of Life. Based on extensive visual observation, Lowell offered a captivating description of a planet whose inhabitants had constructed a vast network of canals to distribute water from the polar regions to population centers nearer the equator. A few years earlier, in 1903, Lowell published a book entitled The Solar System in which he outlined his theory of planetary evolution. Based on mathematical analysis, Lowell was convinced that there must be an unseen ninth planet beyond Neptune. Lowell believed in intelligent life on Mars based on what he had seen, but he was wrong. He also believed, based on mathematical calculations, that there must be a ninth planet even though he could not see it, and he was right.
Seeing may well be believing, but, as Lowell's experience shows, sight is not infallible, and some truths are known without ever being seen, not the least of which is the human quest to create, to contribute, to make a difference. The insatiable drive for knowledge is not limited to those with sight. The ability to dream and to work toward fulfilling those dreams is the product of the mind, the human spirit, not the product of vision.
This year we are celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille. We celebrate Louis Braille's life, his invention, and the access it gives us to the written word. We celebrate the Braille code, but most of all we celebrate the gift of knowledge, the ability to learn and work like others.
Before the creation of the Braille code, for the most part blind people lived in utter hopelessness, isolation, and poverty. Of course hopelessness did not end with the development of the Braille code. Hopelessness, isolation, and poverty persist and, sadly, continue to dominate the lives of far too many blind people today. But the Braille code opened a door. It replaced the absence of hope with the possibility of a better life. What that better life might be was not immediately known, but, without the means to read and write, no better life could easily be conceived. Over the ensuing century and a half since its development, Braille has made it possible for countless blind people to attain an education and to prepare for a productive life. Today blind people work in virtually every field and profession, applying their talents, pursuing their interests, working productively to support themselves and their families. Still, in spite of the code, its proven efficiency, its proven effectiveness, we are in the midst of a Braille literacy crisis. How severe is that crisis?
On March 26 of this year we released a report entitled “The Braille Literacy Crisis in America: Facing the Truth, Reversing the Trend, Empowering the Blind.” In that report we state that it is estimated that only 10 percent of blind children are learning to read and write Braille, yet recently that estimate has been challenged. Critics say that the 10-percent figure is misleading, that it overstates the problem; however, they have no better estimate to offer in its place. So why challenge the 10-percent figure? What could possibly be the point? Assuming the 10-percent figure is inaccurate, does anyone really believe that there is no crisis in Braille literacy? Can anyone argue that the number of blind children receiving Braille instruction is adequate? That most blind children, save those very few who may not need it, are learning Braille? Still it is a fair question. Where did we get the 10-percent figure?
According to the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) 2009 Federal Quota Registration, there are 59,355 blind students in America. Of these, 5,560, 9.4 percent, are classified as Braille readers. But that does not necessarily mean that the other 90 percent are print readers. Here is the breakdown:
These are the data. You may make of them what you will, but what leaps out at me is that roughly three times as many students use print as compared to the number who use Braille, 27 percent compared to 9.4 percent. In fact the percent of Braille readers is only slightly higher than the percent of auditory readers, 9.4 percent compared to 7.8 percent. And what can we make of the fact that the largest category, 34 percent, are reported to be nonreaders--20,246 students, one out of every three classified as having no reading potential at all.
So what does this all mean? We know there is a crisis in Braille literacy. We know that there is an urgent need to face the Braille literacy crisis before another generation of blind children is lost, left functionally illiterate, suffering a substandard education and constricted opportunities for employment. This is why we initiated the Braille Readers are Leaders campaign. We are taking action, action that will address the shamefully low level of Braille literacy among blind children, working-age adults, and seniors. Through our collective efforts we will
And this is only the beginning. On October 1, launching our 2009 Meet the Blind Month campaign, we intend to present the president of the United States with a book containing one hundred letters from blind children and adults, parents of blind children, and others calling on President Obama to direct the resources of the federal government in support of Braille, in support of the dreams and aspirations of blind children and adults. The letters will come from blind people who grew up reading Braille and who use it in their work and daily lives. The letters will come from blind people who never had the opportunity to learn Braille or who were discouraged from learning it on the misguided grounds that they had enough vision to get by using print. The letters will come from parents who have struggled, sometimes for years, to get Braille included in their children's IEPs (Individualized Education Program), and from parents who believed they had been successful in getting Braille instruction for their children only to find that the teacher comes around once or twice a week for fifteen or twenty minutes to teach their children to read. The letters will come from newly blind adults who have been told that Braille is hard to learn and too slow to be of any real value and that technology makes Braille obsolete. And the letters will come from blind seniors who have been discouraged from learning Braille, being told that older people are incapable of learning to read Braille well enough for it to matter.
These letters will be a testament to the importance of Braille, a testament to the difficulty many children and adults face in trying to learn to read. And they will be a testament to the ability of blind people to contribute, to learn, and to work alongside their sighted neighbors—people who, like others, want to marry, own their own homes, raise families, and participate fully in life.
At one time sight was required to be literate, but no longer. Touch gives us literacy and opens the door to knowledge, to facts and information, to contemplation and reflection, and to human thought and imagination. It gives us the opportunity to learn and work and live as others. This is the gift of Louis Braille. It is why we celebrate his life, his achievements, and his legacy. But our struggle for first-class status did not end with the advent of Braille. Indeed it was only the beginning.
Nearly seventy years ago blind people, organized through the National Federation of the Blind, came together to work toward full equality. The road has been long and the challenges many, but our progress shows that our dream is more than the hopeless yearning of people suffering under the crushing yoke of inferiority. At times we have been discouraged but never defeated. And we will not be defeated now. Blind people deserve the right to be literate. It is a basic right and one we intend to secure. This is why we initiated the Braille Readers Are Leaders campaign, to double the number of blind people who are able to read and write Braille by the year 2015, moving us ever closer to full equality--equality based on ability, not sight; equality based on drive, determination, and hard work, not the ability to see. Together we are showing the public that, while seeing is one way of believing, it is not the only way and that blind people too have both the right and the ability to contribute, to learn and work, and to live as others, and we will not be denied.
by Mark A. Riccobono
Aristotle once said of history, "If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development."
Ten years ago we conceived a vision. Five years ago we launched a mission. Today we are implementing a revolution--the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. Our understanding and perspective are influenced by where we have been, where we are, and our vision for where we are going. But from the center of history it can be difficult to grasp the significance of our most recent progress and to predict the future impact of that progress.
In the last part of the eighteenth century, Valintin Hauy pioneered a program of education and a system of raised print for the blind in Paris--creating opportunities where none had previously existed. In 1801, when Hauy resigned from directing his school, he could not know that the most significant invention in literacy for the blind--the Braille code--would be built on the foundation he had established. Nevertheless Hauy must have realized that his passion, his vision for a meaningful program of education, and his higher expectations would serve as the catalyst for innovative educational programs for the blind. In the United States the earliest educational opportunities for the blind were built on Hauy's residential school model. Yet Hauy himself never saw his model reach the U.S. because the first three residential schools in America were developed in the decade after his death.
Similarly, the young Louis Braille began working on a new approach to tactile reading after being introduced to a night-writing code. Braille reportedly worked on his code during every free moment, and in 1829 he first published his code in a thirty-two page volume. Braille had vision, commitment, and the support of his blind friends, who were enthusiastic adopters of his innovation for reading and writing. It is hard to imagine, even knowing Braille's commitment and vision, that from the center of history in 1829 Braille could have believed his new code to be more than a small step toward true literacy for the blind. Could Braille have imagined that on the two hundredth anniversary of his birth the world would celebrate his genius and simultaneously lament the lack of Braille education provided to the blind? Today we understand that Braille did more than take a step--he built a staircase to literacy that has survived the test of time.
As with Hauy in the eighteenth century and Braille in the nineteenth, I imagine that Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the founder and first president of the National Federation of the Blind, had difficulty fully realizing the impact of his actions in the middle of the twentieth century. Standing at the center of the organizing of the National Federation of the Blind, what did Dr. tenBroek believe would be the future outcomes of his leadership? How far did he believe the Federation would advance the purpose written in that first constitution—“to promote the economic and social welfare of the blind?” Could he have known that the purpose of the Federation would stand fundamentally unaltered into the twenty-first century, but that the expectations, activity, and reach of the organization would be vastly more complex in structure? We know the genius and vision of tenBroek from our perspective today. We have built an entire research library around his personal and professional papers, which illuminate just how strongly he believed in where the Federation was going and where we were taking society. Yet, despite his leadership and faith in us, Dr. tenBroek would have had trouble projecting where we are today and how quickly we have gotten to this moment, where we again stand in the center of history.
This brings us to the twenty-first century, when we resolved to build something from the ground up that had never before existed--a research and training institute constituted and directed by the blind themselves. Many in this room had the opportunity to dream with Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, a dynamic teacher and the second great president of the Federation, more than a decade before the Institute about what it might be and where it might allow us to go. Many in this room stepped out of their comfort zone and asked friends, family, and business associates to give significant sums of money to something that at the time was a dream. Through our capital campaign we raised $20 million--our largest fundraising initiative ever. And on January 30, 2004, many in this room were in attendance when Dr. Marc Maurer, our current visionary president, cut the ribbon to open the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute.
Today all of us are here in the center of history, and we can reflect on whether or not the world is different five years into the future of the NFB Jernigan Institute. If we find evidence that it is different, that will tell us something significant about the future.
First, let's consider a few words from Dr. Maurer's banquet speech at the 1996 NFB convention--incidentally my first:
If a society (or organization) is to mature, it must balance two competing interests. It must welcome diversity and experimentation and at the same time maintain stability and order. Experimentation and diversification diminish stability, but they are essential for growth. However, if stability is lost, there will be no structure in which to experiment. Both the instability of experimentation and the stability of order are required.
These words, although spoken almost a decade before the opening of the Jernigan Institute, articulate the fundamental reason for establishing a research and training institute. Beginning in the 1990s, the National Federation of the Blind has been in the leadership position in the field of blindness. We set the pace and the priorities. The Jernigan Institute was our next great experiment. If the Institute was not what we said it would be--an entity driven by the blind and different from any that had ever existed--the experiment would have failed or the instability would have weakened the Federation. A glance around the country finds the fifty-two affiliates of the Federation alive and well, and woven into the effort in all parts of the country are products of the work of our Institute. Federation affiliates are implementing model programs grown first at the Institute. Local chapters are using the programs of the Institute as new outreach tools to build opportunities for the blind in their communities. And a dynamic corps of energetic leaders is emerging throughout the Federation from among the young blind people who have been affected by efforts like the NFB Youth Slam.
While the experimentation continues, our experience over the past five years gives us absolute confidence in the maturity of our organization. To say it another way, the stability of order is in evidence as the Jernigan Institute has been, is today, and will always be directed by the blind. The NFB Jernigan Institute does not hand down programs and projects to the blind. The blind direct the activity of the Institute to advance their dreams and, to the extent the experimentation of the Institute operates within the order of the organized blind movement, we realize progress.
Second, over the past five years we have cemented a fundamental shift that has been under way since Dr. Jernigan first set out to experiment with the idea of putting our unique philosophy into a program of rehabilitation. That is, we are now completely immersed in the idea that research and training are not things done to us that we hope others will alter. We now do the research and training in order that we may be the change we want to see. This is more than simply a shift in our thinking. It is a shift in our actions.
We now lead research. We do the research that is of interest to us--the research that advances our dreams and that draws on our collective experience. We do not do research to prove that we are right--although our research frequently validates what we have said based solely on our experience. We have begun asking questions in our programs that put our own assumptions to the test. Over these five years we have investigated the efficacy of blind mentors working closely with the next generation. We have examined the voting habits of the blind and the impact of having a secret ballot. We have explored the literacy experiences of the young blind people we work with to further illuminate the gaps in the education system. And we have built relationships with researchers to help them understand the questions that are of interest to us. Furthermore, we have developed new insights into why research is done so poorly. For example, institutional review boards serve the function of approving academic research and ensuring that people are not harmed in the course of the research. These boards frequently decide that research being conducted with the blind is research on a “vulnerable” population. If we had no other reason to be involved in research, counteracting the misconception that the blind are inherently vulnerable subjects requiring special protection would be reason enough.
From the center of history we can recognize that we do not do all of the research and training, but we are doing more of it than ever before. How much of it we will do in the future is one of those questions that we cannot fully understand from our perspective today. However, we will never again look upon ourselves as standing outside of the realm of research and training. Our collective expectation is that we lead the quest to understand the real problems of blindness and that, if no one wants to work in partnership with us, we will do it ourselves. In fact, today an increasing number of organizations, agencies, and universities genuinely want to partner with us because they recognize the powerful impact of our collective voice. Partners we want, and friendships we cultivate, but let there be no doubt, we are on the move, and we are no longer prepared to wait for others to dream up the research and training programs of the future. To those who genuinely desire partnership we say, come with us if you will, but be aware that these are our dreams and we are in the center of turning them into reality.
Third, for decades we have provided leadership in access technology for the blind. Our participation in the design process of many technologies and our objective evaluation of others have helped advance accessibility. When we opened the Institute, we set our sights on a new horizon--building an innovative technology from the ground up that provides a new level of independence. The requirements were simple: increased independence, portability, simplicity, and integration with mainstream technology. The technology was complex--requiring the genius of Dr. Ray Kurzweil. Today we have the Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader Mobile--a technology that has advanced our expectations for our own independence. With the knfb Reader blind people are tackling printed information independently in new ways. We are managing restaurant menus, meeting materials, contracts, personal documents, and hundreds of other printed transactions that previously required us to rely on a sighted assistant--frequently a stranger--and to wait until that assistant was available.
As we expand our leadership in technology development, we are building considerable influence in the accessibility of general consumer electronics. We have established a consumer electronics initiative in order to work closely with the industry to promote products that are vision free--that is, they do not require vision to be operated effectively. This initiative, like our efforts to stimulate the development of technology and gain access to key Internet sites, changes our expectations and transforms the thinking of the product designers, resulting in improved products for everybody.
Furthermore, we are building significant relationships with the brightest engineers and some of the most prestigious university engineering programs. At the grand opening of our Institute we began to stimulate our own imagination by presenting the technological challenge of building a car that the blind can drive. From the center of history there is still uncertainty, even among the blind, about the importance of this visionary project and misunderstanding about our goal. Yet we have progressed from talking about the idea of a car to planning and building. We have held meetings with some of the top experts in automobile technologies, and we have talked with the top engineering programs about taking on the blind driver challenge. And we have begun to win the perceptual understanding of many of these leading experts. What we want is not a car that drives a blind person around. We want a car that has enough innovative technology to convey real time information about the driving conditions to the blind so that we, people who possess capacity, an ability to think and react, and a spirit of adventure in addition to having the characteristic of blindness, can interpret these data and maneuver a car safely. From the center of history I speculate that, because of the NFB and its investment in a research and training institute, the next great mission that will cause tremendous strides in technology is not how to get someone somewhere, as with NASA’s mission to Mars, but rather how to get us to get ourselves somewhere. As we drive the path of technological innovation with the end goal of driving a car, we will establish powerful technologies that will again heighten our independence and raise our collective expectations for our own future.
Fourth and final on my list is the development of our own program of education. When we started five years ago, we began with the development of a science program from the ground up. We started with the vision that blind students can, should, and would participate more actively in science, technology, engineering, and math, if we endeavored to build the programs to teach them. From that beginning we have built programs we had not anticipated. We have initiated a yearly program of education at our Jernigan Institute in Baltimore as well as spin-off education programs modeled on our work at the Institute, across dozens of NFB affiliates. At every step we have pushed the experiment further, our largest and most dynamic effort being the NFB Youth Slam--where nearly two hundred blind students came together to learn from blind mentors. The NFB Youth Slam changed expectations in many ways. It showed teachers how they could more effectively engage these students in the inquiry of science. It showed the university leadership, whose initial reaction was to wonder where they would get so many wheelchairs, that the blind possess, not only the ability to navigate a university campus, but also the spirit and capacity to tackle challenging scientific work. It sparked in the next generation of blind innovators the spirit of the Federation--empowering each other to reach for new horizons. And it changed us--the mentors who have carried the torch of freedom forward from that place in history, where the blind before us had passed it. It changed our expectations of the role we play in education. It gave us a renewed confidence that, if educators will not teach our children, we will teach them ourselves. So this summer we are beginning a program of Braille education to provide the gift of literacy first handed down by Louis Braille to a new generation, whose future will largely be determined by the role we play in their education. And we will again have the NFB Youth Slam--where we will venture onto a new university campus, expand the curriculum, celebrate our achievements at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, and again raise our expectations when the next generation proclaims its desire for education just outside the doors of Congress.
From the center of history we can anticipate that our educational effort will grow and that it will take on dimensions we cannot anticipate today. Will we begin our own school as a model to the nation? Will we build new teacher training programs that put our spirit and imagination into the educational system? Will we send a corps of our educators across the country to improve local educational efforts or build new ones? Many speculations can arise at the center of history. With certainty we know that we are better prepared than ever before to educate ourselves, and the limit to our capacity to educate is how far our imagination stretches and how deep our commitment lies.
Since the beginning of time the blind have been shut out of the halls of power. When we have sought entry and consideration for our perspective, we have been dismissed. Therefore we, the organized blind, have built our own halls, and we now invite those in positions of authority to come learn from and work with us. We know today that the stability of the Federation and the experiment of our Jernigan Institute are in balance. When we look back from a new point in history five, ten, or fifteen years from now or when the next generation looks back upon us, we can be certain that the full extent of our work today will be more clearly understood. But from this point we see progress and new opportunities supported by an unwavering commitment and vision for our future. In closing I call on each of you to be part of the continuing experiment. We need your hopes, your dreams, your education, and your active participation to continue building our Institute into the future we want to have for ourselves.
by Barbara Loos
From the Editor: Barbara Loos is a longtime NFB leader who was unable to attend convention this year. In the following article she captures the frustration and sadness of missing this marvelous experience and shares with us a glimpse of the excitement and satisfactions of participating in it from afar. This is what she says:
To those who have never attended a national convention of the National Federation of the Blind, what follows may seem over the top. I hope you’ll read it anyway and come to Dallas next year to see what you think. To those who were in Detroit this year, I not only thank you for your awesome personal greeting from the floor, but also send kudos for all you did to move our cause forward.
Since 1975, when I attended my first national convention in Chicago, this is only the second one I have missed. The first was in 1981, when my daughter Marsha was born on July 2, just about the time we were to head for Baltimore. Back then, missing the convention meant altogether missing out in real time. Now things are different.
When I was diagnosed with cancer in September of 2007, one thing that was always on my radar screen when scheduling surgery and treatment was what would be happening at national convention time. I was fortunate in many ways. I was finished with treatments and able to go to Dallas in 2008. A wig and some numbness in fingers and toes reminded me of my recent past, but I was there cheering, resolving, marching, screening announcements, celebrating Braille with children at the Flea Market, working in the presidential suite, eating barbecue outdoors with friends, touching the universe with astronomers and youth—that is, immersing myself in the dynamic voice of our nation’s blind. I felt especially grateful for every moment and had no reason then to believe I wouldn’t continue to participate in the magic of the convention for many consecutive years to come.
Then the unthinkable happened. In October of 2008 my husband Brad, who had just received word in July that he had beaten the hepatitis C he had contracted from a blood transfusion in 1977, started having pain in his back. The ultimate diagnosis was cancer. Initially he wasn’t expected to need surgery, and his treatment schedule looked positive for our attending national convention. Then on January 16, as the cancer receded, it caused a rupture in his stomach that nearly killed him. Treatments were postponed for three months because of surgery and a subsequent hole in his stomach that needed time to heal.
Although he ultimately had his last chemotherapy infusion on June 30, two days before the Nebraska bus was to leave for Detroit, the period after, which we have come to call the “chemo wake”—a time during which blood counts go down to levels that severely compromise the immune system, making one susceptible to infection--would exactly coincide with the convention. It was really one of those good news-bad news deals. Having come through the scenario in which all of the doctors expected Brad to be dead, the fact that he was not only alive, but also receiving one fewer treatment than initially expected, was good news indeed. Considering the chemo wake, though, we had also to accept the bad news that we couldn’t attend the convention.
July 2, the day the Nebraska bus pulled out, I wore my red National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska polo shirt, as state president Amy Buresh had requested all riding the bus to do. After all, I would have been on that bus had cancer not interfered. I decided to wear a different Federation shirt every day of the convention as one way of connecting to it from home. I also determined to keep moping to a minimum. There were things here for me to celebrate. Brad was alive, live streaming of parts of the convention was to occur, I planned to see Marsha on her actual birthday for the first time in eleven years, and I hoped to see my son John too. (They went with me to convention every year throughout their childhoods, but they’re adults now, so I don’t generally see them during convention week.)
On July 3 I wore a green and white National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska Walk for Independence shirt and wished I could be two places at once. On the Fourth of July Brad and I wore his and hers shirts with a flag in the shape of our country on them which we had purchased for the occasion. Part of that day, which was unusually cool outside here, I wore a blue and gold Braille Readers Are Leaders sweatshirt over that one. That night, as fireworks boomed, screamed, hissed, and fizzed all around us, we sat on our deck and gladly received a call from my former mentee who has become a good friend, Hannah Lindner, and another college student she had invited to attend the convention with her. She said she would have called during the Nebraska caucus, but it was so loud in there that we wouldn’t have been able to hear one another. It was great to learn that Nebraska had some twenty-five first-time attendees; to know first-hand that we had eleven resolutions, none of which seemed to be controversial; and to hear that my absence had been explained during the committee’s roll call.
On July 5 I wore my blue and white Federation Family Forever T-shirt and tried, ultimately in vain, to get what was to have been the first live streaming of the convention, the meeting of the board of directors. As the time for it drew near, feeling both sad and foolish, believing that I should have done more ahead of time to see where the link should be, I called our Lincoln Chapter president, Shane Buresh, who allowed me to experience both the Pledge of Allegiance and the Federation Pledge before telling me that, if anything about streaming was mentioned, he would call me back. Before the day was out, I had called our Michigan Information Desk once and the presidential suite twice. In the end no one got to hear the board meeting live, but we were promised a link-up for the next day’s sessions.
While checking various Federation lists that day, I found the tag line that redirected my approach to experiencing the convention: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” I certainly hadn’t been passively waiting for the storm to go by. But I had been wearing myself out fighting against it and gaining nothing.
My first dance through the rain was in the online exhibitors list, which I had been too upset to peruse earlier. I wished I could find out what kinds of magnets Idaho and New Jersey had. I was hungry for Michigan cinnamon almonds and knew that, although I didn’t find them on that list, Ohio would be selling M&M’s, and I would be buying. I wanted to see the West Virginia cookie sheets, buy some Michigan coffee for Brad, experience the “cherry Michigan products” mentioned, and check out the NOPBC table with its curly shoelaces, key chains, and Braille games, among other things. I wanted to get my hands on whatever new technology was around too. Although the “rain” kept me from actually touching products in the hall, the dance, complete with the longings it evoked, was good.
July 6, the birthday of both our founder Jacobus tenBroek and of one of our former Nebraska presidents, Marsha Bangert-Williamson, after whom my daughter is named, found me up early, trying to find the streaming link that was to have appeared the day before and wishing I were marching for independence along the riverfront in Detroit. I wore my light blue T-shirt from the 2007 inaugural march in Atlanta. Finally, about eight minutes before the opening gavel was to sound, I found the link! Brad and I pledged allegiance to our country and commitment to our Federation along with our colleagues. We felt pride in the veterans who answered the roll call of service and wished Brad could have been there to declare, “Brad Loos, Nebraska, United States Navy,” and receive his tactile flag with the Pledge of Allegiance in Braille. We wondered, at first, why President Maurer had skipped a state or two during the roll call of states, thinking they might be waiting to be called later for some reason. The truth? President Maurer didn’t have his alphabetical list. (When I tried to name the states off the top of my head, it took me a while to line them up alphabetically, and I wasn’t on the spot the way he was.) I liked the fact that he didn’t leave us guessing what had happened.
Just after Nebraska was called, we had to leave for an appointment. Thanks to our Victor Reader Stream, we were able to record the streaming for later listening. We weren’t sure if the link would be lost during the lunch break, but we knew it hadn’t been when, upon our return, Congressman Dingell was orating loud and clear in our living room.
At the close of the live afternoon session, we went slightly back in time and listened to what we had missed. Our spirits were soaring by the end of the presidential report, and we went to bed hopeful about reconnecting easily the following day, since we had received an email message offering a link that was supposed to allow more universal access to the live stream.
Whatever may have happened in general, we were never again able to receive the streaming on our laptop. Since I had assumed (always a risky business) that things would happen smoothly, I didn’t try to connect as far ahead of time as I had the day before. Consequently, we missed the beginning of the session. I found myself once again fighting against the storm and becoming frantic. That day I wore a T-shirt with a blind boy reading a Braille book on it. The shirt says “National Federation of the Blind” and “We read therefore we will be.” At that moment I wanted my “being” to include hearing the convention.
Reminding myself of the option to dance, it occurred to me that we might have an alternative dance partner to the computer. Although I had never before asked my Pac Mate Omni to do live streaming, I decided to attempt it that day. What a thrill it was to hear President Maurer’s voice come through! Although we had missed most of the financial report, we were there for the elections, speeches, and resolutions that rounded out that day’s business.
By then Brad was really feeling the effects of the chemo, so he was glad to be attending in a way that allowed him to lie down when necessary. Although he spent much of that day in bed, he did happen to be on the couch and awake when, during the Honor Roll Call of States, after Nebraska’s report, President Maurer asked the entire Convention assembled to say hello to each of us by name. What a pricelessly uplifting gift that was!
Shortly thereafter, our friend Mary Ellen Gabias called from Canada to say she had heard the greeting. She too was unable to attend this year and was listening by live streaming. Interestingly, our stream was running a minute or so ahead of hers. We talked some about how much has changed since we were last in Detroit in 1994, including the fact that back then my two children, Marsha and John, thirteen and ten, were entertaining her two oldest, Joanne and Jeffrey. Now Joanne cares for children in NFB Camp who are younger than she was then. Wow!
The first time we experienced 12:34:56 on 07/08/09, I was awake listening to Brad’s chemofied breathing, with its telltale congestion, and feeling both glad that we would be getting his counts checked later in the day and concerned about whether or not the streaming connection would be available early enough for us to record things while we were at doctors’ appointments, since we would need to leave before the session was to begin.
That day I wore a blue polo shirt with our former logo on it in gold. Although the streaming connection was there early, since it came on just for a moment and then went silent, we didn’t know if it would really work. When 12:34:56 07/08/09 PM occurred here, I was reveling in our somewhat distorted recording of Dr. Denise Robinson’s remarks. The distortion was caused by the fact that I hadn’t been able to set the volume correctly before we left. Nevertheless, we were grateful to have the chance to listen to some of what had gone on that morning between sessions and the rest before the banquet.
While we found that entire day’s agenda both impressive and inspiring, we were especially pleased to hear Gary Wunder’s Jacob Bolotin Award report, believing all recipients were certainly worthy. Afterward Sandy Halverson called to see if we had heard it. We told her that we had and said we were particularly gratified to know that the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults had received one. As its president I had felt a twinge of regret at not having been there when the announcement was made, but Sandy, our second vice president, represented the Fund well in her remarks accepting the plaque, the money, and the honor the award brings.
As NFB First Vice President Fred Schroeder gaveled the banquet to order, Brad, John, and I were gathered at our table for a feast of chili, raw veggies, and raspberries. There were no chocolate coins at our places, and our dress was casual, but we were glad to be attending. During the time when the streaming cut away for those in Detroit to eat, our table conversation was about past conventions and hope for our personal future and that of the Federation.
After filling our bodies, we filled our minds and spirits with one of the staples of Federation banquets--our president’s address. This one was, as always, thought-provoking. It reflected, as Ray Kurzweil later said, challenge, confidence, and courage. My initial response was to President Maurer’s courageous, confident challenge to everyone, blind and sighted alike, to understand that blind people are not broken sighted people. He articulated this very well. So does God in Exodus chapter 4 verse 11, when he asks Moses, who is attempting to opt out of responsibility, “Who hath made…the seeing, or the blind? Have not I the Lord?” There is no mention of having erred on God’s part, and there is no apology. All of us would do well to take this to heart and to live accordingly.
It was fitting, just after this speech, that we the blind honored a sighted couple, John and Barbara Cheadle, with our Jacobus tenBroek Award. They have separately and as a unit championed our cause. Since the time in the 1970s when we worked together here in Nebraska, we have been very close friends. After the banquet I called to express my congratulations. I received the wonderful bonus of conversation with each of their offspring as well.When we first discussed the possibility of live streaming portions of our national convention, I wondered if it might cause blind people who were afraid to travel somewhere to opt out of attending, causing our in-person attendance to slip. I have now had the opportunity to rethink that narrow perspective. If someone is in that place, it’s possible that the streaming might be just the thing to inspire future attendance. In case anyone thinks it’s really a viable alternative to being there, I can say first-hand that it isn’t. It can’t show me what a flying pig is or what the smaller, lighter Perkins Brailler looks like. It can’t hug me and let me hug back or converse with me. It can’t allow me to compare canes, Braille books, or technology with a blind child. It doesn’t permit me to help someone find a meeting room; march for independence alongside my colleagues; update technology; or work on committees, in the exhibit hall, in the presidential suite, etc. In short, while it’s live, it’s not alive. It does, though, allow for real-time dancing in the rain, and for that both Brad and I are forever grateful to all who put forth the effort to make it happen this year.
by Sharon Maneki
From the Editor: Sharon Maneki chairs the NFB’s resolutions committee. Each year she reports on the resolutions passed by the Convention. Here is her 2009 report:
What will the National Federation of the Blind do between the 2009 and 2010 conventions? It is not possible to predict every activity that Federation members will engage in during the coming year. One thing, however, that is certain is that the organization will focus much of its attention on the subjects in the eleven resolutions that the Convention adopted this year. The Convention is the supreme authority of the Federation, and its resolutions are our policy statements. Resolutions are also a call to collective action by the members.
Most resolutions urge or call upon an entity to take action or follow a certain approach. Resolutions may also urge entities to cease certain activities. However, the success of a resolution depends on the dialog and persuasion that we engage in to convince the entity to follow our recommendations. A resolution is more than a good idea that has been written down. It is a call to collective action.
By coincidence the meeting of the resolutions committee at this convention fell on the Fourth of July. Conducting this committee meeting on Independence Day was most appropriate because like our resolutions the Declaration of Independence was both a policy statement and a call to collective action for the former British colonists. Just as the signers of the Declaration of Independence were the leaders of the country, the members of the resolutions committee represent the leadership of the Federation. The members of the 2009 resolutions committee were Pam Allen, James Antonacci, Jennelle Bichler, Charles S. Brown, Ron Brown, Patti Chang, Parnell Diggs, Michael Freeman, Ron Gardner, Sam Gleese, Allen Harris, Cathy Jackson, Carl Jacobsen, Scott Labarre, Anil Lewis, Barbara Loos, Gary Mackenstadt, Sharon Maneki, Shawn Mayo, James Omvig, Barbara Pierce, Bennett Prows, Joe Ruffalo, Joyce Scanlan, Susie Stanzel, Selena Sundling-Crawford, David Ticchi, Ramona Walhof, Kevan Worley, and Gary Wunder. I was privileged to serve as chairman. Once again Marsha Dyer ably functioned as secretary to the committee.
Under our new convention schedule, resolutions came to the floor earlier than usual. Instead of their being presented to the Convention on the last day, this year the Convention considered resolutions on the day before the banquet. This change allowed greater participation by the members because in the past some people had to leave on the last day before adjournment.
This year’s resolutions can be divided into two broad categories. Some resolutions were a call to collective action to protect and enhance literacy and access to information for the blind. The second category was a call to collective action that will guide the Obama administration and Congress as they develop their direction for the country. Here is a summary of these calls to collective action.
As Monitor readers know, we have been focusing intently on Braille literacy this year because of the opportunities to educate the public presented by the two hundredth birthday of Louis Braille. Therefore the first resolution that we considered dealt with the Braille literacy crisis. One of the most shocking statistics in the resolution was that “only 10 percent of today’s blind students under age twenty-two are being taught to read Braille, resulting in a 45 percent high school graduation rate for blind students.” In resolution 2009-01 we urge others to join with the National Federation of the Blind in ensuring that the number of blind students who are Braille literate and able to read and write Braille competently will double by 2015. We also call upon state legislatures and teacher licensing agencies to incorporate the National Certification in literary Braille into their standards for professionals licensed to teach blind students. Ryan Strunk, a national scholarship winner in 2002 and former president of the National Association of Blind Students, who lives in Texas, proposed this resolution.
Three resolutions covered access to print books. The proponents of two of these resolutions, Katlin Kress and Meleah Jensen, were students. Katlin Kress, a high school senior from Minnesota who spent this summer attending the STEP program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, introduced resolution 2009-04. Meleah Jensen, who won a national scholarship in 2003 and was a tenBroek Fellow in 2005, sponsored resolution 2009-09. Meleah also serves on the board of directors of the Louisiana affiliate and on the board of directors of the NFB Human Services Division.
With the advent of electronic books and electronic reading devices, blind people could have access to over a quarter of a million titles. The Authors Guild and publishers are thwarting our access to these books. In resolution 2009-04 we strongly urge the publishing industry and the Authors Guild to abandon their unreasonable demands on Amazon.com to degrade the text-to-speech feature on the Kindle 2. Amazon.com should ignore these demands and make the design changes that will make the Kindle 2 a truly accessible electronic-book reader for blind people.
In May 2009 Amazon.com launched its Kindle DX, a digital reader intended for reading college textbooks. The Kindle DX is not accessible to the blind. Amazon.com partnered with six institutions of higher education to conduct a study to determine whether to expand the use of the Kindle DX even though this device is inaccessible to the blind. We condemn and deplore the actions of Amazon.com and the six institutions of higher education and demand that these institutions refuse to deploy the Kindle DX until it is fully accessible to blind students. These demands are part of resolution 2009-09.
The third resolution on access to the printed word was resolution 2009-06. Georgia Kitchen, a longtime leader in the NFB of Michigan who is also the Michigan coordinator of NFB-NEWSLINE®, and Larry Povenelli, a longtime leader in the Virginia affiliate who also serves as treasurer of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, introduced this resolution. The Chaffee Amendment of 1996 dramatically improved blind people’s access to the printed word because copyright permission was automatically granted to certain nonprofit entities to reproduce fiction and nonfiction in specialized formats. In this resolution we urge Congress to enact legislation that will allow nonprofit organizations to reproduce previously published music, songbooks, and hymnals as long as these materials are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind people.
Resolution 2009-05 is a call to collective action on cloud computing. Today applications such as Microsoft Word can be found on the desktop of an individual’s computer. Under the cloud computing concept, users will go to another Website to get any application they wish to use. Cloud computing makes it possible to process and store large amounts of data. In this resolution we call upon the computer industry to ensure that the cloud computer environment is fully accessible to blind people using screen-access technology. Gary Wunder, secretary of the National Federation of the Blind, president of the NFB of Missouri, and a fellow with a keen interest and expertise in computing, proposed this resolution.
Curtis Chong, president of the NFB in Computer Science and treasurer of the Iowa affiliate, introduced resolution 2009-11. This resolution is both a call to collective action on access to information and a specific recommendation to the Obama administration. To encourage openness and transparency in government, President Obama has instructed departments and agencies in the federal government to harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online for public access. In this resolution we call upon the president and his administration to ensure that the technology used for the Transparency and Open Government initiative is as accessible to the blind as it is to other members of the general public.
For several months the press has been full of stories concerning the economy and the attempts by Congress and the Obama administration to fix its many problems. Three of our resolutions, 2009-07, 2009-08, and 2009-10 have economic consequences. Resolutions 2009-07 and 2009-08 are a warning against tampering with programs for the blind under the guise of saving money. Resolution 2009-10 deals with employment opportunities for blind people in the federal government.
Karen Anderson, first vice president of the National Association of Blind Students, and president of the Nebraska Association of Blind Students, who also won a national scholarship in 2007, sponsored resolution 2009-07. In this resolution we reaffirm our commitment to separate services for the blind in rehabilitation programs. We also urge Congress and states with separate agencies to continue this practice. States with general rehabilitation agencies should adopt separate agencies for the blind. This resolution is timely because Congress will soon reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, which includes the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Congress will also soon be reauthorizing surface transportation legislation, making resolution 2009-08 timely. In this resolution we call upon Congress to make no changes that will diminish opportunities that blind vendors have to manage vending machines on the interstate highway system. In the few weeks between the convention and the writing of this article, blind vendors have lost income and some have even lost their jobs because of the closing of some highway vending areas. Joe Shaw, who has been in the Randolph-Sheppard program for ten years and is a leader in the National Association of Blind Merchants and the Tennessee affiliate, sponsored this resolution.
With the introduction of computer-based testing, blind people who wish to take the foreign service examination and other federal government tests have confronted tremendous difficulties in receiving appropriate accommodations for these tests. To address this issue, Carlos Montas, an active member of the Florida affiliate, proposed resolution 2009-10. Carlos will graduate from the Louisiana Center for the Blind rehabilitation program on August 25, 2009. In this resolution we strongly urge the U. S. Office of Personnel Management and other appropriate federal entities to adopt the policy that blind applicants themselves are best qualified to determine the proper testing accommodations. We also urge the federal government aggressively to recruit and hire qualified blind applicants.
No Child Left Behind is another law scheduled to be reauthorized by Congress in the near future. Part of this legislation requires that student progress in various subjects be measured by standardized tests. Secretary Arne Duncan of the U. S. Department of Education suggests changing the law to require national rather than individual state tests. Denise Mackenstadt, a longtime Federation leader and an education expert who received the NFB Distinguished Educator of Blind Children award in 2001, sponsored resolution 2009-03. In this resolution we urge Congress to include a requirement that all test questions be posed so that they can be correctly completed without reliance on vision.
The last resolution or call to collective action for discussion in this article is resolution 2009-02. In this resolution we continue to urge Congress to pass the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act. Passage of this legislation is vital because the number of hybrid and electric vehicles on the nation’s streets and highways continues to grow. Debbie Kent Stein, chairman of the NFB committee on automobile and pedestrian safety and first vice president of the Illinois affiliate, proposed this resolution. Debbie recently became the editor of Future Reflections, the Federation’s publication for parents and educators of blind children.
This brief summary is merely an introductory discussion of the resolutions considered by the Convention. Readers should study the complete text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects. The complete texts of all resolutions approved by the Convention follow.
Regarding Braille Literacy
WHEREAS, literacy, being able to read and write efficiently, is essential to effective communication, access to highly skilled and highly paid employment, and success in the community; and
WHEREAS, only 10 percent of today’s blind students under age twenty-two are being taught to read Braille, resulting in a 45 percent high school graduation rate for blind students; and
WHEREAS, more than 70 percent of blind people nationwide are not employed, but of those blind people who are employed, 85 percent or more use Braille in the workplace, demonstrating a clear relationship among literacy, confidence, and success; and
WHEREAS, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that each blind student interested in learning Braille be given a quality education in Braille, yet no standardized definition of “quality” exists, leading to ambiguity in the educational system and a low literacy rate among blind students; and
WHEREAS, an effort began in the early 1990s, led by the Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, to establish a national test of competency in the literary Braille code, resulting in a fully validated competency test that was finalized in 2006; and
WHEREAS, the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB) took over administration of the test in 2007 and established the National Certification in Literary Braille to provide a credible means of insuring Braille competency; and
WHEREAS, the National Certification in Literary Braille is the only nationwide certification for competency and ongoing professional development in the teaching of Braille; and
WHEREAS, the Braille Readers are Leaders initiative, established by the National Federation of the Blind in July 2008, has a primary goal of insuring that the number of blind students able to read Braille will double by 2015: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2009, in the city of Detroit, Michigan, that this organization call upon state legislatures and teacher licensing agencies to incorporate the National Certification in Literary Braille into their standards for professionals licensed to teach blind students; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge teachers of blind students, state special education agencies, organizations of and for the blind, and others to take all other steps necessary to join the National Federation of the Blind in ensuring that the number of blind students who are Braille literate and able to read and write Braille competently, doubles by 2015.
Regarding the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act
WHEREAS, on January 28, 2009, Congressmen Ed Towns of New York and Cliff Stearns of Florida reintroduced the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, HR 734; and
WHEREAS, this legislation would direct the secretary of transportation to study the dangers posed to the blind and other pedestrians by silent cars and at the conclusion of that study to issue regulations setting forth a motor vehicle safety standard to protect pedestrians; and
WHEREAS, on April 21, 2009, Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania introduced the legislation in the United States Senate as S 841; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has worked actively to gain House and Senate cosponsor support for this important legislation to preserve the right to independent travel for blind pedestrians; and
WHEREAS, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is now conducting a study to determine solutions to the problems faced by blind and other pedestrians as a result of the lack of sound from hybrid and electric vehicles; and
WHEREAS, although NHTSA is conducting this study, the agency has so far not committed to issue regulations based on the findings of the study; and
WHEREAS, without regulations requiring conformity with the findings of the study, there is no guarantee that auto manufacturers will comply, given the myriad of applicable requirements and these times of economic uncertainty for the auto industry; and
WHEREAS, the number of hybrid and electric vehicles on America’s roadways continues to increase as a result of several factors, including the desire to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, incentives for purchasing hybrid and electric vehicles, and standards requiring lower emissions that strongly encourage development of hybrid and electric vehicles; and
WHEREAS, a study without regulations made pursuant to it will not address the constantly growing threat to the independence and safety of blind pedestrians; and
WHEREAS, passage of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 will mandate that regulations be promulgated by NHTSA to provide the best method of alerting blind and other pedestrians to the presence of hybrid and electric vehicles, allowing blind pedestrians to maintain their right to independent travel: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2009, in the city of Detroit, Michigan, that this organization continue to urge Congress to pass the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 to ensure that regulations will be issued to protect the right to safe and independent travel for blind pedestrians; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this organization commend Congressmen Towns and Stearns and Senators Kerry and Specter for their leadership as demonstrated by their introduction of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2009.
Regarding Access by the Blind to a National Test for Elementary and Secondary School Students
WHEREAS, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requires states to develop standardized tests that are administered at specific grade levels in a student’s school career; and
WHEREAS, a primary goal of NCLB was and should continue to be improving educational progress of historically disadvantaged populations, a focus that certainly includes blind students, because so many have suffered the devastating consequences of such factors as low expectations of teachers and inadequate Braille instruction, leading to a lack of literacy skills; and
WHEREAS, this law is due for reauthorization, allowing Congress to make any changes it sees fit; and
WHEREAS, administration officials including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan suggest that a single national testing regime is necessary because under current law comparison of students in different states is virtually impossible because each state develops its own testing and scoring; and
WHEREAS, test administrators and educators claim to be committed to providing reasonable accommodations to blind students for these assessments, but experience in the testing room confirms that this commitment is only lip service; and
WHEREAS, today many tests contain questions that rely solely on visual input and output by students for successful completion, e.g., requiring a student to draw a picture or express a point of view based only on a picture--questions to which blind students cannot successfully respond even if they are using accommodations; and
WHEREAS, one definite result of a national test will be to assure uniformity, which for the blind could mean either uniform discrimination or a uniformly accessible test, depending completely on how much consideration is given to assuring that test questions do not rely on vision for their correct completion: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2009, in the city of Detroit, Michigan, that this organization urge Congress, whether or not a national test is implemented, to include as a provision in legislation to amend NCLB a requirement that all test questions be capable of correct completion without reliance on vision; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the Department of Education to establish and enforce regulations in support of this requirement as a part of its regulatory responsibilities once legislation has been enacted.
Regarding Reading Rights
WHEREAS, the ability to read is critical to living a well-informed personal and professional life; and
WHEREAS, blindness and some other disabilities pose challenges to accessing all available written information fully and efficiently; and
WHEREAS, text-to-speech technology has helped to remove these access barriers for the approximately fifteen million blind and otherwise print-disabled people living in the United States; and
WHEREAS, Amazon.com's Kindle 2 is one of the first mainstream, commercially available e-book reading devices to incorporate text-to-speech functionality, potentially making well over one quarter of a million titles accessible to the blind and other people with print disabilities; and
WHEREAS, this heretofore untapped community of eager consumers promises to benefit publishers and authors; and
WHEREAS, many educational institutions are exploring the possibility of e-textbooks and mobile access to electronic book information; and
WHEREAS, upon learning that the Kindle 2 would feature text-to-speech technology, significant segments of the publishing industry and the Authors Guild promptly lodged specious legal and business objections with Amazon.com, urging it to eliminate or severely restrict access to the synthesized-speech function of this device; and
WHEREAS, one specific objection of the Authors Guild was that the ability to have a legitimately purchased e-book read aloud with text-to-speech technology violates copyright, a legal claim that experts have dismissed as erroneous, since people who buy books have the right to acquire the information privately in whatever way best suits their needs as long as they do not reproduce the content of the book for general circulation; and
WHEREAS, Amazon.com has agreed to allow publishers to deactivate the text-to-speech feature on the Kindle 2 for individual authors based on lists provided by the publishers, and to date one publisher, Random House, has instructed Amazon.com to turn the text-to-speech feature off for all of its published material, regardless of author preference; and
WHEREAS, the suggestions that leaders of the Authors Guild have proposed to mitigate the harm visited upon blind and other print-disabled readers (e.g., creation of a national registry of blind and print-disabled readers or charging additional money for the privilege of accessing books on the device with speech output) are wholly unsatisfactory to first-class customers who are prepared--like everybody else--to pay for the product that Amazon.com has developed, advertised, promoted, and sold to the general public; and
WHEREAS, civil rights laws and policies in the United States oppose and protect against acts that thwart equal access and equitable treatment of the blind and other people with print disabilities: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2009, in the city of Detroit, Michigan, that this organization urge all government procurement agencies, schools, institutions of higher education, and libraries to be mindful of technology-procurement requirements and state and federal disability nondiscrimination laws and insist that mobile e-book readers and e-books have accessible text-to-speech; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly protest all attempts by the Authors Guild to eliminate or restrict the text-to-speech technology Amazon.com has incorporated into its Kindle 2 e-book-reading device; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge the publishing industry and the Authors Guild to abandon their unreasonable demands on Amazon.com to degrade the text-to-speech feature on the Kindle 2; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that barring the willingness of the publishing industry and the Authors Guild to comply with this resolution--this organization also urge Amazon.com itself to ignore the outrageous petitions of self-interest of both the publishing industry and the Authors Guild and to make the design changes that will in fact make the Kindle an accessible electronic book reader for blind readers.
Regarding Access to Cloud Computing by the Blind
WHEREAS, cloud computing is an approach in which computing applications are hosted by a third party and available to users on demand through their Web browsers that makes it possible to process and store large amounts of data; and
WHEREAS, the most commonly used applications--word processing, databases, and spreadsheets--are all available in the cloud-computing universe; and
WHEREAS, many preeminent companies in the technology industry, including Adobe, Apple, Google, IBM, and Microsoft, have developed or soon will develop cloud-computing applications; and
WHEREAS cloud-computing applications are being aggressively promoted to American business as a cost-effective, efficient way for them to store their computer-created content, making cloud computing more and more popular every day; and
WHEREAS, cloud computing is not presently accessible to the blind; and
WHEREAS, companies can make cloud computing accessible to up-to-date screen-reader technology if they properly code applications because cloud-computing applications reside in the Web 2.0 environment, a place where recent versions of screen-access technology can already perform: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2009, in the city of Detroit, Michigan, that this organization call upon companies that design products for the cloud-computing environment to assure that these products are fully accessible to blind people using screen-access technology.
Regarding Extension of Copyright Exemption
WHEREAS, in order to compete on terms of equality with their sighted peers, blind people require access to a broad range of printed materials, including music, songbooks, and hymnals in alternative formats; and
WHEREAS, blind people have less access to music, songbooks, and hymnals than to other types of printed materials; and
WHEREAS, legislation known as the Chafee Amendment of 1996 dramatically improved access to works of fiction and nonfiction by granting enumerated nonprofit organizations the authority to reproduce previously published nondramatic literary work, if such copies are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind persons; and
WHEREAS, the Chafee Amendment excluded music, songbooks, and hymnals in the categories of materials to be granted automatic copyright permission; and
WHEREAS, this exclusion prohibits many blind people from obtaining these materials because copyright holders often fail to grant permission for reproduction in alternative formats; and
WHEREAS, including music, songbooks, and hymnals in the Chafee Amendment or similar legislation not only would improve access but would also be a positive step to foster Braille literacy among all blind people: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2009, in the city of Detroit, Michigan, that this organization urge Congress to enact legislation that will allow nonprofit organizations and other authorized entities to reproduce previously published music, songbooks, and hymnals, or any other nondramatic work, if such copies are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind persons; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge other authorized entities who produce Braille or recorded materials to support the enactment of this important legislation.
Regarding Separate Services for the Blind
WHEREAS, federal law permits states to maintain separate rehabilitation agencies under the Rehabilitation Act, one to serve blind people and another to serve people with other disabilities; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has maintained a long-standing policy of supporting separate state agencies for blind consumers because such agencies recognize the unique needs blind people have and demonstrate greater commitment to addressing those needs; and
WHEREAS, a new federal administration is now in place, and many members of the United States House of Representatives and some United States senators may be unaware of our policy regarding separate services for the blind; and
WHEREAS, the Workforce Investment Act, which includes the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (as Amended) awaits reauthorization, which provides an opportunity to change the law, taking away the right of states to maintain separate services for the blind; and
WHEREAS, from time to time proposals are offered to require states to maintain only one rehabilitation agency serving all disabled individuals; and
WHEREAS, the governor of Oregon sought to eliminate the Oregon Commission for the Blind, Oregon’s agency serving blind adults, and other states have considered or will consider similar actions especially because they incorrectly believe that doing so will permit them to save scarce revenue: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED that the National Federation of the Blind, in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2009, in the city of Detroit, Michigan, that this organization reaffirm our commitment to separate services for the blind and urge the Obama administration and Congress to maintain separate services and agencies for the blind where these exist because of their proven value to blind people; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon states that have separate agencies serving the blind to maintain them; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge states with single general rehabilitation agencies to adopt separate agencies as the best means of providing rehabilitation services to blind people.
Regarding Maintaining Highway Rest Area Vending Facilities
WHEREAS, Barbara Kennelly, a congresswoman from Connecticut, included an amendment in the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 permitting states to allow the operation of vending machines at rest areas on interstate highways by and for the benefit of blind vendors under the Randolph-Sheppard vending facility program; and
WHEREAS, during the more than twenty-five years since the Kennelly Amendment, highway rest area vending has been a key growth area under the Randolph-Sheppard Act, creating entrepreneurial opportunities for some 530 blind men and women, which is approximately 20 percent of the total number of opportunities presently available; and
WHEREAS, these rest areas, not only provide a respectable income for the blind managers, but also provide substantial support to state Business Enterprise Programs from set-aside funds and from unassigned machine income; and
WHEREAS, when Congress amended the Surface Transportation Law in 2005, it reduced opportunities for blind entrepreneurs in the Randolph-Sheppard Program by creating the Interstate Oasis Program, which allowed states to designate commercial facilities near interstate highways as Oasis if they met guidelines including offering food, access to phones, and parking for over-the-road trucks; and
WHEREAS, blind entrepreneurs are disadvantaged because they are unable to participate in the Oasis Program and because they lose income if they manage a location in close proximity to an Oasis area; and
WHEREAS, in these difficult economic times states will be tempted to displace blind vendors from their rest areas in order to capture additional revenue for themselves; and
WHEREAS, the one hundred eleventh Congress is beginning the process of reauthorizing surface transportation legislation because provisions in the last bill are due to expire: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2009, in the city of Detroit, Michigan, that this organization call upon Congress to make no changes that would in any way diminish opportunities blind vendors have to manage vending machines on the interstate highway system; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, if Congress believes there is a benefit to greater commercialization of rest areas and of areas in close proximity to the interstate highway system, this organization call upon Congress to facilitate partnering between blind vendors and state licensing agencies with other business entities for the purpose of enhancing the prosperity of blind vendors operating on the interstate highway system.
Regarding Access to Electronic Textbooks
WHEREAS, advances in technology have brought us hand-held electronic book-reading devices such as the Kindle by Amazon.com and the Reader Digital Book by Sony; and
WHEREAS, ink on paper cannot be read independently by the blind, but, when properly created, electronic books offer total access to blind and other print-disabled individuals, vastly enlarging the amount of information available to the blind; and
WHEREAS, while electronic book-reading devices exist in the commercial marketplace, none can be used by those requiring nonvisual access; and
WHEREAS, the closest the blind and other print-disabled people have come to achieving nonvisual access to such devices came with the release of Amazon’s Kindle 2, which included text-to-speech technology to read e-books aloud; and
WHEREAS, while the inclusion of text-to-speech technology to read the text of e-books aloud was a step towards accessibility, the interface and controls of the Kindle 2 are not yet accessible to the blind, although Amazon.com has promised accessibility at some point in the future; and
WHEREAS, shortly after the release of the Kindle 2, both the Authors Guild and publishers demanded that the text-to-speech feature on books for the Kindle 2 be disabled; and
WHEREAS, in May 2009 Amazon.com launched the Kindle DX, a digital reader that also contains text-to-speech technology with a larger screen and other features ideally intended for college and university students to read textbooks and other materials, but that is also inaccessible to the blind; and
WHEREAS, the nonvisual access of the Kindle DX doubtlessly resulted from the same factors that led to the nonvisual access of the Kindle 2; and
WHEREAS, Amazon.com has partnered with six institutions of higher education--Arizona State University, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, Case Western Reserve University, Pace University, Princeton University, and Reed College--for a pilot study to determine the feasibility of expanding use of the Kindle DX as a means of reading textbooks and course materials, even though Amazon.com was aware and the schools should have been aware of the inaccessibility of this device; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind have filed suit against Arizona State University to bar the use of the Kindle DX, arguing that its use violates Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 2 of the Americans with Disabilities Act; and
WHEREAS, with the continuation of the advancement of technology and with rumors of the print book becoming obsolete, it is critical that blind and other print-disabled people not be left without a means of accessing these devices: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2009, in the city of Detroit, Michigan, that this organization condemn and deplore the actions of Amazon.com and the six institutions of higher learning participating in this pilot study regarding the Kindle DX and demand that these institutions abide by the applicable disability laws and refuse to deploy the Kindle DX until it is fully accessible to blind students; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge copyright holders not to block access of their materials in electronic media to blind and print-disabled readers and to work with the National Federation of the Blind to ensure such access.
Regarding Federal Government Testing Accommodations for the Blind
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has a long history of fighting discriminatory hiring practices, specifically in the public sector, by exhorting federal departments and agencies to promote equal employment opportunities for the blind; and
WHEREAS, one of the most egregious examples of discriminatory practices was the failure of the U.S. Department of State to employ blind persons in the Foreign Service purely on the basis of blindness; and
WHEREAS, because of the efforts of the Federation and the intervention of Congressman Gerry Sikorski, who served as chairman of the Civil Service Subcommittee of the House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service in the 1980s, some blind people have had the opportunity to work in the foreign service and have made significant contributions to its mission; and
WHEREAS, with the introduction of computer-based testing, blind people who wish to take the foreign service examination and other federal government tests have confronted tremendous difficulties in receiving appropriate accommodations for these tests; and
WHEREAS, many government departments, such as the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Defense, now contract with outside companies to administer testing programs, thereby complicating the problems of receiving appropriate accommodations; and
WHEREAS, the best people to determine which accommodations are needed are the blind job seekers themselves: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED, by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2009, in the city of Detroit, Michigan, that this organization strongly urge the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and other appropriate federal entities to adopt the policy that blind applicants themselves are best qualified to determine the proper testing accommodations; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this organization urge the U.S. federal government to encourage its departments and agencies to conduct aggressive campaigns to recruit and hire qualified blind applicants.
Regarding Transparency and Open Government
WHEREAS, on January 21, 2009, on his first full day in office, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum on transparency and open government, calling for recommendations for making the federal government more transparent, participatory, and collaborative; and
WHEREAS, among other things President Obama’s memorandum states, "Executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public”; and
WHEREAS, this makes it abundantly clear that the president intends to use technology as a linchpin in his effort to make the federal government more transparent and accountable to the public; and
WHEREAS, the blind have learned to their detriment that new technologies are too often developed with little or no consideration whether or not they can be used nonvisually, thereby rendering them inaccessible to ordinary blind users--a key segment of the audience that President Obama is targeting in his transparency of government initiative; and
WHEREAS, if the federal government is indeed to be truly transparent and open to the public, it must be as transparent and open to the blind as it is to the sighted: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2009, in the city of Detroit, Michigan, that this organization call upon President Barack Obama, his administration, and the heads of all federal departments to ensure that the technology used in support of the president's transparency and open government initiative is as accessible to the blind as it is to other members of the general public.
Attention Braille, Large Print, and Cassette Monitor Readers:
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A number of divisions conducted elections at this year’s convention. Here are the results that we have been given:
National Association of Blind Students
The following officers and board members were elected to serve two-year terms: president, Arielle Silverman (CO); first vice president, Karen Anderson (NE); second vice president, Sean Whalen (WI); secretary, Janice Jeang (TX); treasurer, Nijat Worley (CO); and board members, Isaiah Wilcox (GA), Meghan Whalen (WI), Domonique Lawless (TN); and Darian Smith (CA).
National Association of the Blind in Communities of Faith
The division held elections as part of its 2009 annual meeting. Those elected are as follows: president, Tom Anderson (CO); vice president, Rehnee Aikens (TX); secretary, Linda Mentink (NE); and treasurer, Sam Gleese (MS).
National Federation of the Blind Seniors Division
At its July 5 meeting, the National Federation of the Blind Seniors Division elected two board members to two-year terms: Don Gillmore (IL) and Ruth Sager (MD).
National Association of Blind Lawyers
The NABL revised its bylaws at this convention, adding two more board positions. Elected to two-year terms on July 5, 2009, were president, Scott LaBarre (CO); first vice president, Charles Brown (VA); second vice president, Bennet Prows (WA); secretary, Ray Wayne (NY); treasurer, Larry Povinelli (VA) and board members, Patti Chang (IL), Parnell Diggs (SC), Noel Nightingale (WA), Ronza Othman (MD), Mildred Rivera Rao (MD), and Anthony Thomas (IL).
Krafters Korner Division
The newly elected board members for the Krafters Korner Division are Linda Anderson (CO) and Ramona Walhof (ID).
National Organization of Blind Educators
Officers elected were president, Sheila Koenig (MN); first vice president, Priscilla McKinley (IA); second vice president, Paul Howard (IN); treasurer, Angela Wolf (TX); and secretary, Harriet Go (PA).
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
Here are the election results for NOPBC: first vice president, Brad Weatherd (WY); second vice president, Barbara Mathews (CA); treasurer, Pat Renfranz (UT); and board members, Jim Beyer (MT), Denise Colton (UT), Merry-Noel Chamberlain (VA), David Hammell (IA), Stephanie Kieszak Holloway (GA), Carlton Walker (PA), Andrea Beasley (WI), Jean Bening (MN), Debby Brackett (FL), and Lety F. Castillo (TX).
National Association of Blind Veterans
Those elected as officers of the NABV in 2009 were as follows: president, Dwight Sayer (FL); first vice president, Gene Huggins (SC); second vice president, Charles Thomas Stevens (MO); secretary, Patty Sayer (FL); treasurer, Allen Bornstein (FL); and board members, Rick Brown (FL), Nancy Hester (FL), Edwin Jackson (MD), James Mays (LA), Ken Mitchell (GA), and Joe O'Connor (AZ).
Diabetes Action Network
The DAN conducted elections this year with the following results: president, Michael Freeman (WA); first vice president, Bernadette Jacobs (MD); second vice president, Minnie Walker (AL); secretary, Diane Filipe (CO); treasurer, Joy Stigile (CA); and board members, LeAnne Mayne (IL), Maria Bradford (WA), Ed Bryant (MO), and Vincent Chaney (NJ).
National Association of Guide Dog Users
NAGDU held elections during its annual business meeting on Friday, July 3, at the NFB convention. The results of the elections are as follows: vice president, Michael Hingson (CA); treasurer, Antoinette "Toni" Whaley (PA); and board member, Margo Downey (NY). Congratulations to everyone. Together we are changing what it means to be blind.
Human Services Division
These are the election results for the Human Services Division: president, David Stayer (NY); first vice president, Rick Brown (FL); second vice president, Yolanda Garcia (TX); secretary, Laurel Brown (FL); treasurer, JD Townsend (FL); and board members, Meleah Jensen (LA), Leslie Penko (OH), and Melissa Riccobono (MD).
The Writers Division held elections at convention and again elected a great group of writers to our 2009-2011 board. The officers are president, Robert Leslie Newman (NE); first vice president, April Enderton (IA); second vice president, Chelsea Cook (VA); secretary, Allison Hilliker (AZ); treasurer, Michael Floyd (NE); and board members, Lori Stayer (NY), Briley Pollard (TN), Fred Wurtzel, (MI), and Robert Gardner (IL).
Sports and Recreation Division
The Sports and Recreation Division conducted its off-year elections with the following results: treasurer, Jason Holloway (CA); secretary, Marissa Helms (KY); and board members, Annemarie Cooke (NJ) and Tyler Marren (MI).
Report on the 2009 Braille Book Flea Market:
Peggy Chong reports that the 2009 Braille Book Flea Market was held on Sunday, July 5, at the national convention. Once again it was a big success. Eager shoppers began lining up outside the Ambassador 3 Ballroom just after 4:00 p.m., so they could be the first in line for the great offerings. The Braille Book Flea Market collects books for several months before convention. UPS in Detroit had been receiving books at their offices since April and brought them to the hotel before the event. On July 5 volunteers brought the hundreds of boxes to the ballroom and began to open them, sort the books, find lost volumes, set up the tables, and prepare the boxes for reuse. All this was done in about four hours.
This year we had a larger room, allowing us to add more tables and display more of our books for those coming through the ballroom doors at 5:00 p.m. Almost half the books were on the tables as the doors opened. The rest were displayed as spaces emptied. Many previous attendees now have a system down. They head directly to the area where their most sought-for book may be, find it, load a mailing box, and go back to sort through the books on the tables a second time.
Volunteers keep busy. Before the Flea Market opens, the volunteers try to become familiar with as many titles in their areas as possible. Then, when the doors open, they try to keep up with the requests of those looking, keep the tables filled with material, and assist in gathering and boxing materials for attendees. Our volunteers do a great job. Several of them come back each year to help, and we deeply appreciate their service.
Our book selections were varied. Fewer than 1,000 Twin Vision books® were sent to the Flea Market this year, so they were gone in less than twenty minutes. These are always in high demand. We had at least three complete sets of Harry Potter books as well as additional copies of individual titles. Some resource material was sent in. Three dictionaries were soon scarfed up by those eager to have their own books. This year several cookbooks made their way to Detroit, only to be shipped off elsewhere. All in all, the selections were just what eager shoppers were looking for.
Children were earnestly reading each title in a stack of books, looking for a new story they had not read. Parents were asking for all the books in a certain series. Teachers wanted to know where the smaller volumes were to present to beginning readers back home. Families came to search for the perfect bedtime stories for Mommy or Daddy to read to the kids next week.
Attendees enjoyed a child-friendly snack of hotdogs and chips while waiting for their books to be prepared for mailing home. A birthday cake for Louis Braille with "Happy Birthday Louis Braille" spelled out in chocolate candies was cut for dessert. It was very tasty.
In two hours over 80 percent of the books had new homes. Countless books left the Flea Market to be taken home in the family car, suitcase, or tote bag. Between 210 and 220 boxes of books were sent across the country, Free Matter for the Blind, to the participants who could not fit their treasures into a suit case. The remaining forty boxes of books that did not find homes through the Braille Book Flea Market, were addressed to the NFB ShareBraille program. ShareBraille is also a free program to exchange or find Braille material. For more information on the NFB ShareBraille program, go to <www.NFBShareBraille.org>.
We would like to thank AT&T workers in the Detroit area who assisted with the Flea Market. They ran the mailing station this year. They also presented the NOPBC a check of $1,600 to cover some of the food costs of the Flea Market. Without them this year's event would not have been the great success it was.
Blind Educator of the Year Honored:
On June 23, 2009, the Boston Globe published the following story about this year’s NFB Blind Educator of the Year.
With disabilities no obstacle, school salutes its inspiration
by James Vaznis
Felecia Fields climbed the steps to the Patrick O’Hearn Elementary School reluctantly, a million questions swirling in her mind. If she chose the O’Hearn for her son, would the children tease him because he has cerebral palsy? Would the teachers ignore him?
Inside, the hallways bustled with students changing classes. She spotted one child pushing another in a wheelchair, and then there was a student using a walker. In the center of the hallway stood the school’s principal, William Henderson, with a white walking stick, exclaiming: “Welcome to the O’Hearn School.” With that, Fields’s anxiety vanished.
For twenty years Henderson, fifty-nine, who is blind, has put the fears of countless parents to rest, as he transformed the Dorchester school into a national model for teaching students with disabilities within mainstream classrooms. The practice--revolutionary two decades ago--attracted the attention of the U.S. Department of Education and a host of news crews, including television anchor Katie Couric, who did a story in the mid-1990s.
This afternoon staff, students, parents, and Mayor Thomas M. Menino will gather to present the highest of honors to the principal upon his retirement: The school, just a few blocks from his home, will be renamed the William Henderson Elementary School. It is a fitting tribute, they say, for a pioneer who has improved the lives of thousands of children.
“He’s a rock star,” said Bridget Curd, a parent who cochairs the school site council. “Many schools across the country and across the world have come to the Patrick O’Hearn School to see how students with severe special needs learn side-by-side with other children.”
The ceremony has been in the making for months. A group of parents and teachers hatched the idea in January of the renaming, which required a public hearing and a School Committee vote. Through it all organizers have attempted to keep the tribute a surprise, but some suspect Henderson knows something is afoot. In the last few weeks students have been practicing song and dance numbers for the celebration during their music and movement classes, crooning lines from Mariah Carey’s hit song “Hero” and R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly,” among others--often within earshot of the principal.
Yesterday a publicist working with the school issued a press release about today’s celebration without noting that there was anything hush-hush about the event. (As a precaution staff and Henderson’s family are keeping him away from today’s Globe, which he retrieves daily through a telephone audio service.)
Students say the school will not be the same without him. “I feel really sad,” said seven-year-old Leila Stella, a first-grader, as she made a Snow White puppet out of felt and construction paper. “We really love our principal.”
At the O’Hearn a third of the 230 students have been identified for special education services. The school teaches some of the city’s most severely disabled students, including those with autism, cerebral palsy, and Downs syndrome, in classrooms with other students. Before Henderson began the transformation of the O’Hearn in 1989 at the request of school district leaders, students with disabilities would have been taught in segregated classrooms. Only a handful of other city schools have followed the O’Hearn’s lead, much to the dismay of special education advocates.
“Boston has far too many kids in segregated classrooms and not enough schools like the O’Hearn,” said Thomas Hehir, a professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education and a former director of the US Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs. “The O’Hearn is one of the few schools in urban America that demonstrates all students can succeed.”
Achieving success took more than just plopping these children in the classroom. Teachers had to overhaul lesson plans. Classmates had to learn tolerance and empathy and gain a sense of when to jump in and help a disabled student with a class project or merely open a door for a child using a walker or wheelchair.
A great unifying theme of the school has been the arts, in which self-expression often puts children of all abilities on a level playing field. One of the first projects students created at the reinvented school twenty years ago was a colorful mosaic featuring a child in a wheelchair between a standing girl and a boy. Last month, in The Sound of Music, a girl with Downs syndrome played a major role.
In leading the transformation of the O’Hearn, Henderson also has broken stereotypes about what people with disabilities can achieve in the workplace. Henderson--who has retinitis pigmentosa, a gradual deterioration of the retina--started losing his peripheral vision when he was twelve. He is now blind, although sometimes able to see shapes and bright colors.
In his early years in the Boston system, Henderson, a Yale graduate, worked as a bilingual teacher at the Hernández School, later advancing to assistant principal. During that time his sight grew so bad that his doctor told him to give up working and take early retirement. It was a crushing turn of events for Henderson, who thought he would keep his eyesight until sixty. But Henderson stuck with his career, earning a doctorate at the University of Massachusetts.
“I feel blessed and privileged to have worked in the Boston public schools for thirty-six years,” Henderson said, when interviewed about his impending retirement. For first-time visitors to the O’Hearn, it is not always apparent that Henderson is blind. His blue eyes make eye contact. If he is sitting behind his desk, he sometimes grabs a small pad of white paper and uses visual memory to draw an object to stress a point or to write down a phone number. He says it is no different from writing with one’s eyes shut.
In the autumn he can be spotted raking leaves in the school’s courtyard and in the winter shoveling the sidewalks. When walking, though, he leads with his red-tipped stick, often moving at a quick clip. Henderson is a runner, hiker, kayaker, and bicyclist. As he navigates the hallways, he greets students by name, recognizing their voices. For students who don’t speak up when they see him, Henderson asks who’s there.
After his retirement, Henderson plans on consulting with VSA Arts of Massachusetts, a nonprofit that works with schools on teaching students of all abilities through the arts. The organization has partnered with the O’Hearn for twenty years. In his new role Henderson will even find himself back at the O’Hearn from time to time. “There’s no winding down or coasting when you work with children, Henderson said. “Schools are like relationships. You have to keep working at it and improving it. You can’t get stale or you will fail. . . . You learn in life to build on successes.”
BookSense Buzz at Convention:
Because GW Micro’s BookSense created such a stir at convention, we invited Dan Weirich to describe the features of this tiny piece of technology. This is what he wrote:
Even though we at GW Micro were excited to show off Window-Eyes version 7.1 and the new BrailleSense Plus QWERTY, the big hit at the NFB convention was the BookSense, the new small, portable digital book player. It gives access to books and other information for school, work, and entertainment. With it you can read textbooks, professional journals, magazines, and books for entertainment or study and even listen to your favorite music.
The number one feature people mentioned at the convention was the form factor. When I placed the unit in people’s hands, they were immediately impressed. The BookSense can be held and operated with just one hand because it has the shape of the common candy-bar-style cell phone. It weighs only four ounces and easily fits into a shirt pocket, backpack, or purse.
GW Micro offers two models: BookSense and BookSense XT. Both play audio files and DAISY content and read documents. Secured-digital (SD) memory card slot and built-in digital recorder are standard features on both the BookSense and BookSense XT. The media player supports a variety of formats, such as MP3, MP4, OGG, WAV, WAX, M4A, and WMA. Use the media player to listen to your music collection, including music downloaded from Apple iTunes.
In addition to the standard features, the BookSense XT boasts four GB of built-in memory, an FM radio, and Bluetooth capability. Use the BookSense XT to listen to your favorite radio station, or use the Bluetooth feature with your stereo Bluetooth headset. Imagine listening to your favorite book without the hassle of wires from headphones.
With the BookSense you can access digital talking books from providers such as the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Bookshare, and Audible. Access to books from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) is coming soon. BookSense makes it simple to use the USB port to connect to your PC to transfer downloaded books and music directly to the built-in memory on the BookSense XT or to an SD memory card in either model. The book reader on the BookSense supports several file formats, including txt, rtf, doc, docx, html, xml, brl, and brf. Use this feature to read your Microsoft Word documents, including Word 2003 and Word 2007.
The BookSense is the ideal tool for classroom teachers, students, business professionals, and anyone who enjoys reading and listening to music. For further information contact GW Micro by visiting <www.gwmicro.com/booksense>, calling (260) 489-3671, or emailing <[email protected]>.
Attention Blind Job Seekers:
Jim Omvig, longtime Federation leader and vice chairman of the President's Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled, announced during convention this year that some new job opportunities are becoming available for qualified blind people. He said that the federal government is in urgent need of people to manage procurement contracts. At a minimum candidates must have a college degree and use assistive technology for the blind proficiently.
National Industries for the Blind (NIB) is working with the federal government to administer a recruitment and training program for interested blind candidates for these positions. Experience in procurement contract management is always helpful, but participation in the NIB training program will prepare blind candidates meeting the minimal criteria to qualify for these federal jobs.
For details of NIB's Contract Management Support Program, interested people should call Mr. Billy Parker, NIB contract management support director, at (703) 310-0560 or email him at <[email protected]>.
I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.