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Braille Monitor

Vol. 52, No. 11                                                                 December 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
telephone: (410) 659-9314
email address: nfb@nfb.org
Website address: http://www.nfb.org
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should be sent to the National Office.
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Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about twenty-five dollars per year.
Members are invited, and nonmembers are requested, to cover
  the subscription cost. Donations should be made payable to
National Federation of the Blind and sent to:

National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998

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. 11                                                                 December 2009

 

Lead Photo  

Convention Bulletin 2010

Driving Independence and Innovation through Imagination
The NFB Blind Driver Challenge
by Mark A. Riccobono

The Fastest Braille in the World
Transforming Mythology into Action
by Marc Maurer

Revisiting the Mac Using OS X and VoiceOver    
by Wesley Majerus

A Meet the Blind Month Coup for the NFB of Kansas

Update on Freedom Scientific v. GW Micro Patent Lawsuit   

Christmas Recollections  
by Mary Ellen Gabias

Ask Miss Whozit   

Distinguished Educator of Blind
Children Award for 2010     
by Cathy Jackson

The 2010 Blind Educator of the Year Award
by David Ticchi

Blind Diabetics Can Draw Insulin without Difficulty 
by Ed Bryant

The Ziegler Abandons Hard-Copy and Recorded Publication  
by Daniel B. Frye

A knfbReader for Christmas?
by Michael Hingson

Featured Book in the Jacobus tenBroek Library  
by Ed Morman

Social Security, SSI, and Medicare Facts for 2010 
by Daniel B. Frye

Recipes    

Monitor Miniatures

 

Copyright 2009 by the National Federation of the Blind

 

Some weeks ago the National Federation of the Blind along with other community organizations was invited to prepare oversized Christmas tree balls with the theme of U.S. landmarks to decorate the White House Christmas tree. We were given twenty red and silver balls, each about six inches in diameter. NFB staff members gathered photographs of blind people posing in front of or engaged in activities in various famous or important locations. In addition to the three NFB adult training centers and the Jernigan Institute, the locations included Bar Harbor, Maine; the U.S. Capitol; Mardi Gras; and rock faces for climbing in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The volunteers trimmed the photos and glued them to the glass balls. Then they applied several coats of transparent sealant. In addition to two or three photos, each finished ornament included the NFB logo with Whozit.

 

Convention Bulletin 2010

It is time to begin planning for the 2010 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. This year we are returning to Dallas and the beautiful Hilton Anatole Hotel, site of the 2008 convention. Last year we made a significant change in our schedule, so please pay close attention to the dates and schedule so that you are not taken by surprise.

Once again our hotel rates are the envy of all. For the 2010 convention they are singles and doubles, $62; for triples and quads, $67. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 15 percent. No charge will be made for children under fifteen in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested. Please note that the hotel is a no-smoking facility.

For 2010 convention room reservations you should write directly to the Hilton Anatole Hotel, 2201 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, Texas 75207, or call (214) 761-7500. The hotel will want a deposit of $60 or a credit card number. If you use a credit card, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately, just as would be the case with a $60 check. If a reservation is cancelled before June 1, 2010, $30 of the $60 deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.

Guest-room amenities include cable television, coffee pot, iron and ironing board, hair dryer, and high-speed Internet access. Guests can also enjoy one outdoor and two indoor pools as well as a fully equipped health club and tennis courts.

The Hilton Anatole has several restaurants and bars, and even a disco. See later issues of the Monitor for specific details and information about other attractions in the Greater Dallas/Ft. Worth area.

The 2010 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will be a truly exciting and memorable event, with an unparalleled program and rededication to the goals and work of our movement. Make plans now to be a part of it. The schedule this year is a full day shorter than we are accustomed to. Preconvention seminars for parents of blind children and other groups and set-up of the exhibit hall will take place on Saturday, July 3, and adjournment will be Thursday, July 8, following the banquet. Convention registration and registration packet pick-up for those who registered online will begin on Sunday, July 4, and both Sunday and Monday will be filled with meetings of divisions and committees, including the Monday morning annual meeting, open to all, of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind.

General convention sessions will begin on Tuesday, July 6, and continue through the banquet on Thursday, July 8. Note that Wednesday, July 7, will include both morning and afternoon convention sessions. Friday, July 9, will be available for tours for those who enjoy getting to know something about our convention city. To assure yourself a room in the headquarters hotel at convention rates, you must make reservations early. The hotel will be ready to take your call or deal with your written request by January 1.

Remember that as usual we need door prizes from state affiliates, local chapters, and individuals. Once again prizes should be small in size but large in value. Cash, of course, is always appropriate and welcome. As a general rule we ask that prizes of all kinds have a value of at least $25 and not include alcohol. Drawings will occur steadily throughout the convention sessions, and you can anticipate a grand prize of truly impressive proportions to be drawn at the banquet. You may bring door prizes with you or send them ahead of time (identifying the item and donor and listing the value in print and Braille) to Deneice Hopper, 3726 Dutton Drive, Dallas, Texas 75211; phone (512) 323-5444.

The best collection of exhibits featuring new technology; meetings of our special interest groups, committees, and divisions; memorable tours suggested by the Texas affiliate; the most stimulating and provocative program items of any meeting of the blind in the world; the chance to renew friendships in our Federation family; and the unparalleled opportunity to be where the real action is and where decisions are being made--all of these mean you will not want to miss being a part of the 2010 national convention. We'll see you in Dallas in 2010.

 

Driving Independence and Innovation through Imagination
The NFB Blind Driver Challenge

by Mark A. Riccobono

From the Editor: Mark Riccobono is the executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute. This is what he says about our plans to stimulate development of a car that blind drivers can operate:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

These words spoken by President John F. Kennedy in the fall of 1962 served as the rallying cry for a tremendous technological effort which has forever changed America’s capacity for innovation—the race to be the first to the moon. If we were to substitute the words “drive a car” for the words “go to the moon,” we would have the imaginative challenge that Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, has established for the first decade of the NFB Jernigan Institute—the only research and training facility developed and directed by the blind. We have now operated a research and training institute for half a decade, and the importance of the Blind driver challenge is still difficult to grasp for some. This article is intended to build understanding of the tremendous opportunities held in this imaginative challenge, to review where we are today and how we will conquer the challenge in the next five years, and to rally our energy and resources around this initiative so that we continue to drive our own future.

Background

A significant piece of the American culture coming out of the twentieth century is the automobile and the organization of our systems and resources around it. The car is symbolic of freedom, power, status, and mobility. Young children cannot wait until they can drive, those with cars do not know what they would do without them, and those without cars organize their resources to get one. The allure of the car and the perceived opportunities that come with driving are so strong that, when one loses the ability to drive—from blindness or some other cause—it is frequently thought to be among the worst losses one must overcome. The driving experience is so powerful that advertisers have gone to great lengths to characterize the experience using many symbols and sensations. For example, in the early part of this decade Pontiac created a commercial to illustrate its tagline, “Fuel for the Soul." Their solution was to show a woman wearing dark sunglasses driving in the desert. When the car stops, the woman gets out and extends her long white cane. This symbolic scene was intended to demonstrate the powerful connection to driving that goes beyond seeing and to emphasize how central driving is in our society by emphasizing how much the blind desire the freedom of driving.

Yet not everyone has viewed the automobile and driving as a panacea. Thousands of people have spoken out and hundreds of organizations have been formed to keep our cities walkable and to protect systems of public transportation. As Will Rogers once summarized the spirit of these efforts, “I represent what is left of a vanishing race, and that is the pedestrian.... That I am still able to be here, I owe to a keen eye and a nimble pair of legs.” Debate continues today about the impact of the automobile on our society; the effects on the environment; and, more recently, the unintended consequences of making cars silent to pedestrians.

From the beginning, vision has been one of the primary qualifications for receiving a license to drive automobiles. However, the blind have effectively developed methods of getting where they want to go, when they want to get there, without being behind the steering wheel. For decades blind people have written about the empowering philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind, pointing out that independence and freedom of movement are not solely dependent on the ability to drive. The extensive writing of leaders of the Federation has frequently used the management of getting around without a car as an example of the way blindness can be reduced to a mere inconvenience. Many blind people have owned cars and managed their use for sighted spouses, children, and others. And many blind people have actually driven cars with sighted friends in the passenger seat. For the organized blind, driving is not essential to success. However, this does not mean that blind people are uninterested in the prospect of driving. A blind-drivable vehicle appears high on the grand wish list for many blind people.

In 1999 the National Federation of the Blind began raising money to build the NFB Jernigan Institute—at the time referred to as the NFB Research and Training Institute. In response to the question of what this institute might do that would be dramatically different from current research and training for the blind, NFB President Marc Maurer speculated that the creation of technologies to empower a blind person to drive a car would be among the Institute’s imaginative projects. Dr. Maurer’s visionary outlook on a blind-drivable vehicle has always been presented with clear purpose. It is not as much the end goal of driving that is important but rather the innovative bringing together of intellectual resources and the unique experience of the organized blind.

Consider this excerpt from Dr. Maurer’s presentation to the ground breaking for the Institute in the fall of 2001: “The facility is essential, but the brick and mortar and steel cannot by themselves do what must be done. For this we must have hands—the instruments of human endeavor that carry out the imaginative essence of our being. The hands are those of researchers who will create products to expand access for the blind to information, to the transportation system, to the business community, and to other elements within our society. The hands are those of teachers who will inaugurate training programs that broaden the horizon for the blind and for others. The hands are those of contributors who have had the faith to join with us to dream of a brighter tomorrow.”

During the Institute’s grand opening celebration on January 30, 2004, the NFB put the blind driver challenge on display for the first time with a mock-up of a blind-drivable vehicle. During that occasion Dr. Maurer said in part, “As we explore new methods of understanding, the individual experiences of blind people must be a part of the pattern. We as a society must use the talents each of us possesses. If we do, it will be good for the individuals involved, but it will also serve society as a whole. Our effort today is to expand knowledge into realms that have been previously unexplored. We will use the tools that are available--those that we have built and those that we can gather from the efforts of others. But of most importance in our quest for knowledge is the spirit that we bring to the task--a spirit that longs for independence, that seeks to be a part of the community in which we live, that yearns for our talents to be employed in building that community.” This is the spirit of the NFB blind driver challenge (NFB-BDC)

What is the NFB blind driver challenge? The NFB Jernigan Institute challenges universities, technology developers, and other interested innovators to establish NFB blind driver challenge teams, in collaboration with the NFB, to build interface technologies that will empower blind people to drive a car independently. The challenge is not the development of a car that drives a blind person around. The challenge is a car that has enough innovative technology to convey real-time information about the driving conditions to the blind so that people who possess capacity, an ability to think and react, and a spirit of adventure, in addition to having the characteristic of blindness, can interpret these data and maneuver a car safely.

The purpose of the NFB blind driver challenge is to stimulate innovative nonvisual technological innovation through the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. The goals of this initiative are:

1. To establish a path of technological advancement for nonvisual access technology and close the gap between access technology and general technology.
2. To increase awareness within the university scientific community about the real problems facing the blind by providing expertise from the perspective of the blind for a difficult engineering challenge.
3. To demonstrate that vision is not a requirement for success and that the application of innovative nonvisual solutions to difficult problems can create new opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people—blind and sighted.
4. To change the public perceptions about the blind by creating opportunities for the public to view the blind as individuals with capacity, ambition, and a drive for greater independence.

The NFB-BDC is not an attempt to duplicate existing autonomous vehicle projects. While a blind-drivable vehicle will likely take advantage of systems used in autonomous vehicles, the goal is to have powerful interface systems that allow the blind person to make driving decisions independent of computer technology in the vehicle. The importance of the NFB-BDC is the path of technological innovation created by the effort to meet the end goal of independently driving a vehicle. This is not unlike the race to the moon of the 1960s. The technologies created to get the United States to the moon have had profound impact on our society. Likewise, the innovations of the NFB-BDC will forever change the way we view technologies for the blind as well as the capacity for excellence possessed by the blind themselves.

Additionally, the NFB-BDC does not replace the unwavering support of the organized blind for systems of public transportation. The goal is not to eliminate the blind from Will Rogers’s “vanishing race” of pedestrians. The blind, like the rest of society, will continue to need a variety of options for independent movement throughout our communities. Yet even after almost seventy years of work by the National Federation of the Blind, many blind people and their sighted friends and families expect very little from blind people in the way of independent travel and mobility. Despite access to systems of public transportation in many cities, many blind people have not learned the techniques of independent travel and been empowered with the understanding that blindness need not limit their freedom of movement within the community. The NFB-BDC will be one more significant blow in shattering the low expectations for the blind and expanding the horizons of public opinion about the capacity of the blind to participate fully in society. Furthermore, the NFB-BDC may innovate technologies that improve systems of public transportation in ways we have not yet imagined. In fact, it may be that soon the blind themselves, those needlessly encouraged to sit in the bus seats reserved for the handicapped, will soon be in the very front seat driving the bus.

What is the status of the NFB-BDC? For the first five years of the NFB Jernigan Institute, the blind driver challenge has served as a call to action for engineers and other bright minds to work on innovative technologies. Additionally, the challenge has helped to create a perceptual shift among technology developers about the type of technology the blind wish to have and how they intend to participate in society. A number of discussions have been held with engineers at prestigious universities, and dozens have expressed interest in the challenge.

However, to date only one university has acted on the challenge. Undergraduate students at Virginia Tech University, under the direction of innovative professor Dr. Dennis Hong, have been actively working with the NFB on the challenge. During the summer of 2009 the Virginia Tech BDC team worked with blind students in the NFB Youth Slam on the first generation of a blind-drivable vehicle, and many of the Slam students had the opportunity to drive using the first generation of the nonvisual interface.

While our progress over the first five years on this initiative has been slow, we find great encouragement in the perceptual shift that many of our engineering partners have made. It has been said that Henry Ford’s success was not as much the creation of the assembly line as it was the creation of an atmosphere in which innovation was the real product. We have been successful in changing perceptions, raising expectations, and winning the support of many bright minds. If, in the next five years of our institute, we are to achieve a blind-drivable vehicle that can cruise on the roads of America, we need to make a dramatic commitment to that end.

The 2011 Challenge

The challenge is clear, the opportunity is endless, and the time is now. The National Federation of the Blind intends to put a vehicle on the road in 2011 to bring public attention to the future full of opportunities being built through the Federation’s work in all parts of this country. We intend to organize an effort not only to put a car on the road, but to get blind people to drive it from the NFB Jernigan Institute to the NFB’s national convention in 2011. This goal will, without doubt, serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills. But our collective energy and talent are up to the challenge, for the average experience of every blind person is one of frustration with the public misconceptions of their ability and a lack of innovative approaches to solving the real problems of blindness. And collectively the blind have hopes and dreams that we are turning into imaginative programs through our Jernigan Institute. The 2011 NFB blind driver challenge will accelerate that effort, push the horizons, and stimulate more innovation around nonvisual access than has ever been concentrated in one effort.

During the coming months more details about the 2011 NFB Blind Driver Challenge will be available, including the grassroots efforts that will be required of the blind of America in order to meet the goal and hit the road. The key to this effort is the fuel of our imagination, and collective energy as a movement, and a faith in our dreams for the future, a faith that Dr. Jacobus tenBroek described as “a faith that can move mountains and mount movements.” The movement in this case is, not just one touched by four tires, but one that will touch the hearts and minds of thousands in a way that will drive innovation and expand the horizons of our future.

 

The Fastest Braille in the World:
Transforming Mythology into Action


An Address Delivered by
Marc Maurer, President
of the National Federation of the Blind
at the University of Queensland
Brisbane, Australia
October 16, 2009

From the Editor: In mid-October President and Mrs. Maurer made a flying visit to Australia. They attended the annual convention of Blind Citizens Australia, and he addressed that consumer organization and an audience at the University of Queensland. The Maurers were warmly welcomed by the Australians. Here are the remarks that President Maurer delivered to the university audience.

Max Planck observed that the power of new ideas does not capture the imagination and sweep the old from contemplation. New ideas become a part of the thought process because the people who espouse previous theories die.

Murray Gell-Mann, the man who discovered particle physics in the 1960s, said that most new ideas are crackpot thoughts, which is why they meet with such extraordinary resistance. Ideas that have survived time often have had to undergo rigorous examination. Discarding them is not only difficult but intellectually demanding. Adopting new thoughts requires effort. Gell-Mann observed, however, that a new synthesis of ideas in physics accounted better for the observable phenomena, and he demanded that an alteration in thought be adopted. He was regarded with skepticism or worse, until the experimental data demonstrated that he knew what he was doing.

In 1940 a small group of intrepid individuals formed the National Federation of the Blind of the United States, a nationwide organization of blind people that has now grown to a membership of more than fifty thousand. The idea behind the formation of the organization was that blind people had not been afforded the opportunity to use their talents. If circumstances for the blind were to change, if blind people were to be welcomed as participants in the activities of the broader community, an alteration in the pattern of thought was necessary. Blind people had been regarded almost exclusively as objects of pity and charity. Blindness was considered a devastating handicap, which could sometimes be mitigated but never overcome. It was proclaimed that blindness was a kind of dying. The thought that blind people might be normal, might have contributions to make to society, might be seeking participation in the activities of the community on terms of equality with others was novel, untested, and often dismissed. It was a challenge to the established pattern of thought, and it demanded effort and courage.

The National Federation of the Blind in the United States espoused this fundamental belief. From it the blind of the United States derived rehabilitation programs to teach the blind the method for using the talents we have, educational programs demanding excellence from blind students, technological development of products to give equal access to information to the blind, and a civil rights movement demanding equality of opportunity for the blind and otherwise disabled. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the founder and first president of the National Federation of the Blind, declared that the Constitution and the laws of the United States apply to all citizens of our country, not just to those with the ability to see. He drafted legislation proclaiming that the blind and otherwise disabled have a right to equal access to all public places of amusement and resort. That this legislation was necessary is an indication of how much discrimination had been practiced against the blind. I myself have faced such discrimination, having been told by a restaurant operator that I was not welcome in his establishment because he was afraid of what his other customers would think, and having been informed by a hotel operator that I could not rent a room because the only ones available in his hotel were on the second floor, and he did not have an elevator for me to ride.

When the nationwide organization of blind people came into being in 1940, schools for the blind had existed in the United States for more than a hundred years, but education of blind students in the public schools along with their sighted colleagues was almost unknown. Although programs to employ blind workers in segregated facilities and specialized jobs had been established, almost no blind people were employed in the private sector, and in most instances government employment of the blind was prohibited. Training programs for the adult blind were not identified in federal law in the United States until 1943. The leaders who rose among the blind synthesized the problem as one of misclassification and discrimination, challenged the assumptions upon which the problem was based, and brought people together who intended to create change. What was new was the idea that change was possible and that the blind themselves would be the principal agents of change—would designate the parameters for comprehension of their own lives—would assume the role of interpreting their own futures and demonstrating their own talents.

Conditions for the blind today are vastly better than they were when blind people themselves decided to take a hand in determining their own future. However, some of the misclassification of human beings—especially blind human beings—that has caused discrimination and deprivation still occurs.

Today American law permits payment of wages to disabled employees less than a federally established minimum. At the same time American law prohibits the federal government from purchasing technology inaccessible to the disabled. It does not prohibit the manufacture of such technology or the sale of it to members of the public or private corporations. The law declares that programs and activities conducted by government or those pursued by nongovernmental entities employing fifteen people or more must be accessible to disabled individuals and usable by them. Products need not be accessible to the disabled, but the programs using them must be. This distinction leads to fierce argument about what is a product and what is a program.

In the early 1970s a man named Ray Kurzweil was working on pattern recognition. He thought he had found a way to recognize text and manipulate it, but he didn’t know what to do with this knowledge. On an airplane he met a blind person who said that blind people could manage most activities of daily life, but it would be helpful to have a machine that would read print. This is an ideal technology to use the pattern recognition system invented by Ray Kurzweil, and, with the help of the National Federation of the Blind, he developed the first reading machine. To manufacture a reading machine, he had to have a multifont scanning device. This technology did not then exist. When the reading machine came into being, the multifont scanner had been invented. Ray Kurzweil sold it to the Xerox Corporation, which recreated the scanner for office use throughout the world. Because the blind wanted a reading machine, the sighted got scanners.

The Kurzweil effort has born much other fruit. When he had mastered the process of transforming visual information into audio form, Ray Kurzweil wondered if the process could be reversed. He developed dictation software that captures auditory information and transforms it into text. This is good technology for the blind, but most of the people who use it are sighted. The technology has also been used in telephone systems around the world so that people can select an appropriate menu item by speaking that selection into the phone.

Computers talk, giving access to information that appears on the screen in an auditory way. A little more than a year ago, the Apple Corporation entered into an agreement with the National Federation of the Blind to provide auditory access to its iTunes application. Apple computers, iPhones, and iPods now present information that appears on their screens in an auditory form.

Several years ago the Google Corporation began digitizing the information contained in books in the most prestigious libraries. It is estimated that between eight and ten million books have been digitized to date. Providing access to these books is as important for the blind as it is for the sighted. When we urged that the libraries consider this reality, accessibility provisions were included in the agreement with Google. Google plans to make at least twenty million books available in digital form to the public. Authors will receive payment for copyrighted material, but millions of out-of-copyright books will also be digitized. The plan is to ensure that, within a brief time after the agreement becomes final, the books will be usable by print-disabled people.

In October of 2009 the knfbReading Technology Company and Baker and Taylor, the largest wholesale distributor of online and hardcover books in the United States, announced a partnership to provide millions of digitized books to the public through an e-reader developed by knfbReading Technology. This reader will provide sighted individuals with a rich reading experience. The e-reader will also provide access to this information to the print-disabled.

Amazon.com has produced a handheld reading device called the Kindle. We have encouraged Amazon to create text-to-speech programming inside this device that will permit auditory presentation of the digitized texts. We have also urged Amazon to build controls into the device that will permit it to be operated nonvisually. In the winter of 2009 the Kindle appeared with text-to-speech built into it. Those purchasing the Kindle could read books visually on the screen or listen to them using the text-to-speech program. Shortly after this device came onto the market, individuals representing authors demanded that the publishers refuse to have material on the Kindle presented auditorially. They argued that to do this was a violation of copyright. The National Federation of the Blind objected, but a number of publishers turned off the text-to-speech feature of Kindle programming in the digital material they provided to Amazon, despite our arguments.

We invited all who felt the urge to have auditory access to books to join with us in the Reading Rights Coalition. More than thirty organizations joined, representing an estimated thirty million Americans. We staged a demonstration in New York City, outside the offices of the Authors Guild. We argued that the right to read is not only visual. Access to books is access to intellectual material in whatever format best serves the needs of the person receiving it. Within a few months a meeting involving the right to read occurred at the White House. The authors were arguing that providing material in an auditory form might interfere with the rights of authors to sell recorded copies of their books. It was pointed out that 95 percent of books are never recorded. The question was raised with the authors and the publishers: why should not the 95 percent of the books that were not recorded be presented in a format that would permit the text-to-speech version to be heard?

In the meantime the Kindle is being deployed on college campuses in the United States to present course materials. Discrimination complaints have been filed against five of these, and a federal discrimination lawsuit has been brought against a sixth. The National Federation of the Blind has created an accessibility guide which has been distributed to universities throughout the United States. Universities may not discriminate against blind students. The law prohibits them from distributing material to blind students that is inaccessible. The schedule for the federal lawsuit on the subject will bring the matter to trial in early 2010. Within the next few months alternative technologies to the Kindle will almost certainly be deployed by major corporations.

I take for granted that blind people are normal human beings with the range of skill and talent that other people have except the ability to see. My experience tells me that the ability to see is important, but it is not as important as a dozen or a hundred other characteristics. I expect blind people to master complex ideas and to imagine complex thought. I expect blind people to want to explore the far horizons and to enjoy the daily aspects of living. Although I do not believe it is commonplace, I am not astonished when I encounter blind people who are planning to climb mountains, write screenplays, teach history and literature, practice law, conduct scientific experiments, manage political careers, or pursue hundreds of other endeavors. Not all of the people I meet share this point of view. Many of the people I encounter express the notion that blind people are like sighted people except they are broken. I spoke about this mistaken belief at length at the 2009 convention of the National Federation of the Blind:

Despite the obvious reality that human beings are composed of hundreds of characteristics—physical, mental, spiritual, natural, and artificial—a phenomenon often occurs in which a single characteristic personifies an individual or a group. Ronald Reagan was the great communicator. Donald Trump is the tycoon with hair. Mother Teresa was the embodiment of saintliness. It is not only individuals who become known by a single characteristic but groups, societies, and sometimes nations as well. Germans are fierce, Italians are lovers, and the British are unemotional.

Our characterization is that we are blind—that we cannot see. This characteristic is one of many physical traits that may make up the physical aspect of a human being. Nevertheless, it is often the primary trait considered by others who estimate the value of blind human beings, and sometimes it is the only trait—imparting meaning to all others as if this one characteristic is irresistibly dominant. Do blind people possess beauty, artistic talent, mechanical ability, or the capacity to inspire love and trust? Some would say we do not because we are blind. According to these, we possess only one characteristic of significance. Its presence within our being leaves no room for anything else.

The incapacity or unwillingness of a person to judge another on the basis of the characteristics possessed by that person ensures that the estimate of value will be wrong. This fundamental fact is at the heart of nondiscrimination legislation. It is also a basic element within the struggle of the organized blind movement to ensure that the blind are incorporated in society on the basis of equality. Blindness is one characteristic among hundreds, and judging blind people on this characteristic alone is an elementary and destructive error. It signifies that our ability to contribute is undervalued, and it limits our opportunities. It also deprives the society in which we live of the full expression of our talent. Following this erroneous pattern of thought to its logical conclusion leads to absurdity.

Blindness, being outside the norm, is often regarded as abnormal. Normality is rarely defined, but being abnormal is frequently regarded as bad. Furthermore, blindness is often thought to be a medical condition to be repaired or cured. The important information about blind people, we are sometimes told, is not what we can do to build our own lives or what contributions we can make to our society. The important information is what must be done for us, what the doctors have to offer us, what is needed to comfort and support us. We are told that the thing we need most is sight. Those who cannot be repaired or cured are permanently diseased or broken. In our society broken artifacts must be fixed or discarded or (if they are sufficiently rare) preserved for display under glass. This pattern of thought leads to the conclusion that blind people are sighted people—who are broken.

The diseases that cause blindness are, of course, medical conditions, which should be cured when this is possible. However, the blindness which results from these diseases is not a medical condition but a physical characteristic. Eyes that work can see; eyes that do not work are blind. However, it is false to say that eyes which are broken signify that the person who owns them is broken.

Value is measured not by a single characteristic but by the aggregate of those possessed by each individual. Each characteristic contributes to the whole, and each may strengthen or hinder the person possessing it. To say of a person who fails to possess a certain characteristic that the person is broken is to express an attitude of affinity for that characteristic, declaring allegiance to those who possess it. This is more a statement of political faith than of truth.

The blind do not need to be fixed; we are fine the way we are. We are not diseased carriers of contagion who must be shunned or kept in isolation to prevent our blindness from rubbing off. We are not abnormal weirdoes to be placed under observation for the entertainment of others. We are the tough, independent, spirited people who have brought the organized blind movement into being, who have established its objectives, and who have carried its program into effect. Would we accept assets that we do not already have? Yes, of course, if the strings attached are not too many, if the demands made upon us are not too restrictive, and if the costs are not so high that they outweigh the advantages to be gained.

We in the National Federation of the Blind have decided to seek full opportunity for all of the blind, and we intend to reach this goal. We have found through the examination of the strength within our hearts that our lives have meaning and purpose without modification or alteration. The meaning does not depend on vision or the lack of it. Each of us has the value created by the characteristics of which we are made. Every one of these characteristics can be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the circumstances and depending on the inventive intelligence employed in managing it. We declare that we are not broken sighted people—we are the blind, we have value, and we intend to use it.

 

This sentiment, expressed only a few months ago, is more than a declaration of a social ideal. It is the basis for political action. This concept is at the heart of the legislative program being pursued by the National Federation of the Blind. It is the underlying structural component of the litigation we bring to protect the rights of individual blind people. It is the center of the philosophy that is the inspiration for the programs we create. We believe that much should be demanded of blind people, and our experience demonstrates that more will be forthcoming than the amount demanded.

As a result of the work of the National Federation of the Blind, within the past year the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar has been struck by the United States Mint. This coin bears the likeness of Louis Braille and the Braille dots that symbolize his name. Two of these coins flew on the space shuttle a distance of more than five million miles. The reading system for the blind has traveled from the hands of its creator to earth orbit.

We believe that access to information is a fundamental element of education, employment, and many other pursuits. We believe that blind people have a right to access to information. With the expansion of the Internet, with the presentation of vast quantities of information in digital form, with the adoption of electronic technologies to make virtually any piece of knowledge available to those who have the tools to use it, we believe that the blind have a right to share in this vast resource. Some years ago we sued the company that deploys the largest number of bank machines in the United States. When the suit concluded, something like thirty thousand additional bank machines had become accessible to the blind. The Target Corporation, which is one of the largest retail outlets in the United States, refused to make its Website accessible to the blind. When the lawsuit was settled, Target was required to pay our attorneys’ fees and $6 million to those who had been denied access. People in the United States who want to become lawyers apply to law school through the Law School Admissions Council, which has refused to make its Internet application process accessible to the blind. Now those who want to control entry into law schools are facing legal action on behalf of the blind. We believe that the law applies to everybody—even the lawyers.

In 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act was adopted. The concepts incorporated in that act are derived from the philosophical thought of the founder of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. In 2007 the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which had been adopted by the United Nations, came into force. The concepts incorporated in that document also derive (at least in part) from the philosophical thought of Dr. tenBroek. These realities signify that statutory protection for the disabled must be developed with the informed voice of disabled individuals. Freedom is won—not given.

At the end of the 1990s, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, the second great president of the National Federation of the Blind, contemplated the need for an institute in which we would conduct experimentation dealing with blindness, formulate programs to serve the blind, plan innovative educational opportunities for blind youth and adults, and conduct research. Most of these things have been done for the blind. We decided that progress would be increased if these were conducted by the blind. We said that among the many tasks we would pursue would be the instigation of a program for the construction of an automobile that the blind can drive. In the summer of 2009 the first version of this vehicle, a rudimentary effort, was deployed during our program to teach blind youth technology, engineering, math, and science. We are continuing the work on the development of such a device. We believe that the blind have the capacity to operate such a technology safely, or at least as safely as similar technology is operated by the sighted.

If it becomes technically feasible to build automobiles that the blind can drive, will it also become a violation of the law to refuse to build them that way? Equal access to programs and activities for disabled individuals in the United States is a requirement of the law. Will it be easier to build an automobile that the blind can drive safely, or will it be easier to convince legislators and the members of the public that the blind should drive it? If the blind are normal capable human beings, blind people have a right to use the technology available to others as long as it can be done safely. Incidentally, I predict that the blind-drivable car will have enormous benefits for the sighted.

Independence of spirit requires the capacity to reject assessments that others make of an individual when they are wrong. All of us tend to believe of ourselves what others believe of us—especially when the others are in positions of authority. Rejecting a misassessment may be easy if there is only one. When these misassessments come routinely, a system for evaluation must be adopted that is independent of them. We call this the organized blind movement. We join with each other for mutual inspiration, mutual protection, and mutual evaluation. We challenge each other to exceed our expectations, and we share the joy of accomplishment. With this independence of spirit we change our minds and alter our future.

When I first became a part of the National Federation of the Blind forty years ago, I would have regarded as complete idiocy the thought that we might build an automobile, an airplane, or a spacecraft that the blind could operate. I would have rejected as impractical the thought that blind students could launch rockets. In our science programs teenage blind youth launch the rockets every year, and, although we have not yet started on the airplane or the spacecraft, we are working on the car. I don’t think this is idiotic. Instead I speculate on how far we might go; how much is possible to the human spirit; how exciting can we make our tomorrows. In the process of teaching others, I myself have learned something.

Consider a Charitable Gift

Making a charitable gift can be one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Each year millions of people contribute their time, talent, and treasure to charitable organizations. When you plan for a gift to the National Federation of the Blind, you are not just making a donation; you are leaving a legacy that insures a future for blind people throughout the country. Special giving programs are available through the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).

Points to Consider When Making a Gift to the National Federation of the Blind

Benefits of Making a Gift to the NFB

Your Gift Will Help Us

Your gift makes you a part of the NFB dream!

 

Revisiting the Mac Using OS X and VoiceOver

by Wesley Majerus

From the Editor: Last June the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind access technology team reviewed the operating system for the Mac using VoiceOver. Readers with experience using the Mac objected to some of the criticisms leveled at VoiceOver. The primary author, Wes Majerus, has looked again at the Mac and VoiceOver and has more to say on the subject. This is what he says:

Introduction

A few months have passed since the publication of our original article reviewing the Macintosh computer with OS X and VoiceOver (VO). That article outlined the use of VoiceOver, Apple's built-in screen reader for the Mac OSX operating system. VoiceOver was developed by Apple and is integrated into the Mac operating system, which means that it has the potential to be modified whenever Apple updates its operating system. VoiceOver will work on any Macintosh running OS X Tiger or later by pressing CMD+F5 to toggle it on or off. [The Command key on the Mac is located where the Alt key is found on a Windows keyboard.] Once you have learned how to use VoiceOver, you can use this shortcut on any Mac to use the VoiceOver screen reader. We would like to take this opportunity to correct several errors and assumptions in that first article. We would also like to highlight some notable aspects of the Mac that we failed to include in that first piece. It is important to note that, though the foundation of that first article was established during one intensive week of work, research and significant Mac use occurred over a much longer period, from the time of the initial evaluation until the article's publication. Unfortunately, because of uncertainty about where to go for help and the lack of clear guidance from Apple about how to proceed, other than their VoiceOver Getting Started manual, our research was not as complete as it might have been. In addition, we believe that many of the hurdles we encountered could be faced by anyone looking at a Mac computer coming from a Windows background. We will discuss this throughout the article as well as outline resources for new Macintosh users or those interested in how the Mac functions. We will also make some suggestions for transitioning to a Mac if you choose.

General Concepts

Two areas of Mac navigation that caused the most trouble and were pointed out in the first article were the use of the Tab key and item interaction. Since the publication of the first article, two Mac users have been working with me on learning the Macintosh operating system. With their advice and experience, I have made several observations about these two concepts. I commented that I found it difficult to determine when I could tab through an application and when I should use VO keys. As I have gotten faster with the VO keys and have become accustomed to the way dialogs are laid out, I have begun using the VO keys primarily, rather than tabbing. On occasion, if I am certain that the Tab key will give me the results I am looking for, most often inside save-as dialog boxes, I tab to other controls. An area in which tabbing is necessary is after pressing CMD+E to edit a calendar appointment. You must press Tab one time after pressing CMD+E to gain access to other fields in the calendar. Once you have done this, the rest of the fields can be accessed with VoiceOver keys.

At times interaction is still a foreign concept to me as a Windows user. However, I am now beginning to understand the way it works and the benefits it provides a screen-access software user. One rule of thumb to follow when looking at interaction is that, if an item contains more than one sub-item, you will most likely need to interact with it; however, it is not always clear when to interact with specific elements such as those contained in tables. Think of your computer screen as a series of containers or boxes. Across the top you might have a menu bar and below it a tool bar. Further below these may be a scroll area for writing text, along with other buttons or controls. The interaction process is a means by which your attention can be narrowly focused to any one of these containers. I can look at the buttons inside the toolbar and be restricted to that area on the screen. If I am editing text in the scroll area, interaction keeps my focus within this area. I would find a couple of changes to interaction helpful. I would like to see a "What am I interacting with now?" key that would let me see the items with which I am interacting without changing anything. Second, a "Stop interacting with all" key would be helpful. If you are in a complex application, it is conceivable that you can be interacting with a table, a scroll area, and some individual text (three levels deep). It would be a great enhancement to have one keystroke that, no matter how deeply you were interacting, would stop your interacting with everything.

Applications and Correction of Errors

Let us turn attention to some of the applications and features that were reviewed earlier. I would like to correct what was said about spell checking with TextEdit in the previous article. When you use the "Check Document Now" option, which is activated with CMD+:, a dialog box appears allowing you to check the document for spelling and grammar errors. As the check progresses, the VoiceOver keys allow you to work with the misspelled word as well as the suggestions table. When the check is complete, the Mac makes a bonk sound, which is its default audio output. At this point the dialog box is still present but showing no misspelled word or suggestions. Some of the buttons, like Ignore and Learn are shown as dimmed. You dismiss this dialog with CMD+w. Nothing but the bonk sound indicates that the check is complete. If for some reason you try this check on a document that has no errors, you will see only this empty spell-checking dialog box and hear a small click. While this may be confusing to some, it is definitely usable.

Next I turn to iCal, the calendar application. With the help of an online tutorial and advice from Mac users, I have been able to remedy some of the problems I reported with the application. One of the annoyances I touched on in June was the constant repetition of "December 31, 2000" when moving through the application. This was caused by a portion of iCal called the "Mini Months" view. As you use VO keys to move around the application, you will notice a button called "Hide Mini Months,” if your Mac is set up as it was when it was purchased. Clicking this button hides the Mini Months area, and VoiceOver will stop announcing this date. When setting up the calendar, day and week views may be preferable to some since they do not cover much time.

Though it is possible to add and edit events in the calendar with iCal, it is a different process from the one some may be accustomed to. Clicking CMD+N opens a new event. The only thing that is editable by default is the title. Pressing CMD+E allows you to edit the entire appointment. This lets you change location, alarm settings, date, time, and duration. It is also possible to set recurrences for appointments that happen multiple times. Once you press CMD+E, it is necessary to press Tab one time to get to other fields with the VoiceOver keys and the Tab key itself. It should also be noted that the "Calendar Area Canvas" behaves differently from the way one might expect. You do not actually see dates with VoiceOver. If events are visible in the view you have set, for example, events during the current week in a week view, you can VO left and right through them after interacting with the Calendar Area Canvas. If no events exist for the parameters you have set, you do not see anything inside the canvas.

It is important to visit tables once again in this discussion. I have found that interaction in tables can provide easy access to information as well as cut down on verbiage as you move through that information. One example is within the Mail application. Once the message table appears, you can interact with it. By moving to the right with VO+Right Arrow, you will move across the columns for a particular message. If, for example, you were looking for a message from a specific person, you could VO+Right Arrow to the name column. Now use VO+Down Arrow to move down the column. Your focus will be restricted to this column until you move left or right or stop interacting with the table. The message you have chosen to read will also now be available in the scroll area. It is also important to note that this table can be rearranged, and certain columns such as the presence of an attachment on a message can be added to the Mail table. You can also use the table interaction and movement commands just discussed in other areas of Leopard, such as in the Applications list. By moving directly to the name column, you can quickly move down through the table to the application you desire using these methods. You can still arrow through this list, but interacting with the table and moving down through the column cuts down on the announcement of all other attributes of a specific application.

Using Braille and Other Features

Braille support is an important feature that was not mentioned in the previous article. The Mac's Braille functionality is unique because it is plug and play. This means that, if a display is supported by VoiceOver on the Macintosh, simply plugging it into a USB port on your computer causes Braille to appear after a small sound denoting recognition of the display. No additional drivers or software must be installed. For some displays a small update must be made to Leopard. See the Apple Website for details. Once Braille is operational, a section of the VoiceOver Control Panel allows Braille options to be configured and can even show in simulated Braille or plain text what is being sent to the Braille display. This can be further expanded by allowing users to assign commands to keys on their displays through the Braille Commander. This process is fairly straightforward. After pressing the Add button, the user presses the key or key combination he or she wants to assign. This causes VoiceOver to beep four times followed by a fifth sound, which signifies that the key combination is ready for use. By choosing the pop-up button in the table row for this new key, the user can choose from a list of commands that can be tied to that key. If a conflict exists, a notification is provided.

If you have the opportunity to experience Braille on the Mac and have previously used a Braille display, you might notice something different about the Braille cursor being used. At first glance this cursor might look a bit different and much wider than cursors commonly displayed on Windows screen readers, but it can help to illustrate one of the main differences in the Mac's editing strategy. The Braille Cursor is made up of dot 7 of one Braille cell and dot 8 of the preceding cell. This, to me, illustrates the fact that the cursor is "between" characters when editing. When you type text into a program like Text Edit, using Braille and this cursor depiction help one to understand how the Mac's cursor moves and where insertion and deletion will take place from the current cursor position.

In the event that you do not have Braille, it is important to understand that the Mac cursor does not appear below a letter but between letters. If you write the word apple on a line in TextEdit and move to the end of the document, the cursor is to the right of the "e." When you press Left Arrow, you hear "e" because the cursor is now between "l" and "e." Pressing Right Arrow again says "e" because the cursor has jumped back over the "e" and is now at the end of the document. If you moved left, you would hear "e," "l," "p," "p," and finally "a." The cursor is now at the left of the letter "a." Pressing Right Arrow at this point would report "a" again, because the cursor, which is to the left of "a," is moving back to the right of “a” and will be to the right of whichever letter is voiced if you continue to arrow right. This is an important concept to understand for accurate use of editing text on the Mac and is, in my opinion, illustrated quite well by seeing and working with it in Braille.

Another useful feature that was not mentioned is the Num Pad Commander. Using the Num Pad Commander, one can assign VoiceOver keystrokes to keys on the numeric keypad that is found on most desktop Apple keyboards. In addition to stand-alone keys on the keypad, you can use the modifiers CMD, Shift, Option, and Control, as well as the zero key on the Num Pad. CMD+Option (VO) Left and Right Arrows move the VoiceOver cursor left and right. VO+Space selects an element within the VoiceOver cursor. One could assign these keystrokes to the numeric keypad with the Num Pad Commander. One is limited to commands that appear in the assignments list, but this is still a powerful feature that can eliminate the need to hold down a lot of keys and can provide quick access to features that are used frequently.

Resources for Learning the Mac

The NFB access technology team cannot be responsible for the content of the Websites mentioned in this section. Also we cannot guarantee the availability of the podcast files or Websites mentioned. This content was available and accessible at the time this article was written.

Many resources have helped to clarify my confusion about the Macintosh in my early work with this system. I would like to thank Alan Holst and Jason Fayre, two Mac users who agreed to show me how the aspects of the Mac OS that I reported on could be used. Alan’s experience and knowledge were beneficial to me in gaining a more thorough understanding of VoiceOver and the Mac OS. In addition, I used several Websites brought to my attention. For an understanding of the Mac in general, one can use a book like Bob LeVitus's Mac OS X for Dummies. This is written by renowned Mac expert Bob LeVitus, whose Website is <www.boblevitus.com>. As of this writing Mac OS X for Dummies is available from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. Books and Websites like those published by Bob LeVitus do not describe VoiceOver in great detail. What they do provide, which some might find helpful, is an understanding of the components of a Mac in general as well as descriptions of the features of the operating system.

Several accessibility-related sites are also available. <Maccessibility.net> includes a selection of podcasts, forums, guides, and tutorials that can assist with using various VoiceOver features and Macintosh applications. BlindCoolTech, the popular blindness-related podcast also includes some podcasts about the Mac. One series, hosted by Mike Arrigo, demonstrates many basic aspects of using the Mac as well as more advanced features like running Windows on a Mac or booting from the Mac OS X DVD. Mike Arrigo also presents recommendations for purchasing a Mac and outlines settings that can be changed to make the Mac work best with VoiceOver. The Blind World Blog and Podcast, found at <blindworldblog.blogspot.com>, also presents iPhone- and Mac-related content. Similar content can also be found at <www.screenlessswitchers.com>. Whether you have a new Mac or are just interested in what the Mac can do, books and Websites like these can be beneficial to you.

You might also check out two listservs: Mac Visionaries and Mac Voiceover. These lists are available to answer questions about the Mac and VoiceOver from new users or perspective switchers. We wish that Apple's support team had a greater knowledge of VoiceOver and ways to acquaint blind users with it. Failing this, we believe that it would be beneficial for Apple to have a dedicated support specialist on staff who knows how to use VoiceOver and can assist new users and answer questions.

If one looks at Apple's sales and support sites, various documents and videos exist explaining the anatomy of a Mac and outlining use of specific Mac concepts and features. This helps people who may not get what they need from the built-in help system or those who have never seen a Mac before to understand how it might be used. We believe that blind Mac users and those interested in the Macintosh platform should be given much of this material about VoiceOver from Apple. Audio and video demos, printed and audio training curricula and examples, and hands-on tutorials and exercises that go beyond a simple getting-started tutorial would be beneficial. While we understand that the technical support that a manufacturer provides is not and should not be the only source for users to get feedback, it is often their first attempt at doing so. Some users may become discouraged or not know where to turn if they cannot get the assistance they seek from the vendor of the access technology that they have purchased. In this case Apple is that vendor.

An important thing to remember when considering whether you want to try a Mac is that it is probably not for everyone. If you are adventurous and are willing to forget all you know about screen-reading and former operating systems while trying the Mac, then the Mac may be for you. It is important to understand that, because of the different paradigm under which VoiceOver operates, concepts for using the screen-access software do not readily translate into those that you may be familiar with. The most crucial of these concepts and the one that seems to trip up most computer users is interaction, discussed earlier. Understanding and putting into practice these concepts may take most users some time. If you are willing to put in the time, the Mac can be a useful tool. Another fact worth consideration is that VoiceOver is built into the operating system. When budgeting for a computing purchase, you will not need to factor in the cost of VoiceOver or any SMA purchases on the Mac. Though VoiceOver works fairly well with most applications shipped on the Macintosh, access to third-party apps can be uncertain.

VoiceOver in Snow Leopard

As we go to press with this article, Apple has just released a new operating system for the Macintosh. The OS, version 10.6 Snow Leopard, is the third OS upgrade to include VoiceOver. In the following paragraphs I present a few of the features that are immediately noticeable when trying the new OS. It is far from being a complete review of the new operating system.

Snow Leopard does include major improvements for users of VoiceOver. Cosmetically, previous Mac users will notice that the sound effects have changed. If you are an iPhone 3GS user, you will notice that they are the same sounds used on your iPhone. In my opinion these sound effects convey what is happening better and are of the right volume and variety to complement the speech. Alex, Apple's human-like voice, also sounds a bit different and is able to speak much faster in Snow Leopard.

A few new keyboard shortcuts have been added to VoiceOver. While you could lock the VO keys (CTRL and Option) in previous Leopard versions, a new mode has been introduced that allows you to complete some basic VO navigation/interaction with just your arrow keys. By pressing Left and Right Arrow together, you invoke Quick Nav mode. Now you can move left and right with just the Left and Right Arrow keys. If an item you want to perform an action on is under the VO cursor, just press the Up and Down Arrow keys together. The Down and Right Arrow keys together interact with an item, and the Down and Left Arrow keys stop interaction on an item. Pressing the Up Arrow with either the Left or Right Arrows toggles through a rota of word, character, or default navigation. The Up and Down Arrows move forward or backward by that unit. You can toggle the mode off with Left and Right Arrows together. Inside the VoiceOver control panel you can now choose to interact automatically with items as you tab through a dialog. This is a new feature that is not always consistent.

I think one would be best served by learning the VO concepts first and then using this option when one is familiar with the way the operating system works. Two areas where this new feature does not reliably perform are the "setup assistant" and date/time controls. In the case of date/time controls VoiceOver does not speak anything as you tab across various aspects of the date or time, for example, the month, date, year, hour, minute, and AM/PM settings. If you want a more Windows-like feel to VoiceOver, you can now choose to have it speak only what is to the right of the VoiceOver cursor when editing. This is configurable within the VO control panel.

Snow Leopard now has the option to announce hints about areas of controls. These hints are configurable and occur when one pauses on a control or in a certain area. This capability may alleviate some of the confusion about interaction.

Braille has also been vastly improved in Snow Leopard. If you wish to do so, you can now connect up to thirty-two refreshable Braille displays to the Mac by USB, and the contents on these displays will be mirrored. This might be useful in a classroom setting or for deaf-blind users. If you have a Braille display that contains Bluetooth support, you can now use the display in Bluetooth mode with VoiceOver. When we attempted to mirror USB and Bluetooth displays simultaneously, we could not get it to work properly. However, connecting one display by Bluetooth and using it with VoiceOver did work successfully.

A few words should be said about updating, maintenance, and other tasks on the Macintosh. These tasks apply regardless of which VoiceOver-equipped Mac OS you are using. The Macintosh has a few keys that can be held down at power-on to access different startup options. This is different from Windows, where you must access a menu to change boot order and the startup drive. By holding down C as you power up the Mac, you can boot from the DVD drive. Using your Mac system DVD causes a runtime version of the operating system to appear. Once this is loaded, you can press the VoiceOver shortcut and get speech and, if a display is connected, Braille. This is important because from this point on you can install the Mac OS, prepare a disk for its installation using Disk Utility, or fix disk problems that can be causing an installed OS not to run properly. In addition, you can prepare an external hard disk and install the Mac OS onto it. This allows you to use a dual-boot system successfully. You can hold down Option as you power up and then arrow left or right to the desired OS, or you can change the startup disk within System Preferences, which is also accessible. The menu that appears after you hold Option at power-on does not speak, but it is consistent in that you can arrow left or right to get to the OS you want to boot into.

In closing we apologize for any confusion the previous article may have caused. We would especially like to apologize to those who may have been considering the purchase of a Macintosh computer and who were discouraged by what we previously wrote. In addition, we would like to thank those who have directly and indirectly assisted us in correcting the errors in that article and assisted us in learning more about the Macintosh. You can contact us at (410) 659-9314, option 5, if you have further questions about the Apple Macintosh or about any other access technology.

 

A Meet the Blind Month Coup for the NFB of Kansas

From the Editor: The following profile of Jim and Lynda Canaday appeared in Lawrence, Kansas, Journal World and News on Monday, October 12, 2009. The reporter communicated exactly the message we hope to spread during this month-long effort to educate the public about their blind neighbors. We reprint it here with permission:

Keenly Attuned Blind Couple Have Different Way of Looking at Things

by Kevin Anderson

Jim and Lynda Canaday live with their dog Darby in North Lawrence. The couple need little assistance in living independently and are active members of the community. Jim has been blind since age thirteen, and Linda has been blind since shortly after birth.

{Sidebar} Meet the blind
October is Meet the Blind Month. The local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind will host a White Cane Safety Walk at noon Saturday at 11th and Massachusetts streets in Lawrence.

The walk will involve blind people gathering near South Park and then walking through downtown to raise awareness of the importance of white canes and guide dogs. {End Sidebar}

In addition to using a timer, Jim Canaday sniffs steaming bratwursts to help determine whether they are done. He prefers to grill his brats, but rainy weather prevented outdoor cooking this day. It’s boiled bratwursts for lunch today. No, that’s not the best way to cook them. Jim Canaday knows this. Grilling them outside is far preferable. But what are you gonna do? It’s raining in North Lawrence. So Canaday—in his kitchen that is crowded by pans of resting bagel dough—sets a pot to boil. He comes back to check it. He lightly touches the plastic handle of the pot and feels the vibration of bubbling water. Now it is ready.

But still he’s talking about what was not meant to be. The high flames of a grill. The heat of ash-covered charcoal. “Oh, you use charcoal?” his visitor asks with surprise.

Canaday smiles a bit like a true barbecuer would. “Oh yeah, you get much better flavor,” Canaday says with a bit of inflection in his own voice, surprised that the questioner didn’t know that.
          

Who would have thought that expressing surprise that a blind guy uses a charcoal grill was silly? Come to find out, it was. “People overestimate how much trouble blindness really is,” Canaday says.When Jim and his wife Lynda leave their North Lawrence home for a walk—he walks at least fourteen blocks every day—they notice which way the wind is blowing.

They notice the sound of the grain elevator, which is different from the sound of the chemical plant; the rushing water over the dam; the whistles of the trains; a spot where the pavement has a rough edge to it that marks the end of the bridge.

Jim has been blind since he was thirteen. Prior to that he had limited sight, but an infection took that from him in a week’s time. Lynda has been blind since she was born prematurely and placed in an incubator with too bright a light.

The North Lawrence details are more than just scenery to Jim and Lynda. Every little sound or feel helps guide them home each day. “It is all about getting good at mental mapping,” Jim said. “Sighted people take things for granted because you can just look at a map.” But it is about more than just having a good memory. Jim credits his father—who died when Jim was sixteen—for showing him the world. “He insisted I get out and go,” Jim said. “We built our own house, and he had me climbing on the roof and doing all sorts of things.”

And Jim insists that, if he hadn’t gone blind, he never would have attended college. Before he went blind in the eighth grade, he never learned Braille. Reading was extremely difficult. After he learned Braille, he became a voracious reader and learner. He has a master’s in clinical psychology from Kansas University.

Growing up in Southern California, Lynda was the only blind person on the campus of Hollywood High. But she already had learned much about the world by standing in her mother’s kitchen as a young girl. “I would watch her cook,” Lynda said. “I would listen to her, and then I would take my play dishes and make the same noises she would make. I would always ask her, ‘What are you doing, what are you doing? Can I do it, can I do it?’”

Evidently she could. She cooked her family’s Thanksgiving dinner at the age of 7. Lynda ended up spending a good part of her adult life as a professional voice coach and singer, performing at Los Angeles night clubs six nights per week. A medical condition unrelated to her blindness ultimately caused her to give up her career, although she does work as a part-time voice instructor.

A serious heart problem has caused Jim to largely remain unemployed for the last several years, though he serves as an officer for the local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind and is a member of the city’s Public Transit Advisory Committee. “Coping with blindness doesn’t mean that we’re unusual or gifted or particularly intelligent,” Jim said. “It means that we had good training, and we did the get-up-and-go thing.” Jim is washing a load of clothes. He’s doing it carefully. Not because he’s blind. Because he’s a husband. “I have to make sure I don’t get anything of Lynda’s in here,” Jim says. A previous mishap has made that clear. “I used to let him do it, but I ended up with a lot of clothes that weren’t the color I thought they were,” Lynda says.

So Jim sorts carefully, feeling fabric to determine whether it is a towel or one of his wife’s blouses. Then he touches the large washer knob that has about a dozen different settings. He remembers where the various settings are around the dial, and he lightly runs his index finger around its edge. His finger stops above the blue indicator line. It is just a thin coat of blue paint on the dial—the same as on any normal washing machine. But Jim’s finger feels the slight variation in texture on the dial, and with that he can set the washer on the right setting. Well maybe Lynda wouldn’t go that far.

He fills the detergent cup to the right level by sticking his finger in the cup and pouring until the liquid reaches his knuckle. It is just one of many tricks of the trade. He grabs one bottle of Dr Pepper and a same-sized bottle of Diet Coke. He shows how the ridges along the side of the cap of the Dr Pepper bottle are closer together than those on the Diet Coke bottle. Lynda salts her tomato by taking off the lid of the shaker and grabbing a pinch or two with her fingers.

Jim grabs items off the shelf with confidence because he knows where each item is supposed to be. That’s not Lynda’s favorite practice. It can get risky, and she’s implemented a system for putting Braille labels on most of the kitchen’s cans. (Groceries are delivered by Checkers grocery store each week.) It is worth the hour it takes with the couple’s Braille machine, which looks a bit like a typewriter.

“I once knew a guy who didn’t [label], and he called each dinner, `dinner roulette,’” Lynda said. “It was like ‘oh, what’s this? String beans. What’s this? Applesauce.’ I told myself I was never going to do that.”

There’s a bit of Braille elsewhere. A small brass plaque that hangs from the wall and asks God to bless this home is a noticeable piece of Braille. The other photos and wall hangings, however, have no Braille elements. Yes, their walls are heavily decorated: photos of family members, artwork made by an aunt or an uncle, sentimental pieces that adorn many walls in many other homes.

The couple’s conversation is peppered with phrases that may surprise. They often talk about not being able to see something. Jim described his previous white cane as being so dingy that it “looked like” it had been through a nuclear blast.

Sometimes, a person can almost forget. Like when Lynda was talking about how Jim previously did not use Braille tags to identify the color of his clothes in his closet. So he didn’t use to be such a good dresser? Lynda laughs. “I don’t know,” she says. “I couldn’t see him.”

In reality there’s much the sighted can’t see about the blind. When people who are blind close their eyes, do they dream in pictures? Can any words ever describe the color red? Does curiosity ever become too heavy a burden? “I used to think more about what things looked like than I do now,” Lynda said.

But she believes she has a good idea of the outside world. Growing up at camps for the blind, there was a heavy emphasis on touching their surroundings. Trees, leaves, even a garter snake one summer. And yes, she dreams. She dreams in colors although she doesn’t know if her blue is the rest of the world’s blue. But her dreams are detailed. She knows an apple is one color of red and cinnamon is another.

For Jim it is different. “I remember colors, but to be perfectly honest, it has been thirty-seven years now,” said Jim, who is fifty. “I have to really work to remember colors.” But as the colors of a sunset fade away from memory, Jim insists that it does not create a sinking feeling. His life is not one filled with frustration. “Everybody faces a certain amount of frustration in their lives,” Jim said. “We happen to be made so we don’t see. That means we have certain issues. “But to me blindness is a characteristic, much like height, skin color, and hair color. If you are five-foot-six and you really want to be the starting forward on your basketball team, you probably are going to have some frustration. You can either fret about that or move on and invent a vaccine or something.”

In the North Lawrence home that he’s never seen, there is much about life that is too good to fret over. As his visitor gets ready to leave, the topic of the grill comes back up. He missed that today. The temperature—according to his computer that has a speaker and an electronic voice that communicates what’s on the screen—was forty-nine degrees outside. But in reality it is more than just the weather that keeps him away from the grill. Since he’s moved to North Lawrence, it has become difficult to grill because of all the noise--the trains and everything else. The only safe way for Jim to grill is with his ears. But it’s also the enjoyable way.

“If you have charcoal, lump them all together and light them. Give them eight to ten minutes to settle down, and then close your eyes and tip your ear to them,” he says to his visitor. “You’ll hear crackle and pop, but you won’t hear a hiss. Come back when your total time is fifteen, twenty minutes, twenty-two tops, and you’re going to hear a little hiss. That’s going to tell you, ‘Oh, I can take a stick and separate the charcoals because it is all caught now.’ Yeah.” Oh, how much you miss by being able to see.

 

Update on Freedom Scientific v. GW Micro Patent Lawsuit

From the Associate Editor: The Braille Monitor first reported on the Freedom Scientific patent-infringement lawsuit against GW Micro in February 2009. In summary Freedom Scientific accused GW Micro of using without proper authority its patented "document placeholder," technology that enables an access screen reader to return to a specific place on a Webpage. As far as we know, this case continues to make its way through the federal court system.

On Friday, October 9, 2009, we learned, however, that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued an administrative ruling suggesting that Freedom Scientific's document placeholder patent may not be valid. This decision remains subject to appeal, but, if this ruling is upheld, it surely will undermine the essence of the plaintiff's claim. We reprint below the following release posted on the Blind Access Journal blog and circulated widely among other assistive technology lists and Webpages. Here it is:

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has reexamined a patent held by the maker of a screen reader for blind computer users in connection with an infringement lawsuit filed against a competing company. Reliable sources hailed the move as a significant victory for the defendant.

The document placemarker patent, held by Freedom Scientific, Inc., covers a specialized screen-reading capability that allows blind users to save their position on a Webpage and return to the same place at a later time. The company's Job Access with Speech (JAWS) screen-reading software incorporates this feature.

In a July 15, 2008, complaint filed in the United States District Court, Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, the self-proclaimed "world's leading manufacturer of assistive technology products for those who are vision impaired" accused GW Micro, the maker of the competing Window-Eyes screen reader, of deliberate patent infringement, claiming its placemarker technology is the same as that described in the patent. According to court documents Freedom Scientific is seeking an injunction requiring GW Micro to stop including the placemarker feature in their product, asks for significant unspecified financial compensation for the infringement, and requests recovery of legal fees.

“I believe that this technology shouldn't have been patented to begin with," said Doug Geoffray, vice president of development with GW Micro. "It obviously was around way before what they've done. We have stated that our version, Window-Eyes 3.1 back in 1999, had previous position capability."

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office agreed. In a reexamination of Freedom Scientific's patent, at the request of GW Micro's attorneys, the office rejected all claims to the invention.

"A person shall be entitled to a patent unless the invention was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country, more than one year prior to the date of application for patent in the United States," stated a published document describing the reexamination as the basis for the patent's rejection on the grounds that the technology had already been invented. The document also cited two existing patents and the availability of IBM's Home Page Reader, a product employing place-marker technology prior to the Freedom Scientific patent, in its reasoning behind the decision. "We take that as a positive sign,” Geoffray said.

"It's a victory," said Dennis Karjala, Jack E. Brown Professor of Law, Faculty Fellow, Center for the Study of Law, Science, and Technology at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. "There's no question that, if the reexamination decision is upheld, that's the end of it. There is no patent." He said Freedom Scientific may still have some cards to play in this case. "The patent owner in a reexamination proceeding may appeal," Karjala said. "It goes to an appeals board within the Patent Office, and then they can later seek judicial review. This thing could go on for a while." According to the reexamination document, the Patent Office must receive a response from Freedom Scientific by October 28 if it wishes to appeal the decision.

Karjala said the legal trend points to a probable GW Micro victory. "Because the Supreme Court has been reviewing so many of their cases with an obvious eye to overturning them, the Patent Office is pretty sensitive now that they're being accused of being too patent-friendly," said Karjala. "My guess is, once you got a ruling by the examiner that the patent is invalid, I'd say the chances are pretty good it will be upheld by the board in the Patent Office. If it's upheld by the board, the chances that a court would overturn it in this atmosphere are pretty slim."

Freedom Scientific representatives declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

Notes:

 

Christmas Recollections

by Mary Ellen Gabias

From the Editor: Mary Ellen Gabias and her husband and four children live in Calogna, British Columbia. She is a longtime Federationist, who has been sharing her insights about blindness with Braille Monitor readers for many years. This is what she has learned from trimming Christmas trees:

I’ve learned a lot about blindness from reading NFB speeches and from discussions with friends. But I’ve come to realize my deepest learning has resulted from moments seemingly unrelated to blindness.

Who would think the events surrounding our Christmas tree could teach so much about blindness and about living in a family? Our childhood Christmas tree ritual was unvarying. After the annual family party hosted by the parents of blind children in Toledo on the last Sunday before Christmas, Mom and Dad drove all five of us sugar-hyped children to the lot where a local charity sold Christmas trees. Mom and Dad decreed the price we would pay. My siblings argued vociferously about the aesthetic appeal of long versus short needles. I applied the sniff test. If a tree smelled good, it was all right with me.

Before the advent of commercial Christmas tree stands–devices designed to promote domestic tranquility–we plunked the tree in a bucket while Dad fabricated supports to hold it in place. By the time the tree was standing straight with the inevitable bare spot facing the corner where it wouldn’t show (or at least not much), we all understood why the Christmas promise of peace on Earth and good will toward men continues to elude humanity.

The world owes a profound debt to the inventor of modern Christmas tree lights with each bulb on an individual circuit. Earlier strings of lights operated from a continuous circuit. If one bulb burned out, the whole string was useless. My brothers and sister spent hours of frustration and tedium finding the precise bulb that had put a string of lights out of commission. I learned quickly to stay out of the way until the lights were finally shining.

I come from the find-an-empty-spot-and-stick-an-ornament-there school of tree decorating. One of my brothers agreed. We cheerfully hung bulbs and treasured family ornaments wherever we could reach. Mom and another brother believed in order and balance. They followed behind us, rearranging what we’d done so that colors and types of ornament were distributed according to a plan. To avert potential wrangling, Mom assigned each of us a task. One child hung all the balls. Another hung the homemade ornaments. Mom hung the delicate items. I put wire hangers or thread loops on any ornament needing them. Then I looked for a bare spot and asked the members of the family who cared about balance if the ornament in question fit into their aesthetic plan. At the end I hung the icicles.

I’ve never seen icicles like ours on any other tree. Other people had crystal icicles. Ours were plastic, but they looked like ice and were shaped like the icicles that hung from trees and fences after an ice storm. Mom bought them for her first Christmas as a new bride, and I made her tell the story every year. My brothers thought I was a little silly, but those icicles came to symbolize Christmas for me. Even after I was an adult living far from my family home, Mom would save the icicles for me to put on the tree when I arrived home for Christmas.

Nobody made any pronouncements about blindness during our annual ritual. Certain things were simply understood. Everybody had a role to play. Dad and the boys got the tree up while Mom and my sister told them whether it was straight. Dad supervised the stringing of the lights while Mom fixed supper. Then Dad sat back and stayed out of the way while the rest of us did the decorating. Blindness didn’t keep me from participating; it did affect how I participated.

Decorating a tree is such a family thing. When I moved away from home, I never bought a tree. I always spent Christmas with my family; why bother with a tree in an apartment that would be empty on Christmas anyway?

Paul and I were married in January, 1989. Like me, he traditionally spent Christmas with his family. In 1988, with our wedding less than two weeks away, we decided to spend our first Christmas together at my apartment in Baltimore. Paul is a university professor; at the time of our marriage he was teaching in Colorado. He arrived in Baltimore on December 22. We went shopping for our first Christmas tree on the way home from the airport. The pickings are pretty slim three days before Christmas. We did our best, but the tree that we finally strapped to the roof of Mary Ellen Thompson’s car belonged in a Peanuts holiday special, not a living room.

Our Federation friends came to the rescue. Someone loaned us a spare tree stand. John Cheadle led the crew that tied the tree up to a hurriedly installed bracket in the corner. Without the rope to keep it in place, the curved trunk was in danger of toppling. We bought strings of lights, and people began arriving, bearing ornaments as gifts. Even the Cheadle children got into the act; their homemade ornaments continued to hang on our trees every year for more than a decade. I brought out the food and hot cider, the tree was quickly trimmed, and its peculiar shape was forgotten in the fun of that impromptu party. Then, on Christmas morning, I opened a box of crystal icicles sent by my sister. Christmas was complete.

By the next year we were living in Fredericton, New Brunswick. We invited Paul’s university colleagues to a tree-trimming party. Once again we provided the food, and our friends ceremoniously hung the ornaments they had brought and told stories about their own Christmas tree experiences. It was a wonderful way to connect with people we were coming to know.

Visiting assistant professors lead a nomadic life. After one year in Fredericton, Paul accepted a position in Kelowna, British Columbia. By the Christmas of 1990 there were three of us. Joanne couldn’t walk, but at ten months she crawled very efficiently. We decided to build a barricade to protect the tree and keep her safe. We also chose not to have a tree-trimming party.

I don’t remember how we got the tree home and who helped us ensure that it was standing straight. I do remember Paul checking every light bulb on every string of lights and attaching the strings to the branches. “Wouldn’t it be better to get someone sighted to do that?” “How will you know if the lights are spaced correctly and look right?” All my assumptions rose to the surface.

“What’s so difficult about wrapping lights around a tree?” Paul asked me. “You can feel whether a branch has a light on it. You just have to be systematic.”

Before I began hanging ornaments, I had someone check. Paul was right. I found I could use the same principle for hanging ornaments. I asked my reader to check my work; I’d missed a few spots and made others too crowded, but the needed changes were really very minor.

Our family Christmas tree stories are every bit as human as the ones I lived in my childhood. We bought a tree the Christmas Paul’s mother died, but neither of us had the heart to decorate it. It stood bare in our home as a reminder of the hope that comes with Christmas.

Nobody got around to decorating the tree the year Jeffrey was born at home on Christmas Eve, either. One year our tree came home in a taxi. Big Al, the cab driver, teased us for years about how long it took him to get all the needles out of his car.

Whenever toddlers were in our home, my decorating principle was simple: block off the tree to prevent unauthorized climbing and put only unbreakable ornaments near the bottom.

No matter how earnestly we might have wanted to recreate idyllic Christmases from famous pictures, we had finally to accept that Norman Rockwell never had to deal with real children. Paul found a wood lot where we could choose our tree and cut it down ourselves. What a wonderful tradition for the children! While Paul cut the tree the children had chosen, they complained about the cold and asked where to find the bathroom. Now we choose our trees at a local nursery, where hot apple cider is never far away.

Family history seems to be repeating itself. Paul and the children choose the tree. Now that they’re older, they help him set it up, and everyone has something to say about which way to turn it to hide the inevitable bare spot. The children check for burned out bulbs and help their father string the lights. As they get older, Dad’s role in this part of the project diminishes. I mediate decorating disputes between the order-and-balance contingent and the find-an-empty-spot-and-stick-an-ornament-there crowd. To this day the icicles are mine.

 

Ask Miss Whozit

From the Editor: Miss Whozit answers reader questions about etiquette and good manners, particularly as they involve blindness. If you would like to pose a question to Miss Whozit, you can send it to the attention of Barbara Pierce, 200 E. Wells, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, or email me at <bpierce@nfb.org>. I will pass the questions along. Letters may be edited for space and clarity. Here are the most recent letters Miss Whozit has received:

Dear Miss Whozit,

I have learned over the years that being totally blind presents a unique set of challenges not experienced by those with some vision. Of course the converse is true as well. For me one of the biggest places where I believe I could improve is spacial awareness. I'm curious to learn your tips on ways to be better aware of one’s surroundings. How do you effectively and consciously avoid intruding on other people's personal space when talking or walking from place to place?

A lot of these situations come up at parties when it's sometimes difficult to figure out the best place to stand or sit and hold a conversation without appearing awkward. Of course, when a blind person tries to walk around and talk to people, some sighted people will just start asking where you are going or what you are looking for. Surely there must be ways to fit into the group.

Finally, some of these challenges apply when trying to network at a conference with unknown people. Do you have tips about how to start a conversation politely and effectively or break into an existing group conversation? I'm thinking of the various networking receptions that are held by companies or take place at conventions and other events.

Thanks for any help,

A Would-Be Mingler

Dear Would-Be,

Miss Whozit is a great proponent of remaining in one’s own personal space during conversations. For totally blind people this means careful listening and may require discreet use of the white cane to check on distances. Men especially should stay two feet away from others unless they are in mutually agreed-upon close contact, typically of a romantic or clandestine nature—these latter Miss Whozit has no intention of discussing.

If you are not certain whether you are conforming to the two-foot rule, slide your cane tip until it touches the shoe of the person facing you. If you are not certain of what a two-foot distance sounds like, practice with a friend or family member until you can walk up to that person, contact a shoe with your cane tip, and stop two feet away. At the moment of contact, note the angle of your cane so that you can remember how near the vertical it is when you are at an appropriate distance. Of course you can always stand farther away, and, if you are coping with lots of background noise, it is appropriate to lean in a bit closer than two feet, but lean in, don’t step in.

Talking companionably with someone while walking introduces the complication for cane users that, for a blind person with little or no useable vision, there is no such thing as reliably walking in a straight line. Miss Whozit presumes that those who are partnered with guide dogs have already worked out their preferred methods for walking with or following another person. Miss Whozit can suggest two solutions for cane users. The first is not to try to walk beside the other person. This allows one to shoreline and count walks or other landmarks, crossing from side to side of the path as necessary. The second is casually to ask permission to maintain contact with the person’s arm. The first alternative makes it simple to keep tabs of one’s location, but conversation may have to be conducted at a slightly higher volume to be heard, and the sighted person will be somewhat preoccupied with moving back and forth to dodge out of your way. Maintaining contact with a sighted companion’s arm in order to talk comfortably should not be confused with using him or her as a sighted guide. The blind person continues to use the cane and walks side-by-side with the other person, not a step behind. The disadvantage of this method is that the blind person may miss some of the useful landmarks in determining his or her progress. Both methods are useful in certain circumstances. You will have to determine which makes you most comfortable and decide when to use which method.

As for parties, mixers, and networking gatherings, if only there were some simple strategy that would solve the difficulties. The problem is the number of variables—personality of the blind person, size of the group and the room-friendliness of the crowd, etc. The more information you can gather about the size and configuration of the space, the better off you will be: are small tables scattered around the room? How about chairs, against the walls or in conversation groups? Where is the bar? Is there a buffet table? Are people wearing name tags? Do you know any of the people in the room? Such bits of information will help you make sense of the situation once you step into it.

The way a blind person conducts himself or herself almost always affects and often determines the way the person will be treated. So summon all the confidence and self-assurance you can as you enter the room. Keep your ears open for familiar voices belonging to people you might enjoy speaking with. Everyone in such social situations slides into and out of conversations. If you know nothing about the arrangements, you might do well to ease into a group close to the door. Listen for conversational clues that you would not be interrupting. If the conversation is general or preliminary, you are safe insinuating yourself. Try not to let the conversation be diverted to blindness. Your job is to persuade the others that you can hold your own on any topic that might be under discussion. Avoid the how-about-them Giants sports talk if you know nothing about baseball or football. With luck you will be able to establish yourself as a full partner in the discussion and can then enquire for directions to the bar or buffet table. You should probably resist letting someone bring you a drink or a plate. If directions are beyond their ability to provide concisely and someone is going there, you might consider going along and then drifting off after you have your drink or plate. You are aiming to demonstrate that you do not need a babysitter.

Blind people often feel conspicuous and perhaps intrusive when they slide into a conversation. But mixing is what everybody is doing. If you do not cling to one person and you follow the social rules of respecting personal space and listening with attention to what others are saying before asking intelligent questions, you are likely to find yourself moving around and meeting others.

It is likely that you will not move or meet as much as the most outgoing of the other guests, but if you refuse to let yourself be rounded up and deposited in a chair in the corner, you will do as well as the quieter guests.

Dear Miss Whozit,

If silverware is wrapped in a napkin, where should it be placed on the table?

Searching

Dear Searching,

The short answer to your question is that this way of handling silverware should be limited to buffet tables and restaurants. If one is setting a table, one’s guests deserve a place setting of the standard type with the folded napkin and fork to the left and the knife and spoon to the right. On a buffet table it is convenient for the guest to pick up the napkin-wrapped packet of silver and take it to the dining table, probably unrolling it as he or she sits down. So the question of utensil placement belongs to the guest. Restaurant servers will drop the rolled up utensils wherever they please. Management may dictate where they are to be placed, but this is not a matter of etiquette.

For the blind diner it may be a matter of searching, but saying that Miss Whozit thinks placement of napkin-wrapped silver to the left of the plate makes most sense will get you nowhere. Alas, restaurateurs are not likely to listen to me. The best I can suggest is the discreet tactile investigation of the geography of the place setting. Slide your fingertips along the edge of the table in front of you. This is almost unnoticeable and quite acceptable behavior. In such a sweep you can identify the plate, napkin, and utensils (if they are present in positions you can touch). If they are not there, it is reasonable to reach further away from the edge, delicately searching for the water glass. You can take a sip of water or adjust the glass’s position slightly to explain your apparent search for something. Then glide your fingers toward the midline of your place, searching for a rolled napkin of utensils. If it is not there, draw your hand back to the table edge. With luck the napkin and silver will be in the center of your place, where you will encounter them as your hand returns to your lap.

The only other obvious place for them to be is on your butter plate. With your left hand reach toward the place where that plate should be, to the left of the fork and above where a napkin would be laid in a reasonable world, and the butter plate (if you have one) should be in the neighborhood. If no utensils are there, it is probable that they have not yet been put down or that they have been thrown haphazardly into the center of the table. Plaintively enquiring of your dinner companions or the server where you can find your napkin and utensils is your final resort. I hope that you manage to find them.

Dear Miss Whozit,

I have been blind since birth, and I have been told that I do not have an expressive face. I have asked people to describe to me what anger, sadness, incredulity, joy, and the like look like, but I have not been successful in translating these descriptions into recognizable expressions. I have the same problem with gestures. I suspect that getting these things right is just as important as dressing appropriately when I want to represent myself or the NFB effectively. Can you help me?

Straight Faced

Dear Straight,

You are quite right: even in this day and age with its bent toward the casual, those who wish to be taken seriously and represent themselves effectively had better take the time and trouble to dress to the expectation of those they are trying to impress. Miss Whozit has done no research, but she suspects that those, sighted or blind, with wooden, uncommunicative faces find themselves at a disadvantage when attempting to communicate with others who are watching them.

Both sighted and blind people vary tremendously in their expressiveness. If people have mentioned this matter to you, it is likely that you fall on the inexpressive end of this spectrum. Do not assume, however, that you are alone in being unable to produce a natural and charming smile on demand for a photographer, for example. Almost always the best photos of people are taken when the photographer has caught them when they are reacting naturally with a laugh or smile. This is why models, who can produce natural-looking expressions on demand and hold the expression for minutes together, are so well paid.

Here are some tips that have helped people learn what various expressions feel like. Try to make your voice express the emotion you wish to communicate with your face. Experts tell us that, in order to sound warm and friendly on the phone, you should smile before picking up the receiver. You might find it possible to work this formula backwards. Concentrate on sounding warm and interested when you pick up the phone, and you are likely to find that you are naturally smiling. The trick is not to concentrate on the smile.

Actors learn to generate the emotion they are trying to mirror on their faces because in that way they can be confident that the expression will ring true. Find someone who is willing to give you feedback. Practice raising your eyebrows and opening your eyes wide. This is a simple way of expressing surprise, skepticism, or incredulity. Notice what happens to your face when you laugh. You will have to note what various expressions feel like when you are told that the emotion is convincingly reproduced on your face. And remember, plenty of sighted people have the same struggle. This is an issue that is worth working on but not losing sleep over.

 

Distinguished Educator of Blind
Children Award for 2010

by Cathy Jackson

From the Editor: Cathy Jackson has recently been appointed to chair the committee to select the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for 2010.

The National Federation of the Blind will recognize an outstanding teacher of blind children at our 2010 convention next July. The winner of this award will receive an expense-paid trip to the convention, a check for $1,000, an appropriate plaque, and an opportunity to make a presentation about the education of blind children to the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children early in the convention.

Anyone who is currently teaching or counseling blind students or administering a program for blind children is eligible to receive this award. It is not necessary to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind to apply. However, the winner must attend the national convention. Teachers may be nominated by colleagues, supervisors, or friends. The letter of nomination should explain why the teacher is being recommended for this award.

The education of blind children is one of our most important concerns. Attendance at a National Federation of the Blind convention will enrich a teacher's experience by affording him or her the opportunity to take part in seminars and workshops on educational issues, to meet other teachers who work with blind children, to meet parents, and to meet blind adults who have had experiences in a variety of educational programs. Help us recognize a distinguished teacher by distributing this form and encouraging teachers to submit their credentials. We are pleased to offer this award and look forward to applications from many well-qualified educators.

Please complete the application and attach the following:

National Federation of the Blind
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
2010 Application

Deadline: May 15, 2010

Name:_______________________________________________________
Home address:_________________________________________________
City:________________________________________________________
State, Zip:____________________________________________________
Phone: (H)____________________(W)____________________________
Email:______________________________________________________
School:______________________________________________________
Address:_____________________________________________________
City, State, Zip:_________________________________________________

Use a separate sheet of paper to answer the following:

Attach the three required letters to this application, and send all material by May 15, 2010, to Cathy Jackson, Chairperson, Teacher Award Committee, 210 Cambridge Drive, Louisville, Kentucky 40214-2809; (502) 366-2317.

 

The 2010 Blind Educator of the Year Award

by David Ticchi

From the Editor: Dr. David Ticchi is an experienced educator in his own right. He was named Blind Educator of the Year in 1998. He chairs the 2010 Blind Educator of the Year Award selection committee. This is what he says:

A number of years ago the Blind Educator of the Year Award was established by the National Organization of Blind Educators (the educators division of the National Federation of the Blind) to pay tribute to a blind teacher whose exceptional classroom performance, notable community service, and uncommon commitment to the NFB merit national recognition. Beginning with the 1991 presentation, this award became an honor bestowed by our entire movement. The change reflects our recognition of the importance of good teaching and the impact an outstanding blind teacher has on students, faculty, community, and all blind Americans.

This award is presented in the spirit of the outstanding educators who founded and have continued to nurture the National Federation of the Blind and who, by example, have imparted knowledge of our strengths to us and raised our expectations. We have learned from Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, and President Marc Maurer that a teacher not only provides a student with information but also provides guidance and advocacy. The recipient of the Blind Educator of the Year Award must exhibit all of these traits and must advance the cause of blind people in the spirit and philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.

The Blind Educator of the Year Award is presented at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Honorees must be present to receive an appropriately inscribed plaque and a check for $1,000. Nominations should be sent to Dr. David A. Ticchi, 321 Harvard Street, Unit 306, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02139. Letters of nomination must be accompanied by a copy of the nominee's current résumé and supporting documentation of community and Federation activity. All nomination materials must be in the hands of the committee chairman by May 1, 2010, to be considered for this year's award. For further information contact David Ticchi, (617) 530-9178.

 

Blind Diabetics Can Draw Insulin without Difficulty

by Ed Bryant

From the Editor: Anyone who answers an NFB telephone knows that one of the most prevalent questions asked about managing diabetes as a blind person is, can someone who can’t reliably see what she is doing safely draw up insulin and administer it? I am not diabetic, so I cannot answer from firsthand experience, but I intend to send people the following article. I also intend to see that such callers get a copy of our new book, Bridging the Gap: Living with Blindness and Diabetes. This article first appeared in the Voice of the Diabetic, Volume 21, Number 3, the Summer 2006 edition, published by the Diabetes Action Network of the National Federation of the Blind. It was updated in October of 2009.

Diabetes self-management (the only way to cope with the condition) requires a number of precise measurements and manipulations. It’s a lot of work. To preserve health and independence, diabetics learn the skills of blood glucose measurement and insulin administration. Many diabetics are blind or losing vision. Poorly managed diabetes can cause sight loss, and folks already blind can develop diabetes. So how is a blind diabetic supposed to draw up and administer insulin without help from a sighted person?

Some folks still insist blind diabetics cannot independently self-manage without sighted aid. They’re wrong. We’ve been doing it for decades. Veteran blind diabetics have often had far more experience with adaptive insulin preparation devices than have most sighted health professionals. Here are a few examples. Individual experiences vary because some of us use the insulin pump, and others use insulin pens, but many of us have found adaptive ways to use the syringe.

Most insulin is drawn up into syringes. Traditionally, you read the marks on the syringe, like filling a measuring cup. But there are ways to accomplish this without looking. The simplest way, the old way, was with insulin gauges. These were usually flat cards with notches appropriate for a given syringe, a given insulin type, and a given dose. You held the gage against the plunger as you drew insulin. They worked; I made my own insulin gauge and used it for approximately three years, but there are better, safer, more reliable ways to draw up insulin without sight. I do not advocate the use of nonstandard or homemade insulin measuring gear, unless all components have been checked for reliability by someone knowledgeable about insulin preparation.

Although several devices are available to allow you to draw up a measured insulin dose, one is so far above the rest that it takes the blue ribbon. This is the Prodigy Count-A-Dose, manufactured by Diagnostic Devices, Inc., available soon from the National Federation of the Blind Independence Market, in Baltimore, Maryland. To order, contact (410) 659-9314, ext. 2216, or <www.nfb.org>. The device will be on the market as soon as final approval (now pending) is received from the FDA. The price will be no more than $70 and may be less.

How does it work? The Prodigy Count-A-Dose measures insulin in one-unit increments and is calibrated for the BD LoDose 50-unit insulin syringe. The device holds two insulin vials and directs the syringe needle into the vials’ rubber stoppers. The thumb-wheel adjuster clicks for each unit drawn (clicks can be both heard and felt), so the blind diabetic can reliably draw and mix his or her own insulin. Any technology for the blind needs instructions in formats accessible to the blind. The Prodigy Count-A-Dose is shipped with audiocassette instructions.

Lots of diabetics, both blind and sighted, use insulin pens, which combine insulin-drawing and -dosing functions. Most pens nowadays are preloaded at the factory. The cost per shot is a bit higher than with syringes, but the pens enjoy wide acceptance. Despite the resounding evidence that blind people can use insulin pens safely and effectively, most pen manufacturers include language on their insulin pen packages warning blind people not to use these products without sighted assistance: “This pen is not recommended for use by blind or visually impaired diabetics without the assistance of persons trained in the proper use of the product” – but the pens incorporate tactile and audio cues and are rugged and reliable, and a great many blind diabetics use them successfully without sighted aid.

In the past the big emphasis was on reloadable pens marketed by Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly, and Owen Mumford, but increasingly manufacturers are packaging their insulin in their own disposable pen products. They are different but all pretty well made and reliable. Talk to your doctor and your pharmacist about the insulin pens you could use today.

The third choice is the insulin pump. The pump is a little box, about the size of a pager or a cell phone, often worn at the waist, attached to the body by catheter, that does away with the need for regular injection-dosing of insulin by continuously injecting microscopic amounts of insulin. In addition, the user must program the pump to give added insulin with each meal. These pumps are complex and expensive, but blind diabetics successfully use them.

So you do have options. There are choices, ways to keep your independence, alternatives to becoming dependent on somebody’s help. I’ve been around this issue for many years, several times actively involved in testing and evaluation of insulin-measuring devices, and I can assure you that with a little work you can take care of yourself and manage your diabetes without sight.

People may raise specific concerns about blind diabetics drawing up their own insulin. Here are some of the ones I have heard and why they are not significant.

Air bubbles in an insulin syringe

Here’s the technique I use. I mix insulins in a syringe without sight, and, to make sure I’m injecting insulin and not an air bubble, I first draw two or three units of regular insulin into the syringe and then inject it back into the vial. I then repeat this operation twice more. The fourth time I draw the full amount of insulin needed from this first vial. Then, when I draw insulin from the second vial, I draw the exact amount needed. I have tested this technique countless times, and no air bubbles were present. Others performing the same test have duplicated my result.

What about tapping the syringe to remove air bubbles? The sighted use this procedure, but, if you follow the technique I just described, tapping is unnecessary. The one to two units of air in the hub of the needle (where needle meets syringe) are expelled in the process I described above. I’ve demonstrated this technique to nurses, who are delighted to see that air bubbles are not present at its completion and that the insulin measurement is accurate. Of course long-term insulin users will be familiar with the need to inject (pressurize) as much air into the insulin vial as insulin they have withdrawn, to facilitate getting the insulin into the syringe.

How to know that the insulin vial is getting low

A vial of insulin contains 10cc, 1,000 units. The maximum number of units used per day, divided into the vial’s 10cc (1,000 units) capacity, provides the maximum number of days that the vial can be used. When I start a new vial of regular insulin, I divide its 1,000 units by 20 units (the maximum I use in a day) and determine that one vial should last me 50 days. As a safeguard against error, I assume each bottle contains not 1,000 units, but 940 units (9.4cc), and should therefore last me, not 50 days, but 47 days. I measure my NPH insulin the same way.

Why do I do this? As long as at least 60 units of insulin remain in the vial, the syringe’s needle will remain submerged while filling, drawing insulin and not air. While drawing out the insulin, I keep the syringe vertical, needle straight up into the vial, so as not to inadvertently draw out air. Many blind consumers (and diabetes educators) are unaware of this point’s importance. The natural tendency is to tilt or slant while drawing, which can lead to inaccuracy and to air in the syringe.

But how do you remember how many times you’ve drawn insulin out of a given vial? One way is to set aside the number of syringes needed to administer 940 units of insulin. Another way would be keeping records in Braille, large print, pocket recorder or PDA, or on your personal computer. I have found the more precise the record-keeping, the easier it is to predict accurately when you are due to start a new vial.

Accidentally injecting insulin into a blood vessel

Insulin is meant to be injected subcutaneously, under the skin, not IV, into a vein. Is hitting a vein a risk if you cannot see where you are aiming the needle? Not in my experience. Injection sites are in fleshy areas, and insulin needles are short. The worst that could happen would be to hit a small capillary, which could result in a small area becoming infused with blood, a hematoma. The amount of insulin entering the bloodstream from a capillary would be insignificant and would cause no harm.

Something to think about

Have someone check whatever technique you use to measure insulin periodically. Then you’ll know you’re doing everything right. If you are careful, you will not have difficulties. Inaccuracy is often the result of haste or carelessness.

Professional support

At first all this may seem a lot to remember, but it is not so difficult. Robert Dyson, an administrative assistant at the Colorado Center for the Blind, says: “I am thirty-seven years old and have been a diabetic since the age of two. I lost my vision at the age of twenty from diabetic retinopathy. The Count-A-Dose gave me back my freedom. It is accurate and safe, and like any sighted person I just need to pay attention to what I am doing. I can measure my insulin amount with the device based on what my talking blood glucose monitor says my sugar is. I assist with the training of health care workers here at the Colorado Center for the Blind, and they are all surprised at how simple and easy to use this device is and always remark that they could not have imagined that it was possible for blind diabetics to do this on their own, but we know differently.”

Anne Whittington, RN, MSN, MBA, CDE, with the U.S. Navy Medical Center, San Diego, California, says: "In my experience, with proper training almost all diabetics are able to prepare and administer their own insulin safely, regardless of visual impairment, assuming there are no other disabling conditions."

Ann Williams, PhD, RN, CDE, formerly senior diabetes educator at the Cleveland Sight Center, says: "In the ten years I worked at the Cleveland Sight Center, I and another nurse taught about one thousand visually impaired and blind people to measure and administer their own insulin independently. Vision loss does not preclude safe and effective insulin self-administration."

I have no problems managing and keeping my diabetes under control through the use of alternative techniques, some of which have been described here. Many members of the National Federation of the Blind use them daily to live active lives. With alternative techniques blind diabetics can be as productive as they were when they were sighted.

Ask for assistance. We are ready, willing, and able to help. We want you to know that, no matter what your diabetes ramifications, you are not alone and do have options. We in the National Federation of the Blind know that blindness is not synonymous with inability.

Resources:

Diagnostic Devices Inc. (DDI): 9300 Harris Corners Parkway, Suite 450, Charlotte, NC 28269-3790; general information: (800) 366-5901 or technical support: (800) 243-2636; techsupport@prodigymeter.com; Website: <www.ProdigyMeter.com>.

Prodigy Count-A-Dose: An insulin measurement device which measures in 1-unit increments.
National Federation of the Blind Independence Market: 200 E. Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230; phone (410) 659-9314, ext. 2216; fax (410) 685-5653; IndependenceMarket@nfb.org; Website: <www.nfb.org>.
Note: The National Federation of the Blind Independence Market also carries a large selection of adaptive equipment.
Independent Living Aids, LLC: P.O. Box 9022, Hicksville, NY 11802; phone (800) 537-2118; fax (516) 937-3906; Website: <www.independentliving.com>.

The Syringe Support Insulin Measuring Device: Uses only the BD 1cc/100–unit disposable syringe and measures insulin in 1– or 2–unit increments, in doses of 1 to 100 units. To mix insulins, it is necessary to remove vials from the apparatus. To draw a measured dose, the Syringe Support uses a set screw with a raised flange (its only landmark) at 12 o'clock. One full turn draws two units, and a half turn draws a single unit. Although the dial lacks definite tactile or audio indicators, in most cases any error would be fractional. Instructions (standard print only) are bilingual (English and French). Suggested retail price: $22.95.

 

The Ziegler Abandons Hard-Copy and Recorded Publication

by Daniel B. Frye

After over a hundred years of conventional service to blind and vision-impaired readers around the world, the Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind ceased production of its Braille and cassette versions with its November 2009 edition. This decision has affected 4,200 Braille and 5,400 cassette subscribers living in ninety-two countries. According to Greg Evanina, editor of the magazine since 1994, the publication will continue as an online resource with a weekly email supplement featuring additions to the Website, subscriber letters, and special notices, previously included in the hard-copy versions. As the migration to this new format is made, future content and information about the weekly emails (to start in December 2009) can be found at the magazine's fresh Website, <http://www.matildaziegler.com>; the editor can now be reached at <editor@matildaziegler.com>.

The Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind was founded in 1907, and for most of its existence it has published a monthly general interest magazine, incorporating articles from a variety of sources. According to Mr. Evanina, Walter Holmes, an employee of a newspaper in Tennessee, was visiting New York City on a business trip in the spring of 1905. Mr. Holmes noticed that New York City newspapers of the day regularly published the wills of wealthy people. He read in the New York Herald an account of a particularly generous bequest, leaving funds to a number of worthy charities, but none of these were charities for the blind. Inspired with an idea and targeting the philanthropic community, Mr. Holmes wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Herald that appeared on May 25, 1905, promoting the need for Braille reading material, indicating that he would be at his business address in the city for two weeks, able to respond to any donors interested in this cause. Matilda Ziegler, mother of a blind son from a previous marriage, saw Mr. Holmes's solicitation and invited him to her home to discuss his idea. She liked his concept and, having inherited money from her former husband, agreed to fund the magazine if he would edit it. Mr. Holmes accepted her challenge and became the first editor of the Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind, serving in this capacity until 1946. The magazine has subsequently had only six editors, most serving for fairly lengthy tenures.

Along with the new format, Mr. Evanina says that the magazine will adopt a new editorial focus. "The editorial objective of the Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind will be to offer a blindness news service on the Web." He further defined the editorial mission in a follow-up email saying, "The magazine strives to serve, without bias, all people who are blind and vision impaired. Our publication...is a neutral filter of blindness-related news and information. The Ziegler magazine's primary objectives are to inform and entertain."

Blind consumers from across the nation and globe have greeted this decision with dismay and concern. The Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind has been an excellent source for a variety of information and inspirational stories in Braille, particularly in developing parts of the world, where access to Braille is limited. NFB President Marc Maurer has sent a letter of concern about this policy shift to the board of directors of the E. Matilda Ziegler Foundation for the Blind, Inc., the entity responsible for the magazine's production. Individual blind consumers have also registered their disappointment about this development on listservs and in other forums and have urged people to forward their objections to the governing foundation.

Speculation has abounded within the blindness community as to the rationale for this decision. Some have reported that the members of the E. Matilda Ziegler Foundation board of directors have decided that the wisest expenditure of its resources is to invest in scientific research promoting sight preservation. Others have characterized the action as a financial decision necessitated by a tough fiscal environment.

Apparently both of these causes have contributed to the suspension of the hard-copy monthly magazine format. During an interview with the Braille Monitor, Editor Evanina said, "The board of directors has decided that they no longer wish to provide the magazine in Braille and cassette formats. This decision is financial. Branching out into the Website arena was my idea, but discontinuing the Braille and recorded editions of the monthly magazine was by no means my idea." He went on to say, "Elimination of these formats will significantly reduce the magazine's expenditures, although I cannot provide you with a specific figure at this time. Please direct questions about finances to the Ziegler Foundation." Mr. Evanina did tell us that the magazine's offices are being closed and that the magazine's three staff members will be working from their homes as of the end of November.

We took the editor's advice and repeatedly invited Cynthia Z. Brighton, president of the Ziegler Foundation board of directors, to participate in an interview or issue a comment. The governing body of the Ziegler Foundation is clearly an insular entity, unaccustomed to responding to any obligation to communicate with those who have patronized the magazine. Mr. Evanina initially declined to provide contact details for President Brighton, but he did forward our email invitation to her once it became clear that our independent efforts to reach her were not receiving a response. The Matilda Ziegler Website does not provide contact details for the members of its governing foundation board. Only after contacting the office of the Connecticut Attorney General and visiting <Guidestar.com>, a Website that profiles nonprofits, were we able to find details for foundation members. In response to our request, the Ziegler Foundation board offered the following terse statement: From its inception the bedrock philosophy of the foundation has always been to make the lives of blind people better. As such, the foundation has two defined goals. The first is to issue grants to scientific research institutes the world over, whose aim is to benefit the blind. By issuing these grants, we have boosted both the quantity and quality of research being performed so that we can potentially help a large number of blind people now and going forward. The board feels that this is where our biggest impact on the lives of blind people lies. Our second goal is to publish content explicitly for the blind. We have provided premier content to the blind for many years and will continue to do so in a medium that will allow us to carry our publishing company into the future.

There you have the comment of the foundation's board of directors. While it appears from this dismissive response that the likelihood of changing this decision is slim, we provide below the contact details for the E. Matilda Ziegler Foundation Inc. board of directors so that interested readers can convey their opinions about this decision. The information follows:
Ross Hammond, Administrative Assistant
E. Matilda Ziegler for the Blind Inc.
20 Thorndal Circle
Darien, Connecticut 06820
(203) 604-8611
(203) 604-8626
<RHammond@swisher.com>

In closing Mr. Evanina said, "I enjoy the fact that it [the magazine] touches the lives of so many blind people and gives them joy and a sense of community." We can only hope that the magazine, in its new format, will continue to provide these things to the blind people who value it. In the midst of the Braille crisis that is gripping America and the world, we lament the passing of a magazine that, consistent with its founding vision, promoted a wide array of information and entertainment in Braille. We urge the board of directors to reconsider its priorities, considering the scarcity of copy produced in Braille. We urge existing or potential blind patrons to signal their feeling about the effective end of this venerated literary tradition for the blind community. Let our voices be heard.

 

A knfbReader for Christmas?

by Michael Hingson

From the Associate Editor: In the midst of the holiday season, a fortunate few may receive a knfbReader Mobile as a gift. Others may be saving to purchase this useful technology with a tax refund in early 2010 or may be looking at a number of alternative funding sources as the new year approaches. Michael Hingson, director of the NFB's national knfbReader Mobile distributorship, has asked that we provide some updated information about the new phone that supports this technology and publish testimonials of several satisfied knfbReader Mobile users. Here is the information:

Since its introduction in January 2008, the knfbReader Mobile has become an integral part of the lives of thousands of blind people throughout the world. This is a portable device consisting of software and specific cell phones that are powerful enough not only to take a high-quality picture of a printed page but also to process that image, recognize the characters on the page, and read the page out loud to the blind user. The Reader provides a level of reading independence that blind people have never before experienced.

We who are blind are finding new ways to use the knfbReader Mobile to make us more productive on the job and in our personal lives by reading what we want, where we want. Because the hardware platform used by the knfbReader Mobile is a commercially available cell phone, the Reader is so portable that people are taking it everywhere, including restaurants, classrooms, the office, libraries, and almost anywhere print is found.

The most common cell phone used to power the knfbReader Mobile has been the Nokia N82. It has served users well and has helped make the reader affordable. Earlier this year Nokia announced that the N82 was being discontinued and would not be manufactured after June 30, 2009. At the same time Nokia announced the introduction of a new cell phone, the Nokia N86. After considerable testing and evaluation by knfbReading Technologies, it was determined that the N86 would be a great replacement for the N82. In fact it has some features that may make it a better hardware platform as time goes on. Here is a brief description of some of the features of the N86 and the ways they contrast with those of the N82:

The Nokia N86 was introduced as a high-end multimedia cell phone with the ability to take clear high-resolution pictures as well as to record high quality audio. It incorporates an eight-mega-pixel camera instead of the five-mega-pixel camera contained in the Nokia N82. The N86 camera also contains a wider angle lens, which may in the future permit taking pictures of larger pages. The new hardware incorporates a dual LED flash instead of the xenon flash of the Nokia N82. Typically dual LED flash systems are not as bright and have not provided as high quality an image for good optical character recognition. The flash on the new system, however, is bright enough to provide excellent character recognition and to permit the elimination of the special polarizer filters that were required on the Nokia N82.

The Nokia N86 uses a faster processor, which means that the time between taking the picture and speaking the text is shorter. It takes no more than twelve seconds for the new hardware to take a picture, recognize the characters, and begin reading aloud.

One of the most exciting features of the Nokia N86 is that its keys are more tactile. The basic function keys are larger and more raised than those of the Nokia N82. The new phone is a slider phone rather than a candy bar phone, descriptions that describe the shape of the N86 and the N82. In the N82 the function keys and the number keypad are on the front panel of the unit. In the N86 the keys to operate the phone are on the front panel, while the keypad is accessed by sliding the entire top of the phone out of the way, revealing a keypad containing much larger number keys.

Other features of the new hardware include nearly eight gigabytes of internal storage as opposed to the two gigabytes of storage available on a micro SD card, which comes as part of the Nokia N82. A micro-SD slot is also available on the Nokia N86, should the user wish to add additional storage. The extra memory capacity means that more and larger files can be stored on the new knfbReader Mobile hardware.

The price of the N86 is a bit higher than its predecessor. We still have some Nokia N82s available, but we do not expect to have a supply of these older models for long. For pricing and availability of both models of the knfbReader Mobile, contact Michael Hingson by phone at (415) 827-4084 or email at <Info@michaelhingson.com>. Also be sure to ask for the contact information for your closest NFB dealer.

The following personal accounts of the way in which the knfbReader Mobile can be used and has enhanced lives are taken from users who have offered their comments on the knfbReader Mobile listserv or who have provided feedback to knfbReading Technologies. Here are some user comments:

Gary Wunder: I use my knfbReader to handle the print mail that comes into my office, including my monthly pay stub--hallelujah--but I also use it in the many, many situations where people apologize to me for bringing in an agenda at the last moment. Another use I have for it, since many of us use a common printer, is to figure out which documents are mine and which belong to somebody else. Before I had the knfbReader, I would simply carry the stack away and bring back what was not mine. This caused something of a problem if the person who actually owned the printout I had taken came between the time I took it and returned it. It is great to be able to stand there at the printer and do what everyone else does.

At home I like being able to go out and get my mail, bring it back, sit on the couch, snap the envelopes, and determine which I want to deal with using a live reader, which I want to throw away, and which I want to read myself with either the knfbReader or the K1000 system. One of the things I like best about using the knfbReader is that I am not constantly tied to my office but can read wherever I want. I spend so much time in my office that any time I can step away and still do something productive is a blessing.

Jan Bailey: We have six-sided files at work, with a print list of what is contained in each side on the file's cover. These are bulky files that do not work well with a flat-bed scanner, but they work well with the knfbReader. I just look up what's on each side, find the correct side, and snap pictures until I find the document that I'm looking for. I don't have to take the file apart and try again to put it back together correctly. I am a counselor, and I use my knfbReader to read medical and school reports, agendas at meetings, and menus when I go out to lunch. I've even read some menus that are posted up on a wall. It's fabulous.

Marilyn Rushton: I am a vision teacher, and I work in three public schools. As you can surely imagine, a lot of printed information comes to my attention. The knfbReader does a good job with staff/student bulletins, particularly when the device is set to bills and memos format. It's great fun to stand at an office counter reading the daily bulletin.

Although most of my students use Braille, I have one student who has chosen to read large print. The knfbReader has proven invaluable for ascertaining what materials have come in for this student. It's wonderful not to have to ask another busy teacher or secretary to give me this type of basic information. I am pleased that the reader can process enlarged print, and it works well for most clearly photocopied worksheets. In addition I am able to sort and read most of my inter-office mail.

Kathleen Millhoff: We're using pretty old equipment here, and I'm not often sure if the printer has run out of ink, partially printed, or just spit out a blank page. Now with the reader I wonder no more. I used to take time during the day to mark in Braille all the papers I collect as I go from school to school or to other agencies. I still mark things or file them, but now I can wait until I get home to check what I have, decide if I want to keep it, and determine how to file it. I'm often asked to do various presentations; I always felt that such requests forced me to get really organized with my handouts. Preparing for these is much easier now, and, should that all-time accommodation known as a sighted person not be available, I'm good to go with my reader. Because of funding restrictions it is not always possible to order the latest in tactile children's books from APH or wherever. I've found I can pick up little board books at second-hand stores and make my own. The reader helps a lot with this; often just one or two words appear on a page.

Al Robbins: I find the knfbReader Mobile helpful at work. In addition to echoing the comments others have made, one task I manage is with envelopes. I have to write many letters and then print my envelopes out. I always like to verify that the address is printed accurately on the envelope. Prior to dropping my letters in the mail, I snap a picture of each to verify that they have been properly addressed. I also use the reader a lot at work to identify and sort currency.

 

There you have the views of several contented knfbReader Mobile users. This holiday season consider giving yourself the gift of independence, flexibility, and convenience that this revolutionary technology represents.

 

Featured Book from the Jacobus tenBroek Library

Going Blind: A Memoir by Mara Faulkner, OSB. Albany: SUNY Press, 2009

by Ed Morman

From the Editor: We plan frequently to spotlight books in the tenBroek Library. Here is librarian Ed Morman’s description of a recent acquisition:

Sister Mara Faulkner is a Benedictine nun whose father gradually lost his vision to retinitis pigmentosa during her childhood. This book is her meditation on the meaning of blindness, both as a real bodily disability and as a convenient word on which to hang a wide range of metaphorical meanings. Growing up in near-poverty in a remote part of North Dakota, Faulkner had the opportunity to learn much, not only about the real blindness that ran in her family, but also about how people can be blind to each other’s needs and capabilities. Deftly employing the figurative--if sometimes offensive--use of the word “blindness,” she discusses the nineteenth-century famine that brought her Irish ancestors to America, a famine that was largely ignored by the English rulers of Ireland. Similarly she talks about other ethnic groups that lived around her father’s general store, such as the Germans from Russia, an immigrant group whose story gets lost in the better-known histories of other German-speakers and other peoples who came to America from Russia. The saddest story she tells is of the three Native American nations that lived settled agricultural lives on land progressively taken from them until their remaining villages were finally inundated when the Missouri River was dammed.

Faulkner’s thoughts on literal blindness are especially worthy of consideration by Federationists. Losing vision to RP herself, she knows of the NFB and in many ways agrees with and lives by the Federation’s philosophy. However, while she regrets her father’s refusal to acknowledge his own blindness, she also acknowledges his right to live as he saw fit. She celebrates Erik Weihenmayer’s ascent of Mt. Everest, but she objects to focusing on his accomplishments so much that the daily lives and accomplishments of the average blind person become invisible to the general public.

Google Books provides an accessible overview of Going Blind, with links to booksellers and libraries that have copies. A new book, it is not yet available in Braille or audio editions.

 

Social Security, SSI, and Medicare Facts for 2010

by Daniel B. Frye

Once again we toast the passing of the old year while awaiting the new one. Along with the inevitable best-of lists and retrospectives, this passing of time is accompanied by annual adjustments to the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicare programs. The changes include new tax rates, higher exempt earnings amounts, and SSDI and SSI cost of living increases, as well as alterations to deductible and coinsurance requirements under Medicare. Below are the updated facts for 2010.

Tax Rates

FICA and Self-Employment Tax Rates: The FICA tax rate for employees and their employers remains at 7.65 percent. This rate includes payments to the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Fund of 6.2 percent and an additional 1.45 percent payment to the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund, from which payments under Medicare are made. Self‑employed persons continue to pay a Social Security tax of 15.3 percent, which includes 12.4 percent paid to the OASDI Trust Fund and 2.9 percent paid to the HI Trust Fund.

Ceiling on Earnings Subject to Tax: During 2009 the ceiling on taxable earnings for contributions to the OASDI Trust Fund was $106,800. For 2010 the maximum amount of taxable earnings remains unchanged. All earnings are taxed for the HI Trust Fund.

Social Security Disability Insurance

Quarters of Coverage: Eligibility for Retirement, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (RSDI) benefits is partially based on the number of quarters of coverage earned by any individual during periods of work. Anyone may earn up to four quarters of coverage in a single year. During 2009 a Social Security quarter of coverage was credited for earnings of $1,090 in any calendar quarter. Anyone who earned $4,360 for 2009 (regardless of when the earnings occurred during the year) received four quarters of coverage. In 2010 a Social Security quarter of coverage will be credited for earnings of $1,120 during a calendar quarter. Four quarters will be earned with annual earnings of $4,480.

Trial Work Period Limit: The amount of earnings required to use a trial work month is subject to annual increases. In 2009 the amount was $700, and in 2010 it rises to $720. In cases of self-employment, a trial work month can also be used if a person works more than eighty hours, and this limitation on hours worked will not change unless expressly adjusted.

Exempt Earnings: The monthly earnings exemption referred to as Substantial Gainful Activity for blind people who receive disability insurance benefits was $1,640 of gross earned income during 2009. In 2010 earnings of $1,640 or more a month, before taxes, for a blind SSDI beneficiary will continue to indicate substantial gainful activity once any unearned (or subsidy) income is subtracted and all deductions for impairment-related work expenses are applied. To be clear, the figure for 2010 has not changed. This unusual development results from the legislative formula that ties the increase in SGA to the size of the cost-of-living allowance (COLA) that is usually given. In 2010, no COLA will be received.

Social Security Benefit Amounts: To reiterate, the Social Security Administration announced that no cost-of-living increase will be applied to benefits paid in 2010. Some discussion is underway between the president and congressional leaders about giving Social Security beneficiaries and SSI recipients a one-time $250 payment at some stage in 2010 to mitigate the absence of a COLA, but this policy decision has not been made as of this writing. Follow developments in the Braille Monitor to remain current on this prospect.

Supplemental Security Income

Standard SSI Benefit Increase: Beginning January 2010, the federal payment amounts for SSI individuals and couples are as follows: individuals, $674 a month; SSI couples, $1,011 a month. These amounts are the same as the 2009 levels.

Student Earned Income Exclusion: The Student Earned Income Exclusion is generally adjusted each year, but, because of the absence of a COLA, the exclusion remains unchanged in 2010. In 2009 the monthly amount was $1,640, and the maximum yearly amount was $6,600. The SSI program applies strict asset (resource) limits of $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for SSI couples, which can be changed only by Congress.

Medicare

Medicare Deductibles and Coinsurance: Medicare Part A coverage provides hospital insurance to most Social Security beneficiaries. The coinsurance payment is the charge that the hospital makes to a Medicare beneficiary for any hospital stay. Medicare then pays the hospital charges above the beneficiary's coinsurance amount.

The Part A coinsurance amount charged for hospital services within a benefit period of not longer than sixty days was $1,068 during 2009, with an increase to $1,100 in 2010. From the sixty-first day through the ninetieth day, the daily coinsurance amount is $275 a day, up from $267 in 2009. Each Medicare beneficiary has sixty lifetime reserve days that may be used after a ninety-day benefit period has ended. Once used, these reserve days are no longer available after any benefit period. The coinsurance amount to be paid during each reserve day used in 2010 is $550, up from $534 in 2009.

Part A of Medicare pays all covered charges for services in a skilled nursing facility for the first twenty days following a three-day in-hospital stay within a benefit period. From the twenty-first day through the one hundredth day in a benefit period, the Part A coinsurance amount for services received in a skilled nursing facility will be $137.50 a day, up from $133.50 a day in 2009.

Most beneficiaries have no monthly premium charge for Medicare Part A coverage. Those who become ineligible for SSDI cash benefits can continue to receive Medicare Part A coverage premium-free for at least ninety-three months, after the end of a trial work period. After that time the individual may purchase Part A coverage. The premium rate for this coverage during 2010 will be $461 a month. This is reduced to $254 for individuals who have earned from thirty to thirty-nine quarters of Social-Security-covered employment.

In 2010 the Medicare Part B (medical insurance) deductible is $155; in 2009 it was $135. This is an annual deductible amount. The Medicare Part B monthly premium rate charged to each new beneficiary or to those beneficiaries who directly pay their premiums on a quarterly basis for the year 2010 rises to $110.50 a month. Most current Social Security beneficiaries whose Part B premiums are automatically held back by the Social Security Administration, however, will continue to pay $96.40 a month for their Part B coverage, the same amount that was charged for this benefit in 2009. For those receiving Social Security benefits, this premium payment is deducted from your monthly benefit checks. Individuals who remain eligible for Medicare but are not receiving Social Security benefits because of working, must pay the Part B premium directly on a quarterly basis—one payment every three months. Like the Part A premiums mentioned above, Part B is also available for at least ninety-three months following the Trial Work Period assuming an individual wishes to have it and, when not receiving SSDI, continues to make quarterly premium payments.

Americans with higher incomes now pay higher Part B premium amounts, based on their income. For singles the 2010 income threshold for higher premium amounts is income that exceeds $85,000, and for couples filing jointly the 2010 threshold is $170,000. It is estimated that 5 percent of Americans are affected by these higher premium amounts mandated by the Medicare Modernization Act. If you believe you may be affected, you should contact the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). (The contact information is given below.)

Programs That Help with Medicare Deductibles and Premiums: Low-income Medicare beneficiaries may qualify for help with payments. Assistance is available through two programs—the QMB (Qualified Medicare Beneficiary program) and the SLMB (Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary program). For the QMB program an individual’s income cannot exceed 100 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, also called the Federal Poverty Level. Individuals qualify for the SLMB program when income is greater than 100 percent, but less than 120 percent, of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. The newest guidelines will be announced in February or March of 2010; additionally, Alaska and Hawaii have higher amounts than are applicable to forty-eight of the fifty states and the District of Columbia.

Under the QMB program states are required to pay the Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance) premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance expenses for Medicare beneficiaries who meet the program's income and resource requirements. Under the SLMB program states pay only the full Medicare Part B monthly premium. Eligibility for the SLMB program may be retroactive for up to three calendar months.

Both the QMB and SLMB programs are administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in conjunction with the states. The rules vary from state to state, but the following can be said:

Resources, such as bank accounts or stocks, may not exceed $4,000 for one person or $6,000 for a family of two. Resources generally are things you own. However, not everything is counted. The house you live in, for example, doesn't count; and generally one car also doesn't count.

If you qualify for assistance under the QMB program, you will not have to pay:

If you qualify for assistance under the SLMB program, you will be responsible for the payment of all of the items listed above except for the $110.50 or $96.40 monthly Part B premium, depending on your circumstances.

If you think you qualify but you have not filed for Medicare Part A, contact Social Security to find out if you need to file an application. Further information about filing for Medicare is available from your local Social Security office or Social Security's toll-free number (800) 772-1213.

Remember that only your state can decide if you are eligible for help from the QMB or SLMB program and also that the income and resource levels listed here are general guidelines with some states choosing greater amounts. Therefore, if you are elderly or disabled, have low income and very limited assets, and are a Medicare beneficiary, contact your state or local Medicaid office (referred to in some states as the Public Aid Office or the Public Assistance Office) to apply. For more information about either program, call the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on its toll-free telephone number (800) 633-4227, or go online to <http://www.cms.hhs.gov/ContactCMS>.

 

Recipes

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

Easy-for-Monday-Evening Chicken
by Marcus Soulsby

Marcus Soulsby is the treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia. He is also the affiliate's Pre-Authorized Check (PAC) Plan chairman and youth coordinator. Marcus is a computer programmer for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 to 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 can Campbell's condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 8-ounce container sour cream
1 package Lipton onion soup mix
2 teaspoons Mrs. Dash's chicken seasoning
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup milk

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl combine sour cream, soup, and milk. Mix until thoroughly blended--about five minutes by hand. Stir in about half of the onion soup mix, and then add the black pepper and Mrs. Dash's chicken seasoning. Thoroughly mix. Add the remaining onion soup mix and stir. Place chicken pieces in a small or medium casserole dish. Spoon mixture over the chicken. Cover with foil and bake for one hour or until the chicken is done.

Sweet and Sour Ribs
by Sandy Cain

Sandy Cain is secretary of the Harrison County Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia. She works at a local daycare center and enjoys crocheting and other crafts.

Ingredients:
4 to 5 country-style ribs
2 apples (any variety will do)
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 cans sauerkraut

Method: Place the country-style ribs in a slow cooker. Thinly slice the two apples and cover the ribs with them. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the apples, and pour the two cans of sauerkraut over the brown sugar. Place the lid on the slow cooker, and cook on low for eight hours or on medium for six hours. Use a fork to test the ribs for doneness. If preparing this dish in an oven, bake the ribs in a covered casserole (prepared as above) at 350 degrees for about an hour.

Easy Beef Stroganoff
by Mary Fish

Mary Fish is president of the Sightless Workers' Guild of Wheeling, West Virginia, and she serves as its representative on the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia board of directors. Until her retirement Mary and her husband owned and operated Fish Furniture in Moundsville.

Ingredients:
2 pounds round steak
Butter
Garlic powder
2 cans condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1 8-ounce container sour cream

Method: Trim off all fat and cut steak into small pieces. Brown in butter and garlic powder. Drain all juices and discard them. Mix the cream of mushroom soup and sour cream. Place the sautéed beef in this mixture and stir well. Transfer beef and sauce to an ovenproof dish. Cover and bake for three hours at 300 degrees. Serve over rice or noodles. This makes four servings. If you like more mushrooms in your stroganoff, you can slice and sauté them before combining with the beef mixture, but be sure to drain them well before adding.

Easy Baked Steak
by Sheri Koch

Sheri Koch is second vice president of the West Virginia affiliate and president of its Kanawha Valley Chapter. She is also the program supervisor of Blind and Visually Impaired Services of the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services.

Ingredients:
3 pounds cubed steak
3 cans Campbell's condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 cans Campbell's condensed golden mushroom soup
1/2 cup sour cream
Peanut oil
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine soups and sour cream and set this mixture aside. Combine flour, salt, pepper, and garlic. Thoroughly coat meat cubes with the flour mixture and pound the pieces until the flour adheres. Brown the coated meat in peanut oil. In a large casserole dish layer browned meat and soup mixture, ending with soup on top. Bake uncovered for forty-five minutes.

West Virginia Fresh Apple Cake
by Barbara Olive

Barbara Olive is treasurer of the Kanawha Valley Chapter. She owns two puppies, and she enjoys quilting and other crafts.

Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups Wesson oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs, beaten
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups West Virginia apples, diced (One presumes that, in the absence of apples from the Mountaineer State, those from any other state will suffice in a pinch.)
1 cup black walnuts
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Method: Beat together oil and sugar. Add beaten eggs, then remaining ingredients just until the flour mixture is incorporated. Bake in an oblong cake pan at 325 degrees for forty-five minutes.

Date Nut Cookies with Caramel Icing
by Joyce Porter

Joyce Porter is the corresponding secretary of the Huntington Area Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia. She says that these cookies were a big hit with her coworkers last Christmas.

Ingredients:
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 cup sour cream
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup dates, chopped
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Method: Add baking soda to the sour cream, combine other ingredients, and mix well. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto a cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for ten to twelve minutes.

Perfect Caramel Icing

Ingredients:
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup melted butter
1/4 cup Carnation evaporated milk
1 cup (possibly a bit more) confectioners’ sugar

Method: Combine evaporated milk, butter, and brown sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring only at the beginning to mix. Let this mixture boil for one minute. Remove from heat and beat in a little over a cup of confectioners’ sugar. Spread the icing on cooled cookies.

 

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.

Attention Parents of Elementary-Age Blind Students:
Think it’s too early to start planning your child’s activities next summer? Think again. The NFB Jernigan Institute is excited to announce the 2010 Junior Science Academy. In 2008 the NFB Jernigan Institute took its National Center for Blind Youth in Science (NCBYS) Science Academy programs to a whole new level with its first program for elementary students. This year it’s back and better than ever with two sessions next summer. The sessions of the 2010 NFB Junior Science Academy will be held July 28 to August 1 and August 4 to 8 in Baltimore, Maryland, at the NFB Jernigan Institute. Families can apply for one session. The program will accept approximately fifteen students in grades third through sixth, ages eight to twelve, per session. One parent or guardian will also be invited to attend with each chosen applicant.
Modeled after the NFB’s previous successful Science Academies and NFB Youth Slams, this four-day session will expose blind and low-vision children to the excitement of science in real-life applications. The students will learn that science can be fun through hands-on instruction, field trips, and interactive activities as they participate in challenging experiences focused on earth and physical sciences. In addition to sparking their interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects, the program aims to teach students how alternative techniques can help make STEM subjects accessible and more engaging. Workshops provided in partnership with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children will be held for the parents and guardians accompanying their children to the program in conjunction with the children’s activities.

Those interested in learning more about this event can visit <www.blindscience.org> or contact Mary Jo T. Hartle, director of Education at the Jernigan Institute at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2407, or at <mhartle@nfb.org>.

NFB President Marc Maurer Receives Award:
The National Federation of the Blind, the largest organization of blind people in the United States, has announced that its president, Dr. Marc Maurer, was presented the Rev. John J. Cavanaugh, C.S.C., Award from the University of Notre Dame Alumni Association in a ceremony on November 5. Maurer, a 1974 graduate, was honored for outstanding contributions in the field of public service.

Maurer earned his law degree from Indiana University in 1977 and began representing blind individuals in the courts. A member of the bar in Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Maryland, and the bar of the Supreme Court, Maurer is one of the most experienced lawyers in the field of civil rights and discrimination against the blind. He has been president of the National Federation of the Blind since 1986. In that capacity he joined President George W. Bush in the Oval Office in 2001 to celebrate the organization’s Everest expedition and was present for Bush’s signing into law the Help America Vote Act of 2002. He has promoted new technology for the blind, including the knfbReader Mobile, a revolutionary cell phone application that scans and reads aloud most printed material, and the prototype vehicle for the Blind Driver Challenge. He has overseen the visionary expansion of the NFB Jernigan Institute, the first training and research institute for the blind, led by the blind. He also served as president of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union.

Maurer said: “I am honored to receive this award from my alma mater. As president of the largest organization of blind people in the United States, I have been fortunate to play a role in many exciting and life-changing developments for blind people in America. While we have made much progress, there is still more to be done. Only 10 percent of blind children are learning Braille in this country, and this directly contributes to a 70 percent unemployment rate among blind people in the United States. I humbly accept this award on behalf of blind Americans and pledge to work harder than ever to ensure that the blind are not left behind in today’s society.”

“In his role as president of the National Federation of the Blind, Marc Maurer continually demonstrates unwavering determination in his effort to better the lives of the world’s blind through innovative technologies and services that support their independence,” said Charles F. Lennon Jr., executive director of the Notre Dame Alumni Association and associate vice president for university relations. “The Notre Dame Alumni Association is pleased to honor Marc for his personal character and outstanding contributions in public service. He is a living example of the integrity and generosity of spirit that Notre Dame instills in its graduates. His leadership of the NFB has made the university proud.”

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.

New Money Identifier Available:
We received the following press release describing a new money identifier now available in the United States. Here, in part, is the text of this announcement:

Orbit Research has announced the introduction of the iBill, the world's first affordable talking banknote identifier for the blind and vision-impaired. Priced at $99, the 1.5 ounce pager-sized iBill represents a breakthrough in enabling blind and vision impaired people to achieve independence in the everyday necessity of using paper currency. At about a third of the cost of existing devices, the iBill offers unrivaled features, ease of use, and accuracy of identification.

The iBill is an exceptionally convenient and affordable solution that blind and vision-impaired people can use. Measuring just 3 inches by 1.6 inches by 0.7 inches, the ultra-slim and compact key-fob design provides the ultimate in convenience, allowing it to be carried unobtrusively in a pocket or purse, clipped to a belt, or attached to a keychain or lanyard. Among the features that set it apart from other such devices are its high accuracy (better than 99.9 percent) and the near-instantaneous speed (less than one second in most cases) with which it identifies banknotes.

The iBill provides the simplest, fastest, and most accurate means to identify U.S. banknotes. Its unique ergonomic design permits easy and intuitive use without training or practice. When a banknote is inserted into the device, its denomination is identified at the press of a button. Based on the user's preference, the denomination is announced by a clear and natural voice or by tone or vibration for privacy. The unit identifies all U.S. banknotes in circulation and recognizes them in any orientation. Banknotes in poor physical condition are indicated as unidentifiable and are not misread. The unit is also upgradeable to recognize new banknote designs.

The iBill achieves all of this while operating on a single, commonly available AAA battery, which lasts for over a year with typical use. Its durable construction and sealed design ensure trouble-free use. The unit is backed by a one-year warranty from Orbit Research, and toll-free customer support is available.

For further information contact Orbit Research, 3422 Old Capitol Trail, Suite 585, Wilmington, DE 19808; (888) 606-7248; <http://www.orbitresearch.com>.

Good News for Blind Coffee Drinkers:
The Houston Chronicle for October 21 carried a wry little product announcement that will be of interest to coffee drinkers who for whatever reason struggle with the LED screens on their coffee makers. We suspect that most folks are not interested in social commentary from their small appliances, but we thought Monitor readers would be interested in learning more about this product.

Speak n' Brew Talking Coffee Maker Wastes No Words

If technology is sophisticated enough to give us a talking coffee maker, it could at least be a bit chatty. But the new Primula Speak n' Brew, billed as the world's first talking coffee maker, is a limited conversationalist. "Would you like to set the clock or set the coffee brewing time?" it asks.

"Set the coffee brewing time," you tell it.

"Please say the time, including a.m. or p.m.," it responds. After telling it the time you want, it will confirm the time for you and of course make the coffee.

But for a talking coffee maker, which we're sure brews a perfectly drinkable cup of coffee, it's alarmingly nonverbal. Where's the morning greeting? "Good morning, sleepyhead!" would be nice. Where's the sunny outlook? "This is going to be a great day, don't you think?" might be a pleasant thing to hear in the morning. Where's the off-to-work pep talk? "Go get 'em, Slugger!" is always encouraging.

But no, Speak n' Brew is strictly java-focused. For those who want only silence and caffeine from their coffee maker in the morning, it's perfect, and not unlike a traditional, non-talking coffee maker. The ten-cup brewer, priced at $79.99, will be available November 1 at Macy's, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Amazon.com. Its manufacturer says Speak n' Brew will make a perfect holiday gift. Just don't count on it to wish you Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukah.

Social Security Told to Modernize for the Blind:
The following story appeared on Wednesday, October 21, 2009, in the San Francisco Chronicle. It was written by staff writer Bob Egelko. Both the NFB and the ACB were plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Here it is:

The Social Security Administration must give the nation's 3 million blind or visually impaired recipients the option of receiving benefit notices in Braille or by audio computer disc, a federal judge in San Francisco said Tuesday. Ruling in a nationwide class-action suit, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said that by sending notices only by mail and phone calls, the agency is violating a law that guarantees the disabled equal access to its programs. He ordered the government to make the additional choices available by April 15.

The case involves some of the 100 million notices the Social Security Administration sends each year to its 61 million beneficiaries, advising them of scheduled appointments, program changes, tax filings, and possible benefit cuts.

About 250,000 Americans receive benefits because of blindness, and another 2.7 million blind or sight-impaired people get Social Security for other reasons.

Under rules authorized by Congress in 1988 and 1990, they can choose to be notified of agency actions by mail, with a follow-up phone call, or by certified mail with a return receipt. Those who make no choice are contacted by mail without a phone call.

Alsup said the current system may have been effective twenty years ago but no longer provides the "meaningful access" the law requires, in light of advanced technology.

Little evidence was presented that blind people had lost benefits because of inadequate notice, Alsup said, but the current system is ineffective for at least some recipients.

For example, he said, a blind person who needs to respond to a written notice must wait until someone is available to read it aloud and may have problems meeting government deadlines.

Alsup said the Social Security Administration refused to acknowledge that it was even covered by the antidiscrimination law until after the suit was filed in 2005 and "has been quick to find lame excuses for noncompliance."

The agency must inform all blind and visually impaired recipients by December 31 that they will have the choice of getting notices in Braille or by Microsoft Word CD in mid-April, Alsup said. He said those who want another option, such as notification by email, must be allowed to request it and show why they need it.

"This is a huge benefit," said attorney Silvia Yee of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund in Berkeley, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. She said the ruling will allow many recipients "to have an independence in working with the (Social Security Administration) that they've never had before."

Many sight-impaired recipients, particularly the young and those who become blind later in life, can't read Braille, Yee said, "but for people who do read Braille, it's their first choice." She said the CD option would particularly help younger recipients.

Lowell Kepke, spokesman for the Social Security Administration's regional office in Richmond, said the agency "will review the order and take whatever actions are appropriate."

Signs and Such:
Have a fundraising idea that involves Braille? Want some really inexpensive identification signs or pins? Contact Ken Timmins to discuss your ideas. Email <kenstags@aol.com>.

Jim Omvig Reflects:
In 2003 President George W. Bush appointed longtime Federation leader Jim Omvig to serve as a member of the President's Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled. Jim, who was appointed to represent the interests of blind, Javits-Wagner-O'Day (JWOD) program workers, was reappointed in 2007. He recently offered an observation about the number of blind people appointed by President Bush during his time in office:

During a recent meeting of the Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled, as I thought about the vacancies on the committee (seven of the fifteen appointees ceased their service when the Obama administration came into office), I thought about the blind people appointed by President Bush to positions of authority during his time in office. President Bush appointed no fewer than twelve blind persons to high-level federal positions and selected a thirteenth to work for him in the White House. One can only hope that President Obama (and all future presidents) will do as well or even better.

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 a BrailleNote mPower BT18 that was purchased in August 2007 and used for one school year. Purchased for $4,400, would like to sell for $2,200. Please contact Sharon at (785) 466-1609 or by email at <selsen1@hotmail.com>.

For Sale:
I have for sale a brand-new Perkins Braillewriter that is still in the box. Asking $350. Contact Michael Fields at (818) 841-3660.

For Sale:
I am selling two technology manuals: the Braille Sense Plus hard copy Braille manual, grade 2, interpoint, plastic comb binding, 9 volumes. I paid about $300; I will entertain offers. Also selling Levelstar Icon hard copy Braille manual, grade 2, interpoint, plastic comb binding. I paid about $175 and will entertain other offers also. I am selling these manuals because the above products did not meet my technology needs after all. Please email Beth at <happytrails@samobile.net>.

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.