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Braille Monitor

Vol. 53, No. 6                                                                June 2010

Daniel B. Frye, editor

Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by

The National Federation of the Blind

Marc Maurer, president

National Office
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Baltimore, Maryland  21230
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National Federation of the Blind
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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. 53, No. 6                                                                June 2010

 

Lead Photo

Dallas Site of 2010 NFB Convention

Something Amiss in Michigan
Part I
by Daniel B. Frye

A Review of Civil Rights Gains and Goals
by Thomas E. Perez

At Home with Sheena Iyengar
An Expert on Choice Chooses
by Penelope Green

Selections from Let Freedom Ring
Blind Americans Raise Their Voices in Support of Braille Literacy

From the Editor's Email Basket
Technology, Access, and Personal Responsibility
by Mike Freeman, Gary Wunder, and Dan Burke

The Evolution of a Blind Person
by Monica Venesky

Featured Book in the Jacobus tenBroek Library
by Ed Morman

Recipes  

Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2010 by the National Federation of the Blind

 

More than a hundred attorneys, legal scholars, governmental officials, disability-rights advocates, and law students from across North America attended the 2010 Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium, Equality, Difference, and the Right to Live in the World, on Thursday and Friday, April 15 and 16, at the NFB Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. The symposium offered a unique and historic opportunity to consider the concepts of equality and difference for the disabled in employment, education, medical treatment, and access to technology. Symposium organizers expanded this year’s format to a day-and-a-half-long event, providing time for concurrent breakout workshops complementing and deepening understanding of the topics addressed in each plenary session. In addition to the NFB Jernigan Institute, symposium cosponsors included the American Bar Association Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law; Ferleger Wealth Management, LLC; the Maryland Department of Disabilities; Rosen, Bien, and Galvan, LLP; the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights; Anna Thomasson; and Edward and Joyce Kallgren.

The 2010 tenBroek Symposium included two keynote addresses. The Hon. Tony Coelho, chairman of the board of the American Association of People with Disabilities and former member of Congress from California, largely responsible for authoring the original Americans with Disabilities Act, delivered the symposium’s theme keynote. His personal anecdotes and incisive observations about progress and work yet to be accomplished set the tone for the conference. Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Thomas Perez presented this year’s luncheon keynote. The audience was impressed by the array of initiatives that the Justice Department is tackling and pleased that so many make the interests of disabled people a priority.

NFB President Marc Maurer chaired the symposium. Richard Brown, chief judge of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, offered remarks entitled “Changing the Game,” in which he explored the ways the legal profession and disability-rights advocates could broaden employment and other opportunities for America’s disabled community through the law and social change. Judge Brown is one of only a few deaf judges in the country. Attorney David Ferleger joined Judge Brown on this forward-looking panel. The balance of Thursday morning was filled with workshops. Topics including Disability in the Constitution; Real Jobs: Realizing First-Rate Employment—the Next Generation; the ADA Amendments Act: Real Experience, Real Questions; and New Strategies to Improve the Practice of Disability Law were addressed in small-group sessions that registered attendees had preselected.

Leslie Seid Margolis, managing attorney of the Education Unit of the Maryland Disability Law Center, and Mark Weber, Vincent DePaul Professor of Law at the DePaul University College of Law, presented perspectives on advocacy and special education during the first plenary session on Thursday afternoon. Breakout advocacy workshops emphasizing specific strategies for blind, deaf, autistic, and emotionally disturbed students followed the plenary gathering. Andrew Imparato, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities, and Scott LaBarre, president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, facilitated an open forum and discussion of the day’s topics to close Thursday’s programming. President Imparato invited workshop facilitators to summarize their presentations as an overview of the range of issues covered during the day. An evening reception capped the first day’s program.

Friday morning Dan Goldstein and Mehgan Sidhu from the law firm of Brown, Goldstein, and Levy presented a general session on technology access and the disabled. Of particular interest to Monitor readers was their focus on nonvisual access to Websites, electronic books, and items covered in the pending Technology Bill of Rights in the U.S. House of Representatives. The final series of workshops address general litigation strategies. Topics included Pros and Cons of Class Action Lawsuits, the Threat to Self and Others Defense, Litigation of Disability-Rights Cases in the United States Supreme Court, and Lessons Learned from Litigating Olmstead Cases. The last plenary session focused on medical treatment and ethics. Professor Adrienne Asch, director of the Yeshiva University Center for Ethics, and Professor Dan Brock, director of medical ethics at the Harvard Medical School, explored divergent views on eugenics and the value of human life before birth (particularly if that life is likely to be one with a disability). Their thoughtful and respectful exchange generated considerable audience discussion and reflection.

For a more detailed analysis of the material covered during the symposium, visit the Website of the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights: <www.txJCLCR.org>. The journal will publish the symposium proceedings later this fall.

We can be proud of Jacobus tenBroek’s constitutional and disability law scholarship. His professional legacy has shaped a civil-rights-based approach to disability law in the United States. Without exception symposium presenters acknowledged his early and ongoing influence.

 

Dallas Site of 2010 NFB Convention

The 2010 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Dallas, Texas, July 3-8, at the Hilton Anatole Hotel at 2201 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, Texas 75207. Make your room reservation as soon as possible with the Hilton Anatole staff only. Call (214) 761-7500.

The 2010 room rates are singles, doubles, and twins $62 and triples and quads $67 a night, plus a 15 percent sales tax. The hotel is accepting reservations now. A $60-per-room deposit is required to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if notice is given to the hotel of a reservation cancellation before June 1, 2010. The other 50 percent is not refundable.

Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations may be made before June 1, 2010, assuming that rooms are still available. After that time the hotel will not hold our block of rooms for the convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon.

Guestroom amenities include cable television, coffee pot, iron and ironing board, hair dryer, and high-speed Internet access. The Hilton Anatole has several excellent restaurants, twenty-four-hour-a-day room service, first-rate meeting space, and other top-notch facilities. It is in downtown Dallas with shuttle service to both the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport and Love Field.

The schedule for the 2010 convention will follow that of last year:

Saturday, July 3           Seminar Day
Sunday, July 4             Registration Day
Monday, July 5            Board Meeting and Division Day
Tuesday, July 6           Opening Session
Wednesday, July 7      Business Session
Thursday, July 8          Banquet Day and Adjournment

 

Something Amiss in Michigan
Part I

by Daniel B. Frye

Introduction:

When Patrick D. Cannon, director of the Michigan Commission for the Blind (MCB), authorizes the expenditure of public funds to have security guards present at an open meeting of the agency's governing body, it's time to start asking questions. Who exactly requires such protection, agency leaders and staff or blind consumers? Why has Christine Boone been fired from her position as director of the Michigan Commission for the Blind Training Center (MCBTC)? How are programs at the training center being changed in the wake of her dismissal, and are students facing retaliation for supporting Boone's efforts to regain her job? Under Cannon's leadership is the MCB violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act by installing inadequate and noncompliant Braille and raised-letter signs in commission facilities, adopting inaccessible statewide computer systems that blind commission employees cannot use, and failing to provide timely access to accessible client records and materials for public meetings?

Such possible lapses take on greater significance when one considers that Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm named Cannon the state's ADA coordinator, responsible for "coordinating, on behalf of the Governor, programs, activities, and services of all state departments and agencies within the executive branch related to compliance with state and federal disability-rights laws..." as outlined in her Executive Order 2004-31, issued in June 2004. Does Cannon try to exercise inappropriate control over the composition and operation of the Commission, the body responsible for agency oversight? What glaring fiscal irregularities need further review at the MCB? Why do blind entrepreneurs in Michigan accuse the MCB of abdicating its responsibility to promote due process and active participation among blind vendors in the state's Randolph-Sheppard Vending Program? In short, why are some blind consumers unhappy with Cannon's administration of the MCB in these and other areas? Whatever else can be said about the quality of services, administrative irregularities, and managerial manipulation at the Michigan Commission for the Blind described in the following report, nobody doubts that the relationship between the state's blind consumers and their principal rehabilitation service provider has been poisoned.

The Braille Monitor originally learned of troubles at the MCB when in early 2010 word of Christine Boone's pending termination for initiating and running a marksmanship course at the MCBTC was made public. After we talked with blind people throughout the state, it became clear that the Boone case was only one of several issues suggestive of systemic problems at the agency. We visited Michigan March 16 to 21, 2010, when the MCB board was scheduled to conduct its quarterly meeting and a Commission board-sponsored special retreat to air vendor grievances was planned. We interviewed a wide range of interested people (including, to his credit, Director Cannon), attended the public meetings, and examined stacks of correspondence and public records to piece this story together. As is always the case in complicated stories, new details emerge almost daily surrounding the Commission for the Blind. This story can provide only a snapshot of these issues through mid-April.

The MCB under Cannon has adopted some innovative programs that, if properly implemented, promise to help blind Michiganders. Notable among these services is an initiative to create at least forty internships with the possibility of permanent employment for qualified blind consumers. Funding from the American Recovery and Re-investment Act (ARRA) is helping to make these opportunities possible. Critics of the agency observe, however, that the MCB is unlikely to generate anything like this number of internships. Cannon has also spearheaded a strategic-planning exercise for the agency, styled Vision 2020, that he says will yield better services and enhance consumer involvement in agency governance. Some agency detractors dismiss this process as merely another bureaucratic exercise. Despite being able to point to such programs that should attract consumer support, our investigation found much for concern with programs, policies, and practices at the Michigan Commission for the Blind. In this first installment we concentrate on the Boone dismissal. The second report will address the other issues alluded to in the introduction. Here is what we know:

The Christine Boone Issue:

We begin with a summary of the events in Christine Boone's account of what led to her termination as director of the Michigan Commission for the Blind Training Center. Pat Cannon and other Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth officials declined to offer balancing or rebuttal comments, citing personnel confidentiality and pending litigation. The department did issue a single statement addressing the matter on Friday, March 19, during the public MCB board meeting. This statement appears in full following the Boone account of events. We also reprint some of the press coverage supporting Boone's fight for restoration to her former position.

According to Boone, the MCBTC provides instruction to blind adults in skills that will enable them to regain or retain the productivity, creativity, independence, enjoyment, and potential that life should hold for any person. Boone, who was intensively recruited by MCB Director Cannon to serve as director of the agency’s training center, relocated her family to Kalamazoo in October 2006. The training center has prospered under her leadership. Programs have been expanded and modernized with the result that customers are better prepared to enter the job market and to resume their roles as full participants in family and community life.

Pat Cannon has voiced nothing but support and enthusiasm for Boone’s work, rating her as high performing in three of the four evaluations he has given her and satisfactory to high performing in the fourth. Cannon’s only complaint was one missed deadline on Boone’s completion of staff evaluations for the thirty-four employees whom she directly supervised at the time. Given the fact that neither Cannon nor any of Boone’s colleagues on the Commission’s executive management team supervised more than seven employees, Boone’s slight delay in this single area hardly seems significant.

As MCBTC director Boone and her team routinely developed and implemented new classes, curricula, and entire programs to respond to the changing needs of their customers and to incorporate the input of stakeholders. Boone habitually communicated these plans to Director Cannon during regular telephone conferences with him, because Cannon told her that he preferred oral communication to the formality of written memos. Once she had received his oral approval of a project, Boone and the MCBTC team never failed to follow through and bring their plans to fruition. One example of this arrangement occurred in October 2008, when several center students decided to go sky diving. The MCB public relations director helped to publicize this grand adventure, but as usual no written communication flowed between Boone and her boss in connection with the event until afterward.

Over the years MCBTC students had expressed interest in target shooting, which has become part of the biathlon competition in the Paralympics. In the spring of 2009 the MCBTC recreation coordinator approached Boone to ask about the possibility of developing a target shooting class. Boone took the idea to Cannon, who expressed concern that the class be particularly safe. Boone assured him that all safety precautions would be taken, and she indicated that staff would explore possible teaching sites both in Kalamazoo and on the center’s twenty-two acre property. Cannon gave Boone his customary oral approval.

During the following six months the staff carefully researched and developed the class. Because the MCBTC is in the city of Kalamazoo, the staff were well aware that firearms would not be permitted on its land. After a thorough search, however, the recreation coordinator was unable to arrange an off-campus site. She then began to search for a gun that was not a firearm. She inquired of the Michigan State Police and then of Kalamazoo Public Safety in the city’s police department and learned that pellet rifles with a caliber of .177 or less were specifically exempted by Michigan law as BB class and not considered to be firearms. Two such pellet guns were purchased at a local Meijer department store, where they rang up as general merchandise and did not require a filing or documentation of any kind. These guns are further distinguished from firearms because they propel pellets by means of a spring rather than using any kind of air, gas, or combustion.

The shooting range was established at the bottom of a ravine in the woods at a considerable distance from the MCBTC building and its well-used walking track. The staff constructed a target of plywood covered with a two-inch sheet of foam and a paper target affixed to the foam. The pellets could pierce the paper and foam, leaving a mark that could be felt and seen and so enabling students to judge the accuracy of a shot. The target also included an audible locater. Safety was further assured by construction of the target range in a thirty-foot ravine with sloping berms on three sides.

Students and staff decided to call the class marksmanship to emphasize the goal of learning to shoot accurately and consistently at a standard target. The first class took place in mid-September, when the student population did not include anyone under the age of eighteen. This step was taken as another precaution to avoid any appearance of impropriety or endangerment of young people at the MCBTC. The class was taught by the center’s recreation coordinator, who is herself a highly skilled marksman and holds shooting credentials. Marksmanship class was an instant success, instilling a level of self-confidence in participants that is hard to achieve. Several students found this class life-changing, giving them at long last the conviction that they truly could achieve the same degree of excellence in their lives as blind people as they would have done as sighted people.

On Sunday, November 8, 2009, immediately following Boone’s speech at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan, in which she mentioned the success of the marksmanship class, Cannon telephoned Boone at home and asked her to discontinue the class at once. He also told her to bring the two guns with her to his office in Lansing early the following morning. Cannon then asked if she was aware of the existence of a Civil Service work safety rule that prohibited firearms on state property. Boone replied honestly that she had not consulted the Civil Service work rule, but that the guns used in the class were most definitely not firearms. She told him that they had been purchased at Meijer, just as countless other items were, requiring none of the paperwork or waiting time that accompanies the purchase of a firearm.

Before leaving for Lansing the following morning, Boone cancelled the class indefinitely. She did not carry the pellet guns with her because she recognized that they could have easily been mistaken for firearms, and Boone assumed it would be unwise for her to enter a state building carrying them.

Cannon was furious that she had not brought the guns to him, interrogating her at length about the kind of guns that had been used. He seemed unwilling or unable to believe that they were simple pellet guns, and he accused Boone of breaking Civil Service Workplace Safety rule 2-20, Regulation 2.05, which bans the possession of firearms on state property. A similar conversation occurred the following day, during which Cannon explained that he had received confirmation from the head of safety for Civil Service that the guns used at the center were firearms despite the fact that neither Cannon nor his Civil Service colleague had seen the pellet guns. Cannon ended this conversation cordially, assuring Boone that they would have plenty of time to discuss the marksmanship class at full length after he returned from a business trip the following week. On or about Thursday, November 12, 2009, Cannon arranged to have a visiting staff person bring the guns to Lansing from Kalamazoo, and he told Boone that they would be destroyed.

The following week, after a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, Boone was placed on emergency medical leave because of a genetic condition that nearly resulted in the loss of her lower leg and foot. She remained in regular contact with the MCBTC staff, which was supervised by assistant director Bruce Schultz in her absence. On or about December 20, Cannon called Boone, asking for her return-to-work date. She said that she had a tentative date of January 11, but she explained that this date was subject to her physician’s clearance and that she would likely be able to return initially on a part-time basis only.

On December 30 Boone received correspondence by registered mail informing her that she must attend an investigatory conference in Lansing on January 12 and that the subject of the conference was "marksman class.” She was further informed that she could bring a representative with her to this meeting. No further information was provided.

Boone spent much of the intervening time gathering information and documentation in the hope that she would be able to present it during the conference. She also studied Civil Service Workplace Safety Rule 2-20, Workplace Safety Regulation 2.05. Regulation 2.05 defines a firearm as “A weapon from which a dangerous projectile may be expelled by explosive, gas, or air.” The guns purchased by the Center (and approved by Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth purchasing officials) did not use any of these three methods to expel the pellets. The guns used a spring cylinder. The rule also spells out numerous exceptions, including specific approval by an appointing authority, which can be the CEO of an autonomous entity that is headed by a board or commission. Boone believed that the air rifles used at the MCBTC were not firearms, and indeed they were not sold as firearms. She also believed that she had the approval of the Commission for the Blind director to operate the class.

At Boone’s insistence her Mayo physician agreed to release her to return to work (for not more than four hours a day) on Monday, January 11. She traveled to Lansing on the 12th for the investigative conference. Though she had spoken with her attorney, Anne-Marie Mizel, Boone elected not to bring anyone with her, believing that doing so would only escalate the situation. At the conference were Commission director Pat Cannon, Christine Boone, and Patty Gamin, director of human relations for the Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth (DELEG). Gamin asked Boone a series of questions which appeared to be based on the belief that she had developed the marksmanship class in secrecy. Boone explained that she had received Cannon’s approval before her staff ever began work on the project. While Cannon initially denied hearing about the class before Boone’s presentation at the NFB of Michigan convention, later in the conference he did admit that he remembered discussing the development of a shooting class. He added that he had thought the class would be taught off campus. Because Boone had asked that the conference be recorded, Cannon’s comments are preserved in that recording.

It should be noted that the Civil Service rule at issue here does not distinguish between possession of a firearm on state property and possession of a firearm during actual duty time, since both are prohibited. Consequently, the question of whether the marksmanship class was held on the center’s property or off site, as Cannon supposed, is immaterial.

Although she was never permitted to present her own position on the meeting's topic, Boone did give Gamin a stack of documentation in support of her contention that the class was completely safe, that it was taught by a qualified staff person, that it furthered a legitimate purpose in direct response to student requests, and that the air rifles used in the class did not meet the definition of firearms under either Michigan law or the Civil Service work safety rule. This evidence included numerous articles highlighting the sport of target shooting for blind people (covering both national and international shooting competitions); several articles about Michigan hunters who are blind; a complete chronology of the class preparation, including a record of contacts with both state and local police and their opinion that the air rifles used were not firearms; voluntary statements from five center students who had participated in the class and found it rewarding and truly safe; the text from a number of commission publications discussing the agency’s belief about the capacity of blind people to compete at all levels of life and society; and an email from Cannon dated November 14, 2009, in which he assured Boone most cordially that they would continue to discuss the marksmanship class after his return from a national conference. Gamin accepted these submissions and without any further deliberation ended the conference by telling Cannon that they would meet in his office in five minutes to finish their discussion of the matter.

On Tuesday, January 26, 2010, Boone received an overnight letter (no signature required) ordering her to attend a disciplinary conference on Thursday, January 28 and indicating that “the contemplated discipline is dismissal from employment." Boone contacted Gamin the same day, requesting and receiving an extension of time until February 4. Gamin immediately called Boone back, placing her on paid administrative leave until February 4. Cannon telephoned MCBTC Assistant Director Schultz, informing him that Boone was not to be permitted on the property of the MCBTC.

During the next week Boone’s lawyer repeatedly requested that the disciplinary conference be recast as a hearing. Her requests were denied, and she was told that the purpose of the conference was only to administer discipline. State Representative Robert Jones, a longtime supporter of the center, contacted both Gamin and Skip Pruss, DELEG director, requesting a hearing for Boone. Both parties assured him that she would receive a hearing on February 4, but no hearing was ever provided.

Anne-Marie Mizel also requested an explanation of why Boone was banned from the MCBTC property. This request was not answered until the time of the conference, at which Gamin presented a letter saying that Boone had not really been banned from the property. Boone was also given a letter of dismissal at this conference.

It should be noted here that Regulation 2.05 permits discipline in the following circumstances only:


E. Discipline. The appointing authority may discipline an employee for (1) engaging in an act or threat of violence or (2) carrying or possessing a firearm or explosives at a state workplace or while on actual-duty time in violation of Rule 2—20, this regulation or an agency work rule.


Boone never carried or possessed a firearm under these conditions, and she never even touched the air rifles that were used in the marksmanship class.

DELEG Director of Human Resources Gamin, presided over the disciplinary conference alone, since Cannon had left the country on Saturday, January 30, for a three-week vacation in Mexico. Throughout the conference Boone was not told about any right of appeal or provided information about continuing insurance benefits, leave time pay out, and the like. Gamin refused to consider any of the information that Attorney Mizel had prepared. Boone finally asked Gamin why Cannon’s approval of the establishment of a marksmanship class was not being considered. Gamin responded that Cannon did not know what he was approving.

Boone ultimately did receive information on the administrative appeal process by mail on February 9. Remarkably, the first level of appeal is to the appointing authority within DELEG, who is none other than Gamin.

In Cannon’s absence the Central office of the Commission notified the staff of the MCBTC that Boone was not permitted to be on center property and that she might not communicate with any staff or students. When asked how Boone could be expected to remove her possessions from her former office if she was not allowed on the property, the acting director was told that she could be permitted to clear her office under his supervision.

After Boone's termination she filed the appropriate appeal of this decision, recognizing that a petition to the entity that had fired her was likely to be unsuccessful. Indeed the agency failed to provide a timely response to her appeal, so it now goes directly to the Civil Service Commission for a hearing. At this writing no date for this hearing has been scheduled. Finally, it is notable that Boone's application for unemployment benefits has been approved based on an investigation conducted by the agency responsible for administering unemployment benefits for DELEG. The notice that Boone received said in pertinent part, "You were discharged from the Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth on February 4, 2010, for violating company policy. Available information does not establish that your separation was for misconduct. It is found that you were not fired for a deliberate disregard of your employer's interest." This finding seems significant as the Civil Service Commission prepares to hear Boone's appeal.

 

Here is the only official statement that DELEG officials have offered in this matter. They insisted that the entire text of the following statement be read during one of the public comments sections at the March 19, 2010, MCB board meeting. Here it is:

Statement from
Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth
Director of Communications, Mario L. Morrow
March 19, 2010

On February 17, 2010, Christine Boone filed an action against the Department of Energy, Labor, & Economic Growth (DELEG) challenging her dismissal from employment based on her development and implementation of an unauthorized marksman class at the Michigan Commission for the Blind Training Center, in violation of Civil Service Rules and Regulations and DELEG work rules for workplace safety. It is the policy of this Agency not to comment on pending litigation. Anyone interested in Civil Service Rules and Regulations regarding firearms, however, is directed to the civil service Website at <http://www.michigan.gov/mdcs/0,1607,7-147-6877_8155-72500--,00.html#2_20> and <http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdcs/Reg_2.05_Workplace_Safety_207289_7.pdf>.
Anyone interested in the DELEG work rules on Workplace safety is directed to <http://www.michigan.gov/documents/safety2_121970_7.doc>. The Department of Energy, Labor, & Economic Growth intends to vigorously defend its actions in dismissing Ms. Boone from employment.


Members of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan, disgruntled center students, bewildered MCBTC staff, and others around the country who are outraged at the Boone termination have worked hard to communicate the injustice of Boone’s firing. We end this report by reprinting one of the many articles that appeared in the Michigan press reporting the Boone termination. On February 24, 2010, the following article appeared on the Website of Kalamazoo Newschannel Three.


Former Director of Blind Training Center Breaks Her Silence

She was fired for letting blind students shoot pellet guns, but now the former director of the Michigan Commission for the Blind's Training Center is breaking her silence. Newschannel 3 sat down with Christine Boone to share her side of a controversial story. Until now Boone had been reluctant to talk, fearing what the state could do to her, but now that the dust has settled she's offering her thoughts, and it's something that many in the blind community have been waiting for. “I just have a very unique set of circumstances,” said Boone.

Boone was a successful attorney but says her true calling was to rehab the blind, something she did at the MCB Training Center, but she isn't jumping to take credit. “I would never flatter myself so much as to say I exclusively empowered those guys to do that,” said Boone. However, Boone's students, who have protested her dismissal, say she should get the credit and have taken to the streets to voice their frustration.

“I am so humbled, really, that people would stop what they're doing, that they would stand out in the cold in support of me,” said Boone. Boone believes the blind can do nearly anything anyone else can, so she had a marksmanship class at the center. She says that class was stopped and then cited as the reason for her firing, all of which she says was done without an investigation.

“No one ever even saw the place where the class is taught or spoke to the teacher or spoke to the other staff members about their roles in designing the class,” said Boone. “That just feels like a reaction that isn't fair.” Boone also suspects her dismissal was hard on the staff she left behind. “I think people at the center are scared now,” said Boone, “and I don't blame them.”

Many of those protesting Boone's firing have cried foul that she was fired over using firearms on state property. They say the pellet guns used in the class were not firearms under Michigan law, and they believe Boone has gotten a raw deal. “It's hard to read that you are guilty of serious safety violations,” said Boone. "I was fired for violating a civil service work rule banning firearms from state facilities. That means that the state is attempting to redefine what a firearm is."

Under state law a firearm is defined in Michigan as “a weapon from which a dangerous projectile may be propelled by an explosive or by gas or air. Firearm does not include a smooth bore rifle or handgun, designed and manufactured exclusively for propelling, by a spring or by gas or air, BBs not exceeding .177 caliber.”

"If a .177 spring-activated pellet gun is a firearm, then even someone who's not necessarily an advocate for the second amendment has to say, 'Wait a minute, our second amendment rights are in serious trouble here,’" said Boone. Despite her dismissal Boone hopes the focus goes back to the blind. “The people who live in Michigan who are blind and visually impaired deserve good programs,” said Boone.

Newschannel 3 has made repeated attempts to talk to Pat Cannon, the director of the Michigan Center for the Blind, but we have not been successful. When we asked a spokesperson why Christine Boone was let go, we were told it was for poor performance. No mention was made of the marksmanship class.

 

In the absence of substantive comment from DELEG officials, we can draw our conclusions only from the information at hand. Based on the Boone account and particularly the assessment of the state in working up its response to her unemployment claim that she did not knowingly or willfully violate rules, we are left to wonder at the true rationale for this decision. According to Boone, Cannon grew threatened by and irritated with her as early as the spring of 2009 for a variety of reasons. Boone believes that Cannon thought she wanted his job, but she says that she had had no real interest in such an opportunity. Instead she says that she was enjoying the job of building a strong training center. Students loyal to Boone's administration tell the Braille Monitor that they have been subject to acts of retaliation for supporting her position, that the philosophical blindness seminar class that Boone instituted during her tenure has been essentially discontinued, and that students' after-hours activities and affiliations are being closely monitored and reported to Cannon. Several students report that morale at the MCBTC has dropped dramatically. Only time will tell how this issue will be resolved. Next month we will examine other aspects of this complicated story.

 

A Review of Civil Rights Gains and Goals

by Thomas E. Perez

From the Editor: Thomas Perez is assistant attorney general, Civil Rights Division in the United States Department of Justice. He addressed the third annual Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium on April 15, 2010. His remarks more often than not addressed disability issues unrelated to blindness and were wide-ranging, but the spirit of his sentiments was consistent with the legal scholarship that our founder, Jacobus tenBroek, undertook throughout his career. Here is what he said:

It’s an honor to be here at the tenBroek Symposium in the Kenneth Jernigan Center, an event and an institution named for two men who dedicated their lives to the service of civil rights. Professor tenBroek and Dr. Jernigan were not leaders of people who are blind–they were civil rights leaders, because their dedication to the rights of blind people had a profound impact, not only on the way blind people perceive themselves and the way those of us who are not blind perceive them, but their work helped us change the way we all perceive ourselves and our abilities and the way we think about disability. Professor tenBroek wrote extensively about the fundamental right of people with disabilities to live in the world. In one of his most memorable speeches Dr. Jernigan talked about blindness being a characteristic and not a handicap, a revolutionary concept at the time.

In our nation the phrase “civil rights” evokes powerful emotion, conjuring up visions of the 1960s, of Dr. King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, of hundreds of protestors on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, of students at lunch counters and university doors.

Sometimes forgotten when we talk about civil rights are the other movements, the other suppressed groups that have had to claw their way out from under the weight of immoral laws and misguided social morés. Women spent decades fighting for the right to vote, facing ridicule and sometimes imprisonment, before the Nineteenth Amendment passed in 1920. LGBT individuals have struggled for acceptance and battled wave after wave of misunderstanding and hate; they continue to make the case that they deserve the same rights as all people.

From our nation’s founding, individual people have fought for their rights, facing dozens of defeats for each victory. Progress has often been painfully incremental. But each victory, however small, was motivation enough to keep moving.

So it has been for individuals with disabilities in our nation, who faced every day the indignities of not being able to enter public buildings or get on a public bus; they were barred from attending schools and getting jobs. Until, that is, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA literally opened millions of doors for individuals with disabilities across this nation. As the head of the Civil Rights Division, I have the distinct honor of leading enforcement of this critical law, which had implications no less important or far-reaching than the landmark civil rights laws of the 1960s.

In the two decades since its enactment, the ADA has revolutionized the way the rest of society thinks about individuals with disabilities, and it revolutionized the way that people with disabilities live in our communities. But that doesn’t mean the journey is complete.

In the Civil Rights Division every single day we still see barriers new and old facing individuals with disabilities that stand in the way of allowing all people to maximize the contribution they can make to society. But I can confidently report that the Civil Rights Division is once again open for business, and we are ready to take on the long-standing barriers and the new ones emerging. We are busy working on the new ADA regulations and expect to have them ready to be published very soon.

We know that modern technologies can pose significant challenges, and we must remain vigilant to ensure that new technologies don’t leave out individuals with disabilities. We acted swiftly on the complaints we received from the NFB about the use of the Amazon Kindle at universities, and we reached agreements with five major universities: Princeton, the University of Arizona, Pace, Case Western, and Reed College. Those institutions have agreed not to use inaccessible electronic readers, and we will continue to make sure other institutions nationwide are aware of their accessibility obligations.

I know this particular challenge is close to home for the NFB. Technology has revolutionized our economy and culture. It has made communicating and obtaining information, entertainment, education, and goods easier and more efficient. But many of these technologies, from Websites to cell phones, from ticket kiosks to TV set-top devices, are either in whole or in part inaccessible to blind people and other people with disabilities.

Though we have seen some voluntary efforts by companies once the matter is brought to their attention, far too many companies choose to forgo what I believe must be a profitable investment in making their products and services accessible to all consumers. We have a population that is aging, and making products accessible will only increase their customer base. The technology to make electronics accessible exists and is relatively affordable to implement.

Let me be clear. It is and has been the position of the Department of Justice since the late 1990s that Title III of the ADA applies to Websites. We intend to issue regulations under our Title III authority in this regard to help companies comply with their obligation to provide equal access. Companies that do not consider accessibility in their Website or product development will come to regret that decision because we intend to use every tool at our disposal to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to technology and the worlds that technology opens up.

Meanwhile we are working to end the illegal but all too common practice of unnecessarily segregating people with disabilities in institutions. In 1999, with the Olmstead decision, the Supreme Court answered the question posed thirty-three years earlier by Dr. tenBroek in his article, “The Right to Live in the World.” He asked, “Are persons after all not to be persons if they are physically disabled? Are members of the community to be robbed of their rights to live in the community, their certificates cancelled upon development or discovery of disability?”

Olmsted established that Title II of the ADA requires that people with disabilities in institutional settings must be integrated in their communities when appropriate and that it is a violation of the law to segregate them unnecessarily from society. This was the Brown v. Board of Education [decision] of the Disability Rights Movement.

But, ten years after the landmark decision, tens of thousands of Americans with disabilities are still unnecessarily and unconstitutionally confined in institutions, some with unspeakably dangerous conditions. That’s why last year President Obama marked Olmstead’s tenth anniversary by proclaiming the Year of Community Living. Under his leadership we have made enforcing Olmstead a priority. Already, we have filed amicus briefs in several cases. We intervened in a case taking on the adult home system for people with psychiatric disabilities in the state of New York. In a case brought against the state of Georgia, we asked for an injunction to move persons with disabilities from institutions with horrific conditions into community settings.

Meanwhile, individuals with disabilities continue to face barriers to accessibility in nearly every aspect of life that many of us take for granted. The Civil Rights Division is active on all of these fronts, working to make sure the promise of the ADA is not an empty one. We are working to combat discrimination by public entities. In some cases the discrimination is overt--take, for example, our case against the city of Baltimore for mandating that substance abuse centers get special zoning permits when other entities don’t have to. In other cases cities and towns simply forgo their obligations to make their programs, services, and activities accessible to people with disabilities.

We continue to promote voluntary compliance in these cases through Project Civic Access, where cities and municipalities work cooperatively without litigation to reach compliance with Title II. The 176 agreements under the program to date deal with all aspects of civic life, including courthouses, health departments, libraries, parks, theaters and stadiums, sidewalks, and emergency shelters, as well as employment, voting, emergency preparedness, and effective communication—especially in law enforcement and 9-1-1 services. But, when jurisdictions will not cooperatively comply, we will not hesitate to file suit.

We recently settled a case against Jackson, Mississippi, for failing to make their public transit system accessible or make their paratransit systems fully compliant with their obligations under the ADA. The consent decree with Jackson mandates not only that buses include wheelchair lifts, but that bus drivers call out stops for passengers who are blind and that the paratransit allow reliable next-day service. This is particularly critical because it ensures that the plaintiffs in the case, teachers who are blind, have accessible transportation to their place of work, the Mississippi School for the Blind.

While we work to enhance accessibility in public programs and facilities nationwide, we must also address the continuing challenge of inaccessible housing. The Fair Housing Act and the ADA have specific accessibility mandates, yet far too many developers continue to ignore their obligations, either knowingly or out of ignorance of the law, to make their developments compliant with the Fair Housing Act and the ADA. On this front we have recently settled two matters—one in Iowa and the most recent in Tennessee.

In both cases we insisted that the developers not only fix their noncompliant properties, but also pay compensation to the disabled people who sought to live in the developments, and penalties to the United States. We also have an extensive outreach program to educate developers and architects about their obligations, and we will continue to bring cases when necessary to remind them that we take those obligations seriously.

In addition to access to housing and public services, access to hospitals is a critical need for everyone, including those with disabilities. The landmark health care reform legislation signed last month by President Obama will ensure that millions of disabled Americans can get the coverage they need but have too often been denied because of the preexisting-condition clauses in insurance policies. But as long as we have inaccessible hospital facilities or hospitals that do not use accessible medical equipment, many individuals with disabilities will continue to be unable to access critical care. This issue is a top priority for us, and we will soon be releasing guidance on accessible medical equipment.

Meanwhile, if we really want to address the abysmal unemployment rate for people with disabilities, we must ensure that children with disabilities not only have access to a free and appropriate public education as required by the IDEA, but also that they not be shut out from private schools and facilities. We are currently involved in a case against Nobel Learning Communities, which runs more than a hundred-eighty day care facilities, preschools, and elementary schools in fifteen states, but refuses to admit children with developmental disabilities and disenrolls children found to be on the autism spectrum.

Many of these challenges are longstanding and pervasive. For a long time people with disabilities were marginalized and discounted; others assumed they were incapable of contributing meaningfully to their communities. Those attitudes have shifted, but they have a way to go. As we work to combat the long-standing barriers, we must also tackle emerging challenges head on. In tight budget times like these, we must be persistent in our insistence that jurisdictions not allow themselves to move backwards because of declining revenues. The Civil Rights Division intervened in two cases in North Carolina over the issue of allowing individuals who have been placed in community settings to stay there. We will not allow people with disabilities to be a casualty of the difficult economy. While the case is pending, we successfully obtained a preliminary injunction that will keep the individuals whose lives are threatened by the budget cutbacks in their homes and communities.

Finally, we still face the challenge of attitudes and stereotypes that unfortunately exist throughout our society. When the Civil Rights Division has to enforce the right of a family with an HIV-positive child to enjoy recreational facilities because the owner tells them that their two-year-old child can’t swim in the swimming pool, as we did in a case in Alabama, we know we still have a long way to go.

When the Civil Rights Division has to bring a case against an attorney—of all people—who refuses to allow a woman with a service dog into his office, as we did in Colorado, we know we have a long way to go. When the Civil Rights Division has to fight for a deaf social worker’s right to be hired doing a job she is eminently qualified for because the government employer doesn’t want to accommodate her with a part-time interpreter, as we did in California, we know we have a long way to go.

We are approaching the twentieth anniversary of the ADA. Our nation has undeniably come a long way in those twenty years, and we are a better nation as a result. But our challenge in the twenty-first century is to make sure all Americans understand and appreciate, as Professor tenBroek argued, the fundamental right of people with disabilities to live in the world. We embrace that challenge and embrace the concept that he promoted, that “The policy of the law should be by negative ban and positive fostering to permit, enable, and encourage men to be a part of their communities to the full extent of their physical capacities.”

 

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!

 

At Home with Sheena Iyengar
An Expert on Choice Chooses

by Penelope Green

From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the Home and Garden section of the March 17, 2010, edition of the New York Times. Dr. Sheena [formerly Sethi] Iyengar was a NFB national scholarship winner in 1987, and she graduated from the Louisiana Center for the Blind in 1988. In a recent conversation she attributed some of her success to the solid blindness skills training and sound philosophy of blindness she acquired from her early involvement with the Federation. After earning her undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business, she earned her PhD in social psychology at Stanford. She taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during the 1997-1998 academic year and has been a Professor of Business at Columbia University since then.

According to Sheena, her recently published book on the art of choosing explores three central questions: Why do we want choice? What are the factors that determine how and what we choose? And, given all this, what things could we do to choose better? Sheena explains that the chapters in her seven-chapter book can be read independently or as a whole. Her book is available in an accessible format from Audible.Com. We congratulate Sheena on her accomplishments. Here is the recent Times article:

Sheena Iyengar, the S. T. Lee professor of business at Columbia University, was home from work the other day, dressed in a cream-colored twin set and a sparkly gold pencil skirt. She was seated at the head of a long cherry dining table she designed with her husband, Garud Iyengar, a financial engineer, who is also a professor at Columbia, in the living room the two had decorated in earthy colors with a mix of furniture found at auction, in India, and at a store in downtown Manhattan. There was a clear point of view—a consistent style or discernible taste, if you will—that linked all the objects in the room, including Dr. Iyengar’s outfit.

Yet there was a mystery, too: how had Dr. Iyengar, a social psychologist who firmly believes that taste is an unreliable compass and who is also blind, navigated the murky landscape of self-expression and made a series of decisions in all sorts of categories—clothes, paint, furniture—that would seem to require both sight and a conviction about taste?

Like most of us Dr. Iyengar is an expert in none of these areas. She is, however, an expert in choice, after a decade and a half of research teasing out the patterns of human decision-making and revealing its contradictions: how we love choice but are confounded, even paralyzed, by too much of it. In The Art of Choosing, her first book, out this month, she presents the biology and the psychology of choice, examining how different cultures construct choice and pondering how we might choose better.

“We’re born with the desire, but we don’t really know how to choose,” she said. “We don’t know what our taste is, and we don’t know what we are seeing. I’m a great believer in the idea of not choosing based on our taste. I could wear makeup today, and one person would say it looks bland, another would say it looks fake, and another might tell me I look really natural. Everyone is convinced their opinion is the truth, and that’s what I struggle against. But doesn’t everyone? What I do is aim for consensus. That’s my rule of how to choose.”

Dr. Iyengar wasn’t kidding. She has built a wardrobe and furnished her sprawling Upper West Side apartment in a postwar building owned by Columbia University by convening a committee of experts, trusted advisers that include her teaching assistants, her friends, and her husband, whose opinions she gathers and then weighs, one against the other. It’s an elaborate and fascinating process she follows out of necessity and offers as a tool for the rest of us.

“You cannot get to the heart of how things are going to be perceived unless you ask these judges,” she said. “When you’re choosing furniture for your home that’s supposed to express who you are, what you are also saying is you want other people to infer what you want them to infer. What if they see something different? Wouldn’t it be really depressing if you’re trying to be bohemian and instead they see you as Rush Limbaugh?”

Animals, particularly humans, love choice and seem to thrive on it. Like Robert Frost, rats will choose mazes with branching paths, even though there is no reward for doing so. Four-month-old humans, in one experiment that allowed them to “choose” pleasant music by tugging on strings, were palpably irritated when their strings were taken away, even though the same music played at random intervals. Even on a cellular level, brain imaging, mapping a biology of choice, reveals that neurons respond more to rewards people have chosen than those they have passively received. Study after study concludes that it’s the choosing that delights more than the object of choice.

Here’s the paradox: too much choice paralyzes us, no surprise to anyone who has ever stumbled into a Super Stop & Shop and tried to buy eggs. Dr. Iyengar is the author of a now-famous academic study that describes this paralysis.

In the mid-’90s, when she was a doctoral student at Stanford, Dr. Iyengar, now forty, conducted her jam study, in which research assistants set out pots of jam on tables in a supermarket—different flavors in groups of six and twenty-four—and offered samples to shoppers. What she discovered was that many of the shoppers who visited the table with the smaller sampling ended up buying jam along with their other groceries, as compared with a mingy few among those who visited the table with the greater selection. The study—more is less!—made Dr. Iyengar a darling of corporate America and a celebrity in social science circles.

In her book she described the magic number—seven—at which more turns into less, inspired by a 1956 study that showed that our senses can easily discern anywhere from five to nine objects of perception, like sounds, colors, or lights—any more, and we begin to make errors.

The number of people in Dr. Iyengar’s committee of experts hovers around five, she said. There are three research assistants: Esther Adzhiashvili, who is Russian and loves color; Kate McPike, who hails from Delaware and “likes J. Crew”; and John Remarek, “who everyone says you can tell has no interest in clothes.” Sometimes her personal trainer or another friend will be roped in. Her husband always gets a vote (she sees him as “maverick” in his tastes—he wanted to paint their family room black—yet he described himself in an e-mail message to this reporter as conservative, proving his wife’s contention that labels are wildly subjective).

The Drs. Iyengar met by chance, at a bus stop in San Francisco when they were graduate students at Stanford. She found him morose and geeky; he thought she was confident, bright and funny. Predictably, they fell in love and married a few years later, horrifying their families—he is Hindu, she was raised a Sikh—whose respective cultures view arranged marriages as sacrosanct. (Panicked, his mother visited the family astrologer who told her not to fret; the couple had been married in seven past lives and would be married in seven future ones as well.)

It was an involved process, Dr. Garud Iyengar told this reporter later via e-mail, to choose someone outside his caste and his religion. In the end his marriage calculus was solved by the tricky factor of love. “Over time,” he said, “she became someone I could not live without.”

Explaining romantic attraction, Dr. Sheena Iyengar writes, is nearly impossible. In her book she relates the experience of one of her graduate students who traveled to India with a woman in whom he had a romantic interest. He knew of the “love on a suspension bridge” study, which showed, through an elaborate ruse, that participants were more likely to develop an attraction for someone they encountered in a dangerous setting, like a spindly bridge swaying above the rapids, than in a more staid environment. The student thought to recreate the study with the object of his affection, on a thrill ride on a rickshaw through Delhi. But it backfired: the woman fell for the rickshaw driver.

Dr. Iyengar can trace her interest in choice back to her own family life—“my first study,” as she calls it. She was raised in the collision of two cultures, each of which is based on markedly different ideas about choice. There was the strict Sikh world she was born into, “which had all sorts of rules and duties you had to think about constantly: you couldn’t cut your hair, you couldn’t talk to boys,” she said, and the American one outside her door in Flushing, Queens, for which choice, of course, is its own religion.

Further, she and her only sister were born with retinitis pigmentosa, a disease of retinal degeneration, which left both blind by the time they were in high school. Biology and culture had seemingly boxed her into a world of little choice. Was she trapped by fate or made resilient by these preconditions, she asks in her book.

Certainly she was inspired by them. As an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Iyengar looked at how religious conviction affects people’s sense of well being. Her results were counterintuitive: the more orthodox and fundamentalist among her study group appeared to be more optimistic and resilient than the people who followed a looser, more liberal religion.

Any upbeat narrative, it seems—God is in control, Coke is refreshing—helps us feel better about our choices even as it limits them. (Studies have shown that Coke’s narrative, for example, is stronger than Pepsi’s, largely owing to feelings about the color red and the soft drink’s iconic typeface, which gives Coke market share but is also the reason most folks can’t tell the difference in blind taste tests.)

Which brings us back to decorating.

“One of the things we’re struggling with is what impression we want to communicate,” she said. “Do we want a warm house; do we want to come across as chic? What do those words mean? It took me a while to figure out I wanted a mix-and-match approach: I wanted a home that wasn’t purely Indian or purely American, and I wanted it to be eclectic. But what does eclectic look like?”

Dr. Iyengar knew from her research and that of others that it’s easier to choose from options sorted into categories. Coffee drinkers, for example, enjoy their coffee selection more if they choose coffee flavors from menus organized into categories like “spicy” or “nutty” than if they pick from an uncategorized list of 50 flavors. So she and her husband visited small furniture stores, researching the feeling and look of labels like “modern,” “Colonial,” and “English antique.”

“The worst thing you can do first is go to a huge department store,” she said. “Once you learn what you like and realize you can’t afford any of it, then you can take that information, the shapes that appeal and the patterns they fit into, and go back into the bigger pool of choices.”

Once she made her furniture choices, every object—the dainty English desk in her bedroom, the suite of Louis chairs in the living room—was previewed by her committee. “What’s great about getting other people’s comments is you learn the problems,” she said. “You can get so enamored of something you don’t give enough weight to its drawbacks. You have to invite criticism.”

Did she have to train her gang? “At first people are nervous,” she said. “Then they loosen up, and, knowing their opinions are just one of a group’s and that I don’t always go with their opinions, they get more competitive, which makes them state things in a more pure way.”

It’s been a two-year process, “and we’re still not done,” Dr. Iyengar said. “You have to be choosy about what you choose.”

Recently, her husband mentioned he had a hankering for a weekend house. Her response was instant, she said. “I told him he was crazy.”

 

Selections from Let Freedom Ring
Blind Americans Raise Their Voices in Support of Braille Literacy

From the Editor: Following its February release, we occasionally plan to print selected passages from Let Freedom Ring: Braille Letters to President Barack Obama, our volume of one hundred first-person accounts about the importance of Braille. Many of these narratives present compelling accounts of how the code or its absence has influenced the lives of blind people. These narratives should be helpful in local Braille advocacy initiatives; will be effective educational pieces for the general public on the value of literacy for blind people; and will introduce a series of interesting people, often accomplished blind role models.

This month we spotlight four contributors who share their impressions and personal experiences of Braille in the following letters. Angela Matney lives and contributes to the work of the Federation in Virginia. Reared in the relative isolation of rural West Virginia, she has--with the benefit of Braille--distinguished herself in diverse careers: mathematics teacher and attorney. Angela Howard Frederick is an active leader in our Texas affiliate and a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Texas. With Braille to hand and her personal commitment to social justice, Angela's potential to shape the society in which she lives and works is unlimited. Barbara Loos, a longtime leader in our Nebraska affiliate, surveys in her letter to President Obama the influence that Braille has had in the various areas of her life. Finally, Gary Wunder, secretary of the National Federation of the Blind and president of our Missouri affiliate, profiles the importance of Braille. Knowledge of the code has enabled him to succeed personally and professionally. Here are their letters:


Angela Matney
Charlottesville, Virginia

August 28, 2009

Dear President Obama:

Neither of my parents finished high school. My father, a coal miner, left school after the sixth grade. Both of my parents eventually earned GEDs. They were determined that none of their children would want for educational opportunities.

When Mom and Dad decided I would attend the same school as my brothers and sisters, they knew they faced an uphill battle to ensure that I would receive an accessible education. The school board told my parents that I would not be taught Braille until I reached the sixth grade. My parents understood that I would not be literate until I learned Braille. With the help of the National Federation of the Blind, they persuaded the school board to provide me with Braille instruction in the schools of our southern West Virginia community.

Zane, my Braille instructor, was not a certified teacher of the vision impaired; in fact, she never attended college. She did hold a certification in Braille transcription. She began working with me when I was four years old. Under Zane's instruction I completed a Braille reading curriculum in addition to all the assignments given to my sighted classmates. Beginning in kindergarten I had extra lessons in the Nemeth Code, the Braille system of mathematical notation. I thought at the time that it was unfair that I had more work to do than my classmates. Now I am grateful that Zane and my parents understood just how important it was that I become literate.

Because I began learning the Nemeth Code at such a young age, mathematics was accessible to me. I eventually earned a bachelor of science degree and a master's in math, and I taught post-secondary mathematics courses. I am certain that I could not have done these things without Braille.

I recently graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law. In a few months I will begin my employment as an attorney in the business section of a Fredericksburg, Virginia, law firm. My facility with Braille will enable me to conduct legal research efficiently and to access crucial information in client meetings.

My parents were determined that their children would benefit from greater educational opportunities than those that had been available to them. The fact that one child was blind was immaterial. Because of their tenacity and Zane's dedication, I can quickly skim through restaurant menus, solve mathematical equations, scan legal articles for typographical errors, and read to my young nieces and nephews. I now realize just how lucky I was to receive phenomenal Braille instruction. I can only hope that one day soon my experience will be the rule rather than the exception.

Sincerely,

Angela Matney


Angela Howard Frederick
Austin, Texas

August 22, 2009

Dear President Obama:

I would first like to thank you sincerely for the moving victory speech you delivered on election night. I remember your speech, not only because you so ably captured the mood of the country, but because of the eloquent and understated way that you included disabled people. As a blind person rarely do I hear people with disabilities included in the list of groups who have contributed to something bigger than ourselves. It meant a great deal to many of us that you spoke of the contributions of our group with such normalcy.

I would like to share with you a little about myself and the role that Braille has played in my life. I am diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that causes the gradual deterioration of the retinas. I have been slowly losing my sight since the age of three, and at the age of thirty-three I now see light out of only one eye.

One of the reasons your victory speech moved me so much is that it is rare that disability is portrayed as something that is normal and that can be successfully managed. I suppose this is the reason why those tools associated with disability are often thought to be things to be avoided. The sad irony of this is that often the stigma associated with disability results in the denial of the alternative tools and techniques that can enable disabled individuals to lead productive lives.

When I was growing up with limited vision, my parents were told by teachers and special education professionals that I should not learn or use Braille unless I absolutely needed to do so. Like blindness itself, Braille was presented as something that was shameful and that should only be used when all other options became useless. Consequently, I faced many struggles as a young student. I found reading print slow, embarrassing, and excruciatingly painful. I would spend many hours trying to complete homework at night because it took me so much longer than it did other students. When I couldn’t read print any longer, I was given an enlarging machine that had to be wheeled from classroom to classroom, forcing me to sit in isolation from other students. This was one of the most painful experiences of my life. All of this was to avoid using the reading method that would eventually transform my life.

When I was thirteen, I took part in a summer program for children at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. This is one of our country’s most impressive training centers for blind adults and children. While participating in this program, I was given the opportunity to learn Braille. My desperation to have a medium through which I could read led to many nights of studying with the lights out after everyone else had gone to sleep. I learned the entire Braille code in a month; it usually takes adults from three to six months to learn the entire code.

After a few heated discussions, the special education teachers agreed to let me try to use Braille in school. The experiment was a smashing success. My grades improved by leaps and bounds, and I discovered a love of reading and learning that would transform my life.

After earning a bachelor’s degree, serving as an AmericCorps VISTA volunteer, and working for a student loan company for several years, I decided to return to school to pursue my doctorate in sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. I am working on my dissertation on women in Texas politics, and I teach an undergraduate course in social problems.

As you are well aware, advances in technology have transformed classrooms across our country. I make use of technology as much as my peers. I use PowerPoint in the classroom, and my students send their papers to me through email. Yet, despite these technological advances, I credit Braille as one of my most important tools for independence. I have taken Braille notes in all of my graduate coursework, and I use a Braille questionnaire as I interview elected women leaders for my dissertation research. In order to keep myself organized and competent, I label students’ papers and tests with little Braille notes, and I label my file folders in Braille. I also keep my Braille-writing tools handy in order to take quick notes to myself when meeting with students. Perhaps even more important than these strategies, Braille is an essential tool that enables me to live independently. I label many household appliances in Braille so that I can use them competently, and I use Braille to label items as important as medication and cans of food, and as fun and interesting as CDs and DVDs.

I am sure that you have by now read the statistics on the correlation between Braille literacy and employment outcomes for the blind. I also hope that the stories you read in the pages of this book will put human faces to those statistics. I count myself among the most fortunate of blind Americans. Because of the foresight of the adults who provided the opportunity for me to learn Braille, I am now building a career out of my passion for reading, writing, and learning. I hope that you will join in our commitment to continue the fight to ensure that all blind children in this country can count themselves fortunate in having the opportunity to become literate, productive members of our communities.

Sincerely,

Angela Howard Frederick


Barbara Loos
Lincoln, Nebraska

August 28, 2009

Dear President Obama:

Reading and writing have always felt magical to me. Even the nickname my brother still uses for me comes from what I called the pen my dad carried in his pocket, with which I was fascinated. Since my parents were partners in the newspaper in Weeping Water, Nebraska, where I grew up, the sounds, smells, and type used in hot metal printing were part of my everyday life. As a child born blind, the one thing I could not figure out was how various people could pick up a book or newspaper and say exactly the same words--even if the second person to say them hadn’t heard the first one. And I was intrigued when people wrote things down because the page did not reveal anything to me.

Then my blind sister, a year older than I, started school at the school for the blind in Nebraska City, and I spent a lonely school year wondering what it would be like when I got there. Although one initial result was that I traded loneliness for homesickness, one lifelong payoff was that I received the gift of reading and writing Braille. Since I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, the population at the school was larger than usual, due to some specific causes of blindness during that time. Although the cause of our blindness is still unknown, the fact that we grew up then allowed us the benefit of having both friends and competitors who were blind. We were expected to learn Braille and to use it proficiently.

Braille has been a key ingredient in my education. I graduated with distinction from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Throughout my career Braille has been invaluable. I have directed an orientation center for the blind, have taught Braille and the use of adaptive equipment for the blind, and have transcribed materials using both Braille and audio texts. My first husband died when our children were five and seven, so I did much of my parenting as a single mother. My knowledge of Braille allowed me to meet these responsibilities. I have been active in my church, book groups, AmeriCorps, and the National Federation of the Blind. I like to read, do word puzzles, create art, grow plants, and write, among other things. As you might imagine, Braille was critical for all of these personal and recreational commitments.

I feel fortunate that I grew up in a family where literacy was expected, at a time when Braille was the understood road to literacy for the blind, and at a place where its instruction was competently provided. My mother read aloud to my sister and me before we learned to read ourselves and afterward, especially when we couldn’t get specific books in Braille. Both of our parents read unavailable college texts to us.

One of the ironies of our technological age is that, although Braille is much easier to print and more portable (what used to take up many large volumes can now be carried around in small machines with refreshable Braille displays), most blind children are not being taught how to read and write it. While it is possible to get audio books and to use computers with speech output, listening to something doesn’t put the spelled, punctuated, formatted text in front of the hearer. It also can rob a person of the most magical part of reading and writing—interpretation.

When I read something in Braille, I create the voices, the cadence, and the mood, and I can experience the swift, silent, unencumbered thought that is faster than spoken language that happens inside a reading brain. If what I’m reading is technical, Braille allows me to explore its nuances. If it’s light reading, I can skim and take what I want. Fortunately for my fellow students and me, we were doing all of this before we heard the dismal reports mostly spread by those who, whatever they might claim, had neither the interests of the blind at heart nor an understanding of Braille.

When I write, I do my best to give my reader clues through punctuation and style about how I want them to feel and think about what I’m offering, and sometimes even what I hope they’ll do once they’ve read it. Again, without Braille this would not be possible.

Mr. President, I hope that you will see this letter as a call to action. The 90 percent illiteracy rate among blind children, the 70 percent unemployment rate among working-age blind adults, and the inability of many blind seniors to live independently are indefensible. Please do whatever is in your power to do to help us reverse the literacy crisis that currently exists for blind Americans. I am heartbroken that blind people of all ages, who should be competing on terms of equality with their sighted peers, are not doing so because Braille, the essential tool for their literacy, is being denied them at a time when it is more available than it was when I was young.

We, in the National Federation of the Blind, are doing what we can through the sale of the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar and other initiatives to change what it means to be blind in positive ways, including seeing to it that blind people learn Braille. But we need your help. You can count on us to do our part. Will you do yours?

Sincerely,

Barbara Loos


Gary Wunder
Columbia, Missouri

August 28, 2009

Dear President Obama:

When I think of Braille, I think of places I've never been except through my fingertips. I think of places I have been because my fingertips allowed me to make the money to go. I think of dreams that came true because the secrets to making them reality were found in the pages of a Braille book.

When I was a child in school, there was no question whether totally blind people would learn Braille. Today people make the decision more complicated by saying that technology provides us with alternatives, but what technology could ever replace your need to read, to scribble a note to your wife on your anniversary, or to write yourself a reminder to get the cake for your daughter's birthday? Technology supplements what and how you read, but never does it supplant your need to read. So it is with your brothers and sisters who are blind.

I make my living writing computer programs. One overlooked period, one misplaced indentation, and the program I've written for my day's pay doesn't work. How are those mistakes avoided or detected when they happen? For blind people, through Braille. If much of what we learn is through imitation, how do we see the spelling of words or the punctuation used to form grammatically correct sentences? Blind people use Braille.

In a world forged by so many technological marvels, please help us be on the right side of the digital divide--not casualties of the information age, but significant contributors in it. Leader or loser, specialist or spectator: reading makes all the difference.

Sincerely,

Gary Wunder

 

From the Editor’s Email Basket
Technology, Access, and Personal Responsibility

by Mike Freeman, Gary Wunder, and Dan Burke

From the Editor: Today’s complex political, legal, and technological environment often creates complicated and ambiguous issues for blind people working to achieve equality, security, and opportunity for themselves and others. The NFB’s philosophy of blindness is sound and pragmatic, but deciding to adhere to one’s principles today and even determining what actions those principles demand can be a challenge. The following email exchange took place recently on the affiliate presidents listserv. The first message is from Mike Freeman, president of the NFB of Washington. The second is from Gary Wunder, president of the NFB of Missouri. The final one is from Dan Burke, president of the NFB of Montana. All three men are also members of the NFB board of directors and thoughtful shapers of NFB opinion and philosophy. Their concerns and cautions are worth serious thought. This is what they wrote:

Fellow Affiliate Presidents:

We all know the basic tenets of NFB philosophy; we wouldn't be affiliate presidents were this not so. In most instances guidance from NFB philosophy is clear and straightforward. However, the most fascinating applications of NFB philosophy occur in situations that bring out its subtle nuances and force us to ponder what it means in the real world.

In my opinion one of these areas of subtlety concerns our desire for accessible documents and other materials. When should we ask for them, when should we demand them, and when should we take responsibility for gaining access to them by our own efforts (including use of readers)? I am concerned that, as it becomes easier to get accessible materials, we are losing our edge in critical thinking and in adhering to NFB philosophy. I am becoming increasingly worried that more and more blind people—both NFB members and nonmembers—are failing to distinguish between that which is desirable and that which ought to be mandatory, between what should be ours by right and what is our own responsibility to procure for ourselves. The Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws have something to say about this under certain circumstances, but there is often room for disagreement, especially in employment situations, where I am afraid many blind people entering the workforce are confused about what is an employer's responsibility and what is the prospective employee's responsibility—where they begin and end, when failure to provide accessible materials is discrimination, and when it is just the way the world works. I am becoming increasingly concerned that we are not sufficiently educating our members in the arcana of NFB philosophy—a failing that is partly ours and partly that of the membership, who all too often want everything in ten-second sound bites.

This concern was crystallized for me by two incidents that I observed during the past twenty-four hours. The first came from a question of one of our members (a staunch Federationist), and the second came from a post on our BlindLaw list.

Incident one: A young lady called me up yesterday afternoon asking whether census forms were accessible and what blind folks who lived alone did to fill them out. I told her that I hadn't even considered the question; that I always just used an amanuensis and never worried about it. Apparently she called up the census office, and they have a form in Braille; she wondered how a blind person would handle this. I said that I supposed the Braille form was like the old Talking Book Topics Braille book request lists that had print under the Braille and one would just put a penciled line by the answer one wanted.

My point is merely that in the old days we would never have even considered the question; we all just used an amanuensis to fill out the form, and that was that. To what extent is it the responsibility of the Census Bureau to provide accessible forms, and to what extent should we just accept that the world predominantly uses print and that, if we are to compete on terms of equality and, perhaps more important, demand the right to compete on terms of equality, we should just learn to handle the print ourselves? I know what Dr. Jernigan would say (or I think I do); in the no-longer-distributed publication "Why the NFB?," he took one letter-writer to task for complaining that he (Dr. Jernigan) had sent him some print correspondence.

Incident two: A legitimate and interesting discussion has arisen on the BlindLaw mailing list concerning the rights of attorneys during the discovery process to receive materials in accessible form: what is the extent (if any) of these rights, and (a) whose responsibility it is to make documents accessible and (b) how should one get the job done, specifically with scanned PDF documents? The post that disturbed (nay, incensed) me was from a lawyer (I don't know whether or not he is in the NFB, and this is probably immaterial anyway) who said that one of his clients had gotten an adverse court ruling because the blind attorney hadn't been able to get a scanned PDF into a useable form in time to prevent it.

I'm sorry, but this enrages me! Were I that attorney's client, I'd fire him and sue the pants off him for incompetence; if the attorney wishes to be accepted as being able to compete on terms of equality, he should actually compete, and in my opinion it is no one's responsibility but his to see that he has at hand all the material he needs to do the best job he can for his client.

It will be interesting to see how others respond though I doubt many will put it in as stark terms as I do here. But my point is not to debate this particular issue: I am making like a foghorn in the night: ladies and gentlemen, we have a job to do. We not only need back-to-basics NFB philosophy seminars at the national level, but we need them in spades at the state-affiliate and local-chapter levels. The question then becomes how to get the membership to sit still long enough to absorb and consider the esoterica of NFB philosophy where the rubber really meets the road and get them to increase their critical thinking skills in this area, for I fear me greatly that we will face this issue more and more as the world increasingly adopts technologies and methodologies that involve use of sight under circumstances that heretofore they did not.

Mike Freeman


Hello Mike,

I really like your post and admire you for taking the time to put it out on a list like this. I have to tell you that I'm amazed that many people, some of them state presidents, don't even pay for readers on a regular basis. I can't imagine how people pay their bills, fill out forms, and do all of the other things that being a state president requires without setting up some human help along the way. To me it is just a built-in cost of being blind, one I have taken to be a given for a long, long time now. I cannot imagine trying to make it the responsibility of opposing counsel to provide my blind lawyer a document in an accessible format, and I would be mighty upset with any of our blind lawyers who told me my case had been lost because they did not read the material available.

As for the census, our form was completed in less than five minutes by one of the readers we have come to our house. Currently we have two of them. One is a volunteer. The other uses the money she makes by working for us to buy groceries. Both of the people who work for us get something out of it, and, in addition to the reading we get, we get the joy that comes from the challenge of figuring out how to make our volunteer feel as good about knowing us as we feel about knowing her and the satisfaction of knowing that we have provided a job to someone who needs to eat.

I think our people are indeed in need of some good Federation philosophy about technology and personal responsibility, but, when we hold such seminars, we will have to be mindful of several realities that can make determining what responsibility rests with us and what rests with others a bit more difficult in the twenty-first century than it was in 1940 or 1975. If discrimination is truly something which must be both detrimental and unreasonable, then there was little discrimination when sighted people would pass around plain pieces of white paper—plain to us because we could not determine the black or the red ink on them. I think there is no discrimination when sighted people sit around and talk about the expression on the face of the Mona Lisa or the genius of the painter who put it there, or how different pictures can convey a different message when viewed at a different angle. There is no discrimination if my daughter can do magic with the Paint Program provided in versions of Microsoft Windows, and I can do nothing with the same program. I want to drive, but currently there is no discrimination when my daughter of sixteen can get a license, and I cannot. At this point in our history these things are inherently visual.

Now take the situation in which we have a device where everything can be recorded in a digital format, where every number and letter can be coded into a unique sequence that can be interpreted by a speech synthesizer, a Braille printer, or a text magnifier, and now consider that almost anybody who writes any kind of document uses this device. Then, to make it more glitzy, to allow for pictures more easily, or perhaps even to increase its security, they take what is inherently nonvisual and make it visual. Our own state government now writes most of its documents in Microsoft Word and then converts them to PDF for distribution. Is this sound public policy when the same state government and the federal government that provides most of the money for rehabilitation have entered into a contract with blind people saying, "If you will get the training and take going to work seriously, we will help you along the way?" Is it reasonable, when government and private industry actively support the creation, distribution, and purchase of project management tools that use numbers to calculate the criticality of a project and then turn those numbers into colors and graphs without providing a nonvisual solution so that we can get at those very numbers?

As some of you may know, tomorrow I go to a two-day session for an orientation with the Cerner Corporation. Their goal for me is to teach me about their company and to show me the tools and techniques that will immediately make me a productive Cerner associate. I'm excited about the trip. I love learning about new technology and thrill at being on the cutting edge of a new electronic medical record.

If I have any fear or reservations about that session, is it that I may not be capable of being a computer programmer? Absolutely not! Do I fear that I may behave in a socially inappropriate manner? No, I have no question about that. My fear is that, when they begin to show me the simplest of timekeeping functions, the way they track projects, and maybe even the way they sign into their system, we will find something in that mess that is inaccessible. Maybe it will be a button which was not coded as a button and therefore is not seen by a screen reader. Maybe it will look like a combo box but be nothing more than a series of links that in turn cause others to be displayed silently on the screen.

At one of my recent jobs, the way one logged a problem was not only to have a user ID and password, but to carry around an electronic card which actually received a code that was changed every fifteen seconds. Only if you got these three elements could you file a problem for the vendor to fix.

For me in this circumstance the question isn't whether I have a responsibility to deal with the printed word on a page, but whether I have the ability to decode a screen which, if created with nonvisual access in mind, I would have full access to, but, more times than not in the advanced world of technology, my needs as a blind person don't even place in the race to get something out the door.

My point in writing all of this is to say that there is something of a shared responsibility for all of this information we are forced to cope with every day. If I am the one most personally affected, then I believe I am the one most personally responsible, yet, if that translates to the need to have somebody with me during three-fourths of my work week, I reject that as reasonable, whether I pay for that assistance or whether somehow my employer is willing to pay for it. It just makes no sense, especially since it is completely avoidable.

I think all of this points to the absolute imperative that we pass H.R. 4533, the Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind Act. As I understand current law, there is nothing for blind people to do when their employment is threatened by technology which will not allow for nonvisual interaction except to sue their employer. This is not the way to show that you and they have a shared goal. This is not how a good employer-employee relationship is built. It is not the way you show your employer that you want to be a part of the team. At some point we must get to the place where these important decisions are handled at the procurement level and where a violation of the law is not revealed only after a blind employee finds himself at a significant disadvantage.

So I'm all for a seminar, a back-to-basics, take-some-personal-responsibility gathering, but it will have to be one that grapples with the technology of today and not just a session where we say, "Well, of course you will, from time to time, need to hire the services of a sighted person to get along in the world, so get on with it."

Gary Wunder


Mike, et al.:

Thanks for the post. I gave it plenty of thought this afternoon while thinning out the lilac hedge. Our previous efforts to ensure that electronic voting machines provided for in HAVA [Help America Vote Act] would be nonvisually accessible are an excellent example of Gary's points, as are our current efforts with the Technology Bill of Rights. Technology has changed the world in many respects because it can easily be made accessible.

Part of my duties at the University of Montana includes supervising alternate media production, that is, primarily ensuring access to textbooks. I am also called on quite frequently to identify inaccessible documents. If, for example, I receive an inaccessible PDF, I engage in a conversation with its originators about dissemination of or deployment of such formats and give directions to resources for creating accessible documents. However, I don't then sit back and wait for the accessible document to come if I must read and digest the material in short order. I convert it or, since I have the luxury of high-speed scanners and student labor, have it converted.

Philosophically, this question could be boiled down to whether blind people behave as actors or victims. I am keenly aware that, in fulfilling our ADA Title II obligation to provide accessible texts and documents in higher education, we may not always be preparing students to be actors in their professional lives. It is apparently quite possible to get all the way through law school without knowing how to convert paper or PDFs to accessible and usable documents. It may be posited that the lawyer in your story was a victim, or perhaps a less pejorative term might be recipient of accessibility. To be an actor in this case would require a strategy, the skills and resources or tools to get what one needed in a usable format in the most expedient manner--likely large amounts of material at times under severe deadlines.

One tool in any such strategy, of course, is the old-fashioned, nontechnological use of a trained and reliable human reader. I use my knfbReader Mobile quite a bit now to go through personal mail, but, if I have been neglectful in keeping up with it (or just too busy), I revert to a reader as the most efficient way to get through a pile of mail in a hurry. The power company is not sympathetic to claims that I am not proficient in managing my personal business responsibilities.

It's an excellent topic for a seminar discussion.

Dan Burke

 

Featured Book from the Jacobus tenBroek Library
The Man in the Dark by John Ferguson. New York: Collier & Son, 1928.

by Ed Morman

From the Editor: With some regularity we spotlight books in the tenBroek Library. Here is librarian Ed Morman's description of a recent acquisition:

No fewer than three different novels and an unrelated movie have this title. The book at hand was originally published in Great Britain and takes place in and around London (with a brief excursion to a remote part of Scotland).

We meet the hero, Alexander Kinloch, in the first sentence of the book, but we do not learn that he is blind until page thirty-five. Indeed none of the other characters whom he encounters for thirty-five pages notice this trait. Only when a woman he has just met is driving him away from a crime scene does this interchange finally occur:

“I’d like you to know this first,” he said. “I never saw the man who was murdered nor the man who—who did the deed, so I could never have been a damaging witness against him.”

“That is quite incredible,” she said coolly. “Impossible unless you were quite blind.”

“Quite impossible,” he agreed, “unless I were quite blind.”

Eventually the reader figures out that Kinloch lost his sight in the First World War, and he had invested his entire veteran’s benefit in a worthless stock. Down on his luck, he stumbles into an unlikely sequence of events under circumstances (dense fog and dark of night) that make it difficult for others to see that he is blind.

Kinloch does not solve the mystery; a detective hired by a tabloid newspaper does. And, although the plot remains terribly convoluted (different chapters relate the story from the point of view of different characters), the solution is pretty simple and appears obscure only because of the way the story is told.

The book is fun to read, nonetheless, and generally provides a fair, non-stereotyped portrayal of a blind man. As a blind man Kinloch is a well-rounded character with good and bad qualities. The trouble is, in order to provide a happy ending, the author felt compelled to have Kinloch regain his sight. In the end Kinloch’s investment also turns out to be valuable and—you guessed it—the woman in the car ends up being in love with him.

This book is available in Braille from the National Library Service (BRA09623).

 

The Evolution of a Blind Person

by Monica Venesky

From Barbara Pierce: Monica Venesky is a working wife and mother. Her personal story is instructive because it has not been simple or straightforward. Yet, with the help of members of the National Federation of the Blind, she and her husband are making a meaningful life for themselves and their children, and they are educating the community around them about the abilities of blind people. She offers her story here in the hope that it may help those who come after her to get through the challenges more quickly and efficiently. This is what she says:

A long time ago Lorraine Rovig, then director of Job Opportunities for the Blind, an NFB program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, told me I should write an article for the Braille Monitor about my experiences as a blind person. At the time I wondered who would be interested in me and my adventures. I now realize that I have undergone an evolution in understanding my own blindness, and I recognize that others might be interested in what has happened and what I have to say. I have met many other blind people over the years; it seems to me that most of them have undergone a type of evolution, mostly in the way they think about themselves and their abilities. I have found that, once you get some blindness skills and realize all that you are capable of doing, the evolution begins and is contagious. Through education and heightened awareness you then allow and encourage those around you, family members, teachers, employers, and friends, to evolve as well.

My life as a blind person began when my parents registered me for kindergarten. The school nurse gave me a vision screening and noticed problems. She suggested my parents take me to the eye doctor. They assumed I just needed glasses. They were not prepared for the diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa (RP). This was the moment those around me started treating me differently. Adults pretended I was sighted, at the same time telling me all the things I could not do. Several times during my childhood my dad commented, “You will be a burden on me for the rest of my life.” I did not really understand what all this meant when I was a small child. I knew only that the teacher put my desk at the front of the room and assigned me to the slow reading group. In junior high and high school I had heavy, unmanageable large-print books that did not fit on my desk. I had orientation and mobility lessons around the school and outside to cover street crossings. But never once did anyone say anything about using a cane or learning Braille. Everyone tried to make my vision work, even when I just could not see what I was supposed to. Looking back, I am not sure how well I would have taken to a cane or Braille. But I was never exposed to them, and no one encouraged me to master those skills. I had not known any blind people. I had no role models or sources of accurate information.

My evolution was in its infancy. As a teen I wanted to do teen things like go to Maingate, a local under-twenty-one club. I liked music and dancing just like any other kid my age, but my dad said I couldn’t go because it was dark and I couldn’t see in there. My mom never disagreed with him, but I did. I do not know if I was just being a rebellious teen or if, deep down, I knew he was wrong. I did not expect anything different from myself than from any other person my age. The problem was that I had no blindness skills or knowledge to back up my convictions.

Then I went away to college. Edinboro University of Pennsylvania had a very active disabled services office. I had never heard of paid readers before. I knew only how to struggle with a handheld magnifier and get tremendous eye strain. My blindness skills began to emerge. I loved having a reader read my tests. I also started learning how to differentiate between good and not-so-good readers and hire my own independently. Getting my textbooks on cassette was much better than struggling through the text visually. My evolution was gathering speed. When I first got to college, I met Tom Venesky. He was blind from retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) and later became my boyfriend. He did not have much in the way of blindness skills either. He had some residual sight, so he was pushed to use it. He knew a little Braille and never had a cane come in contact with his hand until he was twenty. He too was at the beginning of his own personal evolution. My parents did not like this relationship at all. They said, “You can’t have a blind boyfriend. You need to marry a sighted person who will take care of you.” What did they mean by “taking care of me,” I wondered? “I can take care of myself!”

Then I received a notice through the disabled students office from the National Federation of the Blind’s Erie Chapter. I was not able to attend the event I was invited to because of school obligations, but I called Judy Jobes, who was mentioned in the notice. Soon after that Tom, my blind fiancé, and I went to her house for dinner. I learned that she had retinitis pigmentosa too. Only hers had deteriorated more than mine had at that time. She cooked us a great Italian dinner with chocolate pie for dessert. All those times that my dad had said, “You can’t do that,” began melting away. I thought, Judy is doing things; why can’t I?”

Judy told Tom and me about the Pennsylvania state convention coming up in Lancaster. She invited us, and somehow found a way to pay for a couple of poor college students to get there. I met state president Ted Young among many other blind people. Some used canes, and some used dogs, and some, like me, were struggling with the problem of how to get around. I met blind married couples with kids, blind people in all kinds of professions, and blind homeowners living just fine on their own. I suddenly got it. I had proof that I could do it because all these blind people were already doing it. I had something to back up my claims that I could be independent. I also met Chuck Morgenstern, a member of the Lehigh County Chapter. He had RP too and became a resource I still contact to this day. He lived in my home town of Allentown. Now I had role models both at college and at home. Judy and Chuck made it clear that, if I were going to be a successful blind person living independently, I needed to get some rehabilitation training and blindness skills.

What I did not know at the time was that I would have my first major encounter with discrimination about blindness before leaving college. Unlike my experience with bad grades in high school, I did very well at college. My grade average was 3.65. I was also on the dean’s list several times. No professor made an issue of my blindness or my art education major until my student teaching. During my evaluations with my student teaching supervisor, it became clear that she had never before worked with a blind student. She said many things that made me feel substandard. She focused on all the things I could not see rather than my performance in the classroom.

Student teaching was hard work, and I developed some very good lesson plans. One in particular was about the modern artist Georgia O’Keefe. She studied organic shapes in nature like flowers and leaves. She often depicted them abstractly. Georgia O’Keefe’s birthday fell during my student teaching, so I decided to give the lesson a birthday party theme. We talked about the artist’s work, looked at flowers and leaves I had set on each table, and painted nature as O’Keefe did. The kids had a great time and made some great artwork while learning about an American artist. My supervisor picked the entire lesson apart. In her opinion nothing I had done was correct because I had hung one painting upside down. Never mind the other fifty paintings that I had hung right side up. Just like any sighted teacher, I had made a mistake at the end of the day, just before leaving for the weekend. I did correct the hanging of the child’s painting on Monday morning.

Hysterically stressed over my student teaching as it was unfolding, I told Judy Jobes about the comments my supervisor was making. I had done very well my entire college career; now one person was going to keep me from graduating just six weeks before the end of my last semester. Judy advised me to call the National Center. I spoke to Lorraine Rovig and Pat Maurer, then to President Maurer. Within a day an attorney had called me on behalf of the NFB. I was not emotionally prepared for such an encounter with discrimination. Some people advised me to give up; some advised me to fight hard. The lawyers wanted documentation of what had happened. My plate was already full with student teaching. In hindsight I understand that I could have handled things better. I did get my degree, but, despite all the blind teachers I talked to, I was disheartened by the entire experience. Yet I assumed that this awful experience was bound to have been rare, like winning the lottery. I had no idea that years later more was to come.

After leaving college and while my situation was being worked out by the lawyers, I decided it was time for me to do what Judy and Chuck had encouraged me to do: attend a residential blindness rehabilitation center and learn, as Chuck said, how to be a blind person. I decided to attend Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, directed by Rosemary Lerdahl. It was not an official NFB center, but it had very strong NFB-style teaching and philosophy. Tom was in a similar place in his evolution, so he decided to attend as well.

We learned all sorts of blindness techniques for independent living, mobility, Braille, and accessible computers. We went shopping and even whitewater rafting. During our training we attended a national convention. It was wonderful. We were able to network with many other blind people. We went to a Job Opportunities for the Blind (JOB) seminar and learned that Northwest Airline was hiring. We were at the end of our blindness training, so we applied and successfully negotiated the rigorous process. We endured long commutes on public transportation, including two transfers. The commuting time was almost like working another job, but we did it. We were working. After all, this was the big goal. Despite being late because of broken-down buses several times and by working hours and hours of overtime, we were able to purchase a home very close to work. Instead of a three-hour commute, we now had a fifteen-minute walk. The house was not quite what we wanted, but it made us more reliable in getting to work. We worked in reservations and gave up a lot to keep working.

Our attendance at monthly NFB meetings was suffering. Reservations is a 24-7, 365-days-a-year operation. It takes a long time to build up enough seniority to have Saturdays off and in most cases to work days. It also takes a long time to build up enough seniority to have vacation time in the summer, so our attendance at national convention suffered. We really missed it. We got such a charge out of going. Besides, we knew that we had much to offer the NFB, but we had to endure this deprivation because of our work schedule. We thought we could still be good Federationists just working; now having two children; volunteering at schools; and coaching our kids’ baseball, soccer, and basketball games. These things were important too, weren’t they? We still felt bad. We constantly put in for vacation days that never cleared on Saturdays. All this stunted the evolution we assumed to be over.

We started having problems at work because of computer systems changing and being only partially accessible. We also noticed biases and misconceptions about blindness in the workplace getting worse and worse over the years. We felt helpless. We fought the misconceptions as well as we could on our own. We needed the NFB, but we could not get involved again because of work schedules. Then the Baltimore reservation office announced its closure. The company was opening a new office in Sioux City, Iowa. We had the choice of moving to any of a few other cities, but for one reason or another we ruled most out and looked closely at relocating to Iowa. Once again, to keep working, we sacrificed and moved. Now, in an office with mostly lower-seniority employees, we could have Saturdays off.

We went looking and found the Siouxland Chapter of the NFB. Once unpacked and with kids settled in school, we went back to those inspiring monthly meetings, but suddenly the misconceptions about blindness exploded in our workplace. The misconceptions and under-accommodation caused Tom to be terminated. Surrounding the termination were issues of providing us the print information for sighted coworkers in an accessible format. We were being segregated and told that transportation to and from work was our responsibility. We could not ask around for rides, though our sighted counterparts asked for rides all the time. And there was much more. So glad we were back and active again in the Federation, we turned to the National Center for help. Once again the NFB came through. Tom got advice on where to go to file a human rights claim. The NFB assisted us in locating legal advice, resources, and a list of attorneys. I thought my college discrimination years before had been a flash in the pan, but I was very wrong.

Now that I am about to turn forty and reflect on all this, I realize that my evolution is still not complete. In fact, I wonder if it will ever be finished. It seems that, no matter how much success my husband and I have, we are not finished. Skill and ability do not matter. The sighted people in our lives still hold on to their misconceptions. The worst part is that mostly sighted people who do not attempt to understand and view blind people as equals, do not even realize that what they say and do is wrong. It doesn’t even cross their minds that Tom and I and other blind people are being treated unequally. Discrimination is such an ugly word. I hate even to use it, but I must. I can’t let it be ignored. I must fight it; and with the knowledge, resources, and numbers in the NFB I know I can make a difference.

I now understand that this is why Lorraine said all those years ago that what I had to share is important. Maybe a young blind person today can evolve a little faster and more easily because of my sharing the story of our experience. Maybe, when that young person gets to his or her fortieth birthday, it will not be necessary to use the word “discrimination” and fight inequality.

 

Recipes

This month’s recipes have been contributed by users of nfbnet.org. Here is what David Andrews, systems operator and list owner, says about the NFB listservs:

Some of you probably assume that nfbnet.org users do nothing except send and receive email. This is in fact not true, since our users are involved in countless activities in the NFB and our state affiliates and local chapters as well as in divisions, for various groups, and for themselves. The NFB manages lists that support art; crafts; music; exercise; and, as you will see below, cooking, among other interests. The blind cooks listserve is a place where people help each other with advice and information on nonvisual techniques as well as the occasional recipe.

To join the Blind Cooks Listserve, either go to <http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/blind-cooks@nfbnet.org> or send an email message to <blind-cooks-request@nfbnet.org> and place the single word “subscribe” in the subject field of a message.

Black Bean and Pumpkin Stew
by Susan Tabor

Susan Tabor is a longtime member of the Jayhawk Chapter of the NFB of Kansas.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 cups pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, diced
1 to 2 hot peppers (to taste), seeded and finely minced
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup dry red wine or vegetable broth
3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
4 cups freshly cooked (or canned) black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups corn kernels, fresh off the cob or frozen
Sour cream and fresh cilantro for garnish

Method: Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the pumpkin and sauté until it begins to brown, approximately ten minutes. Set aside. In a large soup pot, heat remaining oil over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, and hot pepper. Sauté until vegetables just begin to get tender. Add cumin, cinnamon, cloves, chili powder, and salt. Stir to combine. Add tomatoes and their juice along with the wine and broth and the sautéed pumpkin. Bring contents to a boil, reduce heat, and allow to simmer for twenty minutes. Add beans and corn. Simmer for another twenty minutes, adding more broth if necessary to thin the stew. Spoon hot into individual bowls, topping each with a spoonful of sour cream and chopped fresh cilantro as garnish.

Albondugas (Meatball) Soup
by Christine Hall

Christine Hall is a longtime member of the NFB and currently serves as president of the New Mexico affiliate. She is also a member of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind State Rehabilitation Council and on the board of regents for the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Christine loves to cook and entertain.

Ingredients:
3/4 pound ground sausage
3/4 pound lean ground beef
1/3 cup uncooked rice
1 tablespoon mint leaves
1 egg
Salt and pepper to taste
3 quarts water
1 cup canned green chilis, like Ortega, or fresh green chili, chopped
1 onion, sliced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 tomatoes, sliced thin, or 1 can diced tomatoes

Method: Mix sausage, ground meat, rice, mint leaves, egg, and salt and pepper together. Roll meat mixture into small meat balls and set aside. In a large kettle heat water, green chili, onion, celery, and tomatoes and simmer for ten minutes. Drop in meat balls and cook for another ten minutes. Let stand for approximately ten minutes before serving.

Wild Rice and Fruit Pilaf
by Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson is a past president of the NFB of New Hampshire. She says, “This is a new family favorite for turkey day and other times. It is a five-star recipe in our book. Enjoy.

Ingredients:
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup wild rice, rinsed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 onion, sliced in thin wedges
2 teaspoons brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Method: Combine chicken broth and wild rice in medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for forty minutes or until almost tender. In a small saucepan melt butter over low heat and stir in onion and brown sugar. Cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender and lightly browned. Add cooked onions, raisins, cranberries, orange peel, orange juice, and pepper to rice mixture. Cover and simmer ten minutes or until rice is tender.

Wake-Up Casserole
by Maureen Pranghofer

Maureen Pranghofer is a longtime member of the NFB of Minnesota.

Ingredients:
8 frozen hash brown potato patties
4 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
1 pound fully cooked ham, cubed
7 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

Method: Arrange hash brown potato patties in a single layer in a greased 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with cheese and ham. In a bowl beat eggs, milk, salt, and mustard. Pour egg mixture over ham. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Uncover dish and bake fifteen minutes longer or until edges are golden brown and a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Allow to stand for a few minutes before serving.

Puffy Apple Pancakes
by Veronica Smith

Veronica Smith is the president of the West Mesa Chapter of the NFB of New Mexico.

Ingredients:
1 cup flour
3/4 cup milk
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
1 tablespoon butter
Cooking spray

Method: Combine and mix together all ingredients except butter and apples. Set aside. In a medium skillet, melt the butter and throw in the apples and stir for a minute or 2. Do not let them get mushy. Spray the skillet with cooking spray and pour the batter over the apples. Cover the pan and cook for fifteen minutes. Uncover the pan and either place a plate on top and invert the pancake onto the plate or carefully lift out the pancake with a wide spatula and place on a serving plate. Cut into wedges to serve with powdered sugar or maple syrup.

Orange Cranberry Shortbread
by Jan Bailey

Jan Bailey is a longtime Federationist and the president of the Rochester Chapter of the NFB of Minnesota.

Ingredients:
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
2 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts 

Method: Beat butter and sugar together in bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy; add orange zest and juice. Stir together flour, cornstarch, and salt; add to butter mixture and mix on low speed until just combined. Stir in cranberries and walnuts. Divide dough into two portions and shape into logs about ten inches long. Wrap each in waxed paper and chill until dough is very firm, at least 4 hours. With a sharp knife cut half-inch-thick slices and place on lightly greased cookie sheets. Bake cookies in center of a preheated 325-degree oven for thirteen to eighteen minutes or until edges just begin to brown. Cool completely. By shaping dough into logs, cookies can be sliced and baked in minutes. Dough will keep for several days in the refrigerator or frozen for two to three weeks. (Thaw frozen dough in refrigerator for one to two hours before slicing and baking.) Makes about 2-1/2 dozen 2-inch cookies. 

 

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

Time to Register for the Race for Independence:

The Race for Independence is the expression of our desire to speed toward our goal of achieving first-class citizenship in society at an ever-increasing pace. This campaign anchors the National Federation of the Blind’s Imagination Fund, the annual campaign to raise proceeds for NFB programs at the national, state, and local levels. One of the primary initiatives of the NFB Jernigan Institute is improving access to technology for the blind. With the Race for Independence we focus our efforts this year on bringing public attention to the need for full and equal access for blind Americans to modern technology in everything from home appliances to automobiles.

If you want the important and innovative work of the National Federation of the Blind to continue, start your engines. Register for the Race for Independence, then find neighbors, friends, and family members who will invest in our work and send donations in. For any questions or help with registration and fundraising tools call (410) 659-9314, ext. 2371, or email <imaginationfund@nfb.org>. You can also register or get more information at the Race for Independence Website at <www.raceforindependence.org>. We are not content with merely traveling by foot--our imagination is putting us in the driver’s seat. So come on, let’s race.

New Baby:

On Saturday, May 15, 2010, Mark Riccobono, executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute, circulated the following message throughout Maryland and across the nation: the newest member of the NFB of Maryland is Oriana Kay Riccobono, born May 15, 2010, at 6:05 a.m. She weighed in at seven pounds three ounces and measured twenty-inches long. Oriana is a girl of swift decision, because she came fast, and, true to her name, which means “dawning,” she came with the rising of the sun.

We can report that mother, Melissa, president of the NFB of Maryland; Oriana; dad; and big brother Austin are all doing well. The newest Riccobono will be pleased to meet friends and admirers at convention in Dallas.

Braille Coin Reminder:

As you know, the United States Mint is no longer producing and selling the 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar, but you still have an opportunity to purchase one. We will be selling Louis Braille proof coins at the convention. The coins will be available in the Independence Market and in the convention hall. The National Center has a limited number of proof coins available for $60 plus shipping. At the convention, however, you can buy a Louis Braille proof coin at the discounted price of $50 while the supply lasts. Please stop by the Louis Braille coin table or the Independence Market to buy one of the few remaining silver coins while you still can. When they are gone, they are gone.

Sam Gleese Honored:

The following article appeared in the Jackson Free Press in Mississippi on April 5, 2010:

JFP Person of the Day: Sam Gleese
by Ashley Hill

The Reverend Sam Gleese is determined to educate people with disabilities. A soft-spoken and humble man, he is the president of the National Federation of the Blind in Mississippi and coordinator for the Americans with Disabilities Act. “When I took over the Federation in '86, there were only two chapters. As of right now we have eight chapters across the state,” Gleese says. A Vicksburg native, Gleese, sixty-three, was born with congenital cataracts, a hereditary defect that caused him to have limited disability. Despite his vision Gleese graduated from Jackson State University in 1970 with a bachelor's degree in business administration. In 1979 Gleese's retinas detached, and a few weeks later he completely lost all of his vision. To cope with his disability, he enrolled in an adult training program at the Hattie McBryde Center, where he learned Braille, how to use a cane, and other daily life skills. Soon after he and his wife Vanessa started their own tax preparation business.

In 1982 Gleese became a member of the National Federation of the Blind in Mississippi. “I found out about it through a mutual friend of another blind person whom I had met while I was in training at the Hattie McBryde center. They got me involved in the state affiliate and eventually nominated me to be state president,” he says. In addition to his work with the NFB, Gleese became an ordained minister in 1992. He now serves as senior associate minister at the College Hill Baptist Church in Jackson.

Gleese says that it was the Federation of the Blind that gave him a purpose to help others. “It gave me the philosophy that taught me I can do whatever I want to do as long as I make up my mind and get the proper training,” he says. “The philosophy…encourages you to live a normal life, and doing so puts you where you need to be. The greatest difficulty of the blind is the lack of information and understanding. People have the concept that blindness totally incapacitates a person.”

Gleese has also worked as an independent living specialist with Living Independence for Everyone of Central Mississippi, where he assisted adolescents with special care needs. He says he stays motivated by the encouragement from his wife and the support of his former pastor, church family, and friends.

The National Federation of the Blind is a nonprofit organization that works to integrate the blind into society and end disability discrimination through education and advocacy. For more information visit the NFB's Website, <www.nfb.org>.

Elected:

The Dallas Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas elected officers at its recent meeting. Chapter officers include Deneice Hopper, president; Samuel Jackson, first vice president; Rahmda Halsey, second vice president; Gloria Lewis Jackson, secretary; Glenda Goodwin, treasurer; and board members Adrian Buard and Ron Hix.

UVM Coming to Dallas:

At last year's convention in Detroit faculty and students from the School of Engineering, University of Vermont (UVM), reported on research sponsored by the NFB concerning tactile drawing. They demonstrated the first prototype of a pen capable of producing raised lines on the Sewell drawing kit with the ability to erase unwanted lines. This year, with additional NFB funding, work has continued at UVM. Last year's crude pen has been replaced by a slimmed-down product that is much easier to use. New work has been centered on connecting tactile drawings to a tablet computer, allowing tactile images to be stored digitally for transmission to others and enabling the exchange of tactile drawings between collaborators or students and teachers.

At our convention in Dallas this year UVM will be demonstrating its latest developments in the field of erasable tactile drawings. The UVM team will be available for hands-on demonstrations and question-and-answer sessions during or outside of meetings and workshops concerning education and technical developments. If you are unable to attend any of these meetings, you may have the opportunity to meet the UVM team to check out the latest developments. To do so, call Al Maneki’s cell phone, (443) 745-9274. You can do this even before the start of the convention.

UVM's efforts were well received at last year's convention. What the team has to show us this year is even more exciting. The engineering faculty and students at UVM are changing what it means for blind people to draw creative diagrams. This effort deserves the widest possible attention. See you in Dallas.

Elected:

On March 6, 2010, the Kankakee Heartland Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois elected the following officers: Bill Isaacs, president; Frank Einfeld, vice president; Carol Kwaak, secretary; Ruth Isaacs, treasurer; and Ray Kwaak, board member.

Clarence Parks Honored:

The National Federation of the Blind of Colorado congratulates Dr. Clarence Parks, a 2010 Adams State College Presidential Teaching Award recipient. Parks, who is blind, has been a teacher for more than forty years--twenty-seven of them at Adams State College as a professor of sociology.

This award recognizes outstanding undergraduate teaching, advising, and mentoring. Each year a student committee selects the winners. Award recipients receive $1,500 to support their professional development and the opportunity to teach a special presidential teacher course during the next academic year.

Parks, a longtime leader of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, believes strongly in education and its power to make one a better and happier person and the world a better place. He also believes that blind people should be encouraged to become teachers at all levels of instruction. National Federation of the Blind of Colorado President Scott LaBarre says "The NFB of Colorado is pleased to call Dr. Parks one of our own. His work and achievement affirm the fundamental truth that we have come to know: blindness need not limit a person's ability to succeed at all levels of society. We hope that receipt of this award and the dedication that Dr. Parks has shown to teaching will inspire blind men and women to become the educators of tomorrow."

New Chapter:

The South Iredell Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of North Carolina, based in Mooresville, was organized in February and elected officers in March 2010. The new chapter leaders include Sharon Weddington, president; Joy Scott, vice president; Valerie Westmoreland, secretary; Staci Clark, treasurer; and Mary Ann Jordan, board member. Congratulations to this new Federation chapter.

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.

Good News from Bank of America:

Bank of America is pleased to announce that every one of its ATMs in the country now talks. Talking ATMs provide audible instructions in English or Spanish to those who cannot view information on an ATM screen. In addition all of the bank’s 13,800 deposit-accepting ATMs have been equipped with deposit imaging functionality which allows customers to feed checks and cash directly into the ATM slot, eliminating the need to fill out deposit slips and stuff envelopes.

As part of a long-standing commitment to customers with vision impairments, Bank of America is pleased that these customers can now access more than 18,000 Bank of America ATMs. The enhanced ATMs have the following features:

For more information contact Jade Faugno or Don Vecchiarello at (980) 387-4899 or at <don.vecchiarello@bankofamerica.com>. To locate a Bank of America ATM, visit <www.bankofamerica.com>.

Music Instruction by Ear:

Learn to play your favorite musical instrument without having to read printed or Braille music. Bill Brown's Music for the Blind offers beginner courses for a dozen instruments, including piano, guitar, bass, violin, banjo, and flute. These courses are taught by ear in all-audio formats, so no reading of music is required. Each course contains at least four cassettes or CDs and costs as little as $39.

In addition to these beginner courses, over eight hundred individual song lessons are taught in the same all-audio format. Prices start at $11.95. For further information visit the Website at <www.musicfortheblind.com>; call (888) 778-1828; or address correspondence to Bill Brown's Music for the Blind, Valdosta Music and Publishing, 704 Habersham Road, Valdosta, Georgia 31602.

New Digital Talking Book Player Is Here:

National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) patrons are eligible to receive digital players and digital books. The new NLS player is easy to use. An audio guide is built in. Users can press any button on the player to learn about its function. The sound quality is excellent, and most books fit on one cartridge. One need only insert the cartridge, and the book will begin playing.

To receive a new NLS digital player (on loan and free of charge) contact your local NLS library at (888) NLS-READ (888-657-7323). Contact information for local NLS libraries is also available in “Find a Library” at <www.loc.gov/nls/find.html>.

Handmade Items for Sale:

Henry Osborne sells handmade items, including holiday hats and scarves, plain hats and scarves of any color, plastic canvas tissue-box covers, and much more. For further information contact him at (203) 909-2778.


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 Trade or Sale:

I have a Braillino for trade or sale. I'd like to get a Braille Connect 32/40 or a sale of my Braillino for approximately $2,000. My unit has Bluetooth, serial connection, and rechargeable batteries that are user changeable. The unit has word processing capacity, a fifteen-digit calculator, clock, calendar, and a few more features. An embosser can be connected to the Braillino. Further questions may be directed to Isaac at <iobie@gis.net>.

For Sale:

I am selling one PacMate Omni QX400 with a twenty-cell Braille display. The unit comes with a fabric case, one socket p 500 wi-fi card, and a couple of memory cards. It also includes a power cable, a computer cable, and a USB thumb drive adapter. I am asking $950 or best offer. This price includes shipping. Contact Maureen at (727) 735-0797.

For Sale:

I am offering for sale some analog-style studio recording equipment that has never been used. The nature of this equipment is such that no visual displays need to be used in its operation. The equipment includes a multi-channel studio mixer and a multi-track recording deck with DBX and stereo mastering recording deck and studio referenced amplified speakers. The system’s characteristics are too many to detail in this brief announcement. I am asking $1,200, including shipping. For further information contact Steve at (517) 347-7046. When leaving a message, please speak clearly and slowly to accommodate my hearing deficit.

For Sale:

I have a Zen ez 300 MP3 player for sale. It is new and is under a three-year warranty. I paid $116, which includes the warranty, but am asking $60. Buyer must purchase an AC adaptor to charge the Zen's battery or use the cable provided and charge the unit by computer. I will accept payment by money order only, no checks please. If you are interested, contact Debbie Roberts by email at <debra.roberts9@gmail.com>, phone (203) 315-0230, or Braille correspondence to 3 Block Island Road, Apartment C 32, Branford, CT 06405-5244.

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.