Braille Monitor                                                    December 2009

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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 (, 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 <>. 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 <> or contact Mary Jo T. Hartle, director of Education at the Jernigan Institute at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2407, or at <>.

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; <>.

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 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 <>.

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 <>.

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 <>.

NFB Pledge

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

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