Braille Monitor                                                    August/September 2009

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Convention Miniatures

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Elected:

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).

Writers Division
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:

Anna Walker is obviously delighted with her stack of Braille books. 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.

A teenager is reading a Braille book that is lying open on a stack of books. A number of people can be seen around her.

Some people can read any time anywhere. Is Aubrey Lucas working her way down this stack of books or just using it as a handy surface for reading?

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 <sales@gwmicro.com>.

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 <bparker@nib.org>.

NFB Pledge

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

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