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Braille Monitor

Vol. 52, No. 10                                                                 November 2009

Barbara Pierce, editor
Daniel B. Frye, associate editor

Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by

The National Federation of the Blind

Marc Maurer, president

National Office
200 East Wells 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

        ISSN 0006-8829

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Contents


Vol. 52, No. 10                                                                 November 2009

 

Lead Photo

The Democratization of Knowledge
NFB Works to Promote the Google Book Settlement   
by Daniel B. Frye

Teaching an Essential Skill: Braille  

Despite Horrific Tales, CU Student Finds Hope  
by Kevin Simpson

Tactile Access to the iPhone Is Here     
by Tony Olivero

Zachary Shore: Profile of a Scholar  
by Daniel B. Frye

The Secret to Winning a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship  
by Anil Lewis

What Goes Around Comes Around  
by Tara Carty

The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards
by Gary Wunder

Promoting the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar: Time Is Running Short  

The Ugly Laws: A Review  
by Ed Morman

Understanding Medical Insurance
by Cheryl Echevarria

Big Brother  
by Barbara Loos

Vision Goes Deeper than Sight  
by Patrick Henry

Recipes

Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2009 by the National Federation of the Blind

 

 

Longtime Federationists may remember that November 13 was the birthday of Kenneth Jernigan, charismatic NFB leader for forty-six years and president from March 1968 through July 1986. He served with distinction and passion (with only one year off in the late 1970s), giving new life and expression to the work and philosophy of the Federation during the middle years of the NFB’s history to the present. A brief review of the NFB literature catalog confirms that President Jernigan was a true teacher and agent of social change for the national blindness community. His memorable banquet addresses, presidential reports, articles, and other writings comprise a substantial and fertile part of NFB literature. He touched the hearts and minds of thousands of blind people across the nation with his imaginative and thoughtful analysis of blindness and his commitment to bringing about institutional change.

Kenneth Jernigan died of lung cancer on October 12, 1998. His loss remains a poignant sorrow for many, but, as we pass the eleventh anniversary of his death and prepare to celebrate what would have been his eighty-third birthday, it occurs to us that many now in the NFB never knew him personally. Whether or not you knew Kenneth Jernigan during his lifetime, we invite you to take some time this November to review a piece of his writing on blindness. We feel confident that his compelling language and fundamental articulation of our commonsense approach to blindness will resonate as powerfully today as it did when he originally penned his thoughts. We take this opportunity to recognize and salute the life and work of our friend, teacher, mentor, and leader. Happy birthday, Dr. Jernigan. You are deeply missed and fondly remembered.

 

The Democratization of Knowledge
NFB Works to Promote the Google Book Settlement

by Daniel B. Frye

During the 2009 NFB national convention, Federationists enthusiastically greeted the news that the Google Book settlement (the product of almost four years of legal maneuvering between Google and the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers over Google's proposed book digitalization project with several American universities) was almost final. Blind consumers were euphoric at the prospect of being able to access millions of titles digitally that had not been available previously. This historic breakthrough in information access promised to revolutionize the methods that blind people would use to read the printed word.

As the time for court approval of the settlement grew near, however, some Google competitors, legal academics, and the U.S. Department of Justice began raising objections to the terms of this class-action settlement. These detractors said that the settlement as drafted would among other things violate antitrust, copyright, and legal requirements for adequately identifying and treating different classes potentially affected by this landmark agreement. Presumably in response to the increased opposition to this agreement from representatives of industry, academia, and government, the Authors Guild and the American Association of Publishers filed a motion with the federal court to delay approval of the settlement while efforts to renegotiate terms of the agreement substantially were undertaken. Judge Denny Chin of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted plaintiff's motion, which was not opposed by Google, on Thursday, September 24, 2009. When one analyzes the objections to this settlement, it does not appear that the substance of the concerns directly relates to the accessibility provisions in the challenged agreement, but it is equally true that a further delay in approval of a settlement inevitably represents postponement of the implementation of a program that would be immensely beneficial to blind readers.

While we wait to see what emerges from this next round of discussions among the interested parties, Braille Monitor readers will benefit from some background about the accessibility portions of the settlement that was almost approved. Familiarity with these provisions will be useful in measuring success in any future agreement. Further, reviewing our efforts to champion the advantages of digital access to texts in the settlement will help readers understand the exciting possibilities that may be just around the corner.

On the final afternoon of the 2009 national convention, President Maurer introduced Jack Bernard, chairman of the Council for Disability Concerns and assistant general counsel for the University of Michigan, to deliver a program item titled "Negotiating Accessible Electronic Books: A Massive Undertaking, A Smashing Success." Mr. Bernard explained that on behalf of the University of Michigan he had been directly involved in negotiating many of the access provisions of the Google Book settlement as part of the university's effort to enhance its already substantial project to digitalize the books in its library. In his remarks Mr. Bernard detailed the principal accessibility elements of the Google Book settlement. If not modified during this new round of negotiations, the salient accessibility planks in the settlement, as outlined and defined during his remarks, will include the following:

Encouraged by the promise of such a substantial body of material’s being made accessible to blind people through this agreement, in testimony on September 10, 2009, before the House Judiciary Committee, President Maurer urged that the settlement be ratified and finalized. The NFB also submitted a brief to the court promoting the accessibility advantages of this settlement. Because it effectively summarizes the Federation's position on the Google Book settlement, here is President Maurer's testimony:

Statement of the National Federation of the Blind
United States House of Representatives
Committee on the Judiciary
Competition and Commerce in Digital Books
September 10, 2009

Mr. Chairman, my name is Marc Maurer, and I serve as president of the National Federation of the Blind. The National Federation of the Blind is the oldest and largest organization of blind people in the United States. Through our affiliates in each of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico and our seven hundred local chapters, we seek to advance the rights of blind people by helping both the blind and the sighted to understand that blindness, in and of itself, need not be a tragedy. The real problem of blindness is not loss of eyesight, but the misunderstandings and misconceptions about it that are prevalent in society. With proper training and opportunity blindness can be reduced to the level of a mere physical nuisance.

The proper training and opportunity part of this equation cannot be overemphasized. Among the keys to opportunity are a good education and access to information. This is particularly true in the twenty-first century, when information is the coin of the realm. In order to succeed, blind people must have full and equal access to all forms of information, including the written word. But historically access to written knowledge has been one of the greatest challenges faced by the blind. For most of human history the vast majority of blind people did not have access to books at all. With the invention of Braille and then of audio recording and playback technology, more books became available to us, but still the selection of titles to which we have access is extremely limited.

The Google settlement, if approved, will change all that. The agreement promises to make millions of titles available to a wide audience, including those who are blind or who cannot read print for other reasons. The terms of the settlement allow Google to provide the material it offers users “in a manner that accommodates users with print disabilities so that such users have a substantially similar user experience as users without print disabilities.” A user with a print disability under the agreement is one who is “unable to read or use standard printed material due to blindness, visual disability, physical limitations, organic dysfunction, or dyslexia.” The settlement, if approved, will therefore bring the printed word to as many as thirty million people who currently have limited access to it. Blind people will be able to search for books through the Google Books interface and purchase, borrow, or read at a public library any of the books that are available to the general public, in a format that is compatible with text-enlargement software, text-to-speech screen-access software, and refreshable Braille devices. If this settlement is approved, blind people will have greater access to books than we have ever had in human history.

Currently the blind have access to a relatively sparse selection of titles produced by government and nonprofit organizations dedicated to serving our needs. The primary source of reading material for most blind Americans is the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress. While this service has done an outstanding job of providing books to the blind within budgetary constraints, it has, at most, perhaps seventy thousand circulating titles in its collection. Furthermore, even if all methods of providing content in a format accessible to the blind, including commercial audio books, are taken into consideration, it is estimated that only 5 percent of the books published each year are ever produced in a format that can be used by the blind or others with print disabilities.

While the blind have for years been tantalized by the promise of greater access through eBooks, which are inherently accessible, the sad fact is that no other provider of eBooks has yet made its offerings accessible to the blind. Instead publishers distribute their eBooks through inaccessible devices and platforms, use digital-rights-management schemes to prevent screen-access technology and other methods used by the blind from accessing these books, or both. Prior to this landmark settlement agreement, neither authors and publishers nor any entity promoting eBook technology had ever consented to any system that would make such a large number of books immediately accessible to the blind and other Americans with print disabilities. The Google settlement therefore represents the only present prospect for blind people to access electronic texts. It is our hope and belief that the settlement will also represent a paradigm shift that will encourage other publishers and eBook distributors to make accessibility a priority.

Libraries are currently distributing eBooks to borrowers. An increasing number of universities require students to use e-texts. Some state governments are contemplating replacing printed books with e-texts. A number of companies are distributing e-texts. The e-text market is expanding rapidly, and the Google settlement represents the only substantial effort to make this form of information usable by the blind. The technology exists to make all of this distributed information readily accessible to the blind. Unless an immediate effort to implement such a system is pursued, the result for employment for blind people will be devastating. Already the lack of information has meant that fewer than 50 percent of blind people in the school years will graduate from high school. Already the lack of information has contributed to an unemployment rate for the blind in excess of 70 percent. Already the lack of information has prevented blind students from being able to matriculate in college courses of their choosing. Blind people are willing to pay for books, but they must be books we can read. The proposed Google settlement is a promise that this magnificent notion may become real.

It has been said that the proposed Google settlement is an effort to give judicial sanction to theft of intellectual property. This argument ignores the provisions of the settlement itself. Any author wishing to avoid the terms of the settlement may opt out. Those who do not opt out receive a very substantial portion of the revenue generated.

Some opponents of the settlement have propounded the argument that, by including accessible provisions for the blind in the agreement, Google has taken a position akin to that of Robin Hood. Apparently these opponents are saying that Google is taking what doesn’t belong to it and justifying the theft by giving access to the blind. This is an argument without foundation. The blind are prepared to pay for books at the same rate and to the same extent that the sighted must do so. The settlement has no provisions to give intellectual property to the blind that is not already available to the sighted. The blind must pay as much for intellectual property as the sighted. No different terms apply to blind people from those which apply to the sighted. The Robin Hood analogy fails because the blind don’t get anything free that the sighted don’t get free and because a Robin Hood must first steal the material. If the theft hasn’t occurred, the transaction has to be characterized in some other way.

The Google settlement is, for the blind and many others, the next step in the democratization of knowledge. That process began with the introduction of the printing press and then, for the blind, with the invention of Braille. Now technology has arisen which transcends the traditional limitations of both print and Braille, promising to make millions of titles available to the blind in Braille or any other format of our choice. The narrow business interests of Google’s competitors must not be allowed to block Americans who cannot read print from all of the opportunities that greater access to written knowledge will make available to them. It is time for the doors of the world’s great libraries to be opened in welcome to everyone.

Thank you for the opportunity to present this testimony. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact the National Federation of the Blind.

Significant coverage of the Google Books settlement has been reported in the technology press. Readers interested in a fairly comprehensive explanation of the nonblindness-related rationale of the settlement's detractors can read "DOJ Urges Court to Reject Google Book Settlement," a September 19, 2009, article that appeared in PC Magazine; the article can be found at <http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2353052,00.asp>. We print below a shorter piece, published on September 24, 2009, from the BITS Blog of the New York Times. Here it is:

Google Books Settlement Delayed Indefinitely
by Miguel Helft

As currently written, the controversial settlement between Google and groups representing publishers and authors is officially dead. On Thursday, a federal judge gave the parties time to negotiate a new deal that would address some of the many objections filed by various groups.

Judge Denny Chin of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted a motion to delay an October 7 hearing on the settlement, which would pave the way for Google to create an immense digital library and bookstore. The motion was filed earlier this week by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, the plaintiffs in the case, and was unopposed by Google, the defendant.

Judge Chin said that it made no sense to hold a hearing on the current settlement since the parties have indicated that they are negotiating significant changes to it. In his order Judge Chin indicated that he took seriously the long list of objections that various parties have raised about the agreement. "The current settlement agreement raises significant issues, as demonstrated not only by the number of objections, but also by the fact that the objectors include countries, states, nonprofit organizations, and prominent authors and law professors," Judge Chin wrote. "Clearly, fair concerns have been raised."

But Judge Chin also echoed comments made by the Justice Department last week that the settlement, if properly revised, could offer great benefits, most notably, by providing broad access to millions of out-of-print books that are largely locked up in a small group of university libraries. "The settlement would offer many benefits to society, as recognized by supporters of the settlement as well as DOJ," he wrote, referring to the Department of Justice, which filed its own brief in the case last week. "It would appear that, if a fair and reasonable settlement can be struck, the public would benefit."

The first clear signs that the settlement in its current form would be derailed came late Friday, when the Justice Department raised a number of legal and antitrust objections to it. In its brief the department also said that the parties appeared willing to renegotiate many aspects of the agreement to overcome its opposition. The decision by the plaintiffs to ask for more time represents a stark reversal from earlier this year. In April a group of authors and the heirs of others, including representatives of the estate of John Steinbeck, first asked the court to delay the fairness hearing and deadline for filing objections. The authors asked for a four-month delay, and the parties, eager to have the agreement approved quickly, reluctantly recommended a two-month delay. Judge Chin sided with the authors.

Observers say the delay provided the time necessary for the many critics of the deal, including the Justice Department, to come forward. The court received more than four hundred filings, the majority of them raising issues about various parts of the agreement. Instead of the scheduled fairness hearing, Judge Chin asked the parties to convene in court on October 7 for a status conference. The purpose of the conference is to "determine how to proceed with the case as expeditiously as possible, as this case has now been pending for more than four years," he wrote.

The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers sued Google in 2005 for copyright infringement over the company's plan to scan books from major libraries and make them available online. The parties announced the settlement, which took two years to negotiate, in October. The settlement also appears to be facing another challenge in a French court.

There you have a summary of Judge Chin’s decision. We must now wait for further word on the resolution of the Google Book settlement. The Federation will continue to work behind the scenes to influence the outcome of the new negotiations, making sure that access to the printed word through Google's digital library remains a top priority.

 

Teaching an Essential Skill: Braille

From the Editor: One of the myths about Braille all too often repeated by rehabilitation counselors is that adults find it difficult to learn Braille and that the older the adult, the more pointless such study is. Unfortunately such statements frequently become self-fulfilling prophecies. It is rare that a newly blind adult finds encouragement even when common sense suggests that he or she would certainly benefit from learning to read and write again.

On Wednesday morning, July 8, Jerry Whittle, the dean of the NFB training centers’ Braille instructors, moderated a panel of men and women who had learned Braille as adults. Their stories should be an inspiration to people of any age who would like to learn Braille. This is what they said:

 

Jerry Whittle: I want to thank Dr. Maurer for the privilege of facilitating this great panel of Braille readers who learned Braille as adults. Part of our purpose this morning is to put to rest some of the misconceptions about learning Braille as an adult. First of all, it has been my experience over the past twenty-three years of teaching adults Braille that they acquire speed at about the same rate that an adult sighted person acquires literacy skills in print. This observation is not based on any kind of research, because none exists. It is based on many conversations with teachers who work with sighted adults. Gaining reading skills in both print or Braille requires basically the same attributes—willingness to work hard, consistent effort, intelligence, and good eyes or good hands. The acquisition of reading skills in Braille is not any slower than the acquisition of reading skills in print. Second, through diligence and hard work adult Braille readers can gain reading rates good enough to enjoy reading, and these adults can gain enough competence in Braille to use it effectively on a job or in college. Many of my students have gained reading rates of sixty to one hundred words per minute in a six-to-nine month period of training, and it required a minimum of about ten hours of reading per week and the use of two hands. Finally, it is not fair to compare speeds attained by adult Braille learners to Braille readers who started as children, although some adults achieve reading rates greater than some Braille readers who learned as children. I have personally timed over seventy Braille readers at over three hundred words per minute, and all of them learned Braille as children and read with both hands. In my twenty-three years of teaching, I have found that the best speed of the readers who learned Braille as adults was one hundred words per minute. But both achievements are worthy of our praise. We should celebrate the achievements of blind adults who exceed sixty words per minute in the same way that we take pride in blind adults who read as fast as their sighted counterparts. The reason is that sighted readers who learned print as adults rarely if ever exceed one hundred words per minute.

Our panel this morning is comprised of five outstanding individuals who worked hard and reached enough proficiency in Braille to use it effectively for a variety of needs, and we should be proud of their achievements in their acquisition of literacy skills. All of them graduated from the Louisiana Center for the Blind. First I would like to introduce Ms. April Davis.

April Davis: Hello. This is my sixth national convention, and I remember the first one I ever attended in 2002, sitting back with my delegation and looking up here and wondering what it was like to be on the platform. I am very excited to be here. One thing many of you may not have known about me is that I used to be very heavily involved in what you might call PR. No, I’m not talking about public relations; I’m talking about print reading. I’ve been blind all my life with just a little bit of residual vision. In order for me to read print, I have to hold the paper a few inches from my face and hope that the print is big and dark enough for me to see, and then hope that my big head doesn’t block out all the light.

In high school and college I really struggled because the print got smaller, the reading demand became heavier, and my vision didn’t get any better. When I was in college, I was a very social creature, and I was constantly being invited out to study groups and things like that. I dreaded reading in public because it looked like I was falling asleep on my textbooks. I was really embarrassed to be seen reading or writing in the classroom or any place like that. Needless to say, I should have learned Braille as a child, but, since that didn’t happen, I was determined to make up for lost time. So three days after college graduation, I was enrolled at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. [applause]

It took me just a little over a month to master the Braille code, but, once I did, there was no stopping me. I read everything I could get my hands on. One of the things I was especially interested in was going back and reading all the classics and novels that I had avoided reading in high school because the print was too small.

At the end of my eight months of training, I read seventy-eight words a minute, and, although this wasn’t as fast as I would have been reading if I had learned in childhood, it is still fast enough for me to appreciate what I’m reading and comprehend everything. It’s so much better than the old method of dive-bombing my paper. It feels much more respectable to sit with a Braille book in my lap and just quietly read. I can read a lot of places where my sighted peers can’t, like in the dark or under the covers during those cold Chicago winters. When I go home to Chicago and I’m riding on the L, nobody can read over my shoulder when I have my Braille book, so there’s another advantage.

When I was in graduate school at Louisiana Tech during that hot Louisiana summer when I didn’t feel like carrying my laptop around on campus, I used my slate and stylus to take notes at lectures. This was much preferable to the old method of carrying a tattered notebook around and trying to decode the chicken scratches that I could never read back to myself by the time the final exam rolled around.

Learning Braille has proved extremely valuable to me, and I just want to encourage all of you who are adults who have not learned Braille that it is definitely an extremely valuable tool and something I encourage you to learn. Learning Braille gave me such a freedom and empowered me so much that I went on to get my master’s in teaching blind students. I wanted to help at least some of this next generation of blind students get the skills they need early so they wouldn’t have to go back as adults and go through what I went through.

Next, the senior member of this panel, Mr. James Mays.

[PHOTO CAPTION: James Mays]

James Mays: Good morning. It is a great honor to be standing here to address such a fine organization that I’m a junior member of, even though I’m advancing to the age of seventy-one. We’ve talked about the children and youth and the problems we have with Braille education. The reason I wanted Braille is that I did go blind at fifty-eight. I went through LCB at fifty-nine. If you’ve ever been to school under Joanne Wilson’s tutelage, you know what I went through. She told me I could go home on Fridays (I live in Ruston) if I was good. So I had to check in every Friday, and sometimes she let me go home. She said she didn’t want my wife spoiling me during the week.

When Jerry Whittle handed me my Braille book, he said it was like handing me a grizzly bear, and that was true, ‘cause I wanted it so bad. I had been, I guess, an executive type manager. My footprints were in the New Orleans airport, Atlanta airport, Little Rock airport, Dallas/Fort Worth airport, Houston, and Shreveport. In most of those areas I did high-dollar construction jobs--lots of responsibility, and lots of ego went with it. When I lost my eyesight, I fell like a tall tree.

I didn’t mind losing my eyesight as much as I minded not being literate anymore, and I just couldn’t visualize not being literate. That’s why it became so important for me to try to read Braille. Everybody was very nice --I’m sure you would have been too. They gave me every excuse. (I don’t mean Jerry Whittle or Joanne Wilson.) They gave me every excuse in the world why I should not be able to read Braille as a senior. But I’m a myth buster. I have busted the myth. I haven’t busted it like superman, but I read and I studied, and, when I got out of the center, I was reading about ten or fifteen words a minute—slowly. Jerry didn’t give up on me. He might have give out, but he didn’t give up! I sat by his elbow like a three-year-old kid. When we came into class, I slid right in beside him, and he could hear me breathing. He would start, “Okay, James, here we go.” He would start with a letter, and we’d rub, and we’d scrub.

So anyhow we did get to the point where I got my first book. He was giving everybody else a nice little book of about twenty or forty pages. He gave me one that had about six. It was a child’s book. It had the little sheets of Braille that you could see through, you know. If you couldn’t read it, you could go by the picture if you could see a little bit. I did all right. I got a couple of pages read. To make a long story short, I didn’t learn to read Braille in nine months; I learned what the Braille characters were. I learned Braille I, and I think Jerry would have let me stop at that and been happy. But I found out that contractions made it much easier. The contractions were just a continuation of memorization. I had already learned to identify the Braille letters by learning Braille I, so why not go on and memorize Braille II and continue my identification? That’s why I went on to Braille II. I did conquer it slowly but steadily. [applause]

The simple little phrase that I used was, “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party.” You’ve heard that. I typed it and I could feel the teacher in high school slapping me on the back of the head when I would mistype it. But it uses every key on the keyboard. It uses nearly every contraction. In cells Braille I is fifty-two characters. In Braille II it’s twenty-seven. I said, “I can sure identify twenty-seven quicker than I can identify fifty-two.” So that got me interested in II. To make a long story short, I started to read the book I left at school. I wanted to read Lonesome Dove, my favorite TV show. I got my book. Jerry gave me a Little House book. I was proud of it. I stuck it under my arm, and here I am a fifty-nine-year-old-child going down the street. Everybody said, “There goes James with that big book.” Everybody in town knew me, but everybody in town said, “James may be blind, but he’s not an old, dumb fart anymore.”

Therefore I started to read Lonesome Dove. It took me three hours to read the first page, so I put it back on the shelf. I reached for Little House on the Prairie—I fell in love with it! The hardest word I found to read was “button.” Ever try to read “button”? You sew it on a shirt. Finally I spelled it out, and it was “button.” Those are some of the things I went through. Then about three months later I picked up Lonesome Dove. Eight months later I had read nine volumes of Lonesome Dove and loved it. [applause] To finish up and get it over with, since then in the last eight years I’ve read approximately eight thousand pages, and I love it. Thank God for Jerry Whittle.

The third panelist is Ms. Deja Powell.

Deja Powell: A few years ago a friend of mine asked me a fairly simple question, “What is your favorite book?” I sat there in silence. I felt embarrassed, disappointed, confused, and alone. You see, at the age of twenty-three I had never read a book. Large print was the only thing I knew, and all I could think of was heavy books and headaches. Because of this I grew up with a hatred for reading. When I was in the seventh grade, my parents decided that maybe I should try to learn Braille, so I got Braille lessons. My instructor came three times, and I learned the first ten letters of the alphabet. After that I was done.

Ten years later I made a decision to attend the Louisiana Center for the Blind. [applause] The moment I sat down in Mr. Whittle’s classroom, I was in love with Braille. What is amazing to me is that I had remembered those first ten letters from seventh grade. All I could think of was, if I had only learned this earlier, how easy it would come to me right now.

I spent hours reading Braille, between two and six hours a day. I very much had a passion for wanting to learn, for wanting to like to read. I’ve been to many places in my life and accomplished some pretty important things, but I think one of the greatest moments I can remember is the day that I finished my first Braille book. It was The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, a book that many people read in their elementary and junior high school years, so I missed that. That’s where I wanted to start. I wanted to catch up on all of those books my friends had talked about.

My speed is not like Jerry Whittle’s or Pam Allen’s or Dr. Maurer’s, but Deja Powell can finally read. Today I use Braille in my daily life to write student reports as a cane travel instructor, to make shopping lists, to label things with my obsessive organization needs, and to write down phone numbers, but, most important, the number one time when I felt most powerful with my Braille skills was two months into my training at the Louisiana Center when my dad died from cancer. I was asked by my dad himself if I would speak at his funeral. Many people don’t know this or have never heard this story, but he made me promise him two things before he died. The first was that I would use the cane--I wasn’t using a cane at the time. And the second was that, when I spoke at his funeral, I would read it in Braille. I was slow when I did it, but I never felt like my dad was more proud of me than at that moment, standing on the podium reading my Braille with my cane by my side.

I’m done being a part of a pathetic Braille illiteracy statistic. I’m thrilled to say that I am a Braille reader. I love to read now, and you can check me off the list of the blind who are illiterate in this country.

Fourth is Mr. Anil Lewis.

Anil Lewis: Good morning, Federation. They got me up here to tell on myself. I went blind in 1989, and I thought I had learned Braille in the four months that I took rehabilitation at the center in Atlanta. I got to the rapid speed of thirty-five words per minute and was soon made the Braille instructor. I used to think that I was so awesome that I was bad. But I was literally bad. Lucky for me I did know enough Braille to get me through the rudimentary things that I needed to get done. For example, for those of you who think it’s not important to learn Braille, Deja already talked about some of the basics, phone numbers, etc. But I was able to read at least fast enough to read to my newborn son when he was one.

I wanted to share. I have one of the books from the National Braille Press. I joined the book club when he was born, and I used to read to him. This is the first book he read independently himself. It’s one of the Braille/print books. It’s called Froggy Gets Dressed, by Jonathon London. You guys read this? Oh man, it’s a suspenseful thriller. It’s all about Froggy getting dressed. I want to read a little bit of it to you, “So Froggy put on his socks--zoop. Pulled on his boots--zup. Put on his hat--zat” I’m not going to spoil the ending for you. All I’m saying is, because I was able to read it to my son at an early age--and this is Amiri’s second convention. He is eleven years old. He’s working up in kids’ camp with elementary and preschool children.

I do want to say this--and I know this is not the be all and end all--but Amiri is eleven years old, and he is going into the eighth grade. Please, applause for my son. So I’m thinkin’, as my cousin would say, that I’m AT&T--that’s “all this and that”--for those who don’t know. But I have a friend in Baltimore who told me after last year’s banquet, “Anil, you heard that guy up at the podium struggling through that Braille, trying to read that stuff for those scholarship winners?” God bless him. He said, “I’m going to make you a more confident blind person whether it kills me or you.” That friend sent me down to the Louisiana Center for the Blind. He encouraged me to go, and I went.

Just like Deja, I went to study at the feet of the master, Jerry Whittle. When I walked into that Braille room, I fell in love with Merilyn Whittle. [laughter] But what Jerry did for me was to put me in a place where the Federation sets high expectations. Here I am reveling in my thirty-five words per minute, and Jerry sits down and says, “We want you to read one twenty-five before you leave here.” He made me believe I could do it. You lied to me, Jerry. [laughter] But because he made me believe I can do it, I did get above seventy.

Hopefully, tonight, if I practice some more, (I’m still a little rusty) it’s going to go a little bit more like this: “Our final scholarship this evening is the Dr. Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship in the amount of $12,000. This scholarship is being presented in memory of the man who changed perceptions regarding the capabilities of blind people in this country and the world. This scholarship is given yearly by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, a nonprofit organization that works to assist blind people. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan is viewed by our field as the most important figure in the twentieth century in the lives of blind people. The Action Fund, wishing to keep fresh and current in the twenty-first century the understanding he brought to the field, has endowed this scholarship, dedicated in his memory and to the continuation of the work he began. This year’s Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship is awarded to [Anil rings a bell]. I want to say one thing, though. This is the bell I got on June 5 of 2009 as a graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and I ring it today because, not only did Jerry Whittle believe in my ability to learn Braille, he encouraged me to take the National Certification in Literary Braille test, and I passed. [bell rings again]

Our final panelist is Ms. Terry Rupp.

Terri Rupp: A new mother held her newborn baby and rocked him back and forth and rocked back and forth and back and forth. As she held him, she sang, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.” This is the first thing I thought when I found out I was pregnant. This book was written by Robert Munch. The first time I heard this book was in a story-time reading that I organized as a college student, working in a community service organization called Circle K.

Since I was the one organizing the event, I had been asked to read the book to the children at Barnes and Noble. Unfortunately, I couldn’t read it, so I asked one of my colleagues to read it. This was when I realized I couldn’t read. Growing up, I was always told that I should read large print. I could see well enough to not use a cane and not read Braille, but, as one of my teachers pointed out when I was a college freshman, “Good enough is not good, and good enough is not enough.”

After struggling through my first few years of college, I decided to go to the Louisiana Center for the Blind and learn Braille. I wondered about whether I should finish college first or take time off and go after I was done. Al Spooner asked me at my first California convention, “Wouldn’t you rather have the skills and complete college using Braille?” In January 9, 2006, I started my first class at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. After a month I started reading my first novel. I was able to read the script for the play. I read a poem at my aunt’s wedding, and by the end of September I was reading at about one hundred words a minute. Now I’m a graduate of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. I plan to continue my education with a master’s in social work, working as a marriage and family counselor.
I use Braille every day. I’ve labeled my stove, my microwave, my dishwasher. I use my slate and stylus to take notes. I carry my index card slate and stylus with me in my purse everywhere I go. I’ve even put Braille on my mother-in-law’s computer because she doesn’t know where the “n” and “b” keys are. Thanks to the National Federation of the Blind, thanks to Jerry Whittle, and thanks to the Louisiana Center for the Blind, I can read to my unborn baby, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”

Jerry Whittle: I learned Braille at the age of thirty. I was taught once a week by Ms. Patricia Tuck in South Carolina, and I traveled about twenty miles for the class. Ms. Tuck started me in the old Illinois series, but the funding ended for the program, and I took the books and finished the code at my kitchen table; then I started college and kept Braille on the back burner, relying mostly on readers and taped books. Then I started my master’s program in Tennessee, and I wasn’t proficient enough in Braille to use it, but I sure developed a hunger for Braille literacy and recognized how very vital it was. As Emily Dickinson once wrote, “To comprehend a nectar requires sorest need.” After earning my master’s degree without Braille, I set about spending every spare moment to gain enough speed to read again. I walked to work an hour early every morning, and I began to read consistently. On weekends I read for hours and built my reading rate to eighty words per minute. I will never forget the first time I read eighty words per minute; it was as sweet as reaching the top of Mt. Everest. It never occurred to me that I would teach it until Joanne Wilson offered my wife Merilynn and me an opportunity to work at the newly founded Louisiana Center for the Blind.

Many of my students can read faster than I can, and many of them gain enough speed to exceed my reading rate in six to nine months of intensive training, but I have no apologies to make. Like Dr. Jernigan in “the Nature of Independence,” I take pride in the fact that my students exceed whatever I have done, for I did not have the opportunity for the type of training that they get at NFB centers. We should be proud of any adult who comes to a training center and learns to read again or doubles or triples his or her reading rate. None of these people on this panel should be ashamed of their reading rates; they are some of our finest examples of hard work and dedication. When we all read Huck Finn, we might not have floated down the Mississippi River with Huck and Tom as fast as Dr. Maurer and Pamela Allen, but we floated just fast enough to smell the trees and feel the power of the river beneath us and see the canopy of stars twinkling above our heads. We should be proud that April is teaching others to read Braille; we should be thrilled that James Mays is enjoying enriching his mind with American history; we should be ecstatic when Deja serves as a wonderful role model in every sense of the word to her students; we should cheer Anil for his diligence and desire to be as good as he can, given the time allotted to him as he leads in Georgia and introduces us to our scholarship winners; and we should be joyous when Terry takes out her book of children’s stories and reads to her first child.

I have one final and abrupt statement to make this morning, and I hope I am speaking for everyone when I say to the professionals in the field of blindness: Teach our children Braille, and do it well. We are growing tired of waiting for you to get the message. Teach them Braille, and do it well, or we will do it for you. Our blind children deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are asking you to help us, but, if you don’t help, we will do it ourselves. Every part of us demands it. Teach them Braille, and do it well.

 

Despite Horrific Tales, CU Student Finds Hope

by Kevin Simpson

From the Editor: The following article is reprinted from the May 31 edition of the Denver Post. It reminds us how lucky we are to live in the United States.

Ethan Johnston was born in Ethiopia and intentionally blinded as a child by men bent on using him as a beggar. He was ultimately adopted and now attends Colorado University.

On a playground court, Esubalew "Ethan" Johnston cradles the basketball and begins a rhythmic, right-hand dribble. He weaves the ball through his legs, darts forward, spins, drives left, and pulls up to shoot—at a basket he cannot see. In what passes for his field of vision, the white backboard casts a dull silhouette on a chalky sky. It is enough. With a flick of his wrists, the ball caroms off the board and through the net.

He wasn't born blind. Esubalew (is-soo-BAH-low), now perhaps twenty-two by his own reckoning, navigates the few blocks from his Englewood home to the outdoor court with a white cane he leaves in the grass at one corner of the asphalt. "My jump shot's terrible," he says. "But my inside game is good. If I could make a jump shot, I'd be the blind Kobe Bryant."

He's got the jersey—No. 24 in Los Angeles Lakers gold. And he shares one other trait with the NBA star. "I feel like I'm living a millionaire's life," says Esubalew, who just finished his sophomore year at the University of Colorado. "I never thought I'd be here talking smack about the Lakers and playing basketball. "I guess it worked out."

Esubalew was five, maybe six, when the men came. Age is an imprecise matter where he lived in Ethiopia. He remembers certain things. The trees around his mother's grass hut in the village of Inesa, the rainy season that sometimes made the hut collapse, the dry summers that scorched and cracked the earth so badly you could turn an ankle in the fissures. He remembers tending a neighbor's cattle in return for a large jug of milk. It was his way of contributing to the small household headed by his mother, Yitashu. He rarely saw his father. And he remembers playing with his younger half sister Etagegnehu outside their hut one day, when two strangers asked his mother if she'd like her son to attend school in the capital city of Addis Ababa.

Wanting him to become something more than a poor farmer in the isolated village, she sent her son away with the men. They put him on a donkey, and that was the last she saw of Esubalew. A few days later they blinded him. They told him to get ready for bed. Then three men held him down while another employed sticks and a caustic white extract from a tree. Blind children made the best beggars. He was instructed to cling to a rail attached to local taxis and refuse to let go until passengers took pity and dug into their pockets. Sometimes the taxis simply took off, dragging him until he lost his grip.

On these days his teenage overseers would tell the men that Esubalew hadn't tried hard enough, and they whipped him with a switch. “I thought it was my job for the rest of my life," he says. "From daylight until dark, that was it—nothing else. It seemed like forever. But it was probably more like a year." Then, while begging in a café, he met a couple who worked at a school for the blind. They inquired about his situation and eventually wrested him from his captors.

Fortune took odd forms. Esubalew contracted tuberculosis and had to be hospitalized. There, a doctor showed him to Cheryl Carter-Shotts, director of Indianapolis-based Americans for African Adoptions Inc. Her decades-long concern for children suffering on the continent has withstood controversy over international—and interracial—adoptions. "Esubalew climbed into my heart a long time ago," Carter-Shotts recalls, "and never left."

In a country ravaged by civil war, she saw a blind child wearing nothing but a torn T-shirt and underpants. Esubalew had told his caregivers the name of his village, but no one had heard of it. Authorities never seriously pursued his case. "It was wartime," says Carter-Shotts, "and they were not going to focus on one lost child."

She gave him a Matchbox car and promised to return for him. Months later she did—and found him a foster home in Ethiopia until she placed him with a Missouri family who'd taken in special-needs children from all over the world. "We thought a lot about adopting him," recalls Kris Johnston, fifty-six, from her house south of Columbia. "But I was scared to death. With a blind child, what would our life be like? We were going off a story and a gut feeling that we should do this."

In October 1997 Esubalew—then approximately ten—flew with other Ethiopian adoptees to Indianapolis. He stepped off the plane wearing an ivory tunic with embroidered trim. "I was shaking, I was so afraid," recalls Johnston, who met his plane. "But as soon as I saw his smile, I knew it would be OK."

She nicknamed him Ethan, after the part Tom Cruise played in the movie Mission Impossible. Johnston thought the name exuded strength and character—and that it would help Esubalew's transition to go by something easier to pronounce.

His physical issues were obvious. One eye, Johnston recalls, was "horrifying to look at." A specialist confirmed the extent of the damage and recommended a cornea transplant on his good eye to salvage even some semblance of sight. When Johnston removed his bandages and asked if he could see anything, Esubalew replied: "Yes. You're white."

He describes it not so much as a shock as a revelation about the wider world, and the starting point for his understanding of race in America. "It was just part of my education," he recalls. "She said people will have issues because you're black, or because you have white parents. I said, 'Are you kidding?' But she was right. There were some situations like that, and if I hadn't been warned, I would've reacted instead of just letting it go."

There would be several more cornea transplants as his body rejected the new tissue. Eventually an artificial cornea produced the best results in his left eye. Months after his arrival Esubalew's right eye became so infected it had to be replaced with a prosthetic. His vision yields little more than lights and darks and shades of color. In his new home, he initially grew frustrated at his inability to express himself. English came slowly but ultimately supplanted his native language, Amharic.

He made friends easily, struggled academically through middle school but graduated from high school with a B-plus average. Along the way basketball caught his interest, starting with an NBA broadcast in which announcers hammered a new word into his developing vocabulary: "Shaq." Shaquille O'Neal's Los Angeles Lakers became his team as they marched to league championships—though Kobe Bryant has replaced O'Neal as his personal favorite. In sixth grade a friend taught him to play, igniting a passion that he carries into adulthood. With practice Esubalew learned to recognize the white lines on the court, use sound to judge the arrival of a bounce pass, and shoot a passable percentage in loose pickup games.

Johnston, with architect husband Chuck, has reared twenty-five adopted children from all over the world—about one-third with some kind of physical disability—in the 4,000-square-foot home they built on ten acres. Esubalew stands out primarily for his perseverance. "He's not bitter," Johnston says. "He has such a zest for life—just a real excitement for what's coming around the corner, what next year will bring."

When he turned sixteen, a high school counselor recommended he enroll in a summer program at the Colorado Center for the Blind, a Littleton-based school that teaches life skills. Excited by his growing independence, he returned for a second summer, and then for a full-time program. Already in love with Colorado, he enrolled at CU-Boulder, with the help and encouragement of Eric Woods, an instructor at the center. At first he found himself falling behind in college classes—until he got his materials translated into Braille.

Although he has shifted his major from journalism to sociology, he remains fascinated by the possibility of becoming a sports-talk radio personality. But he realizes he must work harder. "I'm way too laid back—like the Lakers with a big lead," he laughs. "School's tough. I need more discipline."

Pickup basketball continues to be a big part of his life at CU. Also, he immerses himself in music. A few years ago it was rap and hip-hop, which was an outlet for adolescent angst. More recently he has embraced Ethiopian music. "As I grew up, I saw life getting better and better," he says. "I had to go back to my culture. Ethiopian music has a hip-hop beat, but the lyrics are kind of country—about family, how life is over there. It's about appreciating life."

Esubalew lives with Woods and his wife Lori while on breaks from CU. They speak of him proudly, like a son. "He understands that something good has come of all this," Eric Woods says. "Everybody's got a tale to tell, and his is horrific. But he's focused on the positive." Esubalew helps at the Center for the Blind when he can. He has taken a particular interest in another Ethiopian, a young man about his age, who also was blinded under circumstances similar to his own. "I don't think he knows how lucky he is, but as he learns English and the culture, he'll understand," Esubalew says. "We're both lucky to be here in America with the opportunity to become somebody."

In about two weeks Esubalew will walk into his native village for the first time in nearly fifteen years. Karla Reerslev, an Oregon woman with two Ethiopian adoptees who lived in foster care with Esubalew, also runs a nonprofit that connects children there with American sponsors. She used her connections overseas to track down his mother and arrange a reunion. Esubalew's initial excitement has become nervousness as he wonders how his mother will react. Does she feel guilt at letting the men take him away all those years ago? Will his return be cause for celebration?

He no longer speaks more than a few words of Amharic. But he hopes to convey that he understands her decision and that his life has turned out well—far better than he could imagine his lot in the village of Inesa. "In a way, my mom's dream came true," Esubalew says. "So I think I won in the end."

 

Tactile Access to the iPhone Is Here

From the Editor: For several months now we have been hearing rumors that the Apple iPhone is actually accessible or soon will be. Tony Olivero is an access technology specialist in the Jernigan Institute International Braille and Technology Center. Here is his report of learning to use an iPhone:

Apple computer is generally regarded as a company on the cutting edge of consumer computing technology. Many of Apple’s products have brought advanced ideas into the mainstream and popularized sleek form and easy-to-use interfaces. The iPhone was certainly no exception. This device was the most powerful handheld computing, telephony, and information-access device on the market at the time of its initial launch. Unfortunately, as happens with many new pieces of consumer technology, for two years blind users were denied access to this cutting-edge product.

This lack of access changed in June 2009 when Apple released the iPhone 3GS, the latest version of the phone’s hardware platform with the ability to use third-generation mobile phone networks to provide high-speed data connectivity to the device. The iPhone 3GS is also the first touch-screen device to provide out-of-the-box, built-in screen access. Incorporating a version of Voiceover (Apple’s screen-access product included in the Macintosh Operating System since version 10.4 Tiger) the iPhone provides blind users access to built-in software applications, including email, text messaging, the Safari Web browser, and the telephone itself. While this article will primarily focus on the speech output provided by VoiceOver, accessibility features called “Zooms” and “White on Black” may be useful to low-vision users.

The iPhone

The iPhone 3GS comes in either a black or white case with a silver Apple logo emblazoned on the back and offers either 16 or 32 gigabytes of storage. The phone is a candy-bar-style device, which means it is flat and does not fold like a flip phone. The back of the device is convex, allowing the phone to rest comfortably in the user’s hand. Users interact with the iPhone almost entirely by using a touch screen. The phone has only four buttons.

Most of the front surface is the screen, where information is displayed to sighted users and they control the phone. At the top of the front panel is the speaker hole, where sound is heard when the phone is held to the ear. At the bottom is a round button, the home key. When pressed, this key returns the user to the home screen, from which applications are chosen.

Along the left edge is an up-and-down rocker switch used to control volume for system sounds, speech output, and callers. Just above the volume control is a two-way toggle switch used to select silent mode or sound. When the toggle is nearer the front panel, the silent mode is disabled. Options for silent mode can be customized by using the Sounds tab of the Settings application.

The headphone jack is located at the top edge of the phone (it accepts a standard 3.5mm plug for stereo headphones with or without a built-in microphone). The Screen Lock/Power button is also located on the top edge, at the right side. Pressing this button once turns the screen off, placing the phone in locked mode, or wakes it up, presenting the user an unlocked screen. Double-tapping the Unlock button provides access to the phone. To power the phone off, hold down the Power button for ten seconds and, when prompted, double-tap the Power button. The bottom edge of the phone contains no controls, but it does house the speaker and dock connector, where the charging/data transfer cable is inserted.

In addition to the phone, users receive a CD containing iTunes software; a USB cable that connects to the dock connector; a pair of stereo ear buds with a microphone, volume control, and Answer/Hang-up button built into the right-hand ear bud cord; an AC adapter that accepts the USB cable and allows charging from a standard outlet; and printed documentation.

Setting up and Synchronizing the Phone

In order to set up the iPhone for the first time, users must connect it to a computer running iTunes. When iTunes detects the phone, it will prompt the user to verify that he or she is the account holder and finalize the configuration of the phone. Once the phone has been authorized, the user can move onto configuring options and establishing synchronization parameters.

When iTunes recognizes that an Apple device has been connected to the computer, a devices node appears in the sources tree. Under this node will be another node for each connected device. To configure the option for the iPhone, use the F6 key to move to the Sources Tree, locate your iPhone with the Up and Down Arrows, and press the F6 key (usually twice) until you move into the iPhone pane.

The content pane for the iPhone contains tabs allowing you to customize which, if any, content from iTunes will automatically be synchronized when the iPhone is connected. You can instruct the computer to copy certain playlists, podcasts, videos, and other media items; backup installed applications; and synchronize mail, contacts, and calendar appointments from your mail program, among other options. One of the most important options on the General tab to blind users is the Universal Access button. Activating this button allows the user to turn on one of the iPhone’s accessibility features, which include VoiceOver (providing speech output), Zooms (providing magnification), and White on Black (providing reverse contrast video).

iTunes is also supposed to detect whether screen-access software is running and enable VoiceOver by default. Owing to a SIM card failure requiring a trip to an AT&T store, I was unable to test this feature because I had the AT&T representative enable VoiceOver for me (on the plus side, however, he did know exactly what VoiceOver was).

Users can also enable or disable accessibility options by going to the Settings icon on the home screen, choosing General, and then selecting the Accessibility button. Finally, the iPhone OS version 3.1, released on September 9, 2009, allows the user to specify an accessibility feature to be enabled and disabled by triple-tapping the Home button. One item of note: since they use identical gestures, Voiceover and Zooms cannot be active at the same time.

Gesture Control

Ninety-nine percent of user interaction with the iPhone is done on the touch screen. Sighted users tap icons representing everything from applications to letters on the keyboard and numbers on the telephone dial pad. This phone has absolutely no physical keyboard. Apple has created a set of gestures that, when used on the touch screen, assuming accessibility features have been enabled, allow a blind user to interact with the iPhone.

The most basic gesture is touching the screen. When a user taps anywhere on the display, the object under the finger will be identified. For example, touching the lower left corner of the home screen tells the user he or she is on the Phone application. The instruction follows to “double-tap to open.”

For the blind user the double-tap is the equivalent of the sighted user’s tap on the screen. This gesture activates the icon under the user’s finger. The double-tap can be used to open an application, open an email or text message, or enter text through the on-screen keyboard.

Users are not limited to tapping the screen to find icons. If one is not familiar with an application, a finger can be slid around the screen as well. Objects under the finger will be identified. In addition to the double-tap, the user can keep one finger on an icon while tapping the screen with a second finger. This performs a simulated double-tap and can be faster in some cases than performing the actual double-tap maneuver.

The flick is another technique for moving around applications. This gesture is performed by swiping a finger from left to right, right to left, up, or down on the screen. Performing a left-to-right or right-to-left flick moves the user between interface elements: icons, text areas, elements of a Web page, items in a list box, or any other screen component. The flick can be a useful way to explore a new application or move through a list quickly. It is possible to tap when one means to flick, thus losing the original cursor focus, but this is less of a problem with practice. The up and down flick gestures are used to move through elements by a specified increment set by the Rotor Control. For instance, if the Rotor is set to “character,” flicking down speaks the next character in the current element. This gesture can also be used to move the insertion point when editing text.

The Rotor control is Apple’s solution for giving the user a way of selecting a method for moving through the currently active control or interface area and is designed to emulate an analog dial on a radio. By placing two fingers on the screen and rotating one clockwise or counterclockwise, different options can be selected. The most basic of these are “character” and “word.” In an application supporting HTML navigation, such as the Safari Web browser or an email message written in HTML, the available options on the Rotor control increase to support navigating by headings; links; unvisited links; images; visited links; and, in the most recent iPhone software, static text. Copy and paste functionality is also available on the Rotor dial.

Other gestures are also available. Placing two fingers on the screen and swiping downward instructs VoiceOver to begin reading from the current position and stop when it reaches the bottom of the text or screen. Tapping two fingers on the screen silences speech. Placing three fingers on the screen and sliding them left or right moves one between tabs in multitabbed areas such as the home screen. To move to the next page, slide your fingers to the left (like turning pages in a book). Placing three fingers on the screen and sliding up or down scrolls through content that spans more than one vertical screen-full. Users should be aware that you slide your fingers down to move toward the top of the content and slide up to move toward the bottom. This may be confusing at first since the typical scroll bar on a computer is dragged down to reach the bottom and pushed up to find the top of the document.

The pinch gesture is accomplished by placing two fingers on the display and moving them closer together or further apart. Blind users use it to increase or compress the amount of selected text when performing a cut or copy function.

The final two gestures are used to control the VoiceOver speech and Screen Curtain functions. A three-fingered double-tap silences or enables speech output. A three-fingered triple-tap enables or disables the Screen Curtain function. As the name suggests, Screen Curtain blanks out the screen so nothing is visible to passersby.

Text Entry

Many people find text entry the most frustrating part of the iPhone experience. Sighted users are quite likely to share this opinion. When a user double taps to activate a text-entry field, the iPhone converts the bottom half of the screen to an onscreen keyboard. Users then select keys by using the tap, double-tap, or slide and tap methods. Some users have reported success using two thumbs to type, one thumb finding the letter on its half of the keyboard while the other is available for tapping duty once the letter is found. I have been most successful holding the phone in my left hand while my right index finger skims over the keyboard to the desired letter and my middle finger performs the tap to enter it.

Many applications allow the user to turn the phone sideways, activating landscape mode. This provides a wider keyboard horizontally with bigger keys, but it is compressed vertically.

With a combination of time, muscle memory, and practice, typing speed increases. It is also possible to adjust the keyboard echo verbosity to echo entered letters, words, or neither. I have found that turning off letter echo (letters are spoken when a finger is above them, but only a click is heard when they are entered) and allowing words to be echoed provides a nice balance between speed and editing as I type. The built-in predictive-text features of the iPhone also provide for corrections if you press the wrong letter. For example, typing “thr” and pressing space will generally result in the word being corrected to “the.”

One thing to remember, and something that confused me at first, is the direction of entered and deleted text when editing. Using the Rotor control, you can elect to move by character or word to edit your text. The up and down flicks then move you through the text by the selected element. Remember that, unless you are at the end of the text, the Delete key will delete in the direction you last flicked. So, if you are expecting to delete the character before the one just spoken and you have been moving forward, you must flick upward to orient the cursor to move back. Otherwise, pressing Delete deletes the most recently spoken character. One other cautionary note--occasionally edit fields on Web pages and in certain applications do not speak correctly when echoing characters or editing, but the text has been successfully entered.

The Home Screen

This screen is the launch pad for all iPhone applications. When the round Home button is pressed, the user is taken to the first screen of applications. Up to nine pages can be used to display icons for installed programs. Each page consists of a four-by-four grid of icons and a single row of 4 icons at the bottom of the screen. The single row, which by default contains the Phone, Mail, Safari, and iPod apps, is present regardless of which page is currently being displayed. The three-fingered left and right scrolling gestures can be used to move between pages.

Web Browsing

The Safari Web browser provides access to Web pages and some streaming media content. By default the Safari icon is the third from the left in the static bar at the bottom of any home screen. Web browsing using VoiceOver has generally been a pleasant experience. The Web browser provides an address bar at the top for directly accessing a URL, a text box to enter a search that will automatically display the results in Google, and bookmark features to allow rapid access to frequently used Websites.

When you are in the browser, several mechanisms exist to locate information and read content. By using the left and right flick gestures, it is possible to move through page elements sequentially. All elements will be spoken as you encounter them. The options available with the Rotor control increase to include frequently used HTML elements including headings, links, form controls, images, and text. By selecting one of these options and employing the up or down flick, you can move to the specified element as you would use a quick navigation key on a computer.

Unfortunately, there is not much auditory indication that a selected element is not available on a page when one is using the Rotor control. If “heading navigation” is selected and there are no headings, you may hear a thunk when you try to use the up or down flick. Some users may prefer a message such as “no headings” to indicate that their input has been received.

Email

It is possible to set up the iPhone to check a personal or work email account. The Post Office Protocol (POP3), IMAP, and Microsoft Exchange protocols are supported. Email accounts can either be set up and transferred through iTunes or be configured in the Settings application under Mail, Contacts, and Calendars. Default server profiles exist for several common email providers, or the user can manually enter the information for a provider not listed. There are some problems with the email account set-up in the 3.1 version of the iPhone OS. Username fields are not correctly labeled when you are setting up an IMAP account, and it has been reported that no fields are labeled when your are configuring a Microsoft Exchange account.

Once a mail account has been configured, it can be accessed through the Mail application. This is typically found on the home screen as the second-from-the-left icon on the bottom row of applications. In addition to the title “Mail,” the icon displays and speaks the number of unread messages.

When opened, the email application places the user in the most recently accessed folder. It is possible to use the left and right flick gestures to move through the list of messages or slide a finger up and down to scroll with the scroll gestures. When a message is double-tapped, it is displayed on its own page. Icons are present at the bottom of the screen to refresh, move, delete, reply to the message, and compose a new message. If you wish to forward a message, activate the reply icon, and you will find options for Reply, Reply All, and Forward.

In an email message the Rotor control can be used to move through elements, including HTML, if the message is written in that format.

If you delete a message while it is displayed, the next message in your inbox will be displayed. Occasionally VoiceOver is not properly refreshed with the new content if you use the flick left and right gestures. You have to tap your finger at the beginning of the new message’s body and proceed from there.

From the inbox view it is possible to delete multiple messages. Activate the Edit button and double-tap any messages you would like to delete. The messages are selected, and the Delete button at the bottom of the screen updates to reflect the number of messages to be deleted.

IPod

One of the iPhone’s key selling points is its multimedia features. The iPod application is where many of the media tasks are accomplished. As with many other iPhone applications, a set of icons at the bottom of the screen provides a quick way to access common functions. By default these icons are Playlists, Artists, Songs, Videos, and More. Tapping one of the first four buttons will bring up the media matching that parameter. Tapping the More icon will present a list of additional media categories including Albums, Audio Books, Compilations, Composers, Genres, and Podcasts. All of the categories make use of the metadata provided by multimedia files to sort and display content. The media content and the associated metadata are transferred to the iPhone when it is connected to a computer running iTunes as described earlier in this article.

When a media track begins playing, you can press the Home button and return to the Home screen to perform other tasks. When VoiceOver is speaking, the media file’s sound will duck under the VoiceOver sound so you can hear the speech clearly. If you receive a phone call while the iPod application is playing a file, the file will pause until the call is complete. At any time you can double-tap with two fingers to pause or resume playback.

Phone

While the iPhone offers many advanced and powerful features of a handheld computer, it is also a telephone, and I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss that function. The Phone app can be accessed from the static bar of apps at the bottom of any home screen. Alternatively, the Home button can be pressed twice quickly, which will also launch the application. There are five components to the phone: Favorites (the iPhone equivalent of speed dial, where you can designate up to fifty numbers for quick access), Recents (displaying recent calls), Contacts, Keypad (allowing manual entry of a phone number), and Voicemail. The Recents and Voicemail icons include a number of unseen events if they are present, and that number will be announced following the name of the icon.

Favorites, Recents, and Contacts are all list views and can be navigated accordingly. The contacts screen also provides a search bar at the top to locate a contact quickly. Once a contact is selected, double-tapping any programmed number dials it. Double-tapping a number in Favorites or Recents automatically dials that number as well.

The Keypad allows one to dial a number that is not stored in memory. In addition to the standard telephone numeric keypad, buttons for Call and Delete are present below the zero and pound keys. The Delete key deletes the number to the left of the insertion point.

While you are on a call, icons on the screen allow you to perform actions including muting the call, placing the caller on hold, conferencing in another caller, and bringing up the keypad to interact with touch-tone-controlled systems. If the phone is pulled away from the user’s ear, the speaker phone automatically activates. It does not seem to be possible to use the on-screen icons while the speaker phone is off. Using the headphone that is included provided the best experience for me when dealing with an automated customer service or voicemail system because the VoiceOver speech is loud enough to be heard, and this is not always the case when using the speaker phone.

The iPhone has a unique way of accessing Voicemail. The voicemail system is called Visual Voicemail. When you activate the voicemail section of the Phone app, you see a list of all voicemail messages. The list indicates whether the message is unheard, the caller’s identity, and the time the message was left. Double-tapping the message causes it to be played through the phone’s earpiece. If you wish to play the message through the speaker phone, first activate the Speaker button located before the message list. A delete button is located near the bottom to the right of the application. This deletes the currently selected voicemail message.

When an incoming call is received, the caller ID is spoken. Depending on the volume of the selected ringtone, you may wish to silence the ring by pressing the Power button once and tap or flick to repeat the caller ID. Double-tapping the answer button connects the call. You can also use a two-finger double-tap to answer and end calls.

Third-Party Applications

The iPhone offers developers a chance to create applications that take advantage of the power and high-speed data connection offered on the iPhone platform. Applications can be downloaded to the phone through iTunes or directly by using the App Store application on the phone itself. As with desktop applications, the method of development determines how accessible the application is to users of VoiceOver. Apple provides guidelines and tools to allow developers to build their applications so that they are accessible, but the developer must make use of these tools.

Commonly, inaccessible applications simply present unlabeled icons as “button.” In some cases it is possible to figure out the use of these buttons, but in others the lack of identification renders the application completely inaccessible. Depending on the application, the unlabeled buttons may be graphics that are not meant for interaction. For example, the Twittelator Pro application (a client for the popular Twitter social network) has unlabeled buttons placed between user posts, timestamps, and usernames, but these buttons do not appear to perform functions that are unavailable elsewhere.

In some applications users are flicking through a list when the cursor gets stuck and repeats the same item over and over. This can be remedied by tapping a finger on the next list item, but it is annoying when it occurs. This behavior is seen commonly in the Newsfeed section of the Facebook app.

Many applications, however, are completely accessible and present no challenges to the blind user. For example, the Around Me app, which uses your GPS position to locate nearby places of interest, presented no barriers to access. You can select from categories, including gas stations, hotels, restaurants, or all nearby places, and receive a list of matches. For historical monuments and landmarks, a brief description from the Internet is also included. Other accessible applications include the Sirius/XM Player, and the Pandora radio application.

Conclusions

This article has by no means been a look at all the applications and features of the iPhone 3GS, but I hope it has provided an idea of the user experience a blind VoiceOver user encounters. While a few challenges and barriers still exist in some applications, Apple has managed to provide nonvisual access to a mainstream device at no extra cost to the blind user. If you are considering purchasing an iPhone, I encourage you to visit an Apple or AT&T store and spend a few minutes with your hands on the phone. You will be able to get a feel for the navigation and user experience. Many resources, including the very active viphone user group, a mailing list for blind iPhone users, which can be found at <groups.google.com>, are available for users to ask questions and learn more about the product as well. Apple’s efforts in this area are quite positive, and we look forward to other manufacturers following in their footsteps to provide access solutions as part of mainstream products.

 

Zachary Shore: Profile of a Scholar

by Daniel B. Frye

Any young academic who has lived and traveled in some thirty countries, earned a doctorate in history from Oxford University, and written three influential books before forty is clearly a rising star in his field. Zach Shore, one of the early beneficiaries of the NFB’s expanded scholarship program, has done all this and more. He is an associate professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School and a senior fellow at the Institute of European Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. Clearly he is a very smart, self-aware, and thoughtful young man. We believe that Federationists old enough to remember Zach as a scholarship winner as well as those who have never met him would enjoy getting to know him.

Zach Shore attended his first NFB convention as a national scholarship winner in 1987. Since his first exposure to the philosophy and work of the Federation that year in Phoenix, Arizona, he has been intermittently involved in the NFB for the last twenty-two years. He readily acknowledges that his introduction to the Federation has shaped his identity as a blind person. "I attended some local chapter meetings. I read some of Dr. Jernigan's essays, especially `A Definition of Blindness.' Then I began the process of truly thinking of myself as a blind person."

During the interview for this story Zach recalled, with a tinge of regret in his voice, “At the 1987 convention I came off as flippant and immature, and I made a rather poor impression on Dr. Jernigan by telling the convention at the board of directors meeting that I wanted to be the first blind manager of a major league baseball team…. The convention seemed enthusiastic, but some on the scholarship committee were underwhelmed. I didn't understand, because I was too young, that the NFB is made up of blind people who give all they have to help blind students have chances that they themselves never had. I see now why Dr. Jernigan and others expected me to take things more seriously than I did.”

Despite what appeared to Zach to be an inauspicious introduction to the NFB and his negative assessment of his 1987 scholarship performance, he went on to recall, "But some Federation leaders like Fred Schroeder and Joanne Wilson thought I had something more to offer." Based on facts and not impressions, apparently even Dr. Jernigan saw potential in this young man. During the convention Zach asked Dr. Jernigan if he could sit in on a closed-door meeting that Dr. Jernigan had called for Fred Schroeder, Zach's scholarship mentor that day, and others directing or planning progressive training centers for the blind. He agreed to let Zach observe this private, high-level conversation.

"I was riveted. Dr. Jernigan told us about a time at the Iowa Commission for the Blind, on the coldest, snowiest winter day, when he took his students into the woods and taught them how to chop wood. His message about blind people being able to do all kinds of things really struck me, and it made me think that I should work to attend the LCB [Louisiana Center for the Blind]. It took me almost a year to persuade Pennsylvania that they should send me out of state for rehabilitation training, but I was the first agency consumer to win this concession. Such was the power that Dr. Jernigan had as a speaker and storyteller."

Before discussing his LCB experience, Zach talked a bit about his early years. "I was educated in public schools, which was critical for cultivating socialization skills and making sighted friends, but my instruction in the alternative techniques of blindness was severely lacking. A vision teacher devoted about half a day once a month to teaching me some blindness skills. I was discouraged from learning Braille; I was encouraged to use large print. It was an untenable solution, causing a tiring strain on my eyes. I always had to work harder and longer hours to keep up with homework and school-related stuff. As a consequence I did not always do well, especially in those areas that were highly blackboard-based."

With uveitis, a condition that creates chronic inflammation inside the eye, resulting in gradual vision loss during the teenage years, and his poor introduction to blindness skills, Zach recognized that training under sleepshades at the LCB would be critical to his future. "I'm extremely grateful to the NFB for many things--the NFB blindness training, particularly, changed my life in a tremendously positive way." Zach recalled his first unsuccessful attempt to graduate from the travel component of the LCB. "I had to do my drop route. The goal was to find my way back to the center without asking anyone, using environmental clues. I had been at LCB for six months, but I got frustrated, flummoxed, and utterly lost. Some cops found me wandering down a highway heading out of town. My second attempt was just as hard, but this time I did not let frustration get the better of me. Using what my travel instructors had taught me, I stopped, listened, and puzzled out where I was. This time I found my way back with relative ease. This, and many other experiences at the LCB, taught me that it is okay to fail as long as you try again. It was a very useful lesson. I've come to believe that despite blindness I can always find a way to get done whatever I need to do in life."

Zach attributes his general strong sense of self-esteem to the positive guidance that his parents offered, but he says that the NFB was crucial for putting the icing on the cake in providing the framework for understanding and managing his blindness. An example of his emerging self-confidence can be seen in a story he tells about his first adventure with international travel. "Paul Laurenson was one of my teachers at the LCB. One day he told me that he was going on vacation to Mexico. I asked whom he was going with, and he said that he was going alone. I was shocked. I realized that, if he could do this, maybe I could too. A few years later I found a $500 ticket to Australia and planned to backpack up the east coast for a month. I knew nobody, and I had no agenda. When the day came to leave, I was petrified. At the Seattle airport I knew I had to back out. My friend Jim had driven me to the airport, and, while waiting in line, I told him I couldn't go through with this. I had never traveled abroad alone before and had no one to help me. Without missing a beat, Jim calmly replied, `Okay, Zach, I'll give you a million dollars in cash right now if you agree never to leave the country for the rest of your life.' It was exactly what I needed to hear. I stared straight ahead and told him to clear out of my way. With my sleeping bag, backpack, and cane in hand, I got on that plane and never looked back." Today Zach has visited at least thirty countries and has lived in different parts of Europe for more than six years.

Equipped with solid blindness skills and a positive philosophy, Zach has had a meteoric rise in his professional life. He earned his bachelor's degree in history from the University of Pennsylvania and a master's in history from the University of Virginia. Between his undergraduate and graduate studies, Zach moved to Seattle on whim and intuition for a gap year. "On my first day in Seattle I walked into the Seattle Times and asked for a job writing for their paper. The human resources person asked me if I had any experience, and I told them that I'd written a few articles for my college paper at the University of Pennsylvania. Amused, they suggested I consider customer service. This was definitely a job that I could not have done without having learned Braille at the LCB. Unfortunately, I got so good at calming down irate callers—the ones who had not received their papers on time--that my supervisors often transferred the angriest ones to me." Zach worked at the paper for a year before returning to Philadelphia, where he served as a research assistant for a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Zach earned his doctorate in modern European history from St. Antony's College, Oxford. His academic honors include winning Harvard's Derek Bok Teaching Award; Oxford's St. Antony's Book Prize; a Dupont Fellowship; an Idea Prize from Germany's Kœrber Foundation; and research grants from the Fulbright Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, Earhart Foundation, Daimler-Chrysler Foundation, and the Royal Historical Society of Great Britain. He has appeared multiple times on National Public Radio, CSPAN’s Book TV, Martha Stewart Radio, and other media outlets. Zach's articles and editorials on foreign policy have appeared in the International Herald Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun, and Newsday, among other publications. His most recent book was profiled in both Newsweek and O, the Oprah magazine.

By the age of thirty-nine Zach had already authored three major books. In 2003 he published What Hitler Knew, an offshoot of his Oxford dissertation. According to Zach, this book examines the question of why Hitler made the mistakes he did. Three years later he published Breeding Bin Ladens, a book that asks why Americans and Europeans have been pursuing policies that alienate the very people they most want to attract, moderate religious Muslims.

Zach’s most recent book, Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions, is a series of individual case studies in which he examines the anatomy of the decisions various leaders have made throughout history. He identifies seven “cognition traps,” as defined ways of thinking or errors in judgment, that people have regularly made throughout time. Zach says, “The problem is not that we’re ignorant; it is that we’re too rigid in our thinking. Each chapter identifies a different rigid mindset.” Blunder has been written in compelling language that appeals to academics and laymen alike. Because of its popularity Blunder has recently been released on Audible.com, and Zach reads the introduction to the book. It is forthcoming in Chinese, Korean, Romanian, and Turkish, and this month the paperback edition was released. Those interested in learning more about Blunder or any other of his scholarly works may visit his Website at <http://www.zacharyshore.com>.

In view of the diverse subjects of Zach’s scholarly work, people might reasonably ask just what kind of historian he is. “I am a historian of judgment,” Zach explains. “I want to understand how historical contexts shape the choices we make, and I’m obsessed with the general question of why people shoot themselves in the foot.”

When I asked Zach to reflect on his contributions to society, he said that he is doing his best to give back to the community by being a scholar devoted to helping military leaders and others think more deeply about the choices they make and the causes of war. He suspects that his lack of conventional involvement in the Federation may have attracted criticism from some. He says, however, “It’s narrow thinking to suggest that not attending a monthly chapter meeting means that a person isn’t invested in the broader objectives of the organized blind movement. I think one can help improve societal perceptions of the blind in many ways. Active participation in the Federation is a great way, but it’s not the only way.”

Federationists can be proud of what Zach has achieved for himself and our community, animated by the NFB’s philosophy of blindness and life. In conclusion, Zach offers Kenneth Jernigan’s definition of courage and a quotation about fear from Ralph Waldo Emerson as effective kernels of wisdom for living. Zach recalled that Kenneth Jernigan often said that courage is fear faced with resolution, and he recalled Emerson’s statement, “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.” Clearly Zach has lived his life motivated by these principles.

 

The Secret to Winning a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship


by Anil Lewis

From the Editor: Anil Lewis is president of the NFB of Georgia and a member of the NFB board of directors. He also chairs the National Federation of the Blind scholarship committee. Now that the application for the 2010 scholarship program is on our Website (www.nfb.org), it’s time for his annual article about the process. This is what he says:

Each July at our national convention the National Federation of the Blind gives a broad array of scholarships to recognize achievement by blind scholars. We offer thirty scholarships ranging in value from $3,000 to our $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship. The NFB Scholarship Program is our investment in the future of blind people who demonstrate scholastic aptitude, leadership, and service. As the chairperson of the NFB scholarship committee, I work to encourage every blind college student to apply. I am often asked what the secret is to winning an NFB scholarship. I am going to tell you the secret.

First of all, applicants must meet the eligibility requirements to receive a scholarship. All applicants for these scholarships must be legally blind; must reside in one of our fifty states, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico; must be pursuing or planning to pursue a full-time, postsecondary course of study in a degree program at an accredited United States institution in the fall of the 2010-2011 academic year, except that one scholarship may be given to a person employed full-time while attending school part-time; and, if chosen, must participate in the entire NFB national convention and in all scheduled scholarship program activities.

Many think the key to becoming a winner is a high grade-point average. Others believe it is based on participation in extracurricular activities. Still others think it is one’s level of commitment to the NFB. While grade-point average is important because it demonstrates the ability to learn and be successful academically, it is not the only attribute that influences the scholarship committee. Participation in extracurricular activities is important in portraying oneself as a well-rounded person; it is not sufficient in itself to justify a scholarship award. Committed members of the organization recognize the attributes that are important to committee members when determining who wins a scholarship. The scholarship program is a tremendous tool for us to develop future leaders of the National Federation of the Blind, but scholarship awards are not restricted to members of the organization.

The National Federation of the Blind is an organization dedicated to creating opportunity for all blind people. To that end recipients of NFB scholarships need not be members of the National Federation of the Blind. Many of our past winners were not even aware of the NFB before they applied for our scholarships. When you check the records for past winners, you will see that students of all ages and in widely differing fields have won over the years. The class of 2009 included students entering their freshman year on up to older students who were nearly ready to write their PhD dissertations. The winners of 2009 are currently working toward credentials for employment as diverse as social worker, elementary school teacher or guidance counselor, lawyer or judge, speech pathologist, author, history professor, foreign service officer, electrical engineer, supervisor of civil rights mediators, rehabilitation counselor of the blind, occupational therapist, physical therapist, researcher in computational chemistry, economic journalist, Spanish interpreter-translator, and biomedical researcher.

There is truly only one way to win an NFB scholarship, and that is to apply. Each November the new, updated scholarship application forms are posted on the Web at <www.nfb.org/scholarships> along with important information about the contest, links to information on past winners, and a page of frequently asked questions. The online application form for 2010 will be available from now until the contest deadline on March 31, 2010. The process can be initiated with an online application, which we prefer, or students can download a print application from the site. Any students who do not have access to the Website may contact the scholarship office to request a print copy of the form and other necessary materials.

A complete application consists of the official application form and a student essay, plus these support documents: student transcripts, two letters of recommendation and proof of legal blindness. The student must also complete an interview with his or her NFB affiliate president (or designee) of either the applicant’s state of residence or the state where he or she will be attending school. High school seniors must also include a copy of the results of their ACT, SAT, or other college entrance exams. Unfortunately, many applications are incomplete, so the committee is unable to consider them fairly.  

Applicants should be sure to provide all the requested information, along with support documentation. Applicants should carefully consider who can do the best job of writing their letters of reference. Letters should support the application by being full of facts and observations that will help the members of the committee see the applicant as a smart, active student and citizen. Students can write their essays using word-processing software. They should remember to use the spell checker (or a human proofreader) before printing or copying and pasting it into the online application form. In an effective essay the applicant will talk about his or her life in a way that gives the committee insight into him or her. The essay should cover the ways in which one lives successfully as a blind person and describe one’s personal goals for the future. Committee members give the essay a great deal of attention.

The NFB scholarship committee is comprised of dedicated, successful blind college graduates, who will review all applications and select the top thirty applicants as the scholarship class of 2010. Note that students submit just one application to the program; the scholarship committee will choose the thirty winners from all applications received. These thirty scholarship winners will be notified of their selection by telephone no later than June 1. Finally, during the annual convention the scholarship committee will decide which award will be presented to each winner.

Attending the entire NFB national convention is one of the requirements to become an NFB scholarship winner. Of course attending the convention is also a significant part of the prize. This is the largest gathering of blind people to occur anywhere in the nation each year, with 2,500 or more people registered. If chosen as a scholarship recipient, each winner will have the opportunity to network with other blind students, to exchange information and ideas, and to meet and talk with hundreds of blind people who are successfully functioning in many, many occupations and professions. Our past winners often comment that the money was quickly spent, but the contacts they made and the information they gathered at convention have continued to make their lives richer than they ever imagined.

Often students apply more than once before winning a scholarship, so applicants are encouraged to reapply. The NFB may award three or even more scholarships to men and women who have already received one Federation scholarship in the past if enough strong and worthy candidates apply. Individuals receiving a second NFB national scholarship are recognized as tenBroek Fellows. The secret, if there is one, to winning an NFB scholarship is to read carefully the application on our Website and then provide all of the required information and supporting documentation before the deadline of March 31, 2010. However, I maintain that there is actually no secret. The only way to win an NFB scholarship is to apply.

 

What Goes Around Comes Around


by Tara Carty

From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the Summer 2009 edition of The Soundingboard, the publication of the NFB of New Jersey. Tara Carty will introduce herself. Her message is important and powerful. This is what she says:

Now I know you are asking yourself, “Why did she give the article that title?” If you went to the convention this year, for the moment it will be our little joke. For those who did not attend, let’s just say that you are out of the loop for now, but you will understand by the end of the article.

The national convention of the NFB was held in Detroit, Michigan. So now you're asking, “Who is this person anyway, and why is she telling me about the convention?” My name is Tara Carty, and I am a new member of the At Large chapter of the NFB of New Jersey. I was honored to be selected as one of the thirty scholarship winners this year, and on top of that it was my first convention. I am a rookie in every aspect of the term, and I had no idea what to expect. As a scholarship winner I was required to attend the convention. I applied for the scholarship in March and knew that, if I was chosen from hundreds of applicants, I would be going to Detroit.

I have two goals for this article. The first is to convince those of you who have never been to the convention to go to Texas next year. As they say, everything in Texas is big, so let’s make it the biggest convention ever, ok? The second goal is much more personal. I want to convey to all of you the amazing spirit of the convention that I felt in Detroit. I met many wonderful people there, people who have touched my life and reignited my energy and motivation. I was astonished to meet so many who were just like me. I am not simply talking about the blindness either. Of course that is always present, but these were motivated, spirited individuals who shared my philosophy and demonstrated the same joy and enthusiasm for life that I possess.

Why were we there? In my case there were several reasons. The scholarship was number one, and curiosity was the second. I wanted to know what the NFB was all about and go behind the scenes of this important organization. What is all this talk about silent cars, and why is everyone making such a big deal about this Kindle gadget? These were just some of the thoughts that crossed my mind before I got on the plane.

You'll have to forgive me for skipping around a little, but I have to go back to the title of the article. “What goes around comes around” is an old saying in the English vernacular. People often say it when someone does something wrong. It can also be positive. If you do good, good will find you. I am a firm believer in this, but the reason it applies so fittingly to the convention is that the hotel in Detroit was designed in circles. There were circles all over the place. Picture a triangle with two circles on the bottom and one on top to form the triangle. There was another circle in the middle of the three circles with appropriate bridges to get to all these different circles. Oh, and don’t forget that each circle had different levels! Is your head spinning yet? It really was not as bad as it reads--you were fine once you figured out that if you missed something the first time, you would eventually go around the circle and find it.

The circle analogy is very appropriate for me. I am recently blinded, and I felt that going to the convention by myself was representative of my personal journey coming full circle. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of circles to explore, but as far as my training and accepting my blindness are concerned, I think Detroit was my finish line. For many of you going on a plane and navigating a gigantic hotel might not be a challenge, but for one who had never traveled on a plane or been so independent, this was a life-altering experience. I travel around here in New Jersey and live by myself in the dorm at school, but I see Detroit as a major stepping stone. World, look out because here I come!

I encourage you to use the NFB as your stepping stone. Use it as your support system of family, friends, and colleagues; and also use it as a platform to enrich the lives of other blind people. This is the reason we were there. This is why I was roaming around in circles with my 2,999 closest new friends in Detroit. It is because we care about the future and those who will follow us. I met an amazing nine-year-old boy named Bill at the convention. He was the smartest little boy I’ve ever met, and he helped me fix my computer. There is no doubt in my mind he is headed for great things. The instant I met him, I knew this is why the NFB does what it does. We do it for Bill; we do it for all the children who are told they do not need to learn Braille and those children who are told they can’t because they are blind. We do it to show others that we can and that we will not accept the word “can’t.”

I have tried to convey to you what it was like to be at the convention as a rookie, but being at the convention as a scholarship winner is another aspect entirely. It was truly an honor to be in the scholarship class of 2009 or, as we call ourselves, “’09, so fine.” The scholarship committee mentored us, and we gained a wealth of knowledge from it. Our states cheered for us when we were announced, and the support and pride that we felt surrounded us. We received our scholarships on stage and had the privilege of shaking hands with Dr. Maurer and Mr. Kurzweil. We are a part of the scholarship alumni program and will always be a part of it. If you are a college student or are going to be one, send in that application. Just do it.

So now you know why the article is called what it is called: “What Goes Around Comes Around.” Everyone I talked to before the convention told me I would enjoy it. They said it would be a life-changing experience. I did not know what they were talking about until I actually experienced it for myself. Please come and experience it for yourself. I knew only a handful of people from New Jersey chapters before the convention, and now I have met people from all over the country and even from other countries. The political, social, and networking opportunities are vast and priceless. Again I encourage you to attend the convention next year. I’ll be there. Come full circle with us and experience the electricity of the NFB.

 

The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards


by Gary Wunder

From the Editor: Gary Wunder is secretary of the National Federation of the Blind. He chairs the Bolotin Awards committee. Here is his announcement about the 2010 Bolotin Awards program:

The National Federation of the Blind is once again pleased to announce our acceptance of nominations for the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. The cash awards have been issued at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind for two years running, and the winners and their acceptance are described in the August-September issue of the Monitor each year. The Bolotin Award is a way to recognize individuals and organizations working in the blindness field that have made outstanding contributions toward achieving the full integration of blind people into society on a basis of equality. Named for a pioneering blind physician who practiced in the early twentieth century, these awards are made possible through the generosity of his late nephew and niece. Their bequest, the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust, will allow the National Federation of the Blind to provide direct financial support to people and organizations that are improving the lives of the blind throughout the United States.

Dr. Jacob Bolotin was a blind physician who lived and practiced in Chicago in the early part of the twentieth century. As chronicled in his biography, The Blind Doctor by Rosalind Perlman, Bolotin fought ignorance and prejudice to gain entrance to medical school and the medical profession. He became one of the most respected physicians in Chicago during his career, which spanned the period from 1912 until his death in 1924. He was particularly known for his expertise in diseases of the heart and lungs. Bolotin used his many public speaking engagements to advocate for the employment of the blind and their full integration into society. Interested in young people in general and blind youth in particular, Dr. Bolotin established the first Boy Scout troop consisting entirely of blind boys and served as its leader.

Jacob Bolotin’s wife Helen had a sister whose husband died suddenly, leaving her to raise a son, Alfred Perlman. The Perlmans moved in with the Bolotins when Alfred was eleven, and for four years (until Jacob Bolotin's untimely death at the age of thirty-six), "Uncle Jake" became Alfred's surrogate father. Alfred later married Rosalind, and the couple worked on a book about Dr. Bolotin's life. After Alfred's death in 2001, Rosalind dedicated the rest of her life to completing and publishing the book. In her will she left a bequest (the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust) to the Santa Barbara Foundation and the National Federation of the Blind to publish Dr. Bolotin's biography and establish the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award program. Blue Point Books <www.BluePointBooks.com> published The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story in 2007.

Award Description

The National Federation of the Blind will again distribute cash awards totaling $50,000 in 2010. The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award committee will establish the number of awards and the amount of each, based on its determination of the relative merits of the pool of applicants. The committee will determine the total amount to be distributed each year based on the trust income received. Each year one or more awards will be presented to individuals and one or more to corporations, organizations, or other entities. Both blind and sighted people may apply. The committee may also accept nominations made by third parties.

Who Should Apply?

Individuals: Only individuals over eighteen years of age may apply for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award. Applicants must demonstrate that they have shown substantial initiative and leadership in improving the lives of the blind. Examples of such initiative include but are not limited to developing products or techniques that increase the independence of the blind, directing quality programs or agencies for the blind, or mentoring other blind people. All individual applicants must be able to demonstrate that they have worked on their projects related to the advancement of the blind within the twelve months prior to submitting their applications. Applications by individuals must include at least one letter of recommendation from a person familiar with or directly affected by the work done by that individual to improve the lives of blind people.

Organizations: Organizations may apply for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award in order to help them further programs, services, technology, or techniques that have assisted and will continue to assist the blind. Organizations applying for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award must be able to demonstrate that their programs or services include substantial participation by blind people as developers, mentors, administrators, or executives, and not merely as clients, consumers, or beneficiaries. For example, an organization operating a program for blind youth might demonstrate that a substantial number of the counselors, teachers, or mentors involved in the program are blind. The organization must be able to demonstrate that it has substantially aided blind people within the twelve months prior to application and that a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award would allow it to build on previous successes. The application must also include a testimonial from at least one blind person who has benefited from the programs or services.

To qualify for an award, both individuals and organizations must be domiciled in the United States of America, and their work must primarily benefit the blind of the United States.

Procedures

Application materials are available on the Website of the National Federation of the Blind. Online submission of nominations, letters of support, and other relevant materials is strongly encouraged, though paper applications will be accepted. The URL is <www.nfb.org>. Applications for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award for any given year must be received no later than March 31 by the award committee chairperson. Candidate recipients will be notified no later than May 15 that the committee intends to present them a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award. All decisions of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award committee are final. The awards will be presented in July during the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Individuals selected to receive an award must appear in person, not send a representative. Organizations may send an individual representative, preferably their chief executive officer. Recipient candidates must confirm in writing that they will appear in person to accept the award at the National Federation of the Blind annual convention. Failure to make such written confirmation by June 1 will result in forfeiture of the award.

Ineligible Persons

Those employed full-time by the National Federation of the Blind may not apply for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award for work performed within the scope of their employment. Students may not apply for both a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award and a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship in the same year.

 

Promoting the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar: Time Is Running Short


From the Associate Editor: Your opportunity to promote and sell the one-of-a-kind Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar is running short. The U.S. Mint will destroy all unsold coins by the end of the year. The last practical opportunity to buy these historic coins from the U.S. Mint is Friday, December 11, 2009, because of the time required for shipping and handling.

As autumn melts into Thanksgiving and Christmas, let's make one final push to sell the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar so that we can fund our national Braille Readers are Leaders (BRL) Campaign and improve the quality of life for blind people in America and around the world. For further information or to purchase the coin, visit <http://www.usmint.gov> or call (800) 872-6468. Information about the BRL Campaign can also be found at <http://www.braille.org>.

We reprint below two documents from this Website that emphasize the importance of Braille. The first document provides the perspectives of blind people about the value of Braille to them. The second challenges commonly held myths about Braille. Together these resources will help you promote Braille in your local community. While educating your neighbors about Braille, remember to sell and market the unique Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar. Act soon or you will miss your opportunity to own this coin. Act soon to help the National Federation of the Blind advance Braille literacy.

What Does Braille Mean to Blind People?

Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind and lifelong Braille reader: “Encouraging blind children to begin learning and reading Braille as early as possible is one of the best things parents and teachers can do to ensure the child’s future success. When I was a child, my parents strongly reinforced the value of reading Braille, and I am certain that without their belief in the power of Braille--and my subsequent knowledge of it--I would not be where I am today.”

Dr. Abraham Nemeth, inventor of the Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Scientific Notation: “The importance of Braille literacy cannot be overstated. My knowledge of Braille has led me to places I never dreamed possible and allowed me to create opportunities for the blind mathematicians of the future. I believe that Braille readers can accomplish anything they choose.”

Dr. Geerat Vermeij, professor of geology at the University of California at Davis: “I can emphatically say that Braille literacy is critical and that the lack of Braille instruction in classrooms today is outrageous. Without the use of Braille, I simply would not be able to do my job—I use it every day while collecting and analyzing data, maintaining an enormous Braille library of scientific material, and writing manuscripts.”

Dr. Fredric Schroeder, research professor at San Diego State University: “I use Braille every day in my work. In the seminars I teach I often have to lecture from notes, and Braille allows me to do this just as any other instructor would. Braille has given me the ability to achieve at the same level as any other person who has proper training and opportunity.”

Mark Riccobono, executive director of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute: “For the first twenty years of my life, reading and writing seemed more like chores than productive elements of daily living. I never had access to instruction in Braille, and no one articulated the power of the knowledge that Braille could provide. When another blind person finally laid out why Braille was important and offered to teach me, whole new worlds of opportunity opened to me. Braille is to me both a symbol and tool for the unlimited aspirations I have for my life.”

Marché Daughtry, elementary school student and Braille reader: “I love Braille. If I had to use large print, I think I’d be behind everyone else. Braille is so much easier.”

"The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” —Dr. Seuss

Learning to read is for every child an exciting time. The excitement is no less for those who are blind. Teaching Braille to children and newly blinded adults will open the door to literacy and unlimited opportunities. Although there is a positive correlation between employment of the blind and Braille literacy (approximately 85 percent of blind people who know Braille are gainfully employed), only 10 percent of blind children in the nation are learning to read and write Braille. Society would never accept a 10 percent literacy rate among sighted children; it should likewise not be acceptable for the blind.

But why then do we not teach Braille to our blind children? Let’s look at some of the myths about Braille that stand in our way.

Myth: Braille is hard to learn. For a child, learning to read is learning to read, whether it is done in print or in Braille. With proper instruction in Braille, blind children master reading and writing in the same amount of time that sighted children master print. As for adults, learning to read and write Braille can be done in six months or less with proper instruction.

Myth: Braille is slow and inefficient. When effective Braille instruction is provided, Braille can be read at hundreds of words a minute and can be used fluently in all aspects of daily life.

Myth: All blind people have the opportunity to learn Braille. Blind people with some degree of usable vision (the majority of people experiencing significant vision loss are not totally blind) are more often encouraged to read print (because it is normal) and are thus discouraged from learning Braille. The misconception that print is normal and Braille is inferior means that thousands of blind people are taught to believe that it is better to read print at all costs and that Braille is a last resort. The truth is that Braille is a tool for independence, and it offers equality and flexibility. Furthermore many blind people who have some vision master both print and Braille and use them interchangeably, depending on which is more efficient, e.g., giving a speech using Braille notes). The more tools in the toolbox, the better.

Myth: Braille is on the way out with the coming of the digital age and the greater availability of audio material. Let’s face it: listening does not equal literacy. Literacy is the ability to read and write and to do the two interactively. Children who learn exclusively by listening do not learn about proper spelling, punctuation, and syntax. As for technology, the irony is that technological advances have made Braille easier to produce and consequently more widely available today than at any other time in the history of the code--not to mention that quietly holding a book in your hands and reading for the pleasure of reading is a gift. Independent reading is true independence of the mind. Braille is the only thing equivalent to print for the blind.

When it comes to Braille, it is best to get the facts from the people who know. The National Federation of the Blind, the nation’s largest membership organization of blind people, has long been the leading champion of Braille literacy and the advocate for innovative programs to empower the blind. The president of the United States and the U.S. Congress have recognized the critical role the NFB plays in creating new opportunities for the blind by passing Public Law 109-247: The Louis Braille Bicentennial--Braille Literacy Commemorative Coin Act. The Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar and the literacy campaign help fund an unparalleled opportunity to make literacy a reality for every blind person. Join us as a champion for Braille literacy and shatter the myths that limit the dreams of the blind.

 

The Ugly Laws: A Review


by Ed Morman

From the Associate Editor: Ed Morman is director of the Jacobus tenBroek Library of the NFB Jernigan Institute. He joined the staff in April 2008, having already enjoyed a career in the history of medicine. The tenBroek Library collects as much nonmedical material on blindness as it can in order to become the nation's premier research facility in the field. Last April Susan Schweik, a professor of English and disability studies at the University of California at Berkeley, participated in the second annual Jacobus tenBroek Law Symposium, where she presented a copy of her recent book, The Ugly Laws, to the NFB. Ed Morman agreed to review it. Here is what he says:

Susan M. Schweik. The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public. New York and London: NYU Press, 2009.

Disability activists use the term “ugly laws” to describe certain century-old ordinances enacted in a few American cities. None of these laws includes the word “ugly” in its title or anywhere in its text. Moreover, by the time the term “ugly law” was invented, many of the ugly laws had been repealed, and those still on the books were seldom enforced.

In her introductory chapters Susan Schweik explains that the phrase was invented in the 1970s and that its use was encouraged by the same activists who were then beginning to talk about a disability rights movement. To her credit Schweik acknowledges the debt the new disability activists owe Jacobus tenBroek, making it clear that the blind professor’s legal scholarship was crucial to the inception of the disability rights movement. More than that, though, tenBroek had worked hard to create the organizational embodiment of his revolutionary ideas, the National Federation of the Blind, which represented a model to other communities of disabled people.

Most of the ugly laws included the following wording: “Any person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object … shall not … expose himself or herself to public view.” Schweik explains that the inventors of the term ‘ugly law’ understood ‘ugly’ to mean unsightly or disgusting.” Then they realized that the laws themselves were ugly—that the ugly laws perfectly expressed the ugly idea that tenBroek had so brilliantly opposed in his legal writings. The ugly laws express precisely what tenBroek hated when he set out to demonstrate that the disabled have the "right to live in the world.”

In her research Schweik uncovered the fact that, when the ugly laws were enforced, they were directed almost entirely against people we would now refer to as street people, regardless of whether they had a disability that others might regard as unsightly or disgusting. The laws were also enforced against beggars who falsely claimed to be disabled. In those days, as still happens today, some people used a real or phony handicap to gain sympathy from others.

Thanks to the Federation’s early leadership, the organized blind in the United States no longer have any desire for sympathy. In its place are the demands for independence, security, and opportunity. We seek security for the blind by building independence and by fighting for opportunity. However, where opportunity is lacking (as the high unemployment rate of the blind exemplifies) and where independence is hard to come by (when the blind are kept from receiving proper training), we still fight for security. The Federation’s ongoing struggles for more rational laws and regulations on disability benefits exemplify this truth.

In the days before the Social Security Act guaranteed at least a bare minimum of economic security for the disabled, private charity was often motivated by pleas for sympathy. We therefore should not judge the disabled of past generations by the standards the NFB and other disability rights activists have set for the twenty-first century. We must ask, though, whether things are really so different today. The nineteenth century French author Anatole France once sardonically wrote, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges.” We know that disability can lead to poverty, and it is often the disabled who find themselves sleeping under bridges, even in 2009--or perhaps especially in 2009, given the current state of the economy.

A story related by author and activist Barbara Ehrenreich illustrates this. In an essay, “Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?” that appeared in the New York Times last summer, Ehrenreich presents the example of a sixty-two-year-old disabled Vietnam veteran who had been spending nights in a homeless shelter. One evening police raided the place looking for men with outstanding warrants. Some months earlier this man had been given a ticket for sleeping on the street, and he had subsequently failed to appear in court to face charges. Because of the raid he found himself spending that night in jail instead of in the shelter. And because of his time in jail he lost his place in the shelter and was back on the streets again.

To be sure, the writing in this book occasionally falls into the jargon that is too common among academics, but at bottom it is based on principles articulated by Jacobus tenBroek more than fifty years ago. In fact Schweik quotes tenBroek’s seminal law review article “The Right to Live in the World” at length three times in this book.

Schweik evidently sees the ugly laws as putting into relief the relationship between disability and poverty. She explicitly links the disabled with the poor by describing both groups as the objects of prejudice, devalued by society, and therefore regarded as better not seen in public places.

Schweik believes that all groups that must fight for their rights have much in common. As longtime NFB supporter attorney Dan Goldstein put it at the 2008 Dallas convention, “There are critical differences between different minorities, but a bad decision hurts all minorities. Bad decisions for any group hurt others who are also subject to discrimination. What we have in common is that the majority regards us all as outside the norm.”

Federationists showed that they well understood Susan Schweik’s point when they spontaneously began singing the civil rights hymn, “We Shall Overcome,” at the end of Dan’s speech.

 

Understanding Medical Insurance

by Cheryl Echevarria

From the Editor: Cheryl Echevarria is treasurer of the Greater Long Island chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of New York. She is also a member of the Diabetes Action Network and a medical insurance specialist. This is what she says about paying for diabetic supplies and other durable medical equipment:

As a member of the Diabetic Action Network, I know people have a lot of questions about how to get the Prodigy Voice Meter and the test strips that go with it. Understanding how medical insurance works may give you some ideas about how to get other equipment like walkers, canes, and wheelchairs.

Medical insurance can be very confusing. I went to school to become a medical insurance specialist, and insurance still drives me crazy, not only because there are so many types of insurance and insurance companies, but because all of us have different contracts with our companies. Whether it is Medicare, an employer’s insurance, or private insurance, there is one rule of thumb for durable medical supplies: they are not covered by your general medical policy, but are addressed under a rider or addition to your insurance policy. The insurance terminology for such items is “durable medical equipment” (DME). So, when you are talking about coverage for medical equipment or reading your insurance policy, DME is the term you should be looking for.

Here is an example: Karen wants to get the Prodigy Voice Meter and test strips. She has Medicare. What should she do? If she has Medicare and no other insurance, that is where she must turn. She should go to a medical supply service rather than her pharmacy. Ads for these services are broadcast all the time on TV. Medicare patients can go to any supplier throughout the United States as long as the service takes Medicare; it doesn’t have to be the one in your town or state. If Karen starts the process in January, she must begin by paying her annual deductible, the money paid by the patient before Medicare begins paying for the equipment—remember this is for supplies, not doctors’ visits. After the patient pays the deductible, Medicare pays 80 percent of the retail cost of all recognized supplies. Often medical supply services will provide the equipment at the price Medicare pays. If not, the recipient is responsible for paying the remaining 20 percent. Any medical products that you do not take by mouth or inject (like insulin) in other words, any diabetic supplies (test strips, syringes, lancets, pens, etc.) are covered under durable medical supplies.

If you have insurance through an employer or private insurer, e.g., Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Aetna, United Health Care, etc., you will find that they all have different rules. Determine who your supplier is, either by calling the insurance company or by looking in your insurance handbook. If that supplier doesn’t carry the equipment you need, ask if they can get it for you. Four out of five times they can.

Those who want the Prodigy Voice Glucometer and have only Medicare coverage, for example, should do the following:

A. Go to your doctor and explain what equipment you need to manage your diabetes as a blind person. Most doctors are not familiar with what is available for their blind patients. Medicare will pay for your equipment, even if your doctor does not understand this. Remember that you are the patient and the expert on blindness, and Medicare pays the doctor for taking care of you, so you are on firm ground when you courteously but clearly insist on your rights.

B. You must obtain certification of blindness. This can be a letter from your doctor. In New York we actually have certification of blindness from the state, so that or a similar certification can also be used.

C. If you are dealing with an equipment vendor through a salesperson or even a representative at our national convention, he or she can take care of the paperwork and contacting Medicare. In the case of other insurance carriers, if the medical supplies provider used by your insurance company doesn’t carry what you need, you can tell the carrier what is required and provide the name of the company that makes the product so that your insurer can obtain the necessary equipment. (In the case of the Prodigy Voice this is DDI.) You can also contact DDI directly or let me or a Diabetes Action Network leader know, and we will get in touch with DDI. They can quickly put someone in touch with the supplier. 

If you continue to have trouble getting what you want and need, the insurance company you are dealing with must send you a written document saying that either they can’t or won’t provide the equipment you need. With this denial letter in hand, you can fight the decision. The company must provide what you and your doctor agree is needed, or it will have a fight on its hands.

I hope this information helps a little. If you need additional help or understanding, contact me, Cheryl Echevarria, certified medical insurance specialist, at <cherylandmaxx@hotmail.com> or by phone at (631) 236-5138 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

 

Big Brother

by Barbara Loos

From the Editor: Barbara Loos is a longtime leader in the National Federation of the Blind. For two years she worked as an AmeriCorps member in Nebraska. Here is another of her quarterly reports to AmeriCorps about what she did:

I first read George Orwell’s book 1984 when that year was far enough in the future that much of its message seemed not only fantastic but also distant. Now that both my reading of the book and the year of its title are decades in the past, the lasting impression I retain is its protagonist, the fictitious but believable Big Brother. He was the personification of a dictator who exerted total control over people using telescreens for surveillance. The reminder in the book, “Big Brother is watching you,” still gives me the creeps. So it was disconcerting to get a call from what appeared to be one of his people, even though I was totally innocent and this particular encounter ended well for all concerned. Here’s how it happened.

Since September of 2006 I have been serving as an AmeriCorps member, primarily teaching and testing adaptive computer-related equipment and software for the blind, and mentoring blind youth. During an informal mentoring session toward the end of my first AmeriCorps term, a mentee mentioned some speech output software called System Access to Go that was being beta tested. I contacted Serotek, the provider, and got a trial version for the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska (NFBN), my AmeriCorps host site, which worked well on NFBN’s new laptop. The company wanted any and all who would to test the software on their personal computers. When I tried to access it on mine, I couldn’t get past the initial prompts. The computer said the program wouldn’t work unless Internet Explorer was running. Since I couldn’t have reached it at all without being online, that was a mystery to me. When talking to others, I found that some were having the same problem. Thus began my correspondence with Serotek.

In September of 2007, shortly after my second AmeriCorps term began, I finally reached someone in the company who understood that I was not expecting support for a beta system as an individual but was corresponding as an instructor wanting to encourage others to participate.

At that point I was asked to try running the software with my anti-virus turned off and call back with the results. There was no change in the message I got. After reporting this, I received a call requesting my computer’s make, operating system, Internet access tools, etc., all of which I provided. The caller said he would try to reproduce those specifications and call me back if he needed further information.

That call came the following day, September 14, 2007. When he asked me to put a program on my computer so he could operate it remotely, I felt uneasy. If things went badly for me, I would have to admit that I had, in fact, installed the program myself. But I wanted the problem solved, so I complied. Then, without so much as a “By your leave,” he turned off JAWS (Job Access With Speech), the software that allows my computer to read out loud what is on the screen. That was when I first suspected that he might be Big Brother. But he sounded like such a kid. Kid Brother, perhaps?

From time to time he would comment on a specific file or program. Mostly it was quiet, except for the squeak of his chair and a whirring sound through the phone.

He said I’d hear the System Access prompt. I did.

“Don’t do anything,” he ordered.

“Ok,” I said obediently, wondering why I wasn’t asking more questions, feeling as if I shouldn’t. More clicking, whirring, bonging, JAWS beginning its start-up, being instantly silenced, bells ringing….

“I’m disconnected,” Kid Brother finally announced. “I’ll contact you again when I have a solution for you to test.”

“Just a second,” I thought, rousing myself from thoughts of both Big and Kid Brother. “Are you just going to do whatever this guy says, no questions asked?”

“I’m curious to know what you did,” I said aloud, guessing at once that this might not be the best approach. Controllers don’t generally much like curiosity.

While his response was abrupt, it was somewhat informative as well. He said he had taken a couple snapshots of my Internet Explorer window for technical details of what that is like in my configuration. He also took a listing of executables and .dlls running and information about my system setup. He hadn’t explained it step by step because he wasn’t sure how much of it I would understand. That sounded a bit condescending, but it was most likely true. As I’ve often said myself, “I’m a teacher, not a techie.”

Whatever the case, it felt like the surveillance was complete and he had the goods on me. Grateful that he hadn’t just remotely taken my computer hostage without my knowledge, I initiated wrap-up conversation, and we went on our way.

Not long afterward, I received a message on my voicemail from Mike Calvo, the head of the company, letting me know that they had created a patch and that I should try the software again and call him with results. It did work for me and for others too. He was glad for my persistence, saying that the beauty of the Internet is that, when a solution is found for one, it is available to all, just like that.

His enthusiasm was contagious. And in that instant I forgave Kid Brother his seeming arrogance and reveled in the sheer pleasure of having played a small part in making headway in speech output software. When I in Nebraska connected with Brian at a switchboard in Minnesota, a network that ultimately included Mike Calvo in Florida, Matt Campbell (Kid Brother to me) in Kansas, and others who had experienced both the glitch and the fix briefly came into being. Together we helped to bring equal access to information one step closer for blind people nationwide. Outcomes like this are what make my AmeriCorps job so much fun.

 

Vision Goes Deeper than Sight


by Patrick Henry

From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the June 23, 2009, edition of the St. Cloud Times. As NFB of Minnesota President Jennifer Dunham commented when she sent it to us, “This is the sort of profile that we can use more of. It is written by a man who takes blindness in stride but is capable of appreciating a person for his commitment to his community.” Andy Virden is a longtime leader of the NFB of Minnesota. He has been president of the Central Minnesota Chapter for many years. Here is the story:

I’m sometimes asked how I come up with my columns. There’s no formula. I’ve got my theme, lifted from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute, where I used to work—“the renewal of human community”—and the Times’s directive: tie to something in the news and give a local slant. Lots of wiggle room. About a week after one is published, I go on next-column alert. This one operates on two levels—what it’s about and how it came to be—and before we’re done, it may not be entirely clear which level is which.

The first Thursday of June I was driving along Second Avenue in Waite Park and saw Andy Virden waiting to cross the street. If you’re lucky, like me, and know Andy, you understand that simply seeing him was sufficient to get a column idea started. But where it would go, I wasn’t sure. Then, within twenty-four hours, signals started coming from all directions. A magazine article reported a plan, long in the making and soon to be realized, for a Statue of Responsibility that will be positioned on the West Coast, to complement the Statue of Liberty.

Another article summarized the tilt of economic research toward recognition that we are not by nature selfish, me-first creatures—that in fact evolution has frequently selected for altruism, caring for one another. Then I read Times Writers Group columnist Barbara Banaian’s encomium to James Rugg as an example of citizenship and patriotism for his insistence that we are losing our liberties, government is a menace, and taxes are evil. Here was my project: To redress a balance by holding up Virden as a very different standard of citizenship and patriotism.

I doubt there is a single point of public policy on which Rugg and I agree, but the differences aren’t simply political. They go deeper, to judgments about human nature, the range of individual responsibility, the purpose of human community. Virden is one of my heroes. He could serve as a model for that Statue of Responsibility. He has spent his whole life demonstrating what the economists are only now waking up to.

Andy frequently tells you what he sees. He doesn’t see the way most of us do. He has been totally blind almost all his eighty-one years. But I, with eyes in pretty good shape, am frequently instructed by Andy about what’s really going on. For thirty-eight years Andy took the pulse of the area from the concession stand he operated at the St. Cloud Post Office. The range of his acquaintance is staggering. Last year I drove a truck in the Waite Park parade with Andy as a passenger. Nearly everybody called out his name, with evident affection. From the sound of the voice he knew who it was.

Andy is an advocate for the blind—for their liberty (don’t offer to do something for him that he can do for himself)—but even more, he is a champion of people caring for others, not just through charity, but also through government policy and investment (the government, after all, is “us,” not “them”). During his years of faithful participation in St. Joseph’s Church in Waite Park (he’s a mainstay of the choir), Andy has been shaped by Catholic social teaching on the way liberty, responsibility, and community are woven together for the common good.

I thought the column was done, but then, by chance/fate/providence, the next DVD in our Netflix queue arrived: Blindsight. (Put it on your “must see” list.) Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind person to scale Mount Everest, leads six blind Tibetan teens up a 23,000-foot peak near Everest. What he and they learn about success and teamwork, about liberty and responsibility, about altruism and empathy, is of a piece with what I’ve learned from Andy about citizenship and patriotism. It’s not the blind leading the blind; it’s the blind leading the sighted.

I’m sure Andy crossed Second Avenue just fine. For the sake of this column, I’m glad he was standing there.

 

Recipes


This month's recipes come from members of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington.

Kristina's Basil Pesto
by Kristina Colcock

Kristina Colcock is first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington and president of the affiliate's Seattle Chapter. She manages her own retail gift business, and she is a dedicated mother of two children, Kaitlynn and Riley. This is her version of basil pesto, but she advises that the measurements are rough estimates. Experiment to create a version that pleases you.

Ingredients:
Fresh basil to taste
Fresh cilantro to taste
4 cloves garlic
1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup (possibly a little more) white wine
1/4 cup (possibly a little more) olive oil
Pine nuts to taste
Parmesan cheese to taste

Method: All ingredients will ultimately be combined in a blender or food processor. Start by putting approximately a quarter cup each of olive oil and basil leaves into the blender or food processor. Blend until the leaves are mushy. Add about a half bunch of cilantro leaves and discarding the stems. Process mixture until liquefied. Next add a quarter cup of white wine and three or four cloves of peeled garlic. Thoroughly process this mixture. Add a half stick of butter chopped into pieces. Process again.

At this point taste the mixture. You may wish to add more basil. Then add pine nuts to taste. If you like pine nuts, add approximately a quarter cup to the mixture; if you do not like the taste of pine nuts, add less. Finally, begin adding and processing parmesan cheese until the pesto reaches as creamy a consistency as you prefer. Pour the pesto into a large bowl or covered container, sprinkling additional freshly grated parmesan on top before serving. Dress your pasta, burgers, or other sandwiches with the pesto and enjoy. Store covered in the refrigerator.

Fettuccine Alfredo
by Ivan Weich

Ivan Weich is the president of the Kitsap County Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington and the Public Employees Division of the National Federation of the Blind. He works for the Social Security Administration.

Ingredients:
1/2 box fettuccine noodles
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Method: Cook the fettuccine noodles according to package directions. Drain and place them in a hot saucepan over low heat. Melt the butter in the pan with noodles. Add half the cheese, half the cream, the white pepper and nutmeg, the remainder of the cheese, and the last of the heavy cream, tossing after each addition. Serve immediately.

Rice Pilaf
by Ivan Weich

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup long grain rice
5 strands pasta (either angel hair or spaghetti), crumbled
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup pine nuts

Method: Melt butter in a skillet and add rice and pasta, stirring until they brown. Add chicken broth. Stir and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and cover the skillet with a tight lid; simmer for twenty minutes. Add almonds and pine nuts. Cover again and cook for five more minutes. Serve immediately.

Chili
by Ivan Weich

Ingredients:
1 pound lean ground beef
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 can kidney beans
1 can diced tomatoes
1 small can tomato sauce
1 small can kernel corn, drained
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Method: In a dutch oven brown ground beef and drain. Add the onion and sauté. When the onion is translucent, add chili powder and stir. Add beans, tomatoes, sauce, and corn and stir. Add the flour to thicken the chili. Continue stirring until the sauce is thickened. Cover and let the chili simmer for an hour. Serve with biscuits or tortillas.

Biscuits with Country Sausage Gravy
by Ivan Weich

Ingredients:
1 tube Hungry Jack biscuits
1/2 package Jimmy Dean regular, flavored sausage
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup nonfat milk
1 cup heavy cream
Black pepper to taste

Method: Bake biscuits according to package directions and keep warm. Over medium heat place sausage in a large saucepan and crumble with a wooden spoon. Add water to render sausage juices and prevent browning. Season with black pepper. When the sausage is thoroughly cooked, add flour to make a roux. Add half the cream and milk, and season with additional pepper. Stir until mixture is thickened, then simmer covered over low heat. Stir mixture frequently. Add the remaining milk and cream or more flour as needed to create gravy of desired thickness. Do not, however, allow the gravy to become the consistency of paste. Drizzle the gravy over biscuits. This makes an excellent accompaniment to eggs. The gravy is also tasty over buttermilk pancakes.

Creamy Mushroom Garlic Chicken
by Bob Sellers

Bob Sellers is a member of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington, a past president of the Clark County chapter (Vancouver), and formerly a leader in our Oklahoma affiliate. Being primarily responsible for the rearing of his two daughters, Bob has obviously developed a flair for cooking.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (approximately one pound)
1 can condensed mushroom with roasted garlic soup
1/2 cup milk

Method: Heat oil in a ten-inch skillet on medium high. Add chicken and cook for ten minutes or until well browned on both sides. Stir milk and soup into the skillet drippings, stirring until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat; cover and cook for five more minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Bob suggests that this chicken be served over mashed potatoes or rice. For variety he recommends substituting different-flavored soups.

 

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

Attention Braille, Large Print, and Cassette Monitor Readers:
In January 2010 we intend to clean up the Monitor database. If you wish to continue to receive the Braille Monitor in large print or Braille or on cassette, you must notify Marsha Dyer by email (mdyer@nfb.org), phone (410-659-9314, ext. 2204), or mail (200 East Wells Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230). Be sure to tell her which format you wish to receive.

Remember that you can receive each issue by email at the beginning of the month by signing up at <www.nfb.org> (select Publications and then Braille Monitor). There you will see instructions for receiving the email edition. From that page you can also download individual articles or the entire Monitor in text or MP3 format.

Writers Division 2010 Youth and Adult Writing Contest:
This year’s youth and adult writing contests sponsored by the NFB Writers Division runs from January 1 to April 1, 2010. Adult poetry and fiction contests are open to all entrants eighteen years and over. Youth poetry and fiction entries will be divided into three categories: first through sixth grades, seventh and eighth grades, and ninth through twelfth grades. Prizes for contest winners range up to $100 for adult categories and up to $25 for youth categories.

All contest winners will be announced at the Writers Division business meeting during the NFB national convention in Dallas, Texas, the first week of July, 2010. In addition the winners’ names will appear on the Writers Division Website, <www.nfb-writers-division.org>, shortly after convention adjournment. The names of the first-, second-, and third-place winners in each category will appear in the summer and fall issues of the Writers Division magazine, Slate and Style. For additional contest details and submission guidelines, go to the Writers Division Website.

Marching Orders for Making Washington Seminar Hotel Reservations:
The following information comes from Diane McGeorge, who organizes much of the logistics of Washington Seminar, beginning Friday, January 29, 2010, and ending Thursday, February 4.

Please make your hotel reservations as soon as possible. We must have all reservations no later than December 30, 2009. Here is the information you must include to make your hotel reservations:

1. Your dates of arrival and departure.
2. First and last names of roommates sharing with you. Please spell first and last names of each person in the room, and please include arrival and departure dates for each person.
3. Specify smoking or nonsmoking room and the number of beds you want--two beds, one queen bed, or one king bed.
4. Indicate any special accommodations such as an accessible room.
5. If you request a rollaway bed, there will be a $10 charge per night.
6. According to the hotel contract, individual cancellations must be made seventy-two hours before the date of arrival to avoid one night’s room plus tax cancellation charge. You must get in touch with Lisa Bonderson or me to make changes to your reservation as soon as possible to avoid such a charge.
7. If any divisions wish to have space for meetings, e.g., students, parents, merchants, lawyers, etc., I must have your requirements for meeting space no later than December 1, 2009. We want to accommodate everyone, and, in order to do so, we must have plenty of advance notice to work with the hotel.

The rates are $154 for single, double, triple, or quad rooms, and the tax is 14.5 percent a night. The address of the Holiday Inn Capitol is 550 C Street, SW. Please do not contact the hotel to make your reservations. I will submit all reservations for the Washington Seminar. Call (303) 778-1130, ext. 219, to make your reservation, or email reservations to Lisa Bonderson at <lbonderson@cocenter.org>. We will confirm receipt of your reservation either by return email or by telephone, so be sure to give us your telephone number and your email address.

Dog Book Available:
Golden Moments: Reflections of a Retriever is written from the point of view of a Seeing Eye® dog. Captivating photos in the seventy-six-page, large-print edition; picture captions and print page numbers in the 156-page Braille edition. To order send $20 check for each copy, and make check payable to the Campanian Society, Inc., P.O. Box 243, Rhinecliff, NY 12574. This includes shipping/handling. Specify Braille or large print. Please allow four weeks for book to arrive. Cost varies for agencies and for those ordering multiple copies. Therefore first contact the society for specific pricing. Call (845) 876-0303, or email <www.campania@hvc.rr.com>.

Honored:
On July 16, 2009, NFB of New Jersey President and national board member Joseph Ruffalo received a certificate and the following letter from Governor John Corzine:

I would like to congratulate you for being named a 2009 honoree by the New Jersey Department of Human Services Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

I commend you for your inspiring efforts in serving as a coordinator of community programs for people who are blind and visually impaired. In addition, you have provided meaningful community service work to the community, and you are a decorated Vietnam War Veteran, awarded the Bronze Star. Your talents and devotion are an inspiration to your peers and all New Jersey residents.

Best wishes for continued success. You are an outstanding role model.

Sincerely,
Jon S. Corzine, Governor
State of New Jersey

Here is the text of the certificate:

State of New Jersey
Department of Human Services, Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Certificate of Recognition presented to
Joseph Ruffalo, Jr.
For outstanding achievement. In appreciation of your having dedicated your life’s work to improving opportunities for independence and equality for individuals who are blind and visually impaired. Signed: Jennifer Velez, Commissioner, Department of Human Services; and Vito J. DeSantis, Executive Director, Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Presented at Covering the Bases: Blind and Visually Impaired Awareness Night, Waterfront Park, Home of the Trenton Thunder Baseball Team, July 16, 2009

In Brief

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

Choice Magazine Now Free as Digital Download from NLS:
Reconnect with an old friend or meet a new one–Choice Magazine Listening is available as a free digital download from the Library of Congress’ National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Produced six times a year, each issue contains unabridged works from quality publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian, Sports Illustrated, and the New Yorker. The articles, short stories, poetry, and interviews are selected from more than one hundred magazines and other periodicals.

The selections are read by professional voice talent from the studios of the American Foundation for the Blind in New York. The recording is human voice, not synthetic text-to-speech. Choice Magazine Listening is available free of charge only to people who are blind, experience vision loss, or have other disabilities that limit or prevent reading standard print. Choice continues to be released on four-track cassette tape for those who prefer that format. The Website is <www.choicemagazinelistening.org>, or call toll-free (888) 724-6423. Information on the digital download from NLS is available at <https://nlsbard.loc.gov/cgi-bin/nlsbardprod/index.cgi>. You can also contact regional NLS cooperating libraries, usually located in U.S. state capitals.

President Obama Announces New Initiatives
During National Disability Employment Awareness Month:
On October 5, 2009, President Obama announced that his administration is taking several steps to ensure that there is fair and equal access to employment for all Americans, particularly the fifty-four million people in this country living with disabilities. The announcement comes during National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

“My administration is committed to ensuring that all Americans have the chance to fulfill their potential and contribute to our nation,” said President Obama. “Across this country millions of people with disabilities are working or want to work, and they should have access to the support and services they need to succeed. As the nation’s largest employer, the federal government and its contractors can lead the way by implementing effective employment policies and practices that increase opportunities and help workers achieve their full potential. We must also rededicate ourselves to fostering an inclusive work culture that welcomes the skills and talents of all qualified employees. That’s why I’ve asked the responsible agencies to develop new plans and policies to help increase employment across America for people with disabilities.”

The following are some of the steps the Obama administration will take:

Los Angeles Public Library Stands up for Print-Disabled Readers:

For many months now we and our allies have been fighting to get audio access to digital books of every kind. The Authors Guild, Random House, and Amazon are prominent names among our opponents in this struggle for justice and equal access. On October 5, however, we circulated a press release announcing a significant piece of good news in the eBook wars. Here it is:

Los Angeles Public Library
Suspends Purchase of Adobe Digital Editions
Reading Rights Coalition Commends Decisive Action

The Reading Rights Coalition (RRC), which consists of thirty-one organizations dedicated to equal access to the printed word by people who are blind or who have other print disabilities, announced today that the Los Angeles Public Library system has agreed to suspend purchase of inaccessible eBooks using the Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) format. The library was informed by the RRC that ADE eBooks cannot be accessed by technologies used by the blind and others with print disabilities, including devices that read text aloud or convert it into Braille.

Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The Reading Rights Coalition commends the Los Angeles Public Library for its swift and decisive action upon learning of our concerns and for its commitment to ensuring access to books by all of its patrons. Companies like Adobe have adopted digital rights management schemes which do not allow the blind and other Americans with print disabilities to access their books, even though eBooks are inherently accessible and should provide an unprecedented opportunity for print-disabled Americans to access the wealth of knowledge contained in books. We will continue to inform libraries, universities, and other entities of the inaccessibility of these materials and urge them to comply with accessibility standards and applicable laws by requiring that any eBooks they purchase be accessible to those with print disabilities. We will no longer tolerate the gratuitous inaccessibility of eBooks; we demand that Americans who cannot read print be treated like first-class citizens and be given access to all of the printed information to which other Americans have access.”

Mitch Pomerantz, president of the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and former ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance officer for the city of Los Angeles, said: "I am extremely pleased with the Los Angeles Public Library's decision, both as ACB president, and as someone who worked closely for fourteen years with library staff to ensure that its programs and services were fully accessible to persons who were blind or had other disabilities. The example set by officials of the library will certainly be taken seriously and followed by major libraries throughout the nation."

In a letter to the Reading Rights Coalition, the Los Angeles Public Library stated that the books were accessible when purchased from one of its eBook providers, OverDrive, but that Adobe had altered its software to block text-to-speech technology and then forced OverDrive to implement the new software. While the 773 ADE titles in the library’s collection will still be available to patrons, City Librarian Martín J. Gómez said that no additional ADE books will be purchased until they are fully accessible to the blind and others with print disabilities. The library also said that all of its other digital offerings are currently accessible to such readers. The library’s action comports with a resolution passed in July by the American Library Association, which strongly recommended that libraries purchasing electronic resources should take steps to ensure that such resources comply with accessibility standards. In the letter to the Reading Rights Coalition, the Los Angeles Public Library stated that it “will make every effort to apply pressure to our vendors by requiring verification of accessibility standards and making it clear that we will not purchase electronic resources that fail to meet accessibility standards.”

Medical CDs Available:
We recently received the following notice from Dr. O. Wesly:

We have made an audio CD about lung cancer that became available on the Amazon.com Website on October 1. It is called "Cancer In Plain English." It provides full and easy-to-understand information about lung cancer. In the coming months we will also have audio CDs about colon cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer, $14.95 each.

Monitor Mart

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

For Sale:
I have for sale a Power Braille 40-cell display in good condition. It comes with cable and handbook on disk. I'm asking $375.00 or best offer. I am selling it in order to buy a laptop computer, so I would trade for a laptop in good condition. Call Joe at (803) 238-7498 or email <Jdunham4@sc.rr.com>.

For Sale:
Heather Conway has the following equipment for sale: ZoomText 8.0, Max EVS Digital Magnifier, Victor Reader Wave, and Talkman 5 Panasonic tape player/recorder. If you have questions about products, prices, etc., email <hconway75@hotmail.com>.

For Sale:
Dennis Farro is selling two new, never-used Victor Reader Waves. The Wave plays DAISY-formatted books, MP3 CDs, and music CDs. They come with instruction manuals. Asking $170 each. I am also selling a Yepp Explorer MP3 player and smart card with easy-to-operate button controls. Manual included. Asking $70. Contact Dennis Farro at <dfarro@concentric.net> or at (803) 714-7890.

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.