Vol. 53, No. 8 August/September 2010
Gary Wunder, editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
The National Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, president
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 53, No. 8 August/September 2010
The 2010 Convention Roundup
by Gary Wunder and Daniel B. Frye
Presidential Report 2010
by Marc Maurer
Awards Presented at the 2010 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind
The 2010 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards
by Gary Wunder
The Advantage of Uncertainty
by Marc Maurer
Meet the 2010 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Class
Educating Blind Children, Changing the Paradigm
by Fredric K. Schroeder
The Blind Driver Operating a Vehicle at Speed:
Creating the Technology that Puts the Controls under our Hands
by Parnell Diggs
Calling All Drivers: Advancing Leadership, Collective Action,
and the Boundaries of Independence
by Mark A. Riccobono
National Convention Resolutions: A Thriving Tradition
by Sharon Maneki
National Federation of the Blind Resolutions 2010
Convention MiniaturesConstitution of the National Federation of the Blind
Copyright 2010 by the National Federation of the Blind
If you are a kid, the NFB convention can be a great place to read a good book.
Whether it’s the Braille Book Flea Market, a speech or program item that doesn’t interest you,
or just a quiet corner for some personal down time, a Braille book can be just the ticket.
by Gary Wunder and Daniel B. Frye
A feeling of good cheer and optimism characterized the 2010 NFB national convention, held at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas, Texas. Thousands of blind and sighted people converged on this familiar luxury hotel—headquarters of the several Dallas conventions since 2006—to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the Federation. Among attendees were sixty people who received convention scholarships from the Jernigan Fund for first-time attendees. Never have so many first-time scholarships been awarded. As people checked into the hotel, they reacquainted themselves with its two-tower structure, its stunning sculpture, and the vast spaces of its quarter-mile-long lobby. Undaunted, Federationists quickly mastered the changes resulting from the construction and remodeling and prepared to enjoy another vintage Federation convention.
The driving spirit at this convention was the work of the Jernigan Institute and the engineering faculty and students at Virginia Tech University to build the world’s first blind-drivable vehicle. As Federationists streamed into Dallas, NFB leaders were in Daytona Beach, Florida, announcing plans for the car’s unveiling in early 2011. Race for Independence Chairman Parnell Diggs inspired convention delegates throughout the week with the promise that this ambitious effort would give blind people independent access to transportation and would develop unforeseen technology. Those interested could examine the vehicle and try out some of its technology at the Showcase of Innovation. The problems and possibilities of the blind-drivable vehicle animated conversation at this year’s convention. Like all political discussions of things new, untried, and untested, opinions ran the gamut from problems and pitfalls to potential and possibilities.
Assistive technology enthusiasts, parents of blind children, and groups brought together by the Affiliate Action Department had a wide range of activities on seminar Saturday. The NFB Access Technology team presented seminars on emerging trends in Apple’s iPod, iPad, and iPhone products; advances in accessibility on eBay; improvements to the online Blackboard Learn system for universities; and developments in the eBook market. Blindness-specific assistive technology companies also offered sessions for conventioneers. Some vendors used this opportunity to provide training sessions for their products, while others used the time to advertise up-and-coming offerings which would soon be available. Still others simply said thank you to their customers by offering a meet-and-greet opportunity.
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) President Carol Castellano and other parent leaders presented a week-long series of seminars, workshops, and social events for parents, blind children, and every member of the family. Laura Weber of Texas, mother of an eight-year-old blind daughter, was elected president of the NOPBC. Mrs. Weber has been a biomedical engineer for seventeen years, and she is about to become a teacher of blind children, so she will clearly be a formidable advocate for our nation’s blind children. Carol Castellano deserves recognition for decades of devotion to the NOPBC and particularly for shepherding the division during the transition from Barbara Cheadle’s tenure as NOPBC national president. For the first time this year the Jernigan Institute Education Team presented an expanded Youth Track with the Junior Youth Track offering activities for blind kids as young as eleven. Finally, through enhanced mentoring programs the staff of the Affiliate Action Department welcomed many first-time convention attendees, college students, local and state leaders, and parents of blind children in its convention suite.
Federationists eager to unwind from the fast-paced first-day activities were invited to sing at BLIND Incorporated's annual Karaoke Night. First-timers were invited to drop in at the Rookie Roundup, where they could gather tips about how to decide which meetings and activities they should choose. The Latin dance party was a great place to make friends and get help learning to do the salsa.
By the second day all facets of convention operations were up and running. Convention registration opened to brisk business just before 9:00 a.m. Federationists who preregistered for the convention could drop by the preregistration square, pick up their packets with name tags and banquet and barbeque tickets, and be on their way in minutes.
During its annual meeting on Sunday afternoon, July 4, the resolutions committee considered twenty-five resolutions and recommended do pass. A full report on resolutions adopted during the convention appears elsewhere in this issue. One Federationist, in a good-humored effort to capture the essence of the resolutions in short form, composed amusing haiku summaries of several of the longer resolutions. Here is a sampling:
Is my best search site,
The one I love so dearly,
Now being evil?
Without a good map,
We once more find ourselves at
The back of the bus.
I may as well use
This brand new Kindle Reader
As a paperweight.
Throughout convention, activities other than formal convention sessions abounded. A record number of Federationists were educated and entertained at the thirteenth annual mock trial, where discrimination against a student attending a chiropractic program was debated. Staff from the NFB Jernigan Institute highlighted Institute programs and initiatives during several informational sessions. A variety of meetings and events focusing on Braille occurred, including the administration of the National Certification in Literary Braille examination and the annual Braille Book Flea Market. As usual, many convention attendees relished the opportunity to browse in our exhibit hall, where the iBill, a simple portable currency identifier manufactured by Orbit Research, seemed to lead the way in popularity among convention participants this year.
Spirits were high as the open NFB board of directors meeting was convened on Monday morning. In Federation tradition we began by remembering those lost to us in the last year. Ray McGeorge, Seville Allen, Richard Bennett, Ed Bryant, and Carmen Davis were mentioned by name, but the reverent silence of the members present extended to all we have been honored to call our colleagues and our friends.
Dr. Donald Capps was warmly welcomed by the convention in recognition of his work in the Federation and for his fifty-fifth consecutive convention. Betty Capps also has an enviable record of service and work, and her attendance at the 2010 convention marks her fifty-fourth consecutive year.
President Maurer led us in the pledge to the American flag, related a story about how he came to learn the Federation Pledge after admitting to Doctor Jernigan that he wasn't as familiar with it as he ought to be, and then led the assembled in reciting it until he stumbled over "equality, opportunity, and security," by saying "security, equality, and opportunity," as found in much of our literature. The mistake brought a bit of comic relief, but in no way diminished the pride we feel in our country, our Federation, and the privileged place we hold as blind people who reap the rewards of both.
In addition to representation from our affiliates, people from sixteen countries were registered. Texas was number one at the time of the meeting with three-hundred people in attendance.
With the unexpected death of Ray McGeorge so close to the convention, Federationists wondered whether door prize chairperson Diane McGeorge would be with us. She decided that, though it would be hard to face a convention without Ray, she needed to be with her Federation family. When she came to the microphone to say good morning to the board, she received a thunderous ovation.
The president of our host affiliate, Angela Wolf, welcomed us to Texas and reminded Dr. Maurer that she had said Texas would have at least three-hundred people at the convention. She also said there is a saying in Texas that “It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true.”
President Maurer then read the names of board members whose terms would end in 2010, followed by the names of members whose terms will expire in 2011. Anil Lewis called for the floor to announce that he had recently resigned from the board in order to serve as the strategic director of public relations for the Blind Driver Challenge. Though he said he will miss serving with his colleagues as a board member, this new job allows him to play a vital part in the most exciting Federation initiative so far in the twenty-first century.
President Maurer recognized Anil's contributions by saying he had served well and honorably and recommended to Anil that he work to equal the stellar record of Dr. Capps.
Gary Wunder was then recognized and said:
Good morning, Mr. President, members of the board, and all of the fine people who have made it here so early. I've been on this board almost continuously since 1985 and an officer for almost a third of that time. In my terms on the board, I've had the pleasure of being led and tutored by Dr. Jernigan, Dr. Maurer, Dr. Capps, and many other people who cared enough to give me their time and their wisdom. The honor of representing us nationally has taken me to most states in the country and many of them more than once. I can't begin to tell you how flattering it is to see people at the national convention who come up and say, "Hey, you were the representative in our state. I really liked your speech," and only then am I certain the applause I got wasn't just because I sat down.
At our fifty-year mark the board buried a time capsule. I got to be a part of that recording, so, you see, I'll still be talking long after I'm gone—what a natural high!
Mr. President, it's time for me to let another of my Federation colleagues enjoy the service which has added so much to my life. I promise to stay involved wherever I'm needed. I will always be grateful to my family for the sacrifices they have made so I could serve and grateful too for all of the votes which have given me the opportunity to represent so many people I love very much. I will not stand for reelection, but I promise that I will always stand for us.
Dr. Maurer responded:
About a week ago I met with Gary and talked with him about what he wanted his future to be and what we wanted ours to be. Barbara Pierce has served as editor of the Monitor. She started working on the Monitor, if memory serves, in about 1988. I think she became the editor in 1990 or 1991—I forget—but she has carried the work of the Monitor between that time and this. Dan Frye became editor of the Monitor earlier this year. He has determined to work for the government of the United States, and I've asked Gary Wunder to take that position, and, as you might say, he accepted.
President Maurer discussed upcoming national conventions. Two thousand eleven will find us in Orlando, Florida; 2012 in Dallas, Texas; 2013 in Orlando, Florida; 2014 is unknown; 2015 in Orlando, Florida; 2016 is unknown; and 2017 once again in Orlando, Florida.
Parnell Diggs addressed the board on the subject of the Imagination Fund and the Race for Independence. Half of the proceeds from the Imagination Fund go to the programs of the Jernigan Institute, one quarter to state affiliates, and the remainder to a grant program for which affiliates and divisions compete. People who raise money for the fund are imaginators, and this year, for every $250 raised, imaginators received a car key. Later we learned that five of these keys fit the Ford Escape that will be used next January in Daytona Beach when a blind driver will drive on the Daytona Speedway.
Cathy Jackson presented the Blind Educator of the Year Award to Dr. Laurel J. Hudson. The full text of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue. Dr. David Ticchi presented the Blind Educator of the Year Award to Ginger Lee-Held. Dr. Ticchi's remarks and those of Ms. Lee-Held appear elsewhere in this issue.
President Maurer announced that several new publications are available through our Independence Market, among them Let Freedom Ring; Getting Ready for College Begins in the Third Grade; Touch the Earth; Kenneth Jernigan: The Master, The Mission, The Movement; Walking Alone and Marching Together; Parenting Without Sight: What Attorneys and Social Workers Should Know about Blindness; and Messages of the Movement. Many of these books have been available in the past and are now in additional formats.
Anil Lewis came to the platform to introduce the 2010 scholarship class. The remarks of the winners can be found in the scholarship report elsewhere in this issue.
Dr. Mike Rosen of the University of Vermont was introduced to talk about a joint project with the Jernigan Institute to develop a more up-to-date tactile raised-line drawing system. Two products have come from this effort. One is a thermal eraser to correct mistakes when making a tactile drawing. The second device, called the Tactile Cyber Scribe, digitizes the images drawn by or for blind people, and with digitization comes the ability to store, share, and copy important drawings. The goal of the cooperative effort is to develop a tablet computer for the blind so blind people can easily produce and share drawings in the same way sighted people do.
President Maurer announced two bequests received this year from Colorado totaling just over $2.5 million. Our longstanding policy of dividing bequests equally between affiliates and the national treasury has served us well, and so too does our policy of working together to file tax returns and other financial documents which allow the public to see the money we raise and demonstrate that we are responsible stewards of the resources entrusted to us.
Monday afternoon and evening were filled with division and committee meetings that demonstrate how diverse are the interests and callings of the members. When looking at all the meetings which occur on board meeting and division day, the question is not, can I find something that interests me?, but, of all the things that interest me, which do I want most to attend? Reports from several of these meetings appear in the Monitor Miniatures section in this issue.
When President Maurer gaveled the first general session of the convention to order, Carlos Serván was rewarded for being on time with a door prize of $100. Tom Anderson, pastor of the Littleton Pentecostal Church and president of the National Federation of the Blind in Communities of Faith, gave a moving invocation that was followed by greetings from President Angela Wolf from the great state of Texas. She began her remarks with a hearty Texas welcome which sounded like this:
Texas has a rich cultural and historic background, a mix of Anglo, Mexican, Native, and African-American heritages. Texans are quite particular about a few things: food, beer, music, and our own version of history.
So saying, Angela introduced singer-songwriter Brian Burns, who serenaded us about Texas—its size, history, battles, and geography.
Following on Burns’s song of courage in battle, President Maurer introduced a segment dedicated to the celebration of freedom; and, to present the item, we heard from the president of the National Association of Blind Veterans, Dwight Sayer. Dwight reminded us that, not only were we celebrating the seventieth birthday of the Federation, but also the 234th birthday of the United States of America. In honor of our country he led us in the Pledge of Allegiance and then introduced Mike Freeman, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington, who sang the national anthem. The convention then recognized twenty-seven veterans who among them have served in every war since World War II. This includes the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, and the current conflict in Afghanistan.
Ron Gardner has been working to see that through our three NFB training centers veterans get the highest-quality rehabilitation available. His message to the convention was clear and unmistakable: we in the National Federation of the Blind truly believe we have the bravest and best fighting force in the world, and, when they are injured and need blindness rehabilitation, we believe they deserve the best the world has to offer.
Ron introduced Colonel Don Gagliano, who is the first director of the Vision Center of Excellence, jointly sponsored by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Ninety-seven percent of our wounded who make it to a medical facility will survive, so, while we are pushing the envelope for survival, we need to make a similar effort in rehabilitation and reintegration. Colonel Gagliano, an ophthalmologist, sadly admits that for most of his career he has known nothing about blindness and believes the same is true of many of his colleagues. For many years the needs of the blind have been a minor component of the National Eye Institute, but, thanks to Ron Gardner and the Vision Center of Excellence, attitudes are changing, and more grants are now going toward quality-of-life issues of blindness than ever before. Colonel Gagliano believes Ron's service on the National Advisory Counsel, which reports to the director of the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health, will do much to educate other ophthalmologists, and Ron is the keynote speaker for the board's next meeting.
One of the major objectives of the Vision Center of Excellence is to keep our veterans, even those with visual dysfunction or blindness, on active duty. The colonel mentioned three blind people who continue on active duty: a company commander at West Point, a Marine running the Warrior Transition Unit at Camp Lejeune, and a soldier who has just completed a tour in Iraq.
The roll call of states brought affiliate presidents or delegates to microphones to tell us the name of the state's delegate, alternate delegate, location of its next convention, and the national representative if already assigned. Some went beyond the requested data by including such fundraising information as they could work into their brief presentations. Of special interest were the following items: Arizona brought twenty-five first-timers to the convention. Delaware shared the sad news that one of our members, Ryan McMillan, had died earlier in the day at a local hospital, the cause of his death unknown. The Louisiana Center for the Blind is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary and in its quarter century of instilling positive attitudes and skills has changed the lives of hundreds of blind people for the better. Maryland made a point of recognizing the forty students and staff who came from Blind Industries and Services of Maryland. New York recently passed a law eliminating all exemptions to its Randolph-Sheppard Act, so, anywhere the state does business, the blind will have priority in providing food service. In North Carolina the state legislature was convinced to move the school for the blind from under the Department of Health and Human Services, the folks who run the hospitals and asylums in North Carolina, to the Department of Public Instruction. Utah proudly announced it has just completed its biggest state convention ever.
Before the end of the morning session, Parnell Diggs came to the microphone to announce the medallion winners who have each raised $1,000 or more for the Imagination Fund. The complete list appears in the “Convention Miniatures” section.
The afternoon session began with the much anticipated annual report by President Maurer. In his presentation, which lasted just under an hour, he discussed conditions for blind people in our country and the world, the programs we have created to help address them, the legislation we have helped to initiate, and the cases we have brought to enforce the laws that are now on the books. President Maurer's remarks appear in full elsewhere in this issue.
Addressing the greatest technical challenge we face in the twenty-first century and speaking about the most exciting issue at our convention, Parnell Diggs came to the platform to talk about the Blind Driver Challenge. His remarks appear in full elsewhere in this issue. At the end of his presentation, Parnell presented a plaque to the Imaginator of the Year, Kayleigh Joiner. A full report appears elsewhere in this issue.
President Maurer next called to the platform our good friend and colleague Scott LaBarre. The title of his presentation was a bit mysterious: “SWEP and the Bars of Our Prison.” The unraveling of this mysterious title will be revealed to Monitor readers in the October issue.
Father John Sheehan, chairman of the board of directors of the Xavier Society for the Blind, recently joined with us as part of the Reading Rights Coalition when we conducted a picket in New York City to demand access to the printed word, no matter what the electronic device on which it is stored and displayed. Father Sheehan's remarks--which combined love, wisdom, humor, and song--cannot be captured adequately in print but are available as an audio file on our NFB Website at <http://www.nfb.org/nfb/National_Convention_Highlights.asp#2010>.
“One Million Books for the Print Disabled and More to Come” was presented by Brewster Kahle, digital librarian for Archive.org. This project, unlike others specifically oriented to making books available for the blind, is an attempt by libraries to digitize their collections for everyone. Tremendous emphasis is placed on lowering the cost for each page of transcription, with the result that now it costs about as much to make a page of print available on the Internet as it does to copy it at Kinko's. Several prominent libraries, including the Library of Congress, have signed on to have all of their collection digitized, and, due to generous donations by foundations, some stimulus money from the United States government, and contributions from individuals, funding is now available to transcribe the next ten thousand books received by the Internet Archive. The goal is not only to scan these books but to develop software that can look at the scanned material and understand the structure of the book so well that it can be converted to the DAISY standard, which allows navigation by page; heading; section; chapter; and, in the case of large books, larger divisions. Volunteers are also being sought to read these books and correct the errors that inevitably creep into texts generated by optical character recognition software. About five errors per book is now the standard. A complete audio transcript of this presentation can be found at the link sited above.
How many times have we been greeted by flight attendants with the mandatory briefings—especially for us—in which we are assured that, in the event of an emergency, someone will come back to get us, of course after everyone else is off the airplane. How refreshing it is to have the message reinforced that we who are blind are not always the helpless victims we are thought to be in emergencies but, when called upon, can act bravely, not only to save ourselves, but to help in rescuing others.
Michael Hingson is a survivor of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and the convention sat in spellbound silence as he related the trip from the seventy-eighth floor to safety and freedom. One message Michael emphasized repeatedly was that things can never go back to normal, if by normal we mean the way they were before 9/11. We can, however, create a new normal based on self-reliance, caring for others, and coming to understand that we are all dependent on one another. Readers will be treated to a somewhat shorter version of Michael's remarks in a future issue, but what he said is on the Web in its entirety at the Website noted earlier. President Maurer expressed appreciation for Michael's comments, noting that we admire teamwork, partnership, and competence in emergencies, for this is what we strive to instill in ourselves through our work.
Convention sponsors were: Title—Deque Systems, Inc.; Platinum—HumanWare and UPS; Gold—Freedom Scientific and Oracle; Silver—Adobe; Bronze—National Industries for the Blind (NIB); and Exhibit Hall—En-Vision America; GW Micro, Inc.; Independence Science, LLC; Independent Living Aids (ILA); Intel Corporation; Olympus; Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D); the Sendero Group; and Vanda Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
The opening day of convention ended with a reminder that our special convention sponsors would be hosting an exhibit hall event, complete with door prizes, from seven to ten p.m.
Our Wednesday morning session began with an invocation by Father Gregory Paul. Elections were the first order of business, and the following people were elected: Marc Maurer (MD), president; Fred Schroeder (VA), first vice president; Ron Brown (IN), second vice president; Jim Gashel (CO), secretary; Pam Allen (LA), treasurer; and board members, Amy Buresh (NE), Patti Chang (IL), Mike Freeman (WA), John Fritz (WI), Carl Jacobsen (NY), Alpidio Rolón (PR), and for one-year board positions, Ever Lee Hairston (CA), and Mika Pyyhkala (MA).
When Jim Gashel was recognized after his election as secretary, he said:
Dr. Maurer and fellow Federationists, as I stand before you this morning, the words that come to my mind are “honored,” “humbled,” and “challenged.” Serving as a member of the National Federation of the Blind has always been a cornerstone in my life and at the bottom of my heart. Serving as an officer is the most awesome responsibility I can imagine. I had the opportunity to be elected to the board of directors two years ago, so I know what that responsibility is like. Being elected as one of the five constitutional officers is the most important moment of my life, and I will fulfill the trust you have placed in me.
Allen Harris reported that this year we were able to bring sixty first-time attendees to the national convention because of the Kenneth Jernigan Fund. People can buy tickets in two drawings: airfare and hotel for two plus $1,000 to attend next year's convention, and $2,500 in cash. When considering the people who are helped to attend the convention, the prizes available, and the modest cost of a ticket, the Jernigan Fund drawings are a win-win proposition.
Gilles Pepin of HumanWare came to the platform to congratulate the National Federation of the Blind on its seventieth birthday, to note that all of us share the goal of greater independence for the blind, and to bring to us news of HumanWare's latest product, the BrailleNote Apex. He began his remarks by saying, "We are strong believers in what you do. We believe that this convention is unique. We know the customers we meet here are the leaders of this community. After all these years we are still here to listen and learn how we can serve you better." Mr. Pepin then talked about the fourth generation of HumanWare notetakers, as well as its products for orientation, the Trekker and the Breeze.
The failure of the educational system in meeting the needs of the blind was the title for the panel which next addressed the convention. It was chaired by Mark Riccobono. Its participants were Noreen Grice, Dr. Eric Vasiliauskas, Dr. Sheila Amato, and Laura Weber. You can read the full text of their excellent remarks in the October issue.
Preety Kumar, chief executive officer of Deque Systems, brought to the convention her enthusiasm for Web accessibility as she spoke about the work of Deque Systems. She said she is encouraged by the number of major corporations interested in making their sites accessible, but, with the ever-changing technology used on the Web and the number of Web authors generating content, we will never catch up using only the strategies of today.
To help reach out to more Web authors, Deque Systems has developed a program called World FireEyes. Its purpose is to look at a Webpage, evaluate its accessibility, show the developer how that page would be displayed to a blind user, and then provide concrete steps to make it screen-reader friendly. Preety believes that everything necessary in addressing Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is now determined by access to the Web, whether we're talking about the ability to purchase food through an online grocery site or holding down a job so people can buy those groceries.
Given the importance of Internet access, we must continue to do all we are currently doing. This includes constant evangelism about the need for screen-reader-friendly sites, including writing to congress and to companies whose sites are not accessible. It also means continuing to emphasize the need for companies to get their Websites certified. When necessary, it means bringing lawsuits and using this new program to help content providers to understand how they can make what they produce available to the blind. Individual consumers must continue to talk with the NFB and Deque Systems about their needs and experience.
President Maurer began the Wednesday afternoon session by discussing the financial procedures used to safeguard our money and then reading the annual audit of our books prepared by an outside auditor. Although we live in difficult financial times, we have managed our money well and have been extremely blessed by the receipt of several bequests, which have helped us stay in the black.
Mark Riccobono urged the Convention to help us compete for a grant for $250,000 to help finance our Youth Slam Program. The Pepsi Refresh Grants Program is giving away $1.5 million every month. In August the National Federation of the Blind is applying for a grant for which the recipients are determined by the number of votes cast for each organization.
After donations by the states and divisions in the Honor Roll Call for the White Cane, tenBroek, Jernigan, and SUN Fund, John Paré, Jesse Hartle, and Lauren McLarney took the stage to discuss strategic initiatives of the National Federation of the Blind. Strategic Initiatives is the department which manages our legislative and policy initiatives, our public relations operation, and NFB-NEWSLINE®.
Sharon Maneki, chairman of the resolutions committee, brought twenty-five resolutions to the general session. An article by Sharon and the twenty-five resolutions adopted by the Convention appear elsewhere in this issue.
Thursday morning began with an invocation by David Stayer, a member of a modern orthodox synagogue, and a long-time member of the National Federation of the Blind. The first business item was the presentation entitled “Buying and Selling Online: eBay Builds Accessibility for the Blind into its Platform.” The presenter was Dane Glasgow, vice president and buyer experience product manager for eBay, Inc. EBay is trying to solve the problem of accessibility in two phases. In the first phase it will focus on accessibility for those who wish to buy, using the system. In the second phase the emphasis will be on the seller, insuring that blind entrepreneurs are able to market their products and start their own small businesses. John Donahoe, the chief executive officer and president of eBay, presented a video message in which he said:
Good morning, I’m John Donahoe, president and CEO of eBay. It’s a real privilege and honor for eBay to be here and be partnering with the National Federation of the Blind and to participate in this year’s convention. At eBay we have a strong commitment to improving the accessibility of our site to all users around the globe, and this year we’re excited about some new features and new enhancements which we hope make our site more accessible. … Our hope is that this is just the beginning, that, by working and partnering with the NFB, we can find new ways to make eBay even more accessible to all of you and more accessible, frankly, to people all over the world. We've been proud and privileged to be partnering with the NFB, and I want to just take a minute to thank Dr. Maurer, who’s been a wonderful partner and an inspirational leader. We look forward to finding ways we can work together in the future, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your convention.
An inventor and a longtime friend of the National Federation of the Blind, Deane Blazie, next took the stage to talk about future work which needs to be done to advance technology for the blind. His work to create the Braille ’n Speak not only provided blind people with a very useful and portable device, it actually started the notetaker industry, which has been tremendously important in our attempt to read and write while on the go.
Though Deane has been semiretired for a number of years and has enjoyed it, he is troubled by the drop in Braille literacy and by the refusal of some to acknowledge the correlation between employment and the use of Braille for blind people. "I could tell you that the reason for this drop in Braille literacy is the move to mainstream blind children in schools and the lack of the system's ability to teach Braille in this environment,” he said, “but that's only part of the problem. Ironically, a significant factor for this decline is technology itself, and I'm sorry to say that I've contributed to that problem because many parents, teachers, and educators think that technology, and in particular talking computers, can replace Braille. Listening alone is inadequate in the acquisition of reading skills, writing skills, and concentrated study. This is especially true in the languages of math and science. … Let me say that Braille is the cornerstone to literacy, to employment, to economic security, and to personal freedom.”
Deane has decided to partner with the National Federation of the Blind and the Center for Braille Innovation, which is a consortium of agencies and organizations interested in Braille, to work not only on a multi-line Braille display and the eventual production of a device which can present a full page of refreshable Braille, but more immediately on the development of a twenty-cell device that will be inexpensive enough to place in the hands of every blind child in the United States. This notetaker, a prototype of which we hope to have at next year's national convention, will have the ability to connect wirelessly to the Internet; will use Bluetooth technology so that it can seamlessly connect to computers, headphones, and Braille displays; will have a built-in GPS and compass so it can be used for navigation; and will contain a built-in five megapixel camera, which will probably mean that it will be able to run the KNFB Reader. The device will also have the ability to connect to cellular networks for data transfer, meaning that it can be used for downloading and reading books, no matter where one happens to be. As important as all of these things are, a fundamental function of the unit will be software to teach Braille, which will use games so that this learning is fun.
The next presenter to come to the stage was no stranger to the National Federation of the Blind. He has been attending conventions since 1974 and has seen the audio book evolve from the sixteen RPM phonograph disc, to the cassette, and now to the flash memory cartridge, which allows audio books to be presented in a digital format. He has seen Braille production transformed from a mechanically intensive process involving large presses and metal plates to Braille embossers and refreshable Braille displays that can be found in the offices and homes of blind people. He has been a pioneer in changing a system that once relied entirely on the Postal Service for the delivery of information to one which more and more relies on electronically transferring books over the Internet.
Frank Kurt Cylke observed that for many years he came to our conventions with a message that one day we would receive our books digitally and that the National Library Service would produce a machine to replace the cassette players on which we were so reliant. He says that it is time for that message to change, that two hundred and twenty thousand digital players have already been produced, that twenty thousand new players are being added each month, and that anyone who wants a machine should request and get one. Currently the National Library Service is working to merge WebBraille with the BARD project so that blind patrons have a one-stop shop on the Internet when it comes to getting NLS materials electronically. There are twenty thousand audio books on the Web, twenty thousand new books are being added each year, and approximately ninety percent of the currently available analog books will be converted so readers will have their favorite titles, by their favorite authors, read by their favorite narrators. As a last point Mr. Cylke said that an ongoing pilot program will convert audio magazines to cartridges, so patrons will be able to use the new digital Talking Book reader for magazines just as they do for their books.
As he has done for the past few years, he shared his time with a National Library Service colleague, this year David Fernandez-Barrial, the NLS language librarian. Mr. Fernandez-Barrial has been in his position about ten months, the last foreign language librarian having left in 2006. One of the first things he has done is to reestablish the flow of new Spanish-language titles to the collection. He has initiated a survey of NLS patrons and has determined that fourteen thousand of them have expressed a preference for materials in other languages. The startling news from the survey is that about 3 percent of all NLS patrons fall into this category, though most assumptions placed the NLS readers preferring languages other than English at 1 percent. Mr. Fernandez-Barrial concluded his remarks by saying, "In closing, I just want to bring it back to basics and emphasize that the goal of this foreign language librarian is to construct a premier foreign language program for the benefit of NLS patrons. … Given the incredible potential of technology which is yet to be harnessed, together with the real strides in making available digital players and digital books by cartridge and download, we are on the cusp of a new era. It's a very exciting time to be a librarian, where the hopes embodied in the ancient Library of Alexandria, that fabled library in Egypt that really was the first world collection of literature accessible to all, are closer than ever to fruition, and it's an exciting time to be a librarian."
“Educating Blind Children: Changing the Paradigm” was presented by Dr. Fredric Schroeder, a research professor at San Diego State University, a towering figure in the field of education, and the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind. Dr. Schroeder's presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
Lynnae Ruttledge, commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, next took the dais to talk about the goals of the Obama administration in providing rehabilitation services for blind Americans. She began by assuring us that she fully supports the change in regulation initiated by Dr. Schroeder, which defines an employment outcome as competitive employment in which people make at or above the minimum wage in an integrated setting. "I can tell you that there are folks urging me to reconsider that public policy, and I will not—I will not!"
Ms. Rutledge expressed her support for a strong and vital Randolph-Sheppard program, which will provide real opportunity for blind entrepreneurs to run their own businesses. She publicly acknowledged Suzanne Mitchell, one of her senior staff members at RSA, for being a strong voice to ensure that people within RSA become advocates for an employment program that really is committed to blind entrepreneurs. She believes we have an opportunity to modernize, transform, and make the Randolph-Sheppard program the program of choice for blind entrepreneurs, and to this end she has hired Dan Frye to revamp and modernize it.
“Accessible Education for All, Including the Blind: Meeting the Standard” was next presented by Laura Erter, vice president of development for the Blackboard Corporation. Blackboard is the software of choice for many colleges and universities, where it is used to post class syllabi, conduct class discussions, post instructor notes, and collect assignments from students. It is used by students to purchase books and meal plans and even register for dormitory space.
Blackboard Learn is used to put classes online and in its current incarnation is so accessible that it has earned Gold certification from the National Federation of the Blind and Deque Systems. Since each institution of higher learning decides what version of Blackboard it will use, pressure from students, parents, and faculty members may be required to see that the most accessible version of the product, currently version 9.1, is purchased by the institution being attended.
John Paré announced that the Blind Driver Challenge would be featured on the Cable News Network at 12:40 p.m. when Mark Riccobono and Dr. Dennis Hong would be interviewed for a live broadcast. This interview was the latest in a series of press events that started in Daytona on Friday and continued well beyond the convention. The hotel agreed to tune its publicly available televisions so that guests could watch the interview as it was occurring.
Monitor readers will remember that in 2006 the National Federation of the Blind filed a lawsuit against the Target Corporation because of the inaccessibility of its Website. This action earned the Federation some significant criticism, especially from shoppers loyal to Target, but the results following the suit have been uniformly positive, as evidenced by the next presentation, entitled “Accessible Design, a Model for the Future,” presented by Steve Eastman, president of Target.com, Incorporated.
Mr. Eastman came to his job in 2006, and one of the first challenges he faced was deciding what to do about the Federation’s suit. He said it took him all of ten minutes to decide that we needed to reach a negotiated settlement and that it was in the interest of all involved for Target to become accessible to the blind. To that end, Target has made several organizational changes and now has a team in place which is dedicated to understanding and advancing the importance of accessibility throughout the organization. This team is responsible for monitoring the current site, working with developers to improve the accessible experience, and partnering with vendors and creative resources to ensure that Target continues to innovate as new technology becomes available.
President Eastman said, "I want to say thank you for inspiring us to think differently about what it means to be accessible to all of our guests. … We now have a sound strategy and development roadmap that emphasizes accessibility as an integral part of every decision, including the construction of an entirely new Website that is set to launch in late 2011. From the documentation of accessibility guidelines to the creation of internal best practices and an infrastructure that ensures ongoing accountability, I'm confident that Target will continue to provide consistent leadership for accessible shopping across all shopping channels. … You have challenged us to be better, and we have responded. We look forward to a strong, ongoing partnership with the National Federation of the Blind as we continue to learn and evolve our online experience and the introduction of new technologies."
The convention next heard from the chief executive officer of the Sendero Group, Michael May. The primary focus of Mike's company is to develop products for the blind to let us tap into the tremendous resource provided by the global positioning system. The information provided by these systems is, of course, only as good as the maps which supplement them. It is of little value to be given one's latitude and longitude if what is wanted is the current intersection and the way to get from where you are to the closest grocery store.
The needs of blind people who use GPS differ somewhat from those of people with sight. For sighted drivers it may be adequate to get them within fifty feet of their destinations and tell them they have arrived, but this is of little benefit to a blind person wishing to locate a specific door, stairway, or elevator. To address this problem, Sendero products allow for the creation of points of interests so that specific locations not recorded on maps generally available to the public can be identified. It would sometimes be nice to know more than the name of something one is passing, and this is where the concept of rich content comes into play. Users of the system can, for example, rate a restaurant at which they have eaten so that other travelers who pass by have the benefit of their experience. If one is riding through Dallas and is told he is passing the Texas Book Depository, rich content will provide information about the building by linking directly to news stories about it. The source for many of these stories will initially be National Public Radio, and it is very likely that with the NPR archives, the Public Broadcasting System, and all of the local affiliates that make up the two networks, we could have in excess of 260,000 hours of archived material through our travel navigation systems.
Mike Starling of National Public Radio talked about another project to enhance the usability of newly created digital radio systems so that they work with Braille displays and speech synthesizers to give us the added content now available to sighted people. Current technology allows sighted people to use a visual display to locate the program they wish to hear and, using that same visual display, review information such as the song title, composer, conductor, and performing orchestra. Programs which provide news content also display links to other resources currently unavailable to the blind.
"Blind Car Builder? We're Here to Tell You!" was next presented by Mark Simmons, chief executive officer of Simmons Boss Creations. Car manufacturers create vehicles by sampling a large cross-section of the population to figure out what it is they will buy. Therefore the cars they build are necessarily a compromise, representing, not what most people want, but what most people are able to afford. Mr. Simmons, an engineer, has created a company to customize what the auto manufacturers provide to produce whatever buyers want. If they are looking for a high-performance vehicle, this is what he builds. If they are looking for an old car with a new engine, he figures out a way for them to have it.
Like many blind people who choose to work in competitive employment, Mr. Simmons must confront a public which sometimes believes blindness will prevent him from doing what he says he can do. Working with automobiles poses a particularly difficult challenge because of public attitudes since it is generally assumed that blind people, who cannot drive, will know next to nothing about the construction, maintenance, repair, and operation of motor vehicles. Mr. Simmons is changing that perception one customer, one vehicle, and one prize-winning design at a time.
The afternoon session began with a round of applause for the coverage of our Blind Driver Challenge by CNN and the professional interview given by Mark Riccobono, and Dr. Dennis Hong. Parnell Diggs encouraged everyone to become an Imaginator and explained that, of the keys that were given out for each $250 raised, five had actual teeth and grooves along the blade and therefore qualified the owner to examine and drive the vehicle we are creating in the Blind Driver Challenge program. The convention was filled with groans and shrieks of joy as some of us confirmed that our keys had smooth edges and others discovered that their keys entitled them to be one of the first to experience this new, groundbreaking technology. Other events will take place in 2011 that will allow some of us to qualify who were not so lucky in 2010, but, in order to have a chance to examine and experience the vehicle, one must begin raising the Imagination Fund money to build it.
In keeping with our convention focus on getting information into the hands of blind people, we next heard from Marybeth Peters, register of copyrights in the Library of Congress copyright office. She spoke on the topic, “Copyright and the Right to Read,” and described the challenge she faces in balancing the rights of authors to be rewarded for their creativity and publishers who provide the mechanism for distributing this material on one hand and on the other the right of the public, including people who are blind, to read and enjoy these works. To accomplish this goal, our copyright law in the United States has rights and exceptions. She said, one of the critical exceptions is section 121, otherwise known as the Chafee Amendment. This law was crafted in an era when digital technology wasn't nearly as important as it is today, so one of the questions we must consider is whether or not copyright law in this country should be updated.
Recently Google has embarked on a project to scan millions of books and make parts of them available on the Internet. The National Federation of the Blind has supported this effort because we know that, of all the newly published books made available to the sighted public each year, fewer than 5 percent are transcribed into a form we can easily read. Though Ms. Peters opposed the Google Book Settlement proposed in response to a lawsuit against Google by some publishers and authors, she believes strongly in the right of blind people to have access to this material. She said, "The promise to offer millions of titles through libraries in formats accessible to persons who are blind and print disabled is not only responsible and laudable but should be the baseline practice for all who venture into digital publishing." Though our strategy for getting at all of the information available to sighted people may be different from hers, she believes that her goal and our strategy are both intended to achieve the same purpose and that we can work together to see that this dream becomes a reality.
Our friend and colleague for more than thirty-five years, Raymond Kurzweil, joined us to talk about “The Future of Books and Beyond.” His message was one of hope based on a number of significant factors. First is his observation regarding the exponential growth in the power of computing technology, which gives us some ability to predict the future and see that the blind are a part of that technological future. Second is his belief in collaborating with those who will use technology, and the cooperation between Kurzweil Computer Products and its successors and the National Federation of the Blind provides a shining example of the way this works both to the advantage of the blind and to those creating products for us. Third, he is optimistic about the future of blind people because he believes that the National Federation of the Blind will continue to be the leader in civil rights issues for the blind and that through our advocacy and the advancement of technology we will come to enjoy true equality with the sighted.
“Calling All Drivers: Advancing Leadership, Collective Action, and the Boundaries of Independence” was presented by Mark Riccobono, executive director of the Jernigan Institute. His inspiring remarks appear elsewhere in this issue.
Mark's presentation was immediately followed by one from Dr. Dennis Hong, PhD, director of the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. The title of his presentation was “The Interface That Touches the Mind: Advancing beyond Autonomous Vehicles,” and the challenge he faces is to help us surmount the technical difficulties that keep us from driving. His humorous, touching, and insightful remarks about the scope of this project and the people it is meant to benefit will appear in a future issue of the Monitor.
A former NFB scholarship winner, Timothy Cordes, M.D., PhD, addressed the convention on the topic of “A Practicing Blind Physician.” In his remarks he mentioned the work of Dr. Jacob Bolotin and how honored he was to set the stage for the presentation of the awards that would follow. Dr. Cordes discussed some of the obstacles he faced getting into school, the reaction when people realized he was serious about becoming a doctor, the techniques he developed to succeed, and the way he now practices. His presentation will appear in its entirety in a future issue of this publication. President Maurer next called on Gary Wunder to present the 2010 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. This report appears elsewhere in this issue.
The final presentation of the afternoon, entitled "Disability Policy from the White House,” was presented by Kareem Dale, the special assistant to the president on disability policy. Mister Dale made it clear that on matters of civil rights the Obama administration was "turning our Justice Department loose, and they are acting like a real civil rights division." The administration is taking a firm stand in support of Braille literacy, in support of accessibility for all Websites, and in support of making all technology accessible to the blind. So powerful was his presentation that it will appear in a future issue of the Braille Monitor.
The convention adjourned promptly at five o'clock, and the crowd retired to their rooms to prepare for the last event of the convention, the evening banquet. As master of ceremonies Dr. Fredric Schroeder introduced President Maurer to deliver the banquet speech, entitled “The Advantage of Uncertainty,” which appears elsewhere in this issue.
The thirty scholarship winners for 2010 were introduced by chairman Anil Lewis, and C. J. Fish, who won the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, was honored with briefly addressing the banquet audience. Ramona Walhof, chairman of the Jacobus TenBroek Award committee, thrilled the crowd when she recognized the long and outstanding service of our friend and colleague, Barbara Pierce. Both presentations can be found elsewhere in this issue.
As the convention concluded, those who attended felt they had really been a part of history in the making. Together we have identified the obstacles that stand between blind people and true equality with the sighted, and without hesitation we have decided to take on each of these obstacles, not because they are easy to resolve, but because overcoming them is absolutely essential to fulfilling the mission of our founders and carrying out the trust of our members. Some of the work we have undertaken will bear fruit immediately; some will take decades to blossom and mature. The joy we find in victory is immense, but so too is the pleasure in the struggle alongside those who are like-minded in purpose and rock solid in their commitment.
An Address Delivered by
National Federation of the Blind
July 6, 2010
The programs of the National Federation of the Blind during the past year have been expanding in scope and accelerating in pace. We have undertaken more projects than ever before in history, and the record of our accomplishments is unprecedented. Nevertheless, the fundamental character of the National Federation of the Blind as the most broadly based representative organization of blind people in the United States is unchanged. We are the blind. Our research reflects the individual experiences of blind people, our programs are built to meet the needs of individual blind people, and our aspirations arise from the hopes and dreams of individual blind people. We are the blind speaking through our organization, taking action in concert with our blind brothers and sisters throughout the nation, establishing standards of excellence that must be met—we are the National Federation of the Blind.
Education for blind children and adults has sometimes been adequate, occasionally been good, but often been dismal. Many components come together in the educational arena: books for blind grade school, high school, and college students; technology used in reading these books and in searching for information in digital formats; programs to manage course material; the educational curricula to offer training to the blind in the tools most likely to give practical meaning to the educational experience; and an attitude on the part of educational professionals incorporating high expectations for blind students and recognizing that the people being taught have talent. One of the most significant elements of our work to promote education for the blind is our support of literacy in Braille.
On June 23, 2010, House Resolution 1034 was adopted by the United States House of Representatives. It begins by saying that the House is “expressing support for the importance of Braille in the lives of blind people.” With eight introductory statements the House of Representatives recognizes the importance of blind people to the society of the United States and the importance of Braille to blind people. Part of the text of this resolution says:
Whereas the United States Congress officially recognized the importance of Braille by passing the Louis Braille Bicentennial Braille Literacy Commemorative Coin Act authorizing the striking of a United States silver dollar marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille and emphasizing the connection between learning Braille and true independence and opportunity for the blind; and
Whereas the National Federation of the Blind, the Nation’s oldest and largest organization of blind people and a leading advocate for Braille literacy in the United States, has launched a national Braille Readers are Leaders campaign to promote awareness of the importance of Braille and to increase the availability of competent Braille instruction and of Braille reading materials in this country: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives—
(1) supports the importance of Braille and the role that Braille plays in the lives of blind people;
(2) recognizes the 70th anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind; and
(3) supports the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind and other organizations to promote Braille literacy.
This resolution was adopted by the House of Representatives by unanimous consent.
Last year I reported to you that we created the Reading Rights Coalition, an entity consisting of more than thirty organizations interested in access to digital information. We created this organization to fight an attempt by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers to turn off the text-to-speech function of digital book readers. We who are blind want access to electronic books in nonvisual form, and so also do several million other print-disabled Americans. On March 9, 2010, we released an agreement which declares that books published in electronic form are to be as accessible to the blind and other print-disabled as they are to everyone else. Most of the big publishers are acting in accordance with this statement, but some are not. They will find that we expect them to do the right thing, and we intend to continue to confront this problem until our expectations are fulfilled.
Last fall I was invited to participate in a meeting with the United States attorney general, Eric Holder, dealing with the rights of disabled Americans. The meeting was cordial, and the attorney general had invited department heads from the Department of Justice to participate. It appeared from all that was said that equal opportunity for disabled Americans is a priority for the attorney general.
Last year I reported to you that some colleges and universities had started pilot programs using the inaccessible Kindle DX. We sued Arizona State University and filed complaints with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice against Princeton University, Reed College, Pace University, and Case Western Reserve University. We also filed a complaint against the University of Virginia with the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education. In January of this year Arizona State University agreed that it will not use any eBook reader that is not fully accessible to the blind. Princeton, Reed, Pace, and Case Western Reserve all entered into agreements with the Department of Justice, saying that they will not purchase or require the students to purchase or use inaccessible eBook technology, whether made by Amazon or anybody else, and they will not require the use of inaccessible eBook reading systems in any part of their curricula.
So that the message would not be lost on other colleges and universities, we sent letters to the attorneys general of every state and the presidents of over 1,800 major colleges to remind them that, as colleges and universities move to electronic books, they must be fully accessible to the blind.
Some of the most popular eBooks being distributed today are created under the name of Adobe Digital Editions. When Adobe stopped producing these books in a form that the blind can use, we reported this to the American Library Association, which adopted a resolution declaring that libraries should not acquire inaccessible eBooks. The Los Angeles Public Library announced that it would abide by the resolution—no more Adobe eBooks unless they are accessible to the blind. So that this message would not be lost, we wrote to 11,961 libraries, reminding them of their obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Adobe has responded, promising that by the end of this year it will introduce a new, accessible version of Adobe Digital Editions.
The biggest player in the college eBook market is a distributor called CourseSmart. Both the electronic books distributed through CourseSmart and the technology to read them have been unusable by the blind. After long negotiation CourseSmart is retooling its software and working with us to offer accessible e-textbooks within the next few months.
Blackboard is a company that distributes software which permits students to get course material, learn about grades, interact with teachers, receive and post comments on subjects involved with coursework, and perform other educational tasks. It is hard to attend college these days without being able to use this type of technology, and some high schools have indicated that they will be using similar programming. Blackboard’s interface was entirely visual, but we urged officials at the company to come to understand that education for blind students is of vital importance. Within the last year Blackboard has asked the National Federation of the Blind to help identify inaccessible portions of its programming. Blackboard has performed modifications so that accessibility is now a centerpiece of the technology. Blackboard has received nonvisual access certification from the National Federation of the Blind, and blind students are now able to get their grades.
Last summer we held the second NFB Youth Slam at the University of Maryland. One hundred seventy-four students representing forty states participated. Seventy adult volunteers from twenty-eight Federation affiliates served as teachers, mentors, and marshals. Students participated in subjects including architecture, engineering, space science, journalism, chemistry, biology, and forensics. One group worked on the first generation of the blind-drivable vehicle—a small red dune buggy equipped with a tactile interface.
The final activity of NFB Youth Slam 2009 began with a gathering on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Despite a sudden torrential downpour, Federation leaders did what others have done who stood in the shadow of the great emancipator—expressed the dream that we will find freedom and dedicated their lives to assuring that it can be achieved. In high spirits the assembled aspirants for a brighter tomorrow marched down the National Mall toward the Capitol. The NFB Youth Slam ended with a ceremony at the United States Capitol Visitor Center, in the Congressional Auditorium, where the majority leader of the House of Representatives, Steny Hoyer, acknowledged the spirit and the leadership of the National Federation of the Blind.
One of our partners in building educational programs for the blind is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). When we announced the release of the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar, we asked NASA to recognize the importance of literacy for the blind by placing two of these coins on the space shuttle heading for Earth orbit. In the Congressional Auditorium the assistant administrator of NASA, the director of education for NASA, and an astronaut brought a plaque incorporating these two silver dollars that had flown in space over five million miles. They spoke to the blind students about what their lives might be, expressing the view that they should dream of far horizons, of distances previously inconceivable for the blind, of possibilities beyond our Earth, and they presented the plaque to the National Federation of the Blind. It is housed in our Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Library.
In April, twenty-five junior high students, ages 12-16, attended the first NFB Leadership and Advocacy in Washington, D.C., (LAW) program at the NFB Jernigan Institute. These students and their parents participated in sessions designed to teach skills of leadership and advocacy within the context of government and the organized blind movement. Participants visited members of Congress to urge adoption of important legislation for the blind. Decision-making in Washington often occurs because constituents ask that decisions be made. These blind students learned that they can make a significant difference in determining the future for all blind people.
The Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning Program (BELL) of the National Federation of the Blind is a two-week educational experience designed to teach the basics of Braille to young children—especially those with some residual vision, who are generally overlooked in the educational system. Last month, our Utah affiliate carried out this program for the first time, and later this summer blind children in Texas, Georgia, Virginia, and Maryland will experience the excitement of learning Braille through the NFB BELL program. The curriculum has been packaged, and it is available free of charge to any affiliate that would like to provide Braille instruction to blind children. If the educational system will not teach our children, we will do it ourselves.
Last year was the 200th birthday of Louis Braille, the inventor of the reading and writing system for the blind. As Federationists know, we asked the United States Congress to direct the Mint to strike the Louis Braille Bicentennial Commemorative Silver Dollar, and we promoted the sale of it. More than 200,000 of them were sold. We also created a book about the importance of Braille, entitled Let Freedom Ring, which is a compilation of one hundred letters about the meaning of Braille in the lives of blind people. This book was prepared for presentation to the president of the United States. We met with the secretary of education, Arne Duncan, to advise him of the state of Braille education in the United States and to give him copies of our book—one for himself and one for the president. At the meeting, blind teenage students read to the secretary of education from Braille texts. This was one of the most moving demonstrations of the value of Braille that could have been presented to the person responsible for the educational system in the United States.
One of the most exciting endeavors of the last year has been our work with the knfb Reading Technology Company. We started with the proposition that a hand-held reading machine for the blind could be created. Working with the futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil, who will be appearing later during this convention, we assisted with the development of the knfb Reader Mobile. However, our work has not stopped there. The knfb Reading Technology company has announced that the Blio, the reading system for the sighted and the blind, will be released without cost in the near future. The company is also taking steps to assure that millions of books will be available to read using this product. The Blio is a piece of software that will operate on numerous platforms—computers, cell phones, and perhaps other devices. This product will bring many millions of books to all of us. No special access technology is needed, just the same product that will be used by the sighted.
We learned that the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, has been digitizing segments of its collection. We have been told that the Library is committed to conducting the digitizing of its collections in a way that will make the books as accessible to the blind as they are to anybody else. As part of our ongoing effort with the Library, I was invited to present an address entitled Opening Minds with Knowledge: Intellectual Property in a Digital World to the staff of the Library.
The Blind Driver Challenge is our initiative to cause the creation of a nonvisual driving interface for the blind. We can build a car that the blind can drive independently and safely. Some people ask us, “Do you really mean it?” To which we respond, “Every single word.” Image recognition technology is among the systems used in military applications. Object avoidance technology is available in robot systems. Global positioning systems have become increasingly accurate. What we need is an interface that can capture information and provide it to the blind in nonvisual ways. We expect to have it within a year. We have been working with Virginia Tech, some other universities, and some private entrepreneurs on the development of the interface. The innovations produced in the process of creating this blind drivable vehicle will help us gain access to extraordinary amounts of information. They will also help the sighted find ways to learn more than they now know and operate machines with increased efficiency and safety. We expect the blind drivable automobile to be at our convention next summer.
Since our last convention the National Federation of the Blind and the programs we promote have been featured in the press in such places as the Washington Post, the CBS Early Show, ABCNews.com, Albany Times Union, the Associated Press, USA Today, and the New York Times. We were on the front page of the Washington Post twice. One article represented our work to ensure that pedestrian travel is safe by creating an understanding that automobiles will be hearable. The other article featured our work to create the blind drivable car. The public relations work of the National Federation of the Blind has brought the name of our organization and the importance of our efforts into the homes of more than 100 million people during the last year.
Getting a decent education for blind children is very difficult. Three years ago we put together a task force with the purpose of attempting to improve educational opportunities. We thought that, if we threatened educational programs with legal action, we could get positive change. However, the law is so terribly complex that system-wide change is excruciatingly slow. To attempt to find a solution to the persistent reality of inadequate education for blind students, we have created a more extensive leadership group. The people involved are creating a comprehensive educational plan for the twenty-first century. Should model schools for the blind be created? Should regional programs be established? Should the law be altered to incorporate standards of excellence for education of the blind? Should specialized college preparatory programs be established for blind students? Should specialized college curricula be adopted for teachers of blind students? Should alternative certification systems be adopted for teachers of the blind? Should the law be changed? Should specialized technologies for educational programs be built? Should other modifications be made for the blind? These are the questions being studied by this group of experts in the field of education for the blind. In many school districts 90 percent of blind students are never encouraged to use Braille. In many school districts more than 90 percent of the blind students matriculating are expected by administrators to be passive and idle. We cannot permit these conditions to remain. Some people tell us that a comprehensive quality education for our children cannot be achieved, but we don’t believe it. We have had it with those who tell blind students, “Sit still until you are old, when you will become somebody else’s problem.” To think of our children as nothing more than a problem is wrong. Our children are human beings waiting for the stimulating inspiration that comes with quality education, and we intend to ensure that they get it.
Three years ago the National Federation of the Blind initiated a series of gatherings of the brightest legal minds addressing the subject of disability. We named these after our founder, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, who was a blind lawyer and professor and one of the greatest legal minds in the history of American jurisprudence. The 2010 Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium, Equality, Difference, and the Right to Live in the World, took place in April. Over 120 people from throughout the United States and Canada attended, representing sixty-three organizations. United States Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Tom Perez headed the list of leading advocates. Also addressing the Symposium was the author of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Tony Coelho, chairman of the board of the American Association of People with Disabilities and a former member of Congress.
We have been very active this year in Congress. The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act is a piece of legislation proposed by the National Federation of the Blind, which would require automobiles to make enough sound to permit blind people and other pedestrians to hear them. More than 230 members of the House of Representatives have cosponsored this piece of legislation. In May a Motor Vehicle Safety Act was introduced in the House of Representatives. Before the end of the month the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act was offered as an amendment, which was adopted by the committee considering the Motor Vehicle Safety Act by unanimous consent. Similar action has taken place in the Senate. We have been working on this matter for seven years. We expect our bill to be on the desk of the president of the United States before the end of 2010.
For the fourth year in a row the National Federation of the Blind was the only organization to testify before the House Committee on Appropriations, subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, concerning the full funding of the Digital Talking Book program of the Library of Congress. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the subcommittee, has pledged to fund the NLS program fully throughout the conversion process. She appeared before our Washington Seminar this winter to receive the Distinguished Legislative Service Award. She said that we, the National Federation of the Blind, are the toughest advocates for books that she has ever met.
The Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind establishes the principle that home and office technology and equipment must incorporate nonvisual access standards. At one time such products as copy machines and ovens were easy for the blind to operate. With the proliferation of inaccessible touchscreen technology, this is no longer the case. Congresswoman Janice D. Schakowsky of Illinois, who spoke passionately at the Washington Seminar about her support for the blind, introduced this bill, H.R. 4533, on January 27, 2010. Because this kind of civil rights protection for the blind is a fairly new concept for the Congress, much uncertainty has been expressed about this bill and the influence it will have on manufacturers of technology for the sighted. Some members of Congress do not yet comprehend that we are seeking equal access to information. Some people are asserting that we are seeking to limit imaginative development of technology. Of course this is not the case. We have observed that requiring equality of access to information (and the devices used to get this information) stimulates rather than limits development of innovative technology.
A free service of the National Federation of the Blind, NFB-NEWSLINE®, permits blind people to read by telephone or by other means TV listings, over 300 newspapers, and many magazines each day. More than 85,000 subscribers to NFB-NEWSLINE have received in excess of 35 million minutes of newspaper reading in the past year. Nineteen additional newspapers have been added to the service as well as twelve magazines, including Smithsonian, Time, Popular Science, Rolling Stone, and Texas Monthly. Part of this service, NEWSLINE In Your Pocket, offers the capacity to transmit newspapers from a subscriber’s computer to a digital Talking Book player. New players, such as the BookSense, have been added this year, and we expect the NLS digital Talking Book machine to play NEWSLINE content before the end of the year.
Research related to the blind has frequently been done without the blind, and questions have been investigated that are not of concern to the blind. Our experience is a rich source of understanding about blindness. It is worth wondering how anybody could do research without including this rich source of understanding, but a good many have tried. At this convention we are announcing the creation of an open access, peer-reviewed, online publication dedicated to research on blindness—the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research. This new journal, established by the blind of America, will be managed through our NFB Jernigan Institute. Its first chief editor is an accomplished research professor from San Diego State University, the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Fredric K. Schroeder.
NFB ShareBraille.org is an online system for trading hard-copy Braille books. In the past year 1,171 books have been shared through the system. We believe in the power of books and want to help families build Braille book libraries.
This was a record-breaking year for the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. Over six hundred students from forty-seven states registered. Some of the teams competing for top honors were the “Braille Powerpuffs” and “Believe to Achieve.” We also had an adult contest this year. Well over one hundred adults registered. Participants competed in one of five categories: beginner, intermediate, advanced, expert, and sighted teacher/parent. The twelve most voracious Braille readers have been invited to participate in this convention.
For a number of years we have been encouraging early introduction to Braille through our Braille Pals program, which has now been expanded into the NFB Braille Reading Pals Club. The club continues to strive to promote early literacy skills to young blind children ages birth to seven. The new features of the club include Braille birthday cards for the children, a monthly parent e-newsletter, and quarterly Braille activity sheets, along with print-Braille books and plush stuffed animals that are the Braille pals.
We continue our contract work with the Library of Congress National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, administering the courses leading to certification in Braille transcribing and proofreading. Since taking on the project, we have forwarded the names of approximately eight hundred individuals to the Library of Congress, indicating that they have successfully completed the certification courses in literary, mathematics, or music Braille.
Our efforts to promote the development and use of access technology for the blind have been more extensive than ever this year. We have made presentations about the use of technology by the blind at the annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, known as CSUN, in California; Accessing Higher Ground in Colorado; the Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference in Chicago; and the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Topics covered included accessibility of the blind to eBooks, accessible cell phones and mobile devices, optical character recognition systems, handheld reading machines, nonvisual accessibility to Blackboard Learn, DAISY book production systems, methods of achieving accessibility for the blind on the Internet, and understanding methods of achieving accessibility in flat-screen technology.
We have continued our work this year with a number of companies that are developing access systems usable by the blind. Apple released its iPad in the spring, which has voiceover technology usable on the flat screen of the device. We are told that the new version of the iPhone continues the commitment of Apple to accessibility for the blind.
We continue to maintain the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, The National Center for Nonvisual Election Technology, and an expanding low-vision technology center. To maintain these learning centers, we have purchased or upgraded during the year forty-five different kinds of technology, from the Apple iPad to the Sendero Group global positioning system for the HumanWare Apex.
We have also been active in assisting individual blind people to protect their civil rights in the courts. Stephanie Enyart is a blind graduate of the UCLA law school. When she prepared to take the California Bar Exam, she wanted to use JAWS and ZoomText to read the material, and the California Board of Bar Examiners had no objection. However, the National Conference of Bar Examiners owns the Multistate Bar Exam and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, both parts of the California Bar Exam. The National Conference of Bar Examiners refused to allow these accommodations. We sued them, and we secured a preliminary injunction requiring the Bar Examiners to permit Stephanie Enyart to use her assistive technology. When the Bar Examiners lost their case, they appealed. However, this is not all. They have also refused to allow three more blind law school graduates–Tim Elder, Anne Blackfield, and Michael Witwer–to take the bar examination using their assistive technology. Once again we sued them. A hearing is scheduled on the second National Conference of Bar Examiners discrimination case for July 13.
We thought that the people who test others to determine whether they know the law could read it themselves. Nondiscrimination legislation requires reasonable accommodation—not the accommodations that the Bar Examiners might pick, but accommodations that we need to permit equal participation in the activity under consideration. A reasonable accommodation must be reasonable. The ancient Latin saying is, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” which translates, “Who will guard the guardians?” If the lawyers cannot be trusted to know the law, who can be trusted? The Bar Examiners want us to give up. They want us to admit that our system for getting information is inferior to theirs. They want us to agree that they have the authority to tell us that we are not welcome in the legal arena, which they want to reserve for themselves. But we have a right to full participation. The law declares it, and we demand it. Even the lawyers must come to recognize the power of the law and the determination of the National Federation of the Blind.
A college graduate who wants to apply to law school must use the Website of the Law School Admission Council to submit an application, to sign up for the law school admission test, and to get practice materials. Unfortunately, the Law School Admission Council Website is inaccessible to the blind. Last year we filed suit on behalf of Deepa Goraya, a blind person then living in California. Earlier this year we wrote to every law school in the country, pointing out that each one was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by using an inaccessible Website for the application process. Many of the law schools were startled to learn of the discrimination being practiced by the Law School Admission Council. They asked the Council to change, but officials at the Admission Council were adamant—no accessibility for the blind. We added four law schools to our lawsuit, and we asked the Department of Justice to investigate nine others. Maybe we should add all 300 of them. There is now reason to think that the Law School Admission Council may make its Website fully accessible by the fall of 2011. If it does not, we will do what must be done to ensure that the gateway to law schools is as available to the blind as it is to the sighted.
Aaron Cannon is blind and a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa. Because he wanted to become a chiropractor, he applied to Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, and he was accepted into the program. Many blind people have successfully practiced chiropractic medicine, and several have graduated from Palmer. However, in 2001 Palmer decided to change its graduation requirements. It stated that, "Candidates must have sufficient use of sense of vision.” Aaron Cannon must be able to view everything independently. He was prohibited from using accommodations to obtain information nonvisually. We filed a complaint of discrimination with the Davenport Civil Rights Commission, and the Commission agreed with us. Because Palmer still refuses to change its policy, we took the matter to a full evidentiary hearing before a judge, and the judge ruled that Palmer has discriminated on the basis of blindness. Aaron Cannon has been awarded damages, and we have been awarded our attorney’s fees and costs. Officials at Palmer still refuse to change their minds. Consequently, further proceedings may be necessary, but the National Federation of the Blind is equal to the challenge.
David Bouchard is a young blind high school graduate from Mississippi. Before entering college, he wanted to receive high quality blindness training from the Louisiana Center for the Blind, but the Mississippi vocational rehabilitation agency said no. Get your training from the programs that we offer in Mississippi, or do without, they said. Despite the demonstrated record of excellence from the Louisiana Center for the Blind, despite the obvious difference in the scope of rehabilitation training that exists in the programs in Mississippi and those at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, despite the legal requirement that freedom of choice be offered to clients in determining the programs they will use in gaining rehabilitation training, the Mississippi vocational rehabilitation agency said no. We took this case to a full evidentiary hearing, and we won. David Bouchard is now a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and he is attending this convention.
Outlook Nebraska, Inc., of Omaha, is an employer organized under the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act—in other words, a sheltered workshop. At Outlook Nebraska blind workers are laid off before sighted workers; machinery is not adapted so that the blind can run it nonvisually; sighted workers receive promotions, but the blind workers do not; and workers are victims of retaliation if they report safety violations—we are told. We have filed a complaint of employment discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Does National Industries for the Blind know about the discrimination in this sheltered workshop? Is it planning to take action to correct the outrageous working conditions? We have not heard from National Industries for the Blind, but we have made it clear to Outlook Nebraska that we expect it to change its employment practices and we expect it to operate its business in full compliance with the law. Scott LaBarre is managing the case, and we are confident that success will come to the blind of Omaha with all deliberate speed.
Gary Owens lives in Missouri. Although he became blind in 1991 and although he has worked at a number of jobs, his income has remained below the Substantial Gainful Activity amount designated by Social Security law. Therefore he is entitled to receive benefits from the Social Security Administration. However, in 2009 Gary Owens received a letter from Social Security saying that he had made too much money during one month in 1998; that from that point forward, he was no longer disabled; and that the government had overpaid him $137,000. The letter further stated that his benefits would cease immediately and that he should make repayment forthwith.
After more than a year of negotiation, the Social Security Administration now concedes that Gary Owens is blind, that he did not exceed the earnings limit, that he will be receiving a monthly disability insurance payment, that he is owed back-payments of well over $10,000, and that he does not have to pay Social Security $137,000. That is what the government says, but what about Gary Owens? He says, "Thank goodness for the National Federation of the Blind."
Through our Affiliate Action department, we have continued to build strong state affiliates throughout the United States. We have initiated our Teacher Recruitment Network. This fall we are launching the Teacher of Tomorrow Program, which will provide a year-round mentoring experience for teachers preparing to work with blind students. Next summer these teachers will join us at our convention.
This spring dozens of talented and motivated high school students from throughout the country attended the NFB Youth Leadership Academies. These sessions were designed to acquaint 2009 Youth Slam students and others with the work, excitement, and future possibilities in the Federation.
We continue to maintain and upgrade our national headquarters, the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. The air conditioning and heating systems in our original building are being replaced with more efficient ones that will provide individual thermostatic control to each of the sleeping rooms and many other spaces. Other efforts have been undertaken to increase efficiency and save energy.
One of the enormous advantages that we have in the National Federation of the Blind is that our headquarters is ours. We can build it to suit ourselves, and we do. Since our last convention we have conducted a very substantial number of programs for blind youth. Some of these people have wanted to play Goalball, a sport invented after I graduated from high school. We are in the process of making the plans to install a Goalball court so that active blind youth, and some who are not so youthful, can test their strength against one another.
Since our last convention we have served a total of more than 7,500 meals to almost 4,000 visitors to our headquarters. Our grocery bill for the year is $74,093.26.
We have continued to participate in international events this year. The National Federation of the Blind is part of the World Blind Union. Mrs. Mary Ellen Jernigan and I are the delegates to the world organization from the National Federation of the Blind. I was invited to give an address at Queensland University in Brisbane, Australia, last fall. This coincided with a meeting of the Blind Citizens Australia, the organized blind movement for the land down under. I participated in that national meeting along with Patricia Maurer.
I have been invited to the White House from time to time in my capacity as president of the National Federation of the Blind. Two years ago the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities became effective. The United States initially indicated that it would not be a signer to this international convention. Our own Fred Schroeder negotiated many of the provisions of the treaty, and he urged that we take steps to encourage the United States government to join with other nations in support of the rights of disabled human beings. I was invited to the East Room of the White House last fall for the announcement by the secretary of state and President Obama that the United States would sign the agreement.
We in the National Federation of the Blind continue to conduct the programs that we have established to support the blind. We distribute the Braille Monitor and Future Reflections along with hundreds of other publications. We operate the Independence Market, making hundreds of specialized products for the blind available. We give free white canes to blind people in the United States who want them. We gather with each other in local, state, and national meetings to share our hopes and dreams for the future and to make plans to make our hopes real.We work together in the National Federation of the Blind. No single individual can accomplish what needs to be done. We are all a part of the organized blind movement. Some of us are leaders, and some of us are not. Some of us have long experience, and some of us are new recruits. Some of us have received extensive rehabilitation training, and some of us have learned to manage without it. None of this matters. Regardless of the positions we have, our work demands the effort of us all. No matter the path that brought us to the Federation, we are one—we are united—we are the blind who have come together to carry out our destiny. Our work challenges all of us, inspires all of us, changes lives for all of us. I have traveled America this year, and I have observed the Federation in action. I have talked and worked with thousands of our members. I know the spirit of the Federation, and knowing this, I am absolutely certain that our goals will be achieved. We may face hardship or discrimination, but this is only an interval in the period of our journey to freedom. We will gain our objectives; we will establish equality for ourselves and those who come after us; we will be free! This is what my experience in the Federation has demonstrated, and this is my report for 2010.
From the Editor: In the National Federation of the Blind we present awards only as often as they are deserved. This year two were presented during the annual meeting of the NFB board of directors, one was presented during the Tuesday afternoon convention session, and one more was presented during the banquet. In addition the Bolotin Awards were again presented. A complete report of those presentations appears elsewhere in this issue. Here is the report of the educator awards, the Imaginator of the Year Award, and the tenBroek Award:
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
by Cathy Jackson
When Dr. Maurer called me last fall and asked me if I would chair this year’s Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award Committee, I said, “I’d like to do that, Dr. Maurer, but I’m not so sure that I’ll chair it my first year. I really don’t know what I’m doing.”
And he replied, “Well, Cathy, that’s never stopped you before.” With comments like that, how could I possibly say no?
I want to thank the rest of the committee: Carol Castellano, Allen Harris, Carla McQuillan, Mark Riccobono, and Mary Willows. They stood by me through the scanning software problems, the malfunctioning fax machines, and the yet-to-be-figured-out debacle with the U.S. Post Office. Thank you anyway.
I think it’s important to note that four of our five nominees are actually here at this convention. They were making plans to come whether or not they won the award, which I think speaks volumes about their character and their attitudes about blindness. I want to thank them all for being here. They bring unique qualities and techniques to their classrooms, but one common thread binds all of them together: they all have the highest expectations for their students.
However, it was our task to find the distinguished educator of 2010, and we did. She has a PhD in visual impairment and blindness with a concentration in orientation and mobility and in assessment from Boston College. She began teaching blind and visually impaired students thirty-nine years ago at the Boston Center for Blind Children. She also taught at the Perkins School for the Blind and in the Massachusetts school system. Currently she works full time for the DeKalb County Department of Education, just outside Atlanta, Georgia. Her job duties include teaching orientation and mobility, Braille, and technology skills. She also completes functional evaluations for all three-year-olds entering the school system, as well as doing functional assessments for other low-vision students.
Our winner has also been recognized for her work in the international realm. She has traveled to Asia to train teachers of preschoolers at schools for the blind. She has traveled to China for the Hilton Purpose Project for eight years and to Vietnam for the first time last year. She is one of fifteen national experts who work to develop guidelines to assist people in describing educational videos to children who are blind. She was featured in an article that appeared in Future Reflections titled, “Kendra’s Kindergarten Year: As Good as It Gets.”
She was presented the first ever NFB of Georgia Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award in 2009. Anil Lewis, president of the NFB of Georgia, says, “There are just some people who get it, who understand that a blind person is first and foremost a person. Laurie Hudson is one who gets it.” [Applause] It gives me great pleasure to present this award to Dr. Laurel J. Hudson, so let me read the plaque:
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
LAUREL J. HUDSON, PhD
DISTINGUISHED EDUCATOR OF BLIND CHILDREN
FOR YOUR SKILL IN TEACHING BRAILLE AND OTHER ALTERNATIVE
TECHNIQUES OF BLINDNESS, FOR GENEROUSLY DEVOTING EXTRA TIME
TO MEET THE NEEDS OF YOUR STUDENTS, AND FOR INSPIRING YOUR
STUDENTS TO PERFORM BEYOND THEIR EXPECTATIONS.
YOU CHAMPION OUR MOVEMENT; YOU STRENGTHEN OUR HOPES;
YOU SHARE OUR DREAMS.
There is another important part of this award. We want to present you a $1,000 check for your outstanding work. Dr. Hudson will be available to sign autographs and for a photo-op.
Thank you so much.
Laurel Hudson: Thank you so very much. I love what’s on this plaque, “You champion our movement; you strengthen our hopes; you share our dreams.” That’s certainly my goal, and that has been my goal for the almost forty years that I have been teaching. Thank you so much to the Federation and to the board. Thank you to all of you NFB members and to my other blind friends and colleagues. Whenever I spend time with you people, I go back to my home schools, and I check the bar for my students. Am I expecting enough of them? Because my goal is that they will turn out like you, that they will have the independence, the capability, and the joy that you all have. I thank you all so much for letting me see on a regular basis what’s possible. I thank you to the awards committee and to Cathy. I can only imagine that there are many wonderful teachers out in the field. I’m sure the other candidates are fabulous teachers.
Cathy, when you called me, I can tell you where I was standing in my house. I can tell you what time it was. I was so excited. Then I thought the next morning, “Did I imagine it? Was it a dream?” I had to call you back the next day and make sure it really had happened. Thank you to Richard Holloway and to Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway. They are the leaders of GOPBC in Georgia, and they nominated me for this award. They have given me the opportunity to teach their daughter since she was three years old. Stephanie and Richard, once you were convinced that I had high standards for your daughter, you have given me so much confidence and so much trust. You have allowed me the wiggle room I need to teach your daughter well. And you have this great balance. On the one hand you stay very informed. You observe my lessons; you ask me tons of questions. You talk with me, and we exchange many, many dozens of emails, but you also give me a lot of room once you are convinced that I’m doing what I need to be doing. You don’t nickel-and-dime me.
I thank my family. I wish that they could be here, but we couldn’t work it out. They are proud as punch. My mother is funny. She is walking around to anybody she can buttonhole and saying, “See, I told you Laurie was a good teacher. Some other people think so too.”
I also thank the good people who put in a good word for me. Thank you to David Dawson from Colorado, the Audio Information Network of Colorado. He’s out-of-pocket right now with surgery, but I know he wishes he could be here. He told me that he kidded that he slipped Cathy $10 to get me this award. Kidding aside, I know he’s been a wonderful advocate for me, and also Annie Maxwell, longtime leader of the Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta. I’ve enjoyed working with her and also with her son Neal. Thank you to Anil Lewis, who has always been a fan of mine. From the day we met, Anil, I felt like, “okay I’m all right in your books.” You’ve been an encouragement to me. Thank you.
I just want to thank my students over the years, not by name, but those I’ve learned so much from. They’ve challenged me and they’ve delighted me. They’ve inspired me. Of course, sometimes they’ve annoyed me, but they’re kids, and that’s their job, right? I’d like to close with my favorite quote about education. When I’m speaking this afternoon at the NOPBC division meeting, I’ll be talking more about some of my favorite quotes. But this is my favorite one about education. It’s from a man named Robert Faun. I found it in a little book on the interplay of faith and education. He wrote, “We who are called to teach do so out of conviction that what we teach is important, those whom we teach are precious, and the reason why we teach reaches to the very core of our place and mission in the world.”
Thank you so much.
Blind Educator of the Year Award
by David Ticchi
Good morning, fellow Federationists. It is a pleasure to be chair of this committee and an honor. This morning I will first thank the members of this committee. I will tell you something about the award and its establishment. I will introduce this year’s winner, and then I will read the plaque and present the plaque and a check for $1,000 to the winner. The committee for the Blind Educator of the Year has me and four other members. They are William Henderson of Massachusetts, Sheila Koenig and Judy Sanders of Minnesota, and Ramona Walhof of Idaho. I have to say, President Maurer, it’s a wonderful committee to work with, so I want to thank all the members.
The Blind Educator of the Year Award was established by our National Organization of Blind Educators many, many years ago. The purpose of the award is to recognize a teacher whose classroom performance, whose community service, and whose commitment to the National Federation of the Blind have been exemplary. In 1991 it became a national award, because of the impact good teaching has on students, on faculty, on the community, and on all blind Americans. It is presented in the spirit of our founder, our leaders and educators who have nurtured our movement over the years: Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, Dr. Maurer, and Dr. Capps. As an aside, President Maurer, when you mentioned this morning that Donald Capps has been to fifty-five conventions--maybe this is the educator in me, but think of that fact in this context: when any of us comes to convention, we’re here generally for the better part of a week. If that is true, that’s fifty-five weeks that Don Capps has attended conventions; that’s more than one year of his life that has been spent at NFB national conventions. [Applause]
So that is the award. I am not going to keep you in suspense. I’m going to tell you the name of this year’s winner, and I am going to ask the winner to make her way to the stage to receive the plaque and the check. This year’s winner of the Blind Educator of the Year Award embodies the spirit and purpose of this award. It is Ginger Lee-Held of Wisconsin. She attended the Wisconsin School for the Visually Impaired. She graduated from Parker High School in Janesville in 1988. In 1992 she received her bachelor’s degree in family and consumer sciences from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and in 2000 she received her master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. She has taught family and consumer sciences at the Oshkosh Middle School from 1992 to the present. So that’s nearly twenty years in public education at the same school. I want to let you know, Ginger, and share with the Federationists here that I had a very nice conversation with your principal, Ann Schultz. Ann’s first word was “awesome.” Then she said, “Every principal, every administrator longs to have a faculty member like Ginger, and to have an entire faculty and school community like Ginger. She is an integral part of our school community. She is respected by her peers. She is respected by her students, and she is a contributor.” Those are words which administrators don’t generally say lightly. I share them with you because Ann Schultz was very complementary about Ginger and what she means to that middle school. Any of you who are parents or teachers know that middle school is not the easiest grade level to teach. There are a lot of changes going on in the kids. Ginger has been there seventeen years.
Ginger is married. Her husband Greg is here with us today. Her mother Donna is here with us today. She has an eight-year-old daughter, Rachel; and Ginger enjoys sewing, baking, gardening, reading, etc.; and I understand that she particularly enjoys baking cookies. Had I known that before the convention, I would have requested an emergency supply.
[Laughter] The award, which I am going to hold up for the audience, reads:
THE BLIND EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
IN RECOGNITION OF OUTSTANDING ACCOMPLISHMENTS
IN THE TEACHING PROFESSION
YOU ENHANCE THE PRESENT,
YOU INSPIRE YOUR COLLEAGUES,
YOU BUILD THE FUTURE.
JULY 5, 2010
Congratulations, Ginger. [Applause.]
Ginger Lee-Held: Thank you so much for this honor. I have to say that this is the biggest--there is just not a word--the best honor that I could receive in my entire career. This is just the best. I want to tell you that in 1994, it was in Detroit and my first national convention, I read in the Braille Monitor when the agenda came out that the teachers division was having a meeting, and the topic was going to be dealing with attitudes and challenges presented by the public and within the school. I said to my husband, “I have to go to this.” So I booked my trip. I came here. I didn’t know anybody, and I wandered around and had a ton of fun, made many friends and acquaintances. I was totally overwhelmed, and I went to the meeting and sat next to Susanne Whalen, and I had to meet Allen Harris. Those two people in particular gave me the energy to go back to my school district.
However, I was supposed to fly out the next day, so I called my husband and said, “This is the coolest place. Do you think you could drive down here (thirteen hours) and see what this convention is like? It is so cool.” So he drove, and I skipped my plane. We stayed the rest of the week. I think we had to make a couple of room moves, but it was all worth it because I got to have the full impact of being a Federationist. That was the best experience. I remember it clearly. That is what the teachers division and all the different divisions do here at the convention. It’s meeting people and finding out about adaptations and how people deal with all kinds of challenges in the workplace. That was the best thing I ever did.
There are two things I think about when I work with my students--I have to say, if you’re a middle school teacher and stay in the job as long as I have, you begin to act like middle schoolers. When Mr. Ticchi called to tell me about this award, I first thought he was going to ask me for my contact information for the newsletter or something. He told me about this award, and all I could say was, “Oh my gosh. This is so cool. This is so cool. This is so exciting. This is so exciting.” After I hung up, I thought, “Oh my gosh, what kind of professional person are you?” So I had to email him and say, “Just so you know, I do have better grammar. This is such an honor.”
The highest praise you can receive when you teach middle school is, “This is cool.” So I have to say, receiving this honor and being confirmed and told that I am truly a Federationist along with all the people I admire here is really cool.
Imaginator of the Year Award
by Parnell Diggs
I am going to ask Kayleigh Joiner to join me here at the podium. I have Kayleigh here because I want to talk about her. I have a plaque here, which says:
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
THE IMAGINATOR OF THE YEAR AWARD
To KAYLEIGH JOINER
IN RECOGNITION OF YOUR OUTSTANDING WORK
IN THE 2010 RACE FOR INDEPENDENCE
YOUR DEDICATION TO OUR CAUSE
AND YOUR UNWAVERING COMMITMENT TO IMPROVING THE LIVES OF BLIND AMERICANS
DALLAS, TEXAS, 2010.
So Kayleigh, this is for you. [Applause] If you don’t know, Kayleigh is eighteen years old, and she was one of the medallion winners. Did you notice the list I read this morning? Kayleigh’s name was on it. She raised over $1,000, and she had fifteen contributors--at eighteen years of age. She was not afraid to make the ask. Kayleigh, would you like to say something?
Kayleigh Joiner: Thank you. It’s such an honor.
The Jacobus TenBroek Award
by Ramona Walhof
The highest award given by the National Federation of the Blind to one of our own is the Jacobus tenBroek Award, named for our founder. Created in 1974, this award has been presented twenty-six times to deserving Federationists from eighteen states. A review of the names of those who have received this award shows how diverse and strong our organization has become. I believe that Dr. tenBroek and others who have passed from among us celebrate along with us with joy and pride the growth of our leaders and our Federation itself. In 2007 I received the tenBroek Award, and nothing has ever given me more humility or more pleasure.
This year we have chosen a person from a new state, a person who has been hard at work in the organization for thirty-five years. Although one of our top leaders, this person has never served on the NFB board of directors. She has represented our national president at state meetings of the Federation, and she has represented the Federation internationally as chairperson of the committee on women’s issues. Yes, I am talking about you, Barbara Pierce. [Applause] Come on up here. This is not the first time we have honored an editor of the Braille Monitor. In 1976 the very first Jacobus tenBroek Award was presented to Perry Sundquist from California, who did in the seventies edit the Braille Monitor.
Although Barbara has retired from some of her activities in the National Federation of the Blind, she continues to contribute a great deal to our movement. She represents the Federation with poise, warmth, energy, dignity, and charm. Her writing and her speeches are familiar to all of us. We know this woman because she has shared herself with us. She has told us stories about her childhood. We know her husband Bob, the professor from Oberlin College. We have heard about her three grown children: Steven, Anne, and Margy, and her grandchildren, Miranda and Jack. And she has told us about her former employment as assistant alumni director at Oberlin College.
We have met her often in the Kernel Books. Wall-to-Wall Thanksgiving was named for her story in it, and it is a great example of her gutsiness and her personality.
Barbara gives credit where credit is due, but she is not afraid to report the facts, whatever they are. Many of you have heard of the way Barbara discovered the NFB. She says her husband was away on business while she stayed home with her three small children at the time, and she ran out of Talking Books, a problem we can all understand. Some of us remember a Federationist named Bill Kapler, who had stopped at Barbara’s home and left a stack of recordings, speeches from the National Federation of the Blind. Bill Kapler died recently, but I know that he was very proud that Barbara remembers him in this way. In desperation that week Barbara brought out these recordings. By the time her husband returned home, he found her so wound up and excited about what she had been reading that she was bursting to tell him about it. Almost immediately she began a correspondence with Dr. Jernigan and was soon invited to a leadership seminar. It was not long before we began to hear quotes from that correspondence in his speeches and Monitor articles by Dr. Jernigan.
By 1980 Barbara Pierce was appointed chairperson of the NFB committee on public relations. In 1984 she was first elected president of the NFB of Ohio, and she was reelected to that office eleven times, serving a total of twenty-four years. Barbara was appointed to serve on the NFB scholarship committee in the mid-1980s, and I cannot count the number of scholarship winners who remember meaningful discussions with her regarding blindness and their own futures in the Federation and in their professions.
Barbara has led delegations to the Washington Seminar for decades. She seldom missed a demonstration against the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped. Yes, she was there representing the Braille Monitor, but she was more than a reporter. She was a tone-setter, a spokesman, and a leader at every one of those events.
Most people here have read the account Barbara Pierce wrote for the Braille Monitor last January as she retired from the editorship of our magazine. She described her growth in the Federation. Always a fair reporter, Barbara cares more than most. She cares about the people in most of the stories she writes and edits. We know that from what she says and from what she does as a leader in the Federation. We honor you with love tonight, Barbara. We honor you for your work and for your heart, not as a Federation employee, although you were an excellent one, but as a colleague and a friend to all of us, to hundreds of us as individuals, and to the organization as a whole.
We have for you a plaque, and I will give it to you to hold up. (The point goes at the bottom—well, it’s a good thing to have it right-side up.) It reads:
JACOBUS TENBROEK AWARD
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
FOR YOUR DEDICATION, SACRIFICE, AND COMMITMENT
ON BEHALF OF THE BLIND OF THIS NATION.
YOUR CONTRIBUTION IS MEASURED NOT IN STEPS BUT IN MILES.
NOT BY INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES BUT BY YOUR IMPACT
ON THE LIVES OF THE BLIND OF THE NATION.
WHENEVER WE HAVE ASKED, YOU HAVE ANSWERED.
WE CALL YOU OUR COLLEAGUE WITH RESPECT.
WE CALL YOU OUR FRIEND WITH LOVE.
JULY 8, 2010
Barbara Pierce: As I walked to the podium I was thinking that it was just over forty-three years ago that I received a letter from a blind college professor whom I had never heard of before. But it was a generous, loving, encouraging letter to me as a student just graduating from college. It would take another eight years and the discovery of the National Federation of the Blind before I would recognize that man’s name. It was Jacobus tenBroek.
As soon as I did become involved in the Federation--it was a love story, and as all love stories go, I discovered that the more I gave, the more I received, so that I have always been in your debt. I have done the best I could for all of us. I have loved every moment of my engagement with this organization. In the early years I sat in this audience and watched the people whom I most admired receive this award. As the years went by, I found that it was the people whom I knew and loved best who were receiving it. I cannot tell you what it feels like to be the one who is standing here receiving the award tonight. I have asked my husband to come up with me because part and parcel of my involvement in this organization has been Bob’s contribution to it, as well.
In the early years he stayed home and babysat so I could go. When I became president of the Ohio affiliate, he listened, he counseled, he read innumerable letters, and he drove me all over the state of Ohio. But, when I became the editor of the Braille Monitor, he became the first proofreader of every word of every issue of this magazine. [Applause] Thank you for joining me in thanking him for his contribution to all of us and to our publication. I thank all of you, and I pledge to you that I will continue to serve as long as God gives me strength and intelligence to do so. Thank you.
by Gary Wunder
This marks the third year we have taken time on the convention agenda to celebrate the life and work of Dr. Jacob Bolotin, a physician who trained as a blind man, practiced as a blind man, and gave back to the community not only through his healing but through his work with blind boys in scouting. So powerful was Dr. Bolotin's influence on his nephew Alfred that he and his wife Rosalind created an endowment in Dr. Bolotin's name. Its purpose is to recognize individuals and organizations whose effort furthers the life's work of Dr. Bolotin and the ongoing work of the National Federation of the Blind. Central to this work is the absolute conviction that, when given the opportunity, the blind can make a significant contribution to their own self-support, the betterment of their communities, and the enrichment of all whose lives are touched by their spirit and accomplishment.
The challenge in Dr. Bolotin's day was to confront the attitude that the blind were simply incapable of any meaningful contribution to society. Consider the significance, when not only did a blind man contribute, but he distinguished himself in the art of healing and the science of medicine.
Today it is more common to see blind people out and about than it was in Dr. Bolotin's day, but far too often we are still marginalized, unemployed, or significantly underemployed. We are too often an afterthought in the design processes of the world, whether we're talking about something as simple as checking out at the grocery store or as complex as interpreting the results of a diagnostic medical procedure.
Our first recipient is a man whose name is very familiar to anyone who follows the advancement of technology. His inventions have transformed the smooth sheet of paper, which once conveyed nothing to the blind, into a rich source of information that has opened the doors of the public library and created many new opportunities for employment. The possibility of independently reading print, once only a dream to blind people of my generation, is now as close as our shirt pockets and more affordable than many of the computers and notetakers we carry in our briefcases and backpacks. The inventions are life-changing--but today we are here to honor the inventor and the spirit that has given life to the dream.
"The religion, if you will, that I grew up with," he says, "was the power of human ideas to overcome any barriers or boundaries. From a young age this was personalized: ‘You, Ray, can find the ideas to transcend what may seem impossible.’ I took that to heart and at the age of five decided to be an inventor. What is really exciting for an inventor is seeing people actually use your inventions and receiving a benefit from that use. Along the way I discovered that the best way to achieve that is to include those intended users in the inventing process."
The relationship Ray has had with blind people through the National Federation of the Blind has spanned some thirty-five years, and, while he has made significant contributions in the world of musical production and speech recognition, meeting the needs of blind people has always held a special place in his heart. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in congratulating Mr. Raymond Kurzweil on his Bolotin Award in the amount of $15,000.
Ray Kurzweil: The plaque is quite beautiful, and it is deeply gratifying. It is hard to find the words to express my feelings, not only for this recognition, but for this remarkable collaboration, which has been deeply gratifying. It is gratifying actually to see your ideas be used in the world and see the benefit, but it is even more gratifying when it's collaboration with the people who are seeking that benefit. As I mentioned earlier, I do a fair amount of mentoring now with young companies. And there are two things I look for in their plans. If I don't see them, I'll either give them that input or won't get involved. One is that they recognize the law of accelerating returns, that they actually write down what the world will be like a year from now, two years from now, in terms of their underlying technology. But the other important thing I look for is that they collaborate with the users for whom they create their technology.
Some teams say, "Oh yeah, we have that covered. We have three weeks of beta testing with a couple of users." Of course that's not what we're talking about. I've adopted this in my own work. A couple of my projects were mentioned. We require that all of the engineers at Kurzweil Music Systems be musicians, not just testing it on musicians, but actually have people who understand music and care about it and understand it deeply. We developed voice-activated recording systems for Edison, and we actually had doctors create those systems, including blind doctors. That's actually now very big business. So I am very grateful for having learned this lesson. It was all of you who taught me that, and it's been a fantastic experience, and I think we'll continue doing this now over the next half century since the technology has really become transcendent.
Gary Wunder: As a blind user of computer-based technology, you know how frustrating it is to look at the price of a product; purchase it; and know that, for you to have access, your spending has only begun. In many cases you are likely to pay less for your computer or cellular phone than you will for the screen-access technology to use it. The problem of access isn't solved simply by purchasing a screen reader or magnifier, for even the best assistive software can be rendered useless by a program or Website that doesn't play by the rules. Wouldn't it be wonderful if somebody in the mainstream technology field considered blind people so important that what we bought would work right out of the box? Well, someone has, and because of their efforts, we're recognizing them today.
Not so long ago the words "Apple," "Mac," "iPod," "iPhone," and "iTunes" would have elicited a collective groan from an audience of blind people, but what a difference two years can make! For many solid technological and ergonomic reasons Apple has incorporated touchscreen technology in many of its products. The good news for blind people is that Apple has done it in a way that makes those products accessible. Not only has this given us access to many popular Apple products, it has changed the long-held fear that the inevitable adoption of touchscreen technology would lead to the certain decline in access for the blind. Apple has done what once seemed impossible by taking a graphical user interface dependent on heretofore inaccessible touchscreen technology and making it accessible to the blind at the same price paid by the sighted. For this work and all the innovations we hope will spring from it, we proudly present to Apple an award in the amount of $10,000. To accept this award, we call on Greg Jozwiak, vice president in charge of iPhone marketing.
Greg Jozwiak: We're very honored by this award, and we want to thank the National Federation of the Blind for acknowledging our work. We also want to thank the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind because they have been great collaborators with us, and their continued feedback and fantastic relationship with Apple have helped us greatly in doing what we've done. At Apple we didn't think that a touchscreen had to be a barrier to the blind. Our goal was to take what was previously difficult technology to use and make it one that was the most friendly. We are proud that all of our multi-touch-display products--the iPhone, the iPod Touch, and the iPad--include our innovative voice technologies that make our products accessible to this community. We're also proud that iPhone 4 has now gone even further. It's the first mobile phone to support more than thirty wireless Braille displays right out of the box, no additional software required. In addition, it includes Braille tables for more than twenty-five languages. We try to design our products for as many people as possible, including those who are blind or visually impaired. Therefore it is a great honor to accept this award recognizing the work we have done in this area. I thank you very much.
Gary Wunder: If you are a student in higher education, you know how central the computer is in your daily work. It is where you can see the class syllabus, access handouts, read the thoughts of classmates, and submit assignments. The most commonly used software to make all of this happen online is Blackboard, and for years blind students and professors faced tremendous obstacles because the product was only marginally usable with screen-reading technology.
The difficulty in getting mainstream software companies to take the needs of the blind seriously is well known. First is their surprise that a blind person would want to use their system. Then comes a grudging acknowledgement that things could be better--but not right now--the blind will have to wait. If the product is old, too much computer code must be changed, and doing so isn't cost effective. If the product is new, the priority must first be to satisfy the majority customer base, which is sighted, and after that will come work for accessibility. Too often the argument is circular, for, when the new works well enough that it is accepted by the sighted, it then becomes old, and again we are told to wait.
Fortunately, the story we know all too well can be changed by a decision to embrace accessibility as a fundamental product requirement. When a company decides that no function will go into what it sells unless it can be performed with nonvisual techniques, accessibility is no longer just a nice thing to do but an essential part of the offering. Blackboard has made this commitment, and it is evident in the functionality that is now available to the blind. For the improvements it has made and for its ongoing commitment to accessibility, we are pleased to present to Blackboard an award in the amount of $10,000. To receive this award, I give you Lara Oerter, vice president of corporate strategy for Blackboard.
Lara Oerter: I had the chance to present to all of you this morning and talk a little bit about what we do at Blackboard, so I won't go back through all of that, but I will just say that I want specifically to thank the team at Deque Systems and the team here at the National Federation of the Blind for working with us and pushing us on this. Anne Taylor, Clara, and all the others who worked with us to help us understand how to achieve the goal of making our product accessible for all users have helped improve the educational experience for all users. Sometimes getting there is really hard, so we really appreciate the collaborative spirit we have had with all of you here at NFB. Thank you very much.
Gary Wunder: Many in this room have occasionally spent time talking and thinking about what we would do if science offered us the possibility of getting or substantially improving our vision. Some have decided we'd jump at the chance, and some that we are fine the way we are and that to see would alter our very nature. Still others have developed a more nuanced approach that says I'd do it if there was little threat to my health, if the procedure was affordable, and if I wasn't sidelined too long in the trying.
For the man I'm about to introduce, the question was more than hypothetical; it was real. In 2001, after being fully blind for forty-three years, he underwent a rare operation that granted him sudden vision. At the time he was a successful businessman, husband, athlete, and community advocate. He didn't need vision to continue doing any of these things. What attracted him to vision was the sheer adventure of it, in the same way one would be attracted by the possibility of running faster, jumping higher, or predicting the future.
This entrepreneur has placed the power of the global positioning system in the hands of blind people. Using his advanced systems, blind people aren't just riders in the back seat; we are the people giving the directions and truly participating in the journey. For these innovations and for the work he does with the National Federation of the Blind to promote accessibility everywhere he can, we proudly present a Bolotin Award to the founder and the chief executive officer of the Sendero Group, Michael May, in the amount of $5,000.
Michael May: Wow, look at this award. It looks like a giant Louis Braille coin is spinning around inside this thing. Well there is no greater honor than to be recognized by your peers, so this is very touching to me. I thank the Committee for considering my nomination and for my receiving this award. It's particularly amazing to me to look back at somebody being a doctor before canes and NFB and technology. My gosh, how could you exist without technology? Imagine Dr. Bolotin in 1910 and 1920 being a doctor. Imagine Louis Braille in the 1800's and James Holman, the blind world traveler--all these people who did what they did without what we have today. So we've come a long way, and we have a way to go. I am really focusing on the future and what more I can bring to you, to me, and to all of us to strive for that independence which we are all working together to achieve. This is a great symbol of that independence. Thank you for recognizing me.
Gary Wunder: A computer and screen reader are powerful tools in the hands of a skilled blind person if the creators of the programs and Websites to be used have given some thought to providing nonvisual access to their content. Far too many Website designers have not considered blind users in their designs and have frequently employed unlabeled graphics, buttons we can't find, and let's not forget the visual captcha that places a garbled image on the screen that only a sighted person can identify.
The man we honor today is as committed as we are to making Websites accessible, and he attacks the problem from almost every conceivable angle. He has created a university class that focuses on teaching students how to write accessible pages. When airlines offer alternative pricing to the blind because their sites are not accessible, he gets students to call those airlines posing as blind people and then documents how frequently we are not given the price posted on the Web. When government agencies claim they are committed to accessibility, he is the man who does the study that reveals that 96 percent of them are not totally accessible, and, what's more, he publishes those results.
"Most academics concentrate on the theoretical," he says, "but I want to look for practical solutions. Some of my colleagues say, ‘Let's blindfold 100 subjects and see how they will perform,’ and I say, That's ridiculous! Let's find real blind people who use screen readers on a daily basis, and let's see what they want."
For his work as a champion for accessibility to the Web and his active opposition to discrimination against the blind, we proudly present to Dr. Jonathan Lazar a Bolotin Award in the amount of $5,000.
Jonathan Lazar: Thank you for this amazing honor, but really, the thanks go to all of you and the people whom I work with very often in Maryland. The key is we do all this work together; we're doing all of this together. The field trips that my students take--the students go to the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, and they go to Maryland Technology Assistance Program, and people come into my classes to meet blind individuals. We make all of this happen together. You are the ones who take part in the research studies. You're the ones who give me feedback. I run many focus groups at NFB, so I am always trying to listen. You are the ones who say, "Here's the problem. Here's the thing that bothers us. Here's what you need to work on." So I thank all of you. I thank everyone who takes part in the studies, everyone who talks with my students, everyone who helps educate me about better ways we can do this.
Talking about the airlines, one reminder for you: if you get an inaccessible Website from an airline and you have to call their phone center and they say they want to charge you the extra phone center fee, remind them that it is against the law! Thank you very much.
Gary Wunder: Our last award goes to a man whose life's calling gives meaning to the work of all of the recipients we've recognized so far. Their work assumes that competent, capable blind people want and need what they have to offer. The man we honor today helps to prepare the young people who will benefit from the inventions and the accessibility for which all of us strive. He, like Dr. Bolotin, has the distinction of serving in one of the most honorable professions known to man. He is a teacher, a sculptor of minds--a human being who gives meaning to that word by helping young people realize what it really means to be human.
Our recipient has for years gone beyond the hours for which he is paid to perform his teaching duties and has generated the funds to give his blind students experiences they simply can't get in school. For years his charges have been able to come to these conventions and share in our work to create opportunities they will enjoy. Our recipient caught me off guard when, in all of his excitement about being a winner, he said, "The more I come to conventions, the angrier and more frustrated I get." Wow! He went on to say that his anger and frustration spring from his realization that, while he has been teaching the blind for more than thirty years, only recently has he been able to give his students the opportunity to meet and interact with successful blind people. "I call former students and tell them how much more there is than I was able to give them, and I encourage them to get involved."
For a man who has given much of his life in the work of shaping young minds and souls, we are pleased to present to Mr. Al Lavoti a Bolotin Award in the amount of $5,000.
Al Lavoti: [Applause] Save that. I haven't said anything yet. I want to thank the National Federation of the Blind for having created this structure, the organization, the programming, and having the personnel that have helped guide me and others with our work with blind youth. I want to thank Ron Brown, the Indiana affiliate, and its members for providing the local connections and support that made each visit to an NFB event meaningful. I want to thank my students for teaching me and for mentoring me. This thanks goes way back to my pre-NFB days in the 80's to students like Eddie and Joe, and Nancy and Jan, Mike, Lisa, Jackie, Scott, Tara, and Rebecca because, when I first came to the NFB, you were there. You were active. You were involved. So now fast forwarding to the present, I want to thank Micah, Ashley, Riley, Elisa, Kayla, Kory, Tyler, Jimmy, Brittany, Ess, Nick, Garrett, Sherry, Samantha, Molly, Brittany M., and Lexie for availing themselves of the opportunities the National Federation of the Blind provides.
Finally, I'd like to thank the Indiana Lions; the Alliance for the Eyes' BVI project; and my local club, the Washington Township Lions Club, for helping create the mechanism that has allowed the students to attend NFB conventions every year since '04. I'm deeply honored by this award. I promise to you all that my future actions and words will prove me worthy of this award. So, if it's okay with everyone, I will savor my few remaining seconds of fame for what I hope is a round of thunderous applause. Thank you. [Applause]
Gary Wunder: I close, Mr. President, by thanking the Santa Barbara Foundation for its financial contribution to these awards and by thanking every member of this audience who gives to the National Federation of the Blind and who is therefore equally responsible for this program.
In this room we have a booklet which says far more than time allows here about the individuals and organizations we have honored today. They are free. Take them, read them, and distribute them proudly--for they help to chronicle the progress of the blind as together we create a future full of hope and promise.
The Advantage of Uncertainty
An Address Delivered by
at the Banquet of the Annual Convention
of the National Federation of the Blind
July 8, 2010
Is there anything you do not know about blindness? Have you studied the matter sufficiently that your curiosity can no longer be stimulated? Are you ever startled by a novel turn of phrase, a fresh perspective, or an unconventional approach to the topic? Do you want to know something that you have not already learned? Do you wonder what frontiers remain to be conquered, who will cross these frontiers, and what inventive genius will be demanded in meeting the challenges they represent? Will the thoughts that change the pattern of comprehension come from the ranks of the blind? Have they already been formulated? Are they present in this room tonight?
More than four hundred years ago Francis Bacon declared, "If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but, if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties."
The famous observation of Alexander Pope is:
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.
The principal problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight. Rather, it is that almost everybody who encounters the subject believes that there is nothing important left to learn. The scholars who study blindness are almost always trying to find ways to eliminate it. Such efforts are undoubtedly worthy of serious intellectual attention, but they do not exhaust the potential areas of study. In fact, they are tangential to the contemplation of blindness itself because their primary focus is not on the topic at all.
Almost nobody is seeking to learn what the potential of blind people is and what methods may best be employed to train the blind to reach this potential. Almost nobody is trying to find ways to capture the excitement that can be a part of the lives of the blind. Almost nobody is aware that the lives of blind people possess enormous potential for excitement. From the point of view of most scholarly investigation, your lives as blind people (and mine) are irrelevant. Francis Bacon said that we can start with certainty and end in doubt or start with doubt and end with certainty. However, in our case the problem we face is that most of the people we meet begin with certainty and never change. Blindness is known (they believe), settled, defined, and dismissed--and so also are the lives of blind people.
In 1900 the scientist Lord Kelvin said, "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement." Only five years later Albert Einstein published his first paper on the theory of relativity, a document which initiated a massive change in the comprehension of physics.
According to the oft-encountered common belief, blindness is a disease that causes deprivation and suffering. Palliation is possible, which signifies that the suffering may be lessened. However, the blindness and the suffering are inextricably intertwined. The first cannot occur without the other. Whether you like it or not, you are suffering. To deny this is to pretend that reality does not exist. If you believe that you are not suffering, you are deluding yourself and adding dishonesty or self-deception to the diseased condition that is a part of your life.
This is the summation that some of the experts would have us believe. However, we reject this assessment. Although blindness can be caused by disease, we do not believe blindness is a disease. We do not believe that blindness signifies suffering, and we are absolutely certain that the implications of this idea are false. We are not harbingers of despair but emissaries of possibility. We express ourselves about blindness with the confidence gained through experience. We are blind, but this is just one characteristic among those that make us what we are. We have talent, and our lives have the potential for enormous joy. We ask that we be welcomed in the chambers of decision making, but if we are not, we will assert ourselves. Our lives belong to us, and nobody else can make our decisions for us. Our hearts are strong; our will is firm; and the goals we seek are within our grasp. Blindness cannot stop us, nor can anything else. We will continue to build toward a future bright with promise, and we will accept nothing less than full equality!
We value knowledge, but we value individual freedom at least as much. Almost twenty-four hundred years ago Plato propounded the theory that the wisest people among us should be designated our kings. The idea of the philosopher king, somebody smart enough to be able to tell us how to govern our lives, has been with us ever since. The tension in leadership is: do we select our leaders to tell us what to do, or do we select our leaders to carry out the responsibilities that we have given to them? In our own case, in the circumstances that many blind people face, we often do not have the opportunity to select leadership at all. Other people assert that they have superior knowledge, and they designate themselves to serve as the philosopher kings for us. They say, in effect, "You cannot possibly know what is good for you, but I know what your life should be; so do as I tell you."
Are there shades of blindness; what is this characteristic that we discuss with such frequency? For half a century we have defined this term to mean a lack of vision sufficiently great to require performance of visual activities using alternative techniques. If individuals must adopt alternative techniques to perform daily activities without vision that would ordinarily be performed with it, those individuals are blind.
Some people believe this definition is overly simplistic because it does not explicitly say that some blind people have a small amount of residual vision that can reasonably be used to perform some tasks. Whether they have sufficient honesty to admit it or not, many of the professionals dealing with blindness believe that the more you can see the better off you are. They create a hierarchy of sight. Those only "mildly visually afflicted" are at the top; the "stone blind" are at the bottom.
Some professionals create an inverted hierarchy of sight. They believe that partially blind people live in the midsts of a never-never land of confusing definitions and distinctions--not really blind, not actually sighted, and bedeviled by misunderstanding by all groups. These professionals argue that, if a person is totally blind, that person is all right because everybody knows what to do. The person is thought of as a normal blind person. Such professionals designate the partially blind as the low-vision, and they argue that the low-vision are in a class of their own with the psychological disadvantages that come with isolation and misunderstanding. One author avers that one of the psychological challenges facing the partially blind is the terror that total blindness may be imminent. Total blindness is regarded by partially blind people as a monstrous menace.
Of course, treating the partially blind as if they were almost sighted helps to make this description real. If blind people are expected to perform as sighted people do, failure is assured. Blind people (including the low-vision) cannot see well enough to do it. Sometimes, when we attempt to teach Braille and other alternative techniques to partially blind students, we are met with the argument that we are just "trying to make these students blind." However, the teachers, in these cases, are trying to make these students sighted, when they are not. The failure and misunderstanding are forced upon these students because the teachers want them to be able to see. How many blind kids have been scolded with the words, "Of course you can see that!"? This happened to me more than fifty years ago. I tried hard to see whatever it was I had missed, but I could not. The grown-up teachers wanted something from me that I could not give. I was a failure.
If we could be recognized for the valuable people we are, if our worth could be measured by ability rather than by vision, if there were not such great insistence that those of us with a small amount of residual vision be made into sighted people (although not very good ones), we could get the training we need, we could adopt the techniques that would serve us best, and we could be productive as blind people. However, the hierarchy of sight is a barrier to proper rehabilitation and good training.
On a Website styled HealthMad.com, a so-called medical site, an article entitled "Legally Blind" argues that legally blind people are distinctly different from the totally blind. Here are excerpts from the article.
I use the term “blind” [the article says] loosely because being blind, not seeing anything, is completely different from being legally blind. Most people seem to think that, when you say you are legally blind, immediately people begin to think that means completely and very blind.
Legally blind people use a white cane or a guide dog to help them with life's tasks, esecially traveling. [Does the author think that totally blind people use their white canes or their guide dogs to help them with life's tasks other than traveling? When I examined this statement, I wondered, what else would you do with a guide dog or white cane? I don't study books with mine or write speeches; I just travel. But, back to HealthMad.]
The problem of cooking, [the article continues] cleaning, doing laundry, or even personal care becomes a problem for anyone with only partial vision.
[I interrupt to ask, is personal hygiene a problem for you? Patricia Maurer recently visited the dentist. The hygienist asked her, "Who brushes your teeth for you?" It would be possible to think of a couple dozen different responses, but probably most of them would be misunderstood.]
We do not walk alone [continues this writer], but sometimes we need to learn how to be humble. We need to bury our pride and learn how to accept the helping hands of those who love us.
The person who wrote this idiotic drivel claims to be an expert presenting thoughtful, inspiring commentary on a medical Website. Do not demand independence, says the author, recognize the hierarchy of sight, and learn to be humble. The class system means that there are the good blind people (almost sighted), and the run-of-the-mill sort ("completely and very blind"). The almost sighted will probably never get the training they need, and they will be warned against obnoxious advocates who persist in declaring that the blind have a right to full participation in society. These are the radical, power-hungry blind who have not learned proper humility. Humility is, of course, a virtue worth practicing. However, humility cannot be demanded. It is like love; it must be freely given. In this case, the humility signifies recognition that somebody else's knowledge is superior to our own and that the moral authority such people represent is greater than ours. The ability to see is what matters. The blind are inferior. Take orders; do it pleasantly; be humble; start now.
This kind of humility we can do without. We do not need anybody to supervise us; we are more than adequate to be our own bosses. We have a right to make our own decisions, we have the ability to determine the limits of aspiration that will shape the pattern of our lives, and we have the authority to demand from ourselves the courage to live with the choices we make. Decide we can; decide we must; decide we will. Nobody can take this from us. Our lives belong to us, and we will live them with excitement and joy.
The concept of perception has been the subject of speculation and research for thousands of years. The five senses—sight, taste, hearing, smell, and touch—are the mechanisms for sense impression, but sense impression and perception are not the same. Perception involves the use of intellect.
Can blind people perceive what sighted people do? If so, how can it be done? What are the limitations? Are blind people capable of perceiving information not available to the sighted? Does an intellect change with altered sense impression? If it does, what kinds of changes occur? What tests can define the measure of perception? How do we provide equivalent access to information for the blind and the sighted?
Some years ago we speculated that it would be possible to build an automobile that the blind can drive. We are working on the machine at the moment. We have observed that sighted people look out the windows of the cars they drive, gather information visually, and use this information to make decisions about what to do with their vehicles. We believe that a system can be devised to permit the gathering and interpretation of information nonvisually. We know that the knfb Reader Mobile, the reading machine that fits in your pocket, already has a rudimentary capacity to recognize objects. Ray Kurzweil, the inventor of reading machine technology as well as the inventor of much else, has indicated he believes object recognition will increase to permit recognition of human beings in the foreseeable future. With respect to the blind-drivable automobile, the problem is one of gathering and interpreting substantial quantities of information with speed and accuracy in ways that are currently unfamiliar. We are exploring methods of perception for the blind that we do not already know. Will this exploration lead to increased perceptual capacity for the sighted? Is the current visual system of operating an automobile the best one that can be devised, or is it being used only because the majority in society, the sighted, are comfortable with it? We have a firm belief that the intellectual element of perception is as available to the blind as it is to anybody else. We expect to build the machine that we have begun, and we expect to learn some things during the building process that will increase opportunities for the blind and the sighted.
Some of the people we encounter who speculate about the perception of blind people do not share our faith in the intellectual ability of the blind. A company named Rousettus has discovered that some blind people like yoga. However, the opinion of officials at this company is that blind people cannot engage in yoga in the ordinary way. To benefit the blind who want to perform yoga exercises, the company has devised a special yoga mat for the blind called the VIYM™, the Visually Impaired Yoga Mat. On the Rousettus Website we learn:
VIYM™ is the brainchild of a yoga teacher who was empathetic to the obstacles that her adventurous and courageous blind student encountered in her yoga class. She was inspired by the student's willingness as he tried yoga for the first time but observed his challenges as well as her own as he attempted the postures. How could she teach yoga to someone who had no visual frame of reference as to where his body was in relation to space, himself, and orientation?
That, in part, is what the description on the Website says, and it seems hard to comprehend. The blind student did not know where his body was in relation to himself? Does yoga give him some kind of out-of-body experience? How could a yoga mat connect him to himself? The VIYM™ is a mat incorporating raised lines, dots, and other figures intended to indicate locations that can be used in assuming yoga poses. Rousettus says about the yoga mat:
Prior to VIYM™, visually or physically challenged aspiring yoga students faced some discouraging challenges. They often had trouble detecting the location of their body and the direction in which they were facing on a mat. Balancing in yoga postures was awkward: students had a hard time sensing and reaching optimal, ideal body alignment without any visual cues.
If you do not have a visually impaired yoga mat, says Rousettus, you are out of alignment, your life has no balance, and you have trouble finding the location of your own body. However, a solution is at hand. For only $75, plus shipping and handling of course, you can purchase the yoga mat that will realign your being, bring balance to your life, and help you find your own body.
The language employed by the self-congratulatory officials at Rousettus is sufficiently bombastic that it challenges credulity. Can they possibly believe what they say? Would anybody else encountering this material believe it? How did the company get its name, Rousettus? They tell us that Rousettus is the name of an Egyptian fruit bat. Did company officials mean to make fun of their customers? Does the blind-as-a-bat reference apply to the people buying the mat or the people selling the thing? It is worth considering whether sanity is less common than we have always thought.
Yoga can be very useful, and the blind can benefit from it as much as anybody. Some of us teach it. A special yoga mat incorporating tactile characteristics to assist in adopting yoga poses could also be helpful. It is not the yoga or the mat that we find offensive. It is the language describing blind people as imbeciles and company officials as our saviors that stimulates our ire. The kind of help that we are offered from Rousettus is the sort that creates the image of subservient blind people under the direction of their benevolent masters. This image must be defeated. Benevolent or otherwise, we will have no masters but ourselves. We insist on freedom, and, if we must, we will take it with our own hands.
Not all of the people devising new products for the blind expect us to be without capacity. In 2008 a camera for the blind was invented that won an International Design Excellence Award. The camera presents a tactile image of the elements of the environment within the focus of the machine. It also records a brief sample of the sounds present in the environment at the time the picture is taken. The designers of the product anticipate that blind artists will use the camera to develop artistic expression and that blind people generally will use the camera to learn about elements of the environment and to transmit these to others.
Currently under development in Sweden is a device which captures facial expressions and provides nonvisual interpretation of them. We have been told repeatedly how important is the facial expression. A facial expression is, of course, not the only means of gaining information about the feelings of others, but the expression upon a face has been the subject of song and story for thousands of years, and we are looking forward to sharing what can be learned. Furthermore, development of interfaces that provide visual information to us in nonvisual ways is necessary for expansion of our full participation.
If we speculate about the technologies that will be developed which can be of benefit to us, we may imagine devices that will help us learn about the environment, obtain and manipulate information, and assist with travel. For example, the method of identifying products today is a bar code. The method for identifying products in the future is likely to be more interactive. Interactive product identifiers coupled with scanning and recordation systems could produce astonishing capabilities. Some who have pondered the impact upon human liberty of such technological development have worried that invasion of individual privacy may occur on a massive scale, but enormous potential for positive results is also possible. The refrigerator in your house could keep track of the items you have placed in it, the ones you have removed, and the ones possessing an expiration date that has passed--the ones you might want to remove. It could identify the caloric value of the products you have available, and it could supply recipes that might be employed in preparing such items for consumption. It could offer suggestions about what things you might want to purchase to replenish the supply of food.
The same interactive technology might be used in the grocery store to tell you where the products you are seeking are located. The pork and beans could be caused to call to you (or your handheld scanner) from two aisles ahead and the shelf on the right at shoulder height. With the technology that we now know, building such a system is probably within the realm of possibility.
The same type of system could be used with your closet. I am told that the toilet which can measure your weight, determine your temperature, and find your pulse has already been invented. This device could suggest when you have lost enough weight to be measured for the new, slimmer outfit you had hoped to own. The system could also offer suggestions about which items of clothing might accompany which others, keeping you coordinated and remembering how you were dressed in the days and weeks gone by so that your appearance is not overly repetitious. You could specify your profile to emphasize certain characteristics: sporty, conservative, or racy. You could decide on a specific occasion how you would like to look. You could specify beach attire, picnic appearance, golf outing, or something else. For some of us who often wonder what combinations of colors are likely to look well together, this would simplify the sartorial aspects of life.
Devising a technology to give a blind person enough information to climb a mountain without visual assistance would be somewhat more demanding. Satellite photographs offer relatively comprehensive information about the surface of the earth. However, the interface to permit evaluation of this information in nonvisual ways is not yet developed. The database of global topographic information is not entirely accurate. For example, sometimes shadows are interpreted as objects. Machine-based vision for individual use must account for all topographical features and moving (or movable) items in the terrain. All of this must be done in real time. Although we do not yet have the technology to address this set of challenges, it is coming within the foreseeable future.
The development of new technology that offers access to equivalent amounts of information available to the sighted is of vital importance. However, overemphasizing emerging technologies can be misunderstood to signify that the machines are more important than the people who use them. If the blind don't matter, the machines don't matter either. We must modify expectations to be certain that we who are blind are accepted as full participants in society on terms of equality with others. This is at the heart of the program we must create, and it is vastly more demanding than technology alone. The management structures within our society are governmental, educational, social, entrepreneurial, corporate, religious, scientific, and legal. These management systems overlap and interact. All of these systems possess an underlying philosophy which determines how they will operate and who will be welcomed within them.
The legal system is overarching, touching on most aspects of human interaction. However, it cannot address every incident of life. The philosophical comprehension of other societal structures does this. The law says that blind people must be welcomed among the fans at football games, but it does not require that the blind be permitted to play. What circumstances must be changed to alter this requirement without diminishing the excitement of the game?
Some people believe that blindness is evidence of sin. A few of these people would like to prevent blind people from participating in certain religious activities. Many blind people with guide dogs have been refused transportation by drivers who assert that their religious convictions will not permit them to ride in the same vehicle with a dog. Such actions violate the law, but the underlying philosophy often determines the practice.
The Merchant's House Museum in New York City currently displays a statement on its Website telling patrons that no service animal is permitted in the museum. When officials at the museum were asked to justify their refusal to accept guide dogs for the blind, they indicated that, because the museum is a historic landmark, it is not subject to certain areas of nondiscrimination law. Besides, the saliva or the hair of the dogs might damage museum property, which is 150 years old, they said. Of course, the same argument might be applied to the United States Capitol, which is more than 150 years old. Of course, there is no exception in the law which exempts nondiscrimination provisions for owners or managers of historic landmarks. We have a right to enter such public places with our canes or our dogs, and we intend to do it.
A movie entitled The Curious Case of Benjamin Button that appeared in 2008 and is loosely based upon the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald of the same name tells the story of a man who is born old and ages backward to infancy. During the movie the man marries and is contemplating having a child. However, he is afraid because he cannot be a father to the child in the customary way. As the child grows older, her father will grow younger. As the years pass, the father will become younger than the daughter, and the activities and mindset of each will change places. In the course of the argument about whether a child should be born, the man's wife says to him, "Would you tell a blind man he couldn't have children?"
Hollywood employs images that, they believe, resonate with the public. Sometimes the dialog contains new ideas, but most of the presentation in a movie must be readily comprehensible by the audience. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was nominated for thirteen Oscars, leading all of the competition. It won three. The content of this movie is in tune with the thought processes accepted by the creators of screen artistry in the most prominent film-creating industry in the world. Contained in that movie is the concept that blind people have a right to expect to build families. Is this the accepted philosophical understanding of the nation?
A few weeks before this convention, a blind woman in Kansas City, Missouri, proceeded to the hospital to have a baby. She is twenty-four, and this is her first child. Her boyfriend, the father of her child, is also blind. As is true for all new mothers, this blind woman needed to learn to care for her babe. Part of the learning process is teaching the mother how to nurse the child and helping the child to learn how to take milk from her. While this new mom was attempting to learn to nurse her child, she inadvertently blocked the nose and mouth of the newborn, and the baby stopped breathing. The interruption was brief, and the baby was quickly revived. This type of incident in the lives of newborn babies is often encountered. Although new mothers are frequently stunned by such occurrences, the babies survive and show no ill effects in most cases. However, in this medical facility officiating personnel took immediate action not customarily pursued. They seized the child from the blind parents, and they initiated court proceedings to prevent this blind mother and father from possessing and caring for their own child. The grounds for the seizure of the child, the grounds for destruction of the family, are that the parents cannot see--they are blind. Shortly after the seizure, the court ordered that this child's parents may visit their own child for only three hours per week. Would you tell a blind man he couldn't have children?
A new mother wonders whether she will know enough to care for her child. A new blind mother has the added worry about being capable of managing the special tools that will be needed to deal with the lack of information inherent in the condition of blindness. A new blind father feels the same. "What am I going to do with this new precious life?" Without discussion, without consultation, the bureaucracy of the hospital in Missouri told these blind parents that they lacked the ability to build a family, that their liberty would be restricted, that their moral authority to live as others do would be withdrawn, that they were failures before they started. In the subsequent court proceedings the judicial arm of the state government agreed. Our job is to teach this government that our rights cannot be abbreviated, that our moral authority cannot be curtailed. Our nation was founded upon the principle that individual liberty must be maintained. Building a family unit is among the most fundamental expressions of this liberty. We are a part of this nation, and we demand recognition of the same liberty and the same protection of the law that applies to everybody else. Some things may be a matter of discussion and compromise; this is not. What we say to the government of Missouri is this: we will not tolerate seizure of our children.
As Federationists know, we formed our organization in 1940. We have lived, dreamed, planned, and worked for seventy years. The struggle to move from second-class status to first-class citizenship has not universally been peaceful.In 1957 Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, our founding president and first great leader, said: "Today we stand an embattled organization. The attacks upon us always present, but once few and scattered, have vastly increased in number and bitterness . . . . Our motives have been impugned. Our purposes reviled. Our integrity aspersed. Our representative character denied."
In 1973 Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, our second outstanding leader, said:
I feel absolute confidence as to what the historians will say. They will tell of a system of governmental and private agencies established to serve the blind, which became so custodial and so repressive that reaction was inevitable. They will tell that the blind ("their time come round at last") began to acquire a new self-image, along with rising expectations and that they determined to organize and speak for themselves. . . . They will tell of the growth of our movement through the forties and fifties and of our civil war. They will tell how we emerged from that civil war into the sixties, stronger and more vital than we had ever been; and how more and more of the agencies began to make common cause with us for the betterment of the blind. . . . They will also record the events of the 1970's when the reactionaries among the agencies became even more so, and the blind of the second generation of the NFB stood forth to meet them. . . . They will relate how the blind passed from second class citizenship through a period of hostility to equality and first-class status in society.
In 1996 Dr. Jernigan commented about his prediction of 1973, saying:
In broad terms the prediction has come true. The century draws to a close, and there is unprecedented harmony among agencies and organizations of and for the blind. But what about the future? . . . What will the movement be like when we meet [twenty-three years ahead] in 2019? . . . If I am not sure of specifics, I am absolutely certain of the general direction our organization will take. Our mutual faith and trust in each other will be unchanged, and all else will follow. I never come in to the convention hall without a lift of spirit and a surge of joy, for I know to the depths of my being that our shared bond of love and trust will never change and that because of it we will be unswervable in our determination and unstoppable in our progress.
Among the management systems that confront us as blind people are several that we have sought to change. At one period of our history, the blind were almost unknown within the statute books of the nation. However, we have been seeking to change the law to recognize the right of blind people to be fully engaged in all aspects of society. We have been working in this realm for seven decades, and much of what we have thought, and dreamed, and planned is now reflected within the corpus of the legal system. The judges do not always know that the law exists, and sometimes they seek to interpret provisions of it in a manner to eviscerate the power we intended to have it possess. But there are also the other times--the moments when our right to participate guaranteed by statutory provision is given the force that we expected.
Governmental programs reflect the philosophy of the people who direct them, and sometimes these are difficult for us to penetrate. For example, the United States Department of Education recently issued its Technology Education Plan, denominated Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology. Although this plan recognizes the dramatic changes that are occurring for students through technology, it does not incorporate provisions requiring equal access for the blind to the same information available to all sighted students. The Department of Education did not actually forget blind students. Instead, comments about such students were relegated to a sidebar. The blind are mentioned in a sort of a footnote. We are not a footnote, and we are not willing for our urgent needs in the realm of education to be dismissed in this offhanded manner.
In the seven decades that we have worked to bring equality to the blind, we have made enormous progress. Many of the systems that provide access to information for the public are accessible to the blind as well, and more of them are being produced every day. As our country moves toward the adoption of digital books as the standard for reading, access to this digital information for the blind is increasing at an ever more rapid pace. Rehabilitation centers have not universally adopted the idea that equal opportunity for the blind is the standard to be used in creating their programs, but a growing number of them have. Even social networks (the online versions and the more homespun varieties) are being devised in ways that welcome blind participants.
Despite the progress, a cursory examination of conditions for the blind today demonstrates how much is left to be done. Some entrepreneurs creating products for the blind believe that we need special yoga mats to help us find our bodies. Some so-called experts assert that we should dismiss the notion of independence and accept the humility which says that they should be in charge of decision making for us. Some governmental officials believe that we can be ignored or tucked away in a footnote. Some social services personnel would deprive us of our own children. When the days have been long, when the misunderstanding has been monumental, when the frustration has been seemingly endless, when the belittlement has apparently been constant, when the deprivation has been real, sometimes it is tempting to believe that the progress has been minimal. If this were the summation of our existence, prospects would be dismal indeed. But it is not.
The types of employment being performed by the blind, the opportunities to gain substantive training, and the prospects to participate within different aspects of our communities are greater today than ever before in history. The reason is not hard to identify. We have shared our hopes and dreams; we have set our objectives and made our plans; we have come together in a formidable array to take control of the pattern of the future; we have formed the National Federation of the Blind.
Dr. tenBroek came from the first generation of the Federation; Dr. Jernigan came from the second; and I am from the third. Already the members of the fourth generation are handling much of the work we do and giving shape to the Federation for the decades ahead. The members of the fifth generation are coming on the scene, are beginning to take their place in the movement, and are making their spirit felt. Yesterday held its moments of despair; today is fraught with challenge; but tomorrow belongs to us!
We maintain a bond of shared love and trust, and we believe in one another. We know that what will happen to us is less a matter of prediction than of decision, and we have accepted the reality that the decision is ours.
Nothing worthwhile comes without cost. To gain freedom demands not just money, but will, imagination, guts, and courage. These must be available not just now and then, but all of the time. Furthermore, these qualities cannot be contributed by somebody else--they must come from us.
Will the educational system for the blind get better? Yes, because we will make it so. Will the rehabilitation system become more responsive? Yes, because we will demand the responsiveness and keep working until we get it. Will the scientific community come to know us as partners? Certainly, because we have the intellectual ability to create the circumstances that require it. Will other management systems of our society welcome us? Indeed they will. Our sighted brothers and sisters will come to value us for the people we are and will share our dreams for a brighter tomorrow for us all.
The objectives we have established are enormously demanding, and they will require all that is best within us. However, we do not fear the challenge; we welcome it. No matter the cost, we will meet it. No matter the requirement, we will fulfill it. No matter the obstacle, we will overcome it. Is there knowledge to be gathered about blindness that we do not already possess? You bet there is, and we are learning it as fast as we can. But this is only one of the elements of the future we intend to create. We are also teaching all who will listen. Our hearts are strong; our will is firm; and our determination is unshakable. The members of the National Federation of the Blind have been in the frontlines of change for more than two-thirds of a century. Because of the spirit we share, our progress cannot be slowed, and our ultimate objectives will be met. Come, join me, and we will make tomorrow our own!
From the Editor: With every passing year we recognize the increasing value of the National Federation of the Blind’s scholarship program to our national organization. Members of previous scholarship classes stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done. Each year everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing now and planning to do with their lives in the future.
On Thursday evening, toward the close of the banquet, Anil Lewis came to the podium for the last time as chairman of the scholarship committee to present the year's winners and give an academic and personal sketch of each after announcing which scholarship he or she had been awarded. This year each winner crossed the platform and shook hands with President Maurer and Ray Kurzweil. In addition to his or her NFB scholarship, each also received a $1,000 check and plaque from the Kurzweil Foundation, a brand new knfb Reader Mobile, presented by Ray Kurzweil himself, and the latest Kurzweil 1000 reading system software from Kurzweil Educational Systems.
The final award was the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship of $12,000, presented to C. J. Fish, who then spoke briefly to the audience. Her remarks appear later in this article.
But earlier in the week, at the meeting of the NFB board of directors, the twenty-six 2010 NFB scholarship winners and four tenBroek Fellows, who were receiving a second scholarship, came to the microphone and spoke directly to the Federation. Following is what they said about themselves. Each speaker was introduced by Anil, who announced the home and school states after each name.
Beth Allred, Colorado, Colorado: I was walking back to my room last night after an evening of convention activities and thinking to myself, "What has the NFB given me?" What comes to mind right away is confidence. I have the confidence to walk into an airport and say, "If you can just give me some directions, I don't need that wheelchair because I'm blind. I can walk there myself." The confidence is an inexpressible gift for me, and the NFB has given me that opportunity. The NFB has shown me a way towards a future I cannot wait to discover. I'm a master's student in vocal performance at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and I plan to become a professional singer and voice teacher. I am deeply honored to be here today as a tenBroek Fellow. Thank you very much.
Sheri Anderson, Tennessee, Tennessee: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I have an idea for an organization that will change the world. This organization will build a winning team, raise funds, promote awareness to foster inclusive communities, and organize on the premise of service. It will ensure economic sufficiency and clearly differentiate between abilities and skill sets from that of entitlement and charity. By infusing a healthy spirit into each member, an opportunity-driven attitude is guaranteed. To discover how easy it is to gain commitment, build relationships, and obtain the full potential of this organization, look deep within yourself and reach for the hand of the person beside you. Then move forward with me into the future of the National Federation of the Blind.
Sina Bahram, North Carolina, North Carolina: Members of the committee, Dr. Maurer, Federationists, and other guests: I want to open by saying thank you. Thank you for the scholarship, of course, and for the trip out to Texas, but thank you for the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people. This is my first time at a Federation meeting, and I'm extremely honored. I'm especially thankful for all of the ways I've learned over the last couple of days to help out, and I'm especially looking forward to more ways to help out and to offer my service and learn from so many others. I think the real power of this organization is the people who understand the obstacles and struggles and also share the successes we've seen over the past seventy years. I look forward to the next seventy. Thank you very much.
Alicia Betancourt, Florida, Florida: Good morning to all, and thank you for allowing me to come to my first national convention of the NFB. Thank you for affording me a scholarship this year. I'm getting a master’s in social work, and what I plan to do with my degree is improve equality for people with disabilities to get a job so they can work alongside their sighted counterparts. I'm from a small town called Key West, Florida, and they're very closed minded about blindness. So every time I go home, I see people staring at me with my cane. (They call it my stick, but I call it my Cadillac.) So, when they look at me and ask me, "How do you do it?" I tell them, "I get my confidence and my backup from the NFB, and I can do whatever I want as long as I put my mind to it." Thank you so much.
Zakary Brubaker, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Good morning, everyone. My name is Zakary Brubaker from Pennsylvania. I will be attending Penn State University with a double major in physics and mathematics. First of all I'd like to start off by thanking President Maurer, the board, and the entire Federation for providing me with this wonderful honor, opportunity, and gift. When I speak about this gift that has been given to me, I'm not only speaking about the scholarship, for which I am truly grateful, I'm speaking about the gift of the Federation. Before discovering the NFB, my support was limited to two great parents and a handful of exceptional teachers. Now I've discovered this organization that tunes out the naysayers of the world who say, "No you can't," and "You will never," and says, "Yes we can," and "We will." I realize today that this isn't the end of my journey. I see the road in front of me, and I will continue to put one foot in front of the other to work towards progress, knowing that I have a life of service ahead of me. I just want to thank you, and God bless.
Chelsea Cook, Virginia, Virginia: Thank you and good morning, everybody. I am going to the great university known as Virginia Tech, and I will be majoring in physics with minors in astronomy and creative writing. I hope to take those to the front doors of NASA and say, "Look, it doesn't matter what the flight surgeons say, I'm going into space one day." Gene Kranz, the famed flight director of Apollo 13, once said that "Anything is possible if we will just commit." I am committed to learning. I am committed to my mentors, my friends, and my goals in the Federation. I'm committed to giving back. Thank you for this opportunity.
Mary Fernandez, New Jersey, Georgia: Good morning, everyone. I want to start by thanking my Federation family for giving me this opportunity. My heart is in my mouth right now, and I'm really nervous. I am a junior at Emory University studying psychology and music. I just want to say thank you. My mentor asked me this morning, "Why did you apply for this scholarship?" I said, "Because out of every scholarship that I have won, this has meant the most to me.” This scholarship is one where I know that I'm on even ground with all of these wonderful people and that it's not because I'm blind and going to school that I'm getting it, but because you see something in me that I can offer and I'm willing to offer it. Our current president said, "Greatness is not a given; it must be earned." I may not be great right now, but I strive to be great, and I know everyone in this room strives to be great. I know that we are changing what it means to be blind, and I know I'm going to drive in my lifetime. I really don't know how to thank you for giving me the confidence and independence that you have. Thank you so much.
C. J. Fish, Virginia, Virginia: Good morning. I'm studying at Marymount University pursuing a master's in mental health counseling. I just want to say that I'm truly humbled, honored, and blessed to stand before you as a tenBroek Fellow. My experiences have brought me into a family and a support network. I've been challenged to grow in ways that I never thought I could. I see blindness as a strength and an asset. I search for the good in all people and situations. I strive to live my life as an example for others, and to change society's view of blindness. one person at a time. Remember that you as individuals can make a difference, one person at a time, as well. There is always a way. Never ever give up. There is always hope for tomorrow. Thank you so much for this opportunity, and enjoy convention.
Rashi Goel, Georgia, Georgia: Good morning, everyone. My name is Rashi Goel, and I am so unbelievably thrilled and honored to be here today. I am currently a sophomore at Georgia Tech, and I'm majoring in environmental engineering. As a pragmatic idealist who has a lot of faith in humanity, I consider myself a community-minded activist, possessing the heart, intensity, and capabilities of fulfilling my dream to change the world. Therefore I want to help, to work for Engineers without Borders, an international organization that seeks to assist developing countries with various sustainable engineering projects. I have been involved with the NFB for the past two years and have really enjoyed the wonderful friends and opportunities with which it has provided me. As a person who approaches every situation with a positive attitude and an eagerness to listen and learn from others, opportunities such as this convention have allowed me to recognize the role models that surround me and realize that determination and perseverance are key to overcoming any difficulties. Thank you.
Deepa Goraya, California, Michigan: Good morning, everyone. I want to start out by thanking the scholarship committee and my NFB family for selecting me to get this scholarship. I can't thank you enough. I want to say that I go to the University of Michigan law school, and I'm going into my second year. I also have the wonderful opportunity to intern in the White House for Kareem Dale. I just want to tell a quick story. When I was younger, my family would host religious events at my local Sikh temple (I'm Indian, and my religion is Sikh). At these functions I was always shoved aside into a corner and not allowed to help in the kitchen. My family would help cook meals for these functions, and I didn't know how to cook. My mom never showed me because she was too afraid. Then I discovered the NFB, and I realized that I was needed. I was needed by my local student division; I was needed by my local chapter; I was needed by the National Center to be a leader, which is helping me to be a better leader by selecting me for NFB Leadership Seminars. All of a sudden I discovered this great opportunity to be a significant member of society. Then I went to the Louisiana Center for the Blind and finally learned to cook. I'm now proud to say that, when I'm at these religious functions, I no longer allow myself to be shoved aside into a corner but stand alongside my younger siblings and my cousins, and I really show people what it means to be blind. Thank you.
Antônio Guimarães, Rhode Island, Rhode Island: I attend college at Western Governor's University, and I plan to make my life in the teaching career, first as a high school teacher. I'd like to say that each of you must have a passion, and I invite you to join me in achieving our goals and dreams and in building a life that is rich and full.
Conchita Hernandez, Nebraska, Nebraska: Buenos Dias, good morning, Federation family, board, Dr. Maurer. I will be attending Louisiana Tech University this fall to be a teacher of blind students. I could talk a lot about the Federation as I did last night, but we don't want me to get teary again, so I will say that the Federation has provided me with a family to come to, laugh with, and cry with. The quote that I used last night was by Salvador Allende, and he said, "To be a student and not be a revolutionary is a contradiction." Even if we are not all students, we are all revolutionizing what it means to be blind with the help of the Federation, whether we're parents of blind students, teachers, or scientists. I want to thank the Federation for giving me this opportunity. This is my third convention. My first one was here in Dallas, so it's great to be here again, and I thank you all so much. Enjoy the convention.
Chris Jeckel, Illinois, Illinois: Good morning, everyone. My name is Chris Jeckel, and I'm a second-year law student at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago, Illinois. I would like to start off by saying thank you to the scholarship committee for their investment in my future. I won't let you down! I was moved yesterday when listening to the resolutions to hear the committee outline thorny issues the blind community faces on a daily basis and then to hammer out the words to address those issues. It was powerful. I'm very grateful to be here, I'm learning a lot, and I'm just happy. Thank you very much.
Andrea Jenkins, Georgia, Georgia: Good morning, everyone. I'm currently a sophomore at Valdosta State University, majoring in Spanish and minoring in French. I'm also a graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. My goal is to be a Spanish / French translator and a missionary. I just want to thank everyone here, including the scholarship committee, for allowing me such a wonderful privilege. It's truly a blessing and an honor, and I'm just going to take the philosophy that I embrace so dearly and everything I have learned and change what it means to be blind.
Kayleigh Joiner, Texas, Texas: Good morning. I would like first to thank the scholarship committee and Dr. Maurer for giving me this wonderful opportunity. I am extremely honored to be here. I will be a freshman attending Stephen F. Austin University, where I will get my bachelor's in elementary education. After that it is my plan to go to Louisiana Tech University, where I will get my master's in becoming a teacher of blind students and an orientation and mobility instructor. The NFB has taught me that it is respectable to be blind and that blind people can go into careers such as science, technology, engineering, and math and that their blindness is not a limiting factor. I have a painting in my room that says, "One candle may light a thousand." I hope to be that one candle for future generations of blind students. Thank you.
Melissa Lomax, New Jersey, Maryland: Good morning, fellow Federationists. It's an honor to be here today. I'm very grateful to win this scholarship and to know that there are people here that support what I want to do and in turn can support all the people that I hope to be helping in the future. For as long as I can remember, I've enjoyed helping people in any way that I can, and I still do that today in my school and in my local, state, and national Federation communities. I presently attend the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. I'm a sophomore pursuing an English literature major, English writing minor, and a secondary education certificate. Becoming a teacher is one of the things I've always wanted to be because with my dedication and love for writing, I hope to give my students a great quality education and to better their future because I feel writing is essential in any profession our students may want to pursue. I thank you very much for giving me this opportunity.
Kirt Manwaring, Utah, Utah: Good morning, Federationists. My name is Kirt Manwaring. I will attend Brigham Young University next fall as a freshman studying political science and philosophy with an eye toward law school. Now it was Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian statesman, who famously said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." I promise you, scholarship committee, board, and fellow Federationists, that I will do everything I can to be that change and to show the community that it is respectable to be blind. Thank you.
Kristin Mathe, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Dr. Maurer, members of the board, fellow Federationists: I am not the first, and for that I thank you--because I have not had to blaze this trail alone and have not had to walk alone as the only blind person ever to get an advanced degree. That is a good thing. I will not be the last--and that is a better thing! It is because of all of you that I am able to pursue a PhD in rhetoric and public address, coach collegiate debate, and teach public speaking. I will be a professor; I will do research to understand better how movements such as ours can continue to change people's minds about a variety of issues. As I go forward, I keep in mind that there are those who will come after. I would like that road to be even smoother for those who follow. Thank you.
Esha Mehta, Pennsylvania, Colorado: Good morning, Federation family, and what a family you guys have been to me the last year. I became a member of the Federation when I walked through the doors of the Colorado Center for the Blind, and that is when I began my journey. I've grown up in a culture where blindness is not accepted and it is considered one of the worst things that could ever happen to you. Because of my training at the Center and because of the support from all of you, this is not the case for me anymore. I know that I can change the world through my dream of becoming a teacher of the blind and visually impaired. Not only do I want to change the world here in the United States, but I want to help open up a center in India so that those children can have the same future that I am starting to have here. Through the Center I've gained two gifts: one is the gift of literacy. Before I came to the Center, I did not know Braille, and now I can stand before you reading my notes in Braille. It's because of the wonderful people in this Federation and the teachers that I have had at the Center to help me do this. I learned that Braille is an amazing gift, and I want to share that with all of the students that I get to teach. It is said that to be a teacher is to touch your students’ lives forever, and I hope to do that internationally and especially here in the United States. Thank you to the board and my fellow Federationists for supporting my dreams.
Tabea Meyer, Indiana, Indiana: Good morning. My name is Tabea Meyer, and it is so wonderful to be here today with all of you. This is my first convention, and I'm honored to be here at this wonderful meeting. I'm so grateful for the confidence the scholarship committee has placed in me, believing that I can be successful. I'm going to do everything I can to achieve excellence in everything I do, and I thank you so much. I would like to share a story. I was born in Kassel, Germany, and there independence wasn't something that was encouraged for blind people; it was covered up. When I came to the United States as a second grader, the NFB was very active in helping my family prevail in a court trial in which our school was not willing to allow me and my two siblings to attend. I'm so grateful the NFB had a place in my life even then, and over the past few years I've lost touch with this organization, but now I'm here and just learning about the philosophy that you guys hold dear. I'm so thrilled to know that innately I've been striving for those same things to be true in my life as I grow in independence. I am so thrilled to know that there are incredible heights which now I can attain, and to have the incredible support of all of you. Thank you very much.
Josie Nielson, Idaho, Idaho: Welcome, everyone. I'm Josie Nielson. I'm so grateful to be here. I am going to be a sophomore at Brigham Young University in Utah this next fall. I'm a violin performance major, and I want to write my master's thesis on developing a new method for teaching blind musicians music. I came to the convention very excited, but I did have questions--a lot of questions. I know I'm not alone when I say that I was struggling to know when it was a good time to be using a cane. I do not have sight, but I'm not completely blind as of yet. I have met some wonderful friends over the course of these few days who have helped me understand and realize the importance of using a cane. I want to thank those people sincerely for your support, and I want to tell you proudly that I walk away from this convention with a cane in my hand and with tools that will help me succeed. Thank you so much.
Shaun Reimers, Utah, Utah: Hey everyone, my name is Shaun Reimers, and I'm going to be studying law at the University of Utah starting next month. I plan to work hard while I'm in school, and, after I'm done, I hope to get a great job. What motivates me most is the desire to be a good husband and father, a working citizen of the United States, and a contributing member to the Federation. Even before I applied for the scholarship, I planned to be a lifelong member of the Federation. The philosophy of the NFB is the only real option for addressing the issues blind people face--it's the only real answer we have for gaining independence. For better or for worse the NFB is stuck with me for life, and I hope, as a family, that we can accomplish great things together. Thank you.
Ashley Ritter, Indiana, Indiana: Good morning. I'm going to be a sophomore this fall at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis. I am majoring in secondary English education with a minor in education policy. After my bachelor's my plan is to get my master's in teaching blind students, and after a few years of teaching I plan to make my way into the government in education policy, writing, revising, and improving the education system of America. Six years ago I was introduced to the NFB, and I was just getting out of eighth grade. I was very timid and shy, and I wouldn't even admit to myself that I was blind, let alone anyone else around me. The help I got is something I can never pay back, but I'm ready to pay it forward, and I thank you so much for this opportunity.
Cali Sandel, South Carolina, South Carolina: Good morning, fellow Federationists. Once again I'm Cali Sandel. I'm currently pursuing a master's in public administration at Clemson University. I am so very blessed and honored to come before you as a tenBroek Fellow. It's been a fun ride, and since my very first convention in 2006, I have served as a student division president for the state of South Carolina, am currently on the board of directors, and am helping to ensure Braille literacy in South Carolina. I'd like to share a short story. On Father's Day weekend my granddad said that at his high school graduation the principal said that George Washington would've been more at home 2000 years before his time than in our current society with current technology and the way things run, but the blind community is not like that. I would like to think that the founding fathers would be very comfortable with us here today and that they would be glad and proud of the movement and how far it's come. We don't always get to reap the fruits of our labor, but I'm so very optimistic and excited to keep pursuing the road we're traveling, and I'm so glad everybody's here with me. Thank you.
Jessica Scannell, New Jersey, New Jersey: Thank you, Mr. Lewis. Good morning fellow Federationists, scholarship committee, and esteemed guests. My name is Jessica Scannell. I am a senior attending Montclair State University. I live in New Jersey. My major is education with kindergarten to fifth grade as my concentration. I would like to be a teacher of the blind when I graduate. I am currently holding a position as secretary for the NFB Northeast Chapter of New Jersey. I am honored and thrilled to be a national scholarship winner. Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors. Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity and have a wonderful convention.
Quintina Singleton, New Jersey, New York: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I would like to begin by sincerely thanking the scholarship committee for selecting me to be a finalist. I certainly recognize in addition to being a prestigious award that this scholarship is really a generous contribution toward my future, and I'm very grateful for it. I'm the secretary for the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey, and I'm also the producer of the Internet program Through Our Eyes with Joe Ruffalo. In September I'll be starting graduate school at New York University, working towards my master's degree in both childhood and special education. One of my main objectives as an instructor of children with special needs is to help my students discover for themselves that challenges should never be allowed to stand in the way of success. Thank you.
Yadiel Sotomayor, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico: Good morning, fellow Federationists, and happy birthday NFB for your seventieth year. I'm starting a double major at the University of Puerto Rico in translation and English education. I can summarize the philosophy of the Federation in three words: independence, equality, and support. Independence means that everybody in the Federation has helped me a lot because they have converted me from a shy person into an active member of society, and I know it has done the same for all of you. Equality is what we're all fighting for. Finally, support – because, if there is something a blind person wants to do, I know that he will have every member behind him and supporting him.
Tara Tripathi, Florida, Florida: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I'm from Orlando, Florida, a wonderful place where you all will be next year. I'm doing my PhD program in text and technology at the University of Central Florida. Hopefully some of you will come to visit when you're there next year. I want to say thank you to all of you, especially our leaders, who made this scholarship possible. I feel a profound sense of honor and elation. I thank you for the recognition and the riches you have bestowed on us. When you walk on a sidewalk, which may be a path to progress, there are three kinds of reactions possible when you encounter a rock. The first is that you feel the rock with your cane, weave around a bit, walk around it, forget about it, and go wherever you're going. The second possible reaction is that you feel it with the cane, beat the rock because you are angry and maybe use some language I will not use here, and then you continue to move ahead. The third reaction is to try to remove it so the people who come next will not trip on it. I salute that third group of people, for these are the kind of leaders NFB has, and these are the people who have selected us. I want to be one of them, and I hope that the recognition that has been given to me will give me enough confidence to be able to do precisely that--to remove the roadblocks from the path of progress by the blind throughout the world. In my PhD dissertation I am trying to propose universal design for all kinds of consumer goods for classrooms, electronic spaces, and Websites. Universal design asks for access for everyone, so no segregation is tolerated by true leaders. Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer, and a lot of you sitting in the audience will tolerate no discrimination for blind people. Segregation has, however, come back in a new way in the field of technology. We are increasingly using touchscreens, and the manufacturers ignore us. Universal design dictates that that go away. In my dissertation I will argue in favor of that. As Dr. Maurer was saying at the beginning of this meeting, we banned smoking, and now the rest of the country has followed. I will argue that the way we access our books using speech, sighted people are now doing with their own audio books. I thank you all for this wonderful opportunity to speak to all of you.
Kayla Weathers, Georgia, Georgia: Good morning. As Anil said, my name is Kayla Weathers, and I'm from Georgia. It's truly an honor to be here today. I will be a freshman in the fall at Dalton State College, and I would like to get my bachelor's degree in special education and my master's degree in teaching blind students. Many times when blind people ask me what I want to do and I tell them I want to teach blind students, it's because I want to be a mentor to them. I didn't have a lot of mentors who were blind when I was growing up, and I'd just like to empower my students with the Federation's philosophy that they can achieve their dreams and change what it means to be blind. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
Michelle Wesley, Illinois, Illinois: Hello, everyone. I am number thirty, and I've been told to keep it short and sweet, so I will. Thank you for staying around, and thank you, scholarship committee, for choosing me. I am going into my first year of veterinary medicine at the University of Illinois, so all of you guide dog users, please consider telling your friends to get a dog because I want to specialize in working with service animals in orthopedics and rehab. I look forward to meeting each and every one of you, and again, thank you so much for having me.
There you have the scholarship class of 2010. On Thursday evening, July 8, master of ceremonies Fred Schroeder called Anil Lewis to the platform to present the 2010 scholarships. At the close of that presentation scholarship winner and tenBroek Fellow C. J. Fish came to the podium to address the banquet audience as the winner of the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, presented by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. Because of time constraints her remarks were abbreviated, but this is what she planned to say:
I stand before you, truly honored and humbled to accept this award and all that it signifies, all that it means. I'd like to say thank you to so many: first the scholarship committee for all that they have done for us from the beginning--going through all the applications, putting in so many hours, then turning around and dedicating themselves to sharing themselves, teaching us, showing us how to be leaders, telling us about their lives, and giving us advice--all of these things. I also want to thank the scholarship class for all of the friendship and warmth that you have extended to me. It has truly been a blessing to get to know each and every one of you, and you have been an inspiration to me. To my family: my husband for the love and support he has given me through good and bad, in sickness and in health, as he promised me on our wedding day just over a year ago. Next, to my parents who have loved, nurtured, and supported me throughout my life and helped me become who I am today. Finally, to my NFB family, who has nurtured me, strengthened me, challenged me, and pushed me to be more than I ever thought I could be and showed me I could go beyond all that I have ever dreamed that I could become. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
When I became blind at the age of three, my parents say that at first I refused to do anything. I was frustrated and angry at what had happened to me. One day I woke up and was ready to go. I was determined to do all of the things I had done before losing my sight. I have maintained that attitude since, insisting that there is always a way. We just have to be creative and determined, and we will find it.
As a six-time cancer survivor, I have learned many truths about life. There will always be times when we want to give up; there will always be obstacles and challenges to face. What matters most is what we choose to do with them. Do not fear, and never give up. Hold on to your hope. For what is hope without perseverance? What is perseverance without courage? What is courage without support? And for us, what is support without our NFB family? So you see, the foundation of our hope for a better future lies in our support of each other. NFB class of 2010, we are the leaders of tomorrow, and we must never forget these truths.
We have been tried by fire. When we face that fire, we have a choice: we can run away and hide, or we can face the heat. This NFB family has taught me to face the heat and become all the better for it. I want to leave you with a challenge that there is always hope for tomorrow. Find a way, conquer, and succeed! Thank you so much.
Here is the complete list of 2010 scholarship winners and the awards they received:
$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Alicia Betancourt, Rashi Goel, Deepinder “Deepa” Goraya, Christopher Jeckel, Andrea Jenkins, Kirt Manwaring, Esha Mehta, Josie Nielson, Ashley Ritter, Jessica Scannell, Quintina Singleton, Tara Prakash Tripathi, and Kayla Weathers
$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Educator of Tomorrow Award: Kristin Mathe
$3,000 NFB Computer Science Scholarship: Sina Bahram
$3,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship: Elizabeth “Beth” Allred
$3,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship: Antônio Guimarães
$3,000 Lawrence Kettner Scholarship: Diane Graves
$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Chelsea Cook
$3,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship: Shaun Reimers
$3,000 Michael Marucci Memorial Scholarship: Yadiel Sotomayor
$3,000 E. U. Parker Scholarship: Kayleigh Joiner
$3,000 Guide Dogs for the Blind Dorthea and Roland Bohde Leadership Scholarship: Sharin Duffy
$3,000 Jeannette C. Eyerly Memorial Scholarship: Melissa Lomax
$5,000 Hank LeBonne Scholarship: Sheri Anderson
$5,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Maria “Conchita” Hernandez, Tabea Meyer, and Cali Sandel
$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship: Michelle Wesley
$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship: Zachary Brubaker
$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Mary Fernandez
$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship (donated by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults): C. J. Fish
by Fredric K. Schroeder, Ph.D.
From the Editor: On Thursday, July 8, 2010, NFB First Vice President Fred Schroeder, a research professor at San Diego State University, gave the following address:
No minority emerges from subjugation to equality in a single moment. The move from oppression to freedom, from isolation to full participation, from segregation to integration is agonizingly slow, marked by long periods of hopelessness until the crushing weight of injustice becomes unbearable, forcing a shift, shattering the familiar, the accepted social order, the status quo.
Years ago I came across a poem by Emily Dickinson. Its opening lines struck a chord, taking me back to the time when as a teenager I became totally blind. The poem begins: “I'm Nobody! Who are you? / Are you—Nobody--too?" These words captured the despair and sense of futility I felt at that time. I knew with the certainty of the condemned that I was nobody and would be nobody for as long as I lived, a nobody, living according to the dictates and charity of others. But I was wrong.
In 1940 a handful of blind people came together to found the National Federation of the Blind. They came together to advocate for themselves, rejecting society's belief that the blind were nothing more than a community of nobodies. Today, seventy years later, we have made unimaginable progress, yet our work is far from over. We continue to struggle, continue to press forward toward full participation.
Nowhere is the struggle for equal opportunity more urgent than in the education of blind children. Blind children continue to suffer gaps in literacy; gaps in math and science; and, more troubling still, gaps in confidence and hope for a productive life.
In 1975 Congress enacted Public Law 94-142 (the Education of All Handicapped Children Act), now codified as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This was an important step forward, affirming the right of blind children to “a free and appropriate public education”--good as far as it goes--but the problem is that the law establishes a separate standard for educating children with disabilities, including blind children, a standard based on a deficit model, a model that assumes that blind children are society's nobodies.
Special education law presumes that blindness (or the presence of another disability) automatically limits the child's ability to learn like others. Consequently the law requires that services be provided to help compensate for the child's limitations, the child's deficit. Of course the hope is that special education services will make a difference, but the underlying assumption is that the blind child will always be behind, unable to keep up and certainly unable to excel--a deficit model, a model based on the assumption that blind children are nobodies, nobodies standing off to one side, looking on, yearning to be a part, forever denied true equality, true integration. Perhaps I am being harsh, but, when you examine special education law, you find that the schools are absolved of any real responsibility for a blind child's educational achievement.
Every deficiency is presumed to be the consequence of the child's blindness. No matter how far behind, no matter how limited the child's academic performance, the deficit model assumes that blindness must be the cause. The schools face no consequence for poor training, poor services, or low expectations. The deficit model embodies the condescending assumption that the child is doing the best he or she can (given his or her limitations), and of course the schools are doing all that is possible to help.
It is true that the law requires the schools to provide special education services, but the type and amount of those services are almost exclusively determined by the schools. The only accountability is for the schools to provide what they have agreed to provide. That is all.
To change this condition, the schools must be held accountable, accountable for providing the tools and training to enable blind children to achieve on a basis of equality with their sighted peers. Next we must secure for every blind child the right to literacy, true literacy and that means the absolute, unquestioned right to learn and use Braille. But, you may ask, don’t blind children already have that right? Did we not fight for and win that right more than a decade ago?
It is true that in 1997 we, the National Federation of the Blind, were successful in persuading the Congress to amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to make Braille the presumed reading medium for blind children. Specifically, the law reads, "(iii) in the case of a child who is blind or visually impaired, provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless the IEP (Individualized Education Program) team determines, after an evaluation of the child's reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the child's future needs for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille), that instruction in Braille or the use of Braille is not appropriate for the child." 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(3)(B)(iii)
Once you cut through the legal jargon, the meaning is plain: The local school district is to "provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless the IEP team determines” otherwise. Yet, when the U.S. Department of Education issued regulations implementing the 1997 amendments, it completely nullified the presumption of Braille. Of course the regulations acknowledged that the use of Braille is presumed unless the child's IEP team decides otherwise. But what happens if the IEP team cannot reach agreement on the appropriateness of Braille? This is where the Department of Education eviscerated the presumption. Logic would dictate that Braille, the presumed reading medium, would be taught while the IEP team works out its disagreement, but that is not what the Department of Education said. Why not? Because the Department considers Braille to be a special education service and when an IEP team cannot reach agreement, the so-called Stay Put rule applies, which means that the child's current services continue until the IEP team reaches agreement or until a change is ordered through the fair hearing process. So, if the child is not currently receiving Braille instruction, even though the parents want Braille provided, until the dispute is resolved, likely years in the future, no Braille is taught. No matter that the law affirms that Braille is the presumed reading medium, the child must wait. How did the Department of Education explain such an obvious contradiction of the plain language of the law? Here is what the Department said:
Contrary to a suggestion of commenters, a regulatory provision making it mandatory for Braille to be taught to every child who is legally blind would contravene the individually-oriented focus of the Act, as well as the statutory requirement that the IEP team must make individual determinations for each child who is blind or visually impaired based on relevant evaluation data. (Federal Register, Vol. 64, 48, p. 12589 (March 12, 1999).)
In other words, no presumption of Braille. We must not allow this to continue. We need a clear, straightforward statement in law recognizing that Braille is the literacy medium for blind children, and we need to hold the schools accountable for blind children's literacy, not just in a general sense, but truly accountable. What might real accountability look like?
Ridiculous? Unreasonable? Impractical? Perhaps, but these are the precise goals that the U.S. Department of Education proposed for sighted children in 1997 in response to the Government Performance and Results Act. The only difference is that the Department of Education was talking about sighted children reading print, and I paraphrased each statement to apply to blind children reading Braille. At the same time the Department of Education was proposing high reading standards for sighted children, it was developing regulations gutting the presumption of Braille for blind children.
No one objected to having a national goal that sighted children would read independently by the end of the third grade. No one shuddered at the idea that such a goal would violate the sacrosanct principle of individualization; and, by the way, no one blamed the children for the schools’ failure; yet blind children, particularly those with multiple disabilities, are routinely blamed for the schools' shortcomings.
Of course some blind children have additional disabilities, and in many cases they present real and significant challenges, but the presence of additional disabilities does not negate the child's right to an equal education. The presence of multiple disabilities (or in the language of the medical profession, comorbidity) must not be allowed to excuse poor educational services. The schools must not be allowed to wring their hands and blame the child and his or her multiple disabilities for their own failure; their own lack of imagination; lack of resources; and, I am sorry to say, their lack of interest.
Much work remains:
We need more well-trained teachers of blind children.
We need teachers who are well-prepared to teach blind children to read and write Braille, and that means we must work to have every state adopt the National Certification in Literary Braille.
We need to develop new technology that will enable blind children to compete in all subjects, especially in science and math.
We need to promote research, meaningful research that supports the full integration of blind children into society on terms of equality, and that means research designed and led by blind people.
To that end we, the National Federation of the Blind, have established the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research--the first international, interdisciplinary, open-access journal created by blind people themselves together with parents, teachers, administrators, and academic researchers--to address the real problems of blindness.
Of course some blind children learn quickly, and others struggle. Some have lofty aspirations, and others harbor more modest goals. Some are driven, and others less so. Some are confident, and others timid. Some are outgoing, and others reticent. Some are ready and willing to confront life's challenges head-on, and others despair of living a full and productive life. To make a difference, we must begin by helping blind children understand that, no matter society's misguided beliefs, they are not nobodies, and other blind people are not nobodies. Then we must follow our words with action. We must change the law; we must train more teachers; we must develop new technology; we must conduct meaningful research--action that changes the paradigm; action that rejects the deficit model; action that turns hope into reality and full participation into the common experience.
When I was sixteen, Emily Dickinson's words: "I'm Nobody! Who are you? / Are you—Nobody--too?" expressed the hopelessness I was feeling. Yet the sense of being a nobody need not persist. Through our collective efforts we are making a difference--a powerful difference--replacing uncertainty with hope, doubt with confidence. Each year more and more blind children become aware of their own ability, talent, capacity, and right to live as others. Through our continued work--the work of the National Federation of the Blind--one day, I hope one day very soon, blind children will have the skills and confidence to say to one another: "I read differently from others and travel differently from others, but I am Somebody! And so are you! You're Somebody, too!" And this is the National Federation of the Blind.
by Parnell Diggs
From the Editor: Parnell Diggs is the coordinator of the Race for Independence and president of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina. On Tuesday afternoon, July 6, he addressed the Convention. This is what he said:
The word “technology” is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as the “application of scientific knowledge to serve man and industry, commerce, medicine, and other fields.” When premodern humans first recognized that they could reshape natural resources into simple tools, mankind began to apply scientific knowledge to create possibilities. The use of fire, for example, was essential in the development of the culinary arts and in the discovery of meaningful climate control. And later the wooden wheel (developed by the Sumerians over five thousand years ago) was instrumental in the transport of greater quantities of food and goods; not to mention providing a means of moving heavier materials over greater distances and at faster speeds than ever before believed practical or even possible.
Twentieth-century sociologist Read Bain suggested that technology includes both the tools and machines created by mankind and also the skills by which we produce and use them. Approximately fifty years later, metallurgist Ursula Franklin, in her 1989 lecture entitled “Real World of Technology,” defined it as, “practice, the way we do things around here.”
And French philosopher Bernard Stiegler in his book entitled, Technics and Time, published by Stanford University Press in 1998, defines technology in two ways: “the pursuit of life by means other than life,” and “organized inorganic matter.”
It has been said that technology is the result of science and engineering. Without a little technological ingenuity science and engineering would yield no result. To consider the point in a more practical way, let us examine for a moment the technological ingenuity of the famous Italian artist, Leonardo da Vinci (April 15, 1452–May 2, 1519). Da Vinci is, of course, best known for his creations, the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, perhaps the two most widely recognized paintings in the world. But perhaps less widely known are da Vinci’s late-fourteenth-century illustrations of a variety of flying machines.
Those who are familiar with modern-day aerodynamics tell us that da Vinci’s depiction of a four-seat helicopter is flawed and would have severe design defects if built according to his specifications. On the other hand, not all of his sketches of flying machines were mere products of science fiction. A test conducted late in the twentieth-century of one of his conceptualized flying machines, using materials which would have been available to da Vinci in the fifteenth century, proved that his hang glider was actually capable of flight.
However, when da Vinci conducted the experiment himself in 1496, it failed. Why? While Leonardo da Vinci had plenty of technological ingenuity and an adequate understanding of the mechanics of flight, he simply did not have the benefit of modern-day science and engineering to turn the concept into reality. A product of the fourteen hundreds, he lacked the knowledge of twentieth century aerodynamics and five hundred years of technological development. In short, it took the better part of five centuries for science and engineering to catch up to the technological ingenuity and fifteenth-century imagination and innovative spirit of Leonardo da Vinci.
In 1940 another man possessing tremendous imagination and an innovative spirit became the first president of the National Federation of the Blind. As the movement came into existence, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek told the assembly at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, “Collectively, we are the masters of our own future and the successful guardian of our own common interests."
Dr. tenBroek continued, “Let one speak in the name of many who are prepared to act in his support; let the democratically elected blind representatives of the blind act as spokesmen for all; let the machinery be created to unify the action and concentrate the energies of the blind of the nation. The inherent justice of our cause and the good will of the public will do the rest.”
These were the words of Dr. tenBroek as he delivered them seventy years ago. All of the men and women gathered at Wilkes-Barre on that historic day are now gone. Nevertheless, is it possible for those of us living in the twenty-first century to gain an understanding of what our predecessors thought about technological development, particularly as it related to blindness? First of all let us put the matter in perspective. There were no laptops or fax machines, no cell phones, and no Internet service when the National Federation of the Blind came into being. In 1940 Ray Kurzweil was not yet born. There was no omnifont optical character recognition; no refreshable Braille, and no screen-reading software.
Clearly complex forms of technology were already in existence in 1940, such as airplanes and automobiles, but there were few or no means at the time to make technology accessible to the average blind user. So how did the first-generation Federationists approach the issue of technological development? Trapped within their time, did our predecessors simply ignore it?
On the contrary, let me direct your attention to an article which appeared in the New Yorker magazine on January 11, 1958. The article is based on an interview in which Dr. tenBroek talks about the technological ingenuity of some of his blind friends and what the reasonable limits were, if any, related to blindness and technological development in 1958.
Quoting Dr. tenBroek from the interview, “I’ve got a neighbor in Berkeley, a blind man I’ve known since we were classmates at school who built his house entirely with his own hands. … It’s quite a good-sized house, too, about twenty-seven hundred square feet. He built the forms, poured the cement, put in the plumbing, did the wiring--everything. The place is on a fairly steep hillside, and before he could start, he had to make himself a large power-operated boom for hauling his materials up to the site.”
The article continues, “We asked Professor tenBroek what jobs he himself thinks are impossible for the blind to hold. He laughed, stroked his goatee professorially, and said, `Well, airplane pilot, I suppose. Though, for that matter, planes fly most of the time nowadays on automatic controls, don’t they, and someday may be completely automatic. Actually, I can’t say what the limits are.
One of my friends in the Federation is an experimental nuclear physicist. … Dr. Bradley Burson is his name, and he’s at the Argonne National Laboratory, near Chicago. When he was working on problems involving the decay of radioactive matter, he invented some devices for himself that measured the decay in terms of audible and tactile signals, rather than the commonly employed visual signals. Some of the devices turned out to be more accurate than the standard ones and are now widely used at the lab.
I’d always assumed that being an electrician would be impossible for a blind man, but not long ago I found a blind electrician--a fellow named Jack Polston. I went and talked to his boss, and he told me that Polston does everything any other electrician can do--wiring, soldering, and all the rest. While I was there, Polston was doing the complete wiring for a service station, which I’m told is a particularly complicated job. … Now that I’ve found him, I’m pestering the Civil Service not to disqualify blind people automatically from trying out for electricians’ jobs.”
In this interview Dr. tenBroek expresses such faith in the abilities of blind people, without reservation, that his words are still remarkable in the twenty-first century. He believed that blind people have the capacity to act with the controls under our hands.
In the intervening years our faith in blind people has not changed, but technology has. In just over six months we will be debuting a Ford Escape on the world stage, but not just any Ford Escape. This particular Ford Escape will be equipped with a technological interface developed in partnership with our friends at the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at Virginia Tech University’s Department of Engineering. The interface will be built with all of the knowledge and expertise that twenty-first-century science and engineering have to offer. And on January 29, 2011, a blind person will get behind the wheel of this Ford Escape and drive it on race day, before the start of the Rolex 24, on the track at the Daytona International Speedway.
Let the world come to see the technological ingenuity, imagination, and innovative spirit of the National Federation of the Blind. Let the world come to know blindness from our perspective: a perspective which endures through generations past and those to come. In the words of our third great president, Dr. Marc Maurer, delivering the banquet address in our sixty-fifth year, “Our perspective is not just for one day. It stretches back over the decades to the time of our beginning, and it reaches forward to the moment of the fulfillment of our dreams.”
We stand at the edge of another day, and we probe the possibilities that may exist. We have come together to forge a mighty movement of the blind, united and with one voice—a movement with ideals, a determined purpose, a bedrock philosophical foundation, and a membership committed to mutual support.”
If we are to justify the faith of those who came before us, we must continue to have faith in ourselves and our movement. We must dare to dream, commit ourselves to build for the future, and even push the boundaries of what we believe is possible. If we are to justify the respect of those who come after us, we must have the faith to plant the seeds of a harvest that we may not reap. And, if we remain true to the movement, fellow Federationists, with just a little imagination and innovative spirit, the inherent justice of our cause and the good will of the public will do the rest.
by Mark A. Riccobono
From the Editor: On Thursday, July 8, Mark Riccobono, executive director of the Jernigan Institute for the Blind, addressed the Convention. This is what he said:
To drive—a rite of passage anticipated by adolescents and marked by freedom, independence, and discovery. That is, unless you happen to be blind. If you grew up as a blind child, you have repeatedly heard about the freedom provided by driving and how your participation is impossible. If you are newly blind, you have surrendered your license to drive and with it the powerful feeling of independence that you felt behind the wheel. The kind offer to “let you drive” has been extended by family and friends, but the opportunity to press the pedals and turn the wheel at their direction in closed parking lots and barren fields provided no expansion of your horizons. But is driving truly impossible for you? Is vision the essential element for freedom and independence?
The dictionary tells us to drive is “to direct the motions and course of, to compel, to carry on or through energetically, or to give shape or impulse to.” The driver is the one directing the movement. To be effective, the driver must take responsibility for the elements being driven—whether a vehicle, an organization, or a system. To a great degree to drive is to lead. While driving an automobile is a privilege, driving in the broader sense is both a right and a responsibility.
Long before the advent of the automobile, it was widely accepted that the blind could not drive. Throughout history the blind have been designated passengers who need the charity of others to direct their actions and guide their futures. This presumption went unchallenged for centuries. That was until a small group of blind individuals resolved to abandon the designated passenger role and establish their right to drive. The vehicle built by that group of blind people was the National Federation of the Blind, and we have not stopped driving ever since.
For seventy years we have taken responsibility for our own future and mapped out new roads to travel. We have expanded the vehicle—growing the Federation in each state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico—and dispatched our drivers to hundreds of new destinations. But we were not content simply to drive; we wanted to test the limits of our capacity. We moved into the fast lane six years ago when we established the NFB Jernigan Institute—a new vehicle for our collective action intended to equip us with the tools necessary to win the race for independence. Through our leadership we have driven farther than was ever thought possible, but we are not yet out of fuel; we are the drivers; we are the National Federation of the Blind.
Our Jernigan Institute is the test track for building education, technologies, research, and resources, fueled by our hopes and dreams, moving us to new destinations of independence. Over the past year our progress has been swift, but the roads we have yet to travel are unpaved. We dare to drive where others have not even dreamed. My brothers and sisters, I ask, are you prepared to be drivers?
Before we consider the progress of our Jernigan Institute, I need to share a concern with you. For over a decade I have been working to improve the education of blind children. I take an interest in each young person and do all I can to improve opportunities for him or her. I drive the development of new educational initiatives with the fuel of hope that the experience of the next generation might be better than the educational struggles I faced. Yet I have to admit that I did not fully appreciate all that was at stake in helping teach and empower the next generation until the birth of my son Austin three years ago. Austin has taught me more than I had expected, and he has given me a deeper appreciation for the critical role of teachers, parents, and mentors—the drivers of our society.
Seven weeks ago my wife Melissa gave birth to our second child, Oriana. As blind parents we wonder what struggles we might face from medical personnel who carry misconceptions about the capability of the blind to parent. We are always prepared to provide kind but firm education about the methods we use. At one point during our stay in the hospital, Oriana was swept away to get the routine checkup from the resident pediatrician. I grew impatient after a while and headed to the nursery. I met the pediatrician, who began asking me how much I could see. I was ready for the conflict and determined that she would know vision had nothing to do with my ability to be a great dad. Then she surprised me by quickly switching lanes—she asked that we follow up with a pediatric ophthalmologist because Oriana’s eyes did not respond as expected.
In that moment my heart skipped a beat, and I had to strain physically to hide my concern. It was not the potential for vision loss that scared me. We know the National Federation of the Blind; we know the truth about blindness. What jolted me was the instant understanding that my daughter, for whom I had been able to imagine only limitless possibilities, might now be headed toward a second-class education system, lacking in innovation and featuring low expectations, a system that simply does not believe it is failing blind children because it does not expect excellence from them. We have worked so hard, yet the heartbreaking stories of years lost and opportunities missed keep coming, and in the future my daughter could be among them. The fear is overwhelming when I remember that my daughter is just one of the thousands of children for whom we need to break the oppressive system of second-class education. You have seen them in the halls of this convention exploring freedom of movement, you have met their parents and were touched by their tears, you have worked with the teachers who have had the passion knocked out of them by the poor systems they work in, and you know their stories because you have traveled down that lonely highway.
What we told our daughter that day in the hospital is the same message we in the National Federation of the Blind intend for all blind children and their families to hear in their hearts. We love you; we believe in your potential to move the world; your dreams are our hope for the future. Your education is our most important work, and we will not let you experience the same pattern of struggle. We are prepared to drive—we accept the risks and the responsibility—and no one can outrace us.
The dawn of a new horizon in the education of blind children has come. The National Federation of the Blind has brought new inspiration and imagination to the education system. Last year we offered the second NFB Youth Slam—the largest gathering of blind youth and blind mentors. We expanded our curriculum to new subjects, like forensics and architecture. We influenced a major university to think differently about the capacity of blind people. And, most important, we taught the young people how to drive their own future. The cheerful chants of the students as we marched down the National Mall in Washington, D.C.—after experiencing a hard summer downpour—were proof enough that the next generation will drive us farther than ever. This summer we will again have our Junior Science Academy, in which we teach the youngest of the budding blind scientists. We have already begun to stretch our imaginations to the next NFB Youth Slam in 2011, when we will further expand the opportunities. And we are in preparation for the longer journey of a total revolution in the education of blind children. What can we do next; where should we go; how can we get there more effectively? These are just some of the questions we need to answer in order to get to the next great destination on our journey for educational excellence.
This year we initiated the NFB Leadership and Advocacy in Washington Program to teach blind middle school students practical lessons of government and advocacy, empowering them to get in the driver’s seat. In the process we taught them about the historic struggles of the blind and about the strides we have made when we take charge of our own future. Twenty-five young blind students commanded attention on April 20, 2010, as they navigated the halls of the Congressional office buildings and drove their points home. And when some of them could not secure meetings with their members of Congress while in Washington, they persisted and made sure their voices were heard when they returned home. Government is an important vehicle for shaping society. We have accepted the responsibility of speaking for ourselves in the halls of power, and we are now teaching the next generation to do the same. These students are now better prepared to deal with obstacles in the road, and they will no longer allow the system to push them off course.
Fundamental to education is literacy. We continue to make strides in our quest for widespread Braille literacy, but we must keep our foot firmly on the accelerator. Our Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest continues to grow, with reach to over six hundred students from forty-seven states. We now offer a contest for blind adults in order to help encourage new Braille readers. We have initiated the Braille Pals Reading Club, offering families of young blind children ongoing exposure to Braille-related resources. Last summer we piloted a new Braille enrichment program that teaches Braille to blind children overlooked by the education system, and this year we are delivering the program in five states: Georgia, Maryland, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. We have packaged a robust curriculum that is now available free of charge to any NFB affiliate that wants to accelerate Braille literacy in its local communities. We need to continue to spread literacy across the country and seek partnership with the best teachers of Braille we can find to help us. Where we cannot find great teachers, we will teach them ourselves—we are prepared to drive to the place where literacy for all blind children is no longer an academic debate but an academic assumption.
In the area of research conducted and published about the education and rehabilitation of the blind, we have until recently been distant subjects to be studied rather than equal partners. We are now driving research efforts and creating new vehicles for investigation and discourse. Last year we established a working group to examine how we might use research to tackle the Braille literacy crisis in America more effectively. Last month, in partnership with others, we held a two-day research conference focused on the current and future state of the art in Braille. We are not satisfied with the state of the art, and we are fed up with the question of whether or not Braille has value in the twenty-first century. With this conference we are shifting the focus of Braille research to investigations that will further illuminate how we can more effectively deliver information in a tactile form to a wide range of individuals and refute the negative assumptions that prevent innovation in Braille.
The blind have now shattered the traditional system of research in the field—a broken vehicle unable to deliver us to the many places we dream of going. The establishment of the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research gives the field a more powerful vehicle for advancing the freedom and independence of the blind. We invite all those who desire to help drive research on the real problems of blindness to be part of our movement. We are no longer willing to be passengers on the road to the future, and our journal is one more way we are driving toward a future full of opportunity.
The road we have traveled teaches us much about the future. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek was the first president of the Federation—he provided us with the essential pattern of thought that is the engine of the organization. In honor of Dr. tenBroek we have established a research library, where we are making the history of the blind available to all. Through our online catalog—the Blind Cat—anyone around the world can explore the rich historical resources being collected through the only research library owned and operated by the blind. The next phase of our work is to digitize our collections so they can be read via the Internet—helping advance the understanding of blindness all over the world. Similarly, to understand the past and build for the future, we continue achieving new milestones through our annual Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium. Through our efforts we are winning the race for independence.
Throughout this convention you have experienced the many strides we have made towards equal access to information and technology. But what about the road ahead, our Blind Driver Challenge--the intersection of our capacity as people who happen to be blind and the quest for technological innovation? I again ask, is driving truly impossible for you? Is vision the essential element for freedom and independence?
The evidence is clear that in many senses of the word the blind do drive. There remains that one real use of the word—to drive an automobile—that most still believe is impossible. Why? The answer is the same one that has been under the hood of all the great problems we have faced—the persistent notion that blindness is a tremendously disabling condition that diminishes our abilities and prescribes a limited range of freedoms. The assumption is that to drive is to see, but that has not been our experience. When the blind took responsibility for their own destiny, the boundaries of independence were expanded, and we have not yet found the limit to those horizons. The fact that we have not been permitted to drive automobiles has not prevented us from developing effective means for our own independence and freedom of movement. So why can’t we drive?
Our limitation has been, not the inability to see, but rather the lack of vision to imagine and build a system that has never been thought possible. We now know that, when we combine the experience of blind people with innovative engineers like those at Virginia Tech, we can demonstrate that vision is not the requirement for success it is assumed to be. Our NFB Blind Driver Challenge is the great race for technological innovation that will shatter misconceptions about the capacity of the blind and the perceived limits of technological innovation. Our quest parallels the space race of the 1960s. The technologies created to get the United States to the moon have had profound impact on our society. Likewise, the path of innovation required to meet the end goal of the Blind Driver Challenge will have tremendous spin-off benefits for the blind as well as the rest of society.
Why do we want to drive? Because our driving has always been the key to giving us freedom and independence. Driving has given us control of and changed the prospects for our own future. We have been driving for seventy years, and, if we do not keep driving, we will not keep faith with those who have dared to bring us this far. We want to drive because only we believe that we can. Our quest to drive an automobile is a quest to continue expanding leadership, collective action, and the boundaries of independence.
This is the quest of the National Federation of the Blind and our Jernigan Institute. This is our call for drivers. To the extent each of us is willing to assume the risk and prepared to shoulder the responsibility of driving, we will continue to accelerate our advancement as a movement. For Oriana and the thousands of blind children, we need to drive. Let’s go together, daring to drive where others have not dreamed.
by Sharon Maneki
From the Editor: For a number of years now Sharon Maneki has chaired the resolutions committee. She also writes an article briefly discussing the resolutions adopted. This year, in addition, she has provided some historical perspective. This is what she says:
In this article I will describe the twenty-five resolutions that the Convention considered and passed in Dallas on July 7, 2010, and, I hope, whet the reader’s appetite to read their full texts. Since this was the seventieth convention of the National Federation of the Blind, I am going to look at some of the traditions that surround resolutions. Special thanks go to Ed Morman, director of the tenBroek Library, and Anna Kresmer, archivist, for their research assistance.
The National Federation of the Blind has a long tradition of establishing its policies through resolutions passed by the national Convention. The resolutions process is governed by a tradition of openness and fairness. By longstanding practice any member of the Federation may introduce a resolution. The resolutions committee meets early in the convention, the day before the national board meeting, to consider resolutions. The committee may not bottle up a resolution to keep it from going to the Convention floor. It must vote each resolution up or down. The Convention follows the same procedure. Ramona Walhof, who was the chairman of the resolutions committee in 1991, stated, “In my memory of the previous twenty-five years, the Convention deferred action on a resolution only once.” Between 1991 and the present the Convention has taken action on every resolution that was presented to it.
The traditions of openness and fairness have been maintained, even though some alterations in the resolutions process were made in 1993. Beginning in that year and up to the present, any person who wishes to present a resolution for consideration by the committee must submit it to the chairman or the president two weeks before the committee meeting. Ramona Walhof, who was also chairman of the resolutions committee in 1993, noted that this process has several advantages. “It allows for the checking of facts. If more than one person introduces a resolution on the same subject, it is easier for them to consult and resolve differences than it would be during the crush of convention activities.”
This year the committee followed its tradition of meeting on the day before the board meeting, which meant meeting on July 4. As usual the committee was large and consisted of members from throughout the country. Marsha Dyer served as secretary to the committee and did an outstanding job. Also, as usual, the committee lived up to its tradition of careful thought and lively debate of each of the twenty-five resolutions it considered.
By tradition NFB resolutions leave no doubt in the reader’s mind about our stand on any given subject. Our resolutions demonstrate persistence and a pattern of consistency. The Convention’s enactment of twenty-five resolutions is on the high side. Between 1987 and 2010 the average number of resolutions enacted each year was nineteen. In 2000 the Convention passed thirty-four resolutions, which was the highest number during these years. The 2010 resolutions demonstrate our tradition of speaking for ourselves and of our determination to move forward toward security, equality, and opportunity for the blind.
The 1942 convention, our third, was the first to consider and pass resolutions. It was held in Des Moines, Iowa, in June. The country was in the middle of World War II, so the first resolution, not surprisingly, calls on the country to accept the assistance of blind people in the war effort. Federationists have a long history of patriotism and willingness to serve our country. The format was a bit different from the one we use today, but the resolution certainly made its point. The resolution reads:
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
RESOLUTION NO. 101
WHEREAS, this Federation is now assembled in Convention to consider among other things ways and means whereby the Blind men and women of America may contribute to national production for the prosecution of the present war by our country and its allies,
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, by the National Federation of the Blind that we pledge to the President of the United States our best efforts, both individual and collective, for the increase of national production, the strengthening of national unity, and the maintenance of the four freedoms enumerated by our Chief Executive, and that we convey to the President of the United States the readiness of the Blind men and women of this country to serve their country in any way in which they may be called upon, and we do respectfully petition the President of the United States, and all other appropriate governmental officers, to consult with the Blind, and to ascertain and determine in what way and to what extent the Blind may contribute in this emergency.
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that a copy of this resolution be communicated to the President of the United States and that it be further given to the press.
Adopted by the Third Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind assembled in the city of Des Moines, State of Iowa, this 26th day of June, 1942.
J. tenBroek President
J. DeBeer Secretary
2737 Forest Avenue Berkeley, California
108 Morgan Building, Bakersfield, California.
The majority of the ten resolutions that the Convention passed in 1942 dealt with the creation of employment opportunities. We called on the U.S. Civil Service system to hire blind people and encouraged states to accept blind people as employment service workers so that we could place blind people in jobs. Of course there was a resolution about the Randolph-Sheppard program and one concerning sheltered workshops. It is encouraging to see how far we have come by comparing the 1942 Randolph-Sheppard resolution with the two Randolph-Sheppard resolutions that were passed in 2010. Here is the 1942 resolution:
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
RESOLUTION NO. 103
WHEREAS, it is recognized that the exclusion of soft drinks from the commodities permitted to be sold in stands in post offices and other federal buildings has proved to be a definite limitation in service to the employees and the public, as well as a decided economic disadvantage to the operator, and
WHEREAS, the sale of bottled soft drinks can and may be regulated in accordance with the business methods and practices as required by the United States office having jurisdiction over the installation and operation of such locations, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED, by the National Federation of the Blind that we recommend that the sale of bottled soft drinks be permitted in all stands conducted by Blind operators in post offices and other federal buildings.
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED, that copies of this resolution be communicated to the appropriate federal agencies.
Adopted by the Third Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind assembled in the city of Des Moines, State of Iowa, this 26th day of June, 1942.
J. tenBroek President
J. DeBeer Secretary
2737 Forest Ave. Berkeley, Calif.
108 Morgan Bldg. Bakersfield, Calif.
In 2010 the two resolutions considered and passed by the Convention also dealt with the expansion of employment opportunities, but today many blind people are managing full-service cafeterias. Kevan Worley, a longtime leader in the NFB and an ardent advocate who currently serves as treasurer of the National Association of Blind Merchants and first vice president of the Colorado affiliate, proposed Resolution 2010-07 and 2010-16. The U.S. Postal Service entered into a nationwide contract with a private entity to provide cafeteria and vending services that are covered by the Randolph-Sheppard priority without seeking the input of state licensing agencies, the Rehabilitation Services Administration, or Randolph-Sheppard entrepreneurs. This arrangement and the subsequent behavior of both the Postal Service and the contractor have led to the diminishment of employment opportunities for blind entrepreneurs. In Resolution 2010-07 we condemn and deplore the failure of the Postal Service to comply with the Randolph-Sheppard Act and demand that the Postal Service cancel its cafeteria and vending contract.
In Resolution 2010-16 we condemn and deplore the actions of the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled in continuing to place on the procurement list services that fall under the Randolph-Sheppard Act. In this resolution we also call upon Congress to require the Committee for Purchase to comply with the law.
The National Federation of the Blind has a long history of commitment to improving opportunities for workers in the sheltered workshop system. A 1942 resolution demonstrates this commitment and our concern for self-organization and conditions within the work place. Here is that resolution.
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
RESOLUTION NO. 110
RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind that we recommend that blind workers in all sheltered shops for the blind organize associations to which only blind workers in such shops shall be eligible for membership and that such associations be considered as representing the workers in such shops concerning wages, hours, and working conditions of the blind in such shops, and that a refusal on the part of management of such shops to deal with the representatives of such associations, or any discrimination by such management against any blind worker by reason of his activity in such association shall be deemed an unfair labor practice and an attack upon the integrity of the blind.
Adopted at the Third Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind held in Des Moines, State of Iowa, June 27, 1942.
J. tenBroek President
J. DeBeer Secretary
2737 Forest Ave. Berkeley, Calif.
108 Morgan Bldg. Bakersfield, Calif.
In 2010 our concern was to ensure that those who wish opportunities outside the workshop system be able to access such employment. In 2001 the Rehabilitation Services Administration defined an employment outcome as “an integrated setting.” State vocational rehabilitation counselors cannot count case closures unless the client has been placed in an integrated setting. National Industries for the Blind is trying to get the definition of employment outcome changed. In Resolution 2010-11, we express our strong opposition to any change in the definition of employment outcome. The vocational rehabilitation program must continue to emphasize employment in integrated settings rather than concentrating on support of National Industries for the Blind or easy case closures for state vocational rehabilitation counselors. Noel Nightingale, a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and a longtime leader in the Washington State affiliate, sponsored this resolution.
Resolutions often follow a predictable pattern. Most year’s resolutions call for various reforms of the Social Security system, improvements in the education of blind children, an end to various forms of discrimination, and better library services. We also usually have resolutions about our current legislative agenda. In keeping with tradition, this year we had resolutions from all of these categories.
As I was perusing the resolutions from the last twenty-three years using the online editions of the Braille Monitor, I was struck by how much progress we have made in reforming the Social Security system. Today recipients are finally receiving notices in alternative formats; college students have a greater opportunity to gain work experience without losing their SSI benefits; and procedures have been improved for beneficiaries who wish to develop a plan for achieving self-support (PASS). However, our work on Social Security is far from finished.
Gary Wunder, the new editor of the Braille Monitor and president of the NFB of Missouri, introduced Resolution 2010-09. In this resolution we urge the U.S. Congress to enact a statute of limitations, not to exceed seven years, in which the Social Security Administration can attempt to retrieve alleged overpayments. The Social Security Administration should be required to share with the beneficiary any evidence concerning the overpayment.
Education reform was a dominant topic on the convention agenda this year. Because of this focus on education, it is no surprise that four resolutions called for various reforms. Our education resolutions clearly demonstrate our persistence. In 1988 Resolution 88-101 (which means it was introduced by the board of directors) reads in part:
Resolve that this organization call upon the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Department of Education to work with the National Federation of the Blind to create model schools that will offer long-term and short-term education and training for blind children, outreach to local school districts, support and assistance to the parents of blind children, and student teacher field placements.
In 2007 Resolution 2007-01 resolves in part:
That this organization adopt policies to establish partnerships with educational institutions, governmental agencies, or other entities that are conducting research on effective educational models for blind students in such institutions as charter schools, public and private educational settings, or any other nonresidential or residential programs of an innovative, cutting-edge nature, provided that satisfactory arrangements can be made, and that this policy shall include, at the discretion of the president, investing our money, personnel, time, energy, and imagination, consistent with our organizational goal of enhancing the educational experience of all blind students in America.
On June 3, 2010, President Maurer convened an education summit at the National Center for the Blind. Resolution 2010-01 was one of the results of this summit. Resolution 2010-01 resolves:
That this organization pursue innovative and nontraditional models for teaching literacy and other blindness skills, including the investigation and establishment of a charter school for blind children and any other model at the discretion of the president; and that the resources of this organization be used to establish such models as will demonstrate the success that will be achieved by high expectations and the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind
Ron Gardner, president of the Utah affiliate, proposed Resolution 2010-01.
The remaining three resolutions on education deal with access issues. Jeannie Massay, secretary of the NFB of Oklahoma, introduced Resolution 2010-10. Jeannie also won a national NFB scholarship in 2009. On March 5, 2010, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology released a draft National Educational Technology Plan. This lengthy plan devotes only a few paragraphs to accessibility for the blind. In this resolution we call upon the U.S. Department of Education to create standards for the development of accessible educational technologies.
A recent trend in education is to teach science online by using virtual laboratories. This method of instruction puts a blind student at a serious disadvantage because of the visual nature of the content. Resolution 2010-14 addresses our concern about this method of instruction. In this resolution we urge the U.S. Department of Education to mandate that all hands-on and virtual laboratory learning experiences be accessible to blind students. When Congress reauthorizes the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, it should include legal recourse for parents and students who are denied access to experiences in science. Chelsea Cook, a 2010 national scholarship winner who is also second vice president of the Writers’ Division, secretary of the Science and Engineering Division, and a board member of the Virginia Association of Blind Students, sponsored this resolution.
The last education resolution, 2010-17, which concerns online testing, was introduced by Gary Wunder. It resolves in part:
That until such time as electronically administered tests and study materials are as useable by the blind as they are by the sighted, this organization insist that all materials be made available in hard-copy Braille, large print, and such other alternative formats as may be necessary to ensure that preparation for and administration of tests are equally accessible to people who are blind.
This year the Convention passed two resolutions calling for an end to discrimination. Both came from people who are active in NFB divisions. Vincent Chaney, a board member of the Diabetes Action Network and a leader who also holds several offices in the New Jersey affiliate, sponsored Resolution 2010-13. In this resolution we urge both federal and state officials to require government insurance programs and private insurance companies to end discrimination by covering accessible equipment for diabetics.
Marion Gwizdala, president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, proposed Resolution 2010-25, which describes why state laws prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations need to be strengthened. We urge states to ensure that their laws conform with the Americans with Disabilities Act. We also urge state legislatures to enact criminal penalties for acts of discrimination against guide dog users.
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) has provided invaluable service to blind people. In 2008 NLS discontinued interlibrary loan of digital audio materials from foreign producers. Since this policy reduces our access to books, in Resolution 2010-19 we urge NLS to remedy this situation immediately. David Hyde, chairman of the NFB library committee, which holds a meeting at every convention, and a member of the board of directors of the Wisconsin affiliate, was the proponent of this resolution.
During the 2010 Washington Seminar we discussed three issues with members of Congress. The Convention passed resolutions regarding these issues. For many years we have been warning various government officials of the dangers of quiet cars. As Resolution 2010-02 indicates, we have made significant progress on this issue. House and Senate committees have completed work on the 2010 Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which will mandate the U.S. Department of Transportation to promulgate regulations to require that electric and hybrid vehicles sold in the U.S. be equipped with an alert sound to allow blind pedestrians to maintain the right to safe and independent travel. We hope that both houses of Congress will pass this legislation by the time you are reading this article. Debbie Stein, chair of the committee on automobile and pedestrian safety, editor of Future Reflections, and first vice president of the Illinois affiliate, sponsored this resolution.
Corbb O’Connor, a tenBroek Fellow who won national scholarships in 2006 and 2009 and is president of the Virginia Association of Blind Students, sponsored Resolution 2010-06. In this resolution we urge Congress to pass the Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind, H.R. 4533.
The Social Security Disability Insurance Program must be reformed so that blind recipients can return to work without losing all of their benefits. To remind Congress of the need for this reform, Kim Williams, president of the NFB of Tennessee and first vice president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, sponsored Resolution 2010-18. In this resolution we urge the U.S. Senate to include provisions of the Blind Persons Return to Work Act of 2010 in the Senate jobs bill.
Rising expectations by the blind to participate in all aspects of community life led Ronza Othman, a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and a leader in the Maryland affiliate who also won a national scholarship in 2006, to propose Resolution 2010-05. In today’s society, in which forms of communication abound, the U.S. Census Bureau is still using paper forms as its major way to collect data. As stated in this resolution, the Census Bureau should develop mechanisms to allow blind persons to participate independently in all of its data-collection programs by April 2011.
A newer subject, which has become a traditional one for resolutions, is access. The first resolution regarding access to technology was passed by the Convention in 1988. In Resolution 1988-13 we call upon the Rehabilitation Services Administration to recognize adaptive computer technology for the blind as an essential educational and rehabilitative tool for blind clients and urge state agencies to purchase this technology and computers for the blind. We have come a long way since 1988.
The next access resolution passed by the Convention came in 1992. I have included this resolution to demonstrate the progress that we have made since 1992.
WHEREAS, Windows and other computer programs incorporating the Graphical User Interface (GUI) are being used by public and private employers; and
WHEREAS, these programs cannot be accessed by blind people using current screen-access products: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, that we call upon public and private employers to provide equal access for the blind to all computer programs using the Graphical User Interface with the understanding that equal access may vary for different programs and applications; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we request all commercial software developers to work with the organized blind and with developers of screen-access technology to insure that all Graphical User Interface applications are accessible to the blind.
While access to computers is greater than it was in 1992, we face many more complex challenges to gaining access to many more products and services. We have a tradition in the NFB of taking on hard challenges and sticking with them until we resolve them. Access as it is reflected in our resolutions is a great example of this tradition.
From 1992 to the present access resolutions have become more dominant in the list of subjects considered by the Convention. This year the Convention passed ten resolutions on various types of access. Many of these resolutions state our views on hot topics for all Americans. One such example is healthcare reform. Mike Freeman, a national board member, president of the Diabetes Action Network, and president of the Washington affiliate, sponsored Resolution 2010-21. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is currently promulgating regulations for health information technology programs that were mandated by the 2010 Healthcare Reform Act. In this resolution we urge the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to include requirements for the manufacture of accessible diabetic devices in these regulations.
The Convention passed two resolutions regarding the interaction between assistive technologies and other computer applications. Curtis Chong, president of the NFB in Computer Science Division and treasurer of the Iowa affiliate, introduced Resolution 2010-12. In this resolution we call upon the manufacturers of screen-access technologies to provide information to make it easier for software developers of mainstream applications to design their applications to be accessible.
Jennifer Dunnam serves as president of the NFB of Minnesota and also represents the Federation on the Braille Authority of North America. She sponsored Resolution 2010-20. In this resolution we urge manufacturers and designers of notetakers with refreshable Braille displays to provide better integration with mainstream devices, applications, and data. We also urge local school districts to provide blind students with refreshable Braille displays and to consider the need for integration with mainstream devices, applications, and data when making purchasing decisions.
This year the Convention passed two resolutions concerning access to transportation information and services. Two longtime transportation advocates in the NFB of Illinois, Jemal Powell and Steve Hastalis, proposed Resolution 2010-04. When designing Websites, fare cards, and other information technologies and services, too many mass transit systems either totally overlook or provide minimal nonvisual access. The remedy that we call for in this resolution is to urge the Federal Transit Administration and the American Public Transportation Association to work with the National Federation of the Blind to develop best practices that will result in greater nonvisual access to their information technologies and services.
Shawn Whalen, second vice president of the National Association of Blind Students and a scholarship winner in 2006, introduced Resolution 2010-15 because too many airline Websites are inaccessible to the blind. The U.S. Department of Transportation issued regulations requiring airlines to offer people with disabilities the same deals and discounts if they had to use the phone because the Website was not accessible. Airlines do not follow these regulations. Resolution 2010-15 states that a better approach would be for the secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue new regulations requiring airlines to maintain accessible Websites.
The right to read and to have access to print information was the subject of two resolutions this year. In Resolution 2010-08 we urge all eBook-reader developers and content providers to allow equal access by the blind to the interfaces of their eReaders and to the content of eBooks. Arielle Silverman, president of the National Association of Blind Students and a scholarship winner in 2003, sponsored this resolution.
It is not surprising that a lawyer introduced Resolution 2010-24 because it deals with international copyright questions. Scott LaBarre, president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and president of the NFB of Colorado, sponsored this resolution. International copyright law does not currently permit the sharing of accessible texts across international borders, which has resulted in a worldwide famine of accessible books for the blind. To address this problem, the Federation worked with the World Blind Union to draft a proposed treaty that would legalize the cross-border sharing of accessible books. In Resolution 2010-24 we reaffirm our commitment to this treaty and urge all other parties to join with us to make the treaty a reality.
The last three resolutions that I will describe in this article deal with access to products. Everette Bacon, a member of the board of directors of the NFB of Utah and president of the Salt Lake City Chapter, introduced Resolution 2010-03. In this resolution we demand that Google make a tangible commitment to accessibility in all of its products and services.
In Resolution 2010-22 we condemn and deplore the release of inaccessible basic cell phones and smart phones by manufacturers. We also demand that manufacturers follow the lead of Apple and immediately take steps to provide equal access for the blind to all current and future basic cell phones and smart phones. Michael Barber, president of the Assistive Technology Trainers Division and president of the NFB of Iowa, introduced this resolution.
Ben Prows, second vice president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and a board member of the NFB of Washington State, sponsored Resolution 2010-23. Although Sirius XM is a radio service, the units the subscribers must purchase in order to receive the service have visual displays to convey information to the listener, such as the title and artist of the current song being played. In this resolution, we urge Sirius XM Radio, Inc., to make its receivers fully accessible to blind subscribers.
This article is merely an introductory discussion of the resolutions considered by the Convention. By longstanding tradition the complete text of each resolution is reprinted below. Readers should study the text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects.
WHEREAS, literacy rates among blind children remain unacceptably low as demonstrated by statistics showing that only 10 percent of today’s blind students under age twenty-two are being taught to read Braille, resulting in an unacceptably low (45 percent) high-school graduation rate for blind students; and
WHEREAS, approximately 70 percent of blind people nationwide are not employed, but of those blind people who are employed, 85 percent or more use Braille in the workplace, demonstrating a clear relationship among literacy, confidence, and success; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has been the leader in encouraging legislative reform, but, despite the improvement that gives Braille a stated priority in the delivery of educational services to a blind child, school administrators and the lawyers who represent them continue to find ways to avoid their responsibility to provide appropriate Braille literacy educational services, and the results of that legal process more often than not yield ineffective and inadequate remedies; and
WHEREAS, even in those infrequent cases in which a parent or advocate is successful in obtaining improved services for a blind child, the due process hearing does not improve educational services generally because the remedies, however beneficial, are limited to that child; and
WHEREAS, too many parents of blind children remain frustrated with the ineffective remedies provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) because, even if they file for a due process hearing, the due process hearing officer, following judicial precedent, finds that a blind child is receiving a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), even when “minimal educational benefit” results from the educational services to the blind child; and
WHEREAS, even with the presumption that Braille will be included in a child’s individualized education program (IEP) as required in current federal and most state laws, if a child is taught Braille, it often occurs after the child has no remaining vision or at best insufficient vision to read print, resulting in the child’s learning to read in the upper grades or later when the opportunity to establish real literacy skills is diminished or altogether past; and
WHEREAS, assessments performed by well-meaning but ill-informed professionals demonstrate that a child has enough vision to read print but do not take into consideration a diagnosis that inevitably portends the inability to read print, and reports from around the country indicate that blind children are still not getting their books on time despite the clear requirement in federal and state law that books be provided on time; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind convened a meeting of parents of blind children, lawyers, educators and teachers of blind children, elected leaders of the blind, and other blindness professionals for the purpose of discussing innovative and effective ways to improve the delivery of educational services, including the teaching of Braille; and
WHEREAS, the Braille Readers are Leaders initiative, established by the National Federation of the Blind in July 2008, has a primary goal of ensuring that the number of blind students able to read Braille will double by 2015; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind is the leading force in the field of blindness, possesses the collective experience of thousands of blind people (an accumulated body of knowledge about blindness education) and has an unwavering will to improve educational opportunities for all blind students: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization pursue innovative and nontraditional models for teaching literacy and other blindness skills, including the investigation and establishment of a charter school for blind children and any other model at the discretion of the president and that the resources of this organization be used to establish models that will demonstrate the success achieved by high expectations and the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge teachers of blind students, state special education agencies, organizations of and for the blind, and others responsible for the education of blind children to take all other steps necessary to join the National Federation of the Blind in ensuring that the number of blind students who are able to read and write Braille competently doubles by 2015.
WHEREAS, on January 28, 2009, Congressmen Edolphus Towns of New York and Cliff Stearns of Florida introduced the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 (H.R. 734); and
WHEREAS, this legislation directs the secretary of transportation to issue a motor vehicle safety standard to address the dangers posed to blind and other pedestrians by silent hybrid and electric vehicles; and
WHEREAS, on April 21, 2009, Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania introduced companion legislation in the United States Senate (S. 841); and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has worked actively to gain cosponsor support for this important legislation to preserve the right to independent travel for blind pedestrians; and
WHEREAS, in September 2009 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a report stating that hybrid and electric vehicles are twice as likely to be involved in pedestrian accidents as traditional internal-combustion-engine vehicles when operating at low speed; and
WHEREAS, the United States Congress has recently introduced the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 (H.R. 5381 in the House of Representatives and S. 3302 in the Senate) to address safety concerns related to unintended rapid acceleration and sticky pedals in some automobiles; and
WHEREAS, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce unanimously agreed to Congressman Stearns’s amendment to include provisions of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 at the committee markup of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 on May 26, 2010; and
WHEREAS, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation also included a similar amendment offered by Senator Kerry during its markup of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 on June 9, 2010; and
WHEREAS, the number of hybrid and electric vehicles on America’s roadways continues to increase; and
WHEREAS, passage of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 will mandate that regulations be promulgated by the Department of Transportation to provide that electric and hybrid vehicles sold in the United States must be equipped with an alert sound, which is recognizable as a motor vehicle, in order to allow blind pedestrians to maintain the right to safe and independent travel: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization urge Congress to pass the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 to ensure that regulations will be issued to protect the right to safe and independent travel for blind pedestrians; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization commend Congressmen Towns and Stearns and Senators Kerry and Specter for their leadership on this issue as demonstrated by their work to ensure that provisions of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 were included in the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization commend the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers for working with the National Federation of the Blind and for supporting the inclusion of provisions of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 in the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010.
WHEREAS, Google is the leading Internet search engine, used by both blind and sighted people in the United States and throughout the world; and
WHEREAS, in addition to its powerful search engine, Google, Inc., offers an ever-increasing number of digital and electronic products and services, including but not limited to Gmail, Google Maps, Google Calendar, Google Books, Google TV, Google Wave, and the Android operating system for smart phones; and
WHEREAS, while Google’s basic search function is accessible to and usable by the blind and Google has promised accessibility to some of its other products and services (especially Google Books, pending the approval of the legal settlement related to that product), many of its other services are either inaccessible or not fully accessible; and
WHEREAS, while Google provides a screen-access solution called Talkback for phones using the Android operating system, the company provides no customer support for users of Talkback except YouTube videos posted by one of its employees, and Talkback does not provide access to all the functions available in Android; and
WHEREAS, blind people find using Google Calendar difficult because among other things clickable regions of the screen are not always identified by screen-access software as clickable due to improper application coding; and
WHEREAS, when Google Maps data are embedded on third-party Websites, Google directs blind users seeking full access to those data to use an alternative, inferior accessibility interface through which they have difficulty accessing critical features of Google Maps such as turn-by-turn driving directions; and
WHEREAS, Google continues to roll out and announce the future availability of new services, but blind people too often find to their dismay that these services are not accessible; and
WHEREAS, apparently Google does not plan to make new services such as Google Wave and Google TV accessible; and
WHEREAS, Google’s corporate motto is “Don’t be evil,” but the company is certainly failing to do good consistently for its blind users: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization demand that Google make a serious, identifiable commitment to accessibility in all of its products and services and avoid the future release of products and services that are inaccessible to its blind users.
WHEREAS, public transportation can be a critical tool in helping blind people participate fully in the economic, political, and social life of their communities; and
WHEREAS, mass transit systems increasingly use technology to provide information and services to customers; and
WHEREAS, schedules, routing information, and reservations are examples of information and services available to customers on the Websites of mass transit systems; and
WHEREAS, customers are increasingly required to use electronic fare cards, but the machines that read them can often not be used independently by the blind; and
WHEREAS, mass transit systems are beginning to provide specific, up-to-the-minute location information about buses to customers at bus stops; and
WHEREAS, when designing Websites, fare cards, and other information technology and services, too many mass transit systems either totally overlook or provide minimal nonvisual access to their technology, ignoring the access requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization insist that the U.S. Department of Transportation take all necessary steps to ensure compliance with access laws by mass transit systems; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the Federal Transit Administration and the American Public Transportation Association to work with the National Federation of the Blind to develop best practices that result in enhanced nonvisual access to mass transit system information technology and services.
WHEREAS, all Americans are required to provide census data under Title 13, United States Code, Sections 143 and 191; and
WHEREAS, data collected through the census are used for legislative redistricting as well as the allocation of over $400 billion in government funding to public projects such as schools, road and infrastructure construction, hospital and healthcare services, rehabilitation programs, and disaster preparedness projects, all of which affect the blind just as they do all other Americans; and
WHEREAS, the United States Census Bureau originally permitted 2010 Census participation only through the completion of a paper form that was mailed to American households, and the Census Bureau had not developed a strategy for obtaining such data by alternate means; and
WHEREAS, after learning that the original strategy for collecting census data barred meaningful and independent participation by the nation’s blind, the Census Bureau promptly recalibrated its strategy to permit blind individuals to complete the 2010 census form by calling a toll-free phone number or by requesting a census worker to conduct an in-person visit; and
WHEREAS, the Census Bureau administers the American Community Survey to a portion of American households annually by employing the same data-collection strategies as the decennial census; and
WHEREAS, these alternatives still preclude the blind from independently providing census data: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization strongly urge the United States Bureau of the Census to develop and implement mechanisms for blind Americans to submit decennial census data independently and participate in annual Community Surveys no later than April 2011; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization insist upon being involved in the development of such mechanisms or policies to ensure that the blind can comply with federal law and participate meaningfully and independently in the census.
WHEREAS, rapid advances in digital technology have led to the increased use of touch screens and interactive visual interfaces, replacing traditional controls such as knobs, switches, and buttons on consumer electronics, home appliances, kiosks, and office equipment and technology; and
WHEREAS, this major shift in technology has rendered most consumer electronics, home appliances, kiosks, and office equipment and technology inaccessible through nonvisual means, widening the digital divide between blind consumers and their sighted peers and threatening the employment, independence, and productivity of blind people; and
WHEREAS, methods (such as text-to-speech and sound cues) exist for manufacturers to make their products accessible; and
WHEREAS, accessibility is relatively easy and inexpensive to implement when it is incorporated into the design of a product from the outset; and
WHEREAS, Apple, Inc., has demonstrated the feasibility of incorporating access for blind consumers by incorporating text-to-speech technology in its entire line of touch-screen consumer electronic products, allowing blind consumers to use these products without the addition of third-party applications; and
WHEREAS, the ability to access and use all functions of consumer electronics, home appliances, kiosks, and office equipment and technology independently is essential to a blind person’s independence, productivity, and employment; and
WHEREAS, on January 27, 2010, Congresswoman Janice Schakowsky of Illinois introduced the Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind (H.R. 4533) to address the growing trend of inaccessible consumer electronics, home appliances, kiosks, and office equipment and technology; and
WHEREAS, this legislation would establish an office within the Department of Commerce to conduct a study on how consumer products can be made accessible to the blind, and then establish minimum nonvisual access standards for consumer electronics, home appliances, kiosks, and office equipment and technology: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization urge the United States Congress to pass the Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization commend Congresswoman Schakowsky for her introduction and championship of this initiative.
WHEREAS, the Randolph-Sheppard Act applies to all federal agencies, including the United States Postal Service; and
WHEREAS, the Postal Service has at best been inconsistent historically in honoring the Randolph-Sheppard priority, resulting in lost opportunities for blind entrepreneurs; and
WHEREAS, the Postal Service entered into a nationwide contract with a private entity to provide cafeteria and vending services that are covered by the Randolph-Sheppard priority without seeking the input of state licensing agencies (SLAs), the Rehabilitation Services Administration, or Randolph-Sheppard entrepreneurs; and
WHEREAS, the Postal Service has failed to ensure that this private contractor is following the procedures negotiated with the Randolph-Sheppard community to ensure that any food service opportunity is declined in writing by an SLA prior to turning it over to its contractor; and
WHEREAS, the Postal Service has refused to provide SLAs with complete lists of food service opportunities in each state to facilitate the independent determination of whether Postmasters and the national contractor are following the law; and
WHEREAS, under this nationwide contract both the Postal Service and the private contractor have a financial incentive not to comply with the Randolph-Sheppard Act; and
WHEREAS, the contractor has not consistently complied with the Randolph-Sheppard Act, resulting in the further denial of opportunities to blind entrepreneurs and imposing an additional obstacle to obtaining the Postal Service’s full compliance with the Randolph-Sheppard Act: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization condemn and deplore the continued failure of the United States Postal Service to comply with the Randolph-Sheppard Act and demand that the Postal Service cancel its nationwide cafeteria and vending contract so that these opportunities can be provided to blind entrepreneurs in accordance with the law.
WHEREAS, the ability to read is critical to living a well-informed personal and professional life; and
WHEREAS, blindness and some other disabilities pose challenges to accessing all available written information fully and efficiently; and
WHEREAS, text-to-speech technology has helped to remove these access barriers for the approximately thirty million blind and otherwise print-disabled people living in the United States; and
WHEREAS, this heretofore untapped community of eager consumers promises to benefit publishers and authors; and
WHEREAS, while a few eReading applications and devices take advantage of text-to-speech technology to deliver the content of commercially available eBooks to the blind and others with print disabilities and other providers of eReading solutions are promising to provide access, many such devices and applications, such as the Sony Reader and Barnes and Noble Nook, are still inaccessible to the blind and print-disabled, and some publishers are still resistant to allowing this population to access eBooks; and
WHEREAS, at least two major publishers, Random House and Simon and Schuster, are still preventing text-to-speech access to all of their titles available for the Amazon Kindle eReader; and
WHEREAS, despite repeated promises of access by Amazon, the Kindle eReader device and the Kindle applications for personal computers and other devices are still inaccessible to blind users, denying them access to even those eBooks that are available with text-to-speech; and
WHEREAS, the solutions employed by some publishers to provide access such as making their books available through third-party services like Bookshare.org, are ultimately inadequate because they do not serve all Americans with print disabilities and rely on the discredited logic of separate-but-equal access for the blind and print-disabled; and
WHEREAS, any attempt by authors or publishers to restrict text-to-speech access to eBooks that are not available as audiobooks violates the spirit of a joint statement agreed to by the Reading Rights Coalition (of which the National Federation of the Blind is a founding member), the Authors Guild, and the Association of American Publishers, which states in part:
The Reading Rights Coalition, the Authors Guild, and the Association of American Publishers believe that the contents of books should be as accessible to individuals with print disabilities as they are to everyone else. To that end these groups agree to work together and through the communities they represent to ensure that, when the marketplace offers alternative formats to print books such as audio and electronic books, print-disabled consumers can access the contents of these alternative formats to the same extent as all other consumers; and
WHEREAS, civil rights laws and policies in the United States oppose and protect against acts that thwart equal access and equitable treatment of the blind and other people with print disabilities: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization reaffirm its call for accessible eBooks and urge all government procurement agencies, schools, institutions of higher education, and libraries to exercise diligence in complying with technology-procurement requirements and state and federal disability nondiscrimination laws and to insist that mobile eBook readers and eBooks have accessible text-to-speech; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge all eBook reader developers and content providers to allow equal access by the blind and others with print disabilities to the interfaces of their eReaders and to the content of eBooks; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization commend those providers of eBooks and eBook readers that have incorporated accessibility for the blind and others with print disabilities in their products and services.
WHEREAS, many blind people who receive Social Security Disability Insurance find that, after receiving benefits for years, they are notified by letter that a review of their records indicates that they have been substantially overpaid; and
WHEREAS, it is not uncommon for the Social Security Administration to make a determination of overpayment more than twenty years after the fact, requiring that the recipient of benefits produce data showing they were indeed entitled to the benefits they received in order to appeal the determination; and
WHEREAS, the record-keeping requirements that this practice imposes on beneficiaries exceed even those of the Internal Revenue Service and often present an impossible challenge to the individual recipient, who often has limited space for filing records; and
WHEREAS, this practice also places an undue demand on former employers to supply records, a demand that they are often unable to meet: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization urge the United States Congress to enact a statute of limitations, not to exceed seven years, in which the Social Security Administration can attempt to retrieve alleged overpayments; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the Congress to require the Social Security Administration to share with the beneficiary such evidence as it has in arriving at its determination that an overpayment has been made.
WHEREAS, on March 5, 2010, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology released a draft National Educational Technology Plan (NETP) for 2010 entitled “Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology”; and
WHEREAS, although the NETP embraces principles of universal design, it addresses the specific issue of accessibility to the blind and others with disabilities in only a few paragraphs of its more than one hundred pages; and
WHEREAS, at present blind students are consigned to separate and unequal access to educational materials due to inaccessible technology or the failure to convert materials into an accessible format in a timely manner; and
WHEREAS, with twenty-first century technology, there is no reason why all educational materials cannot be made immediately accessible to blind students; and
WHEREAS, mainstream access for the print disabled occurs when it is demanded by educational institutions or by state or federal authorities, as evidenced by (1) the latest version of Blackboard’s becoming substantially more accessible after California State University refused to allow Blackboard to bid on a contract while its course management software was inaccessible; (2) iTunes U’s becoming fully accessible after the NFB and the Massachusetts Attorney General threatened Apple’s collegiate partners with lawsuits; and (3) Amazon’s announcing it would produce an accessible Kindle after the Department of Justice secured consent decrees from five colleges using the device in pilot projects to terminate those projects; and
WHEREAS, the United States Department of Education has an unprecedented opportunity to provide the leadership necessary to ensure that emerging educational technologies include equal access for the blind and others with disabilities in their design and that manufacturers view equal access as the expected standard: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization express our serious concern that the NETP fails to recognize the need for the United States Department of Education to provide concentrated leadership, in both policy and practice, in order to ensure that blind students and other students with disabilities can take full advantage of the opportunities offered by emerging educational technologies in America’s classrooms; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge the Department of Education to recognize that accessibility of educational technology to the blind and other students with disabilities must play a more prominent role within and throughout the NETP; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the United States Department of Education to conduct research in collaboration with the National Federation of the Blind and other blindness and print-disability organizations to create standards for the development of accessible educational technologies and then to issue regulations requiring manufacturers of educational technology to adhere to such standards when producing new technologies, once such standards are published, ensuring that the nonvisual experience with technology is as rich as the visual experience and that there is equal ease of access to all functions of the technology, whether it is being used visually or nonvisually.
WHEREAS, blind people are capable of working with the sighted, playing with the sighted, and living with the sighted on terms of complete equality; and
WHEREAS, the blind seek the day when we no longer need to assert our civil rights to be given equal opportunities and to be treated on terms of equality with our sighted peers, but that day will only come if our lives are fully integrated with those of the sighted; and
WHEREAS, in enacting the Rehabilitation Act, Congress found that the blind have the right to enjoy full inclusion and integration in the economic, political, social, cultural, and educational mainstream of American society; and
WHEREAS, following congressional intent, in January 2001 the U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) issued regulations that redefined the term “employment outcome” as an outcome in which an individual with a disability enters full or part-time competitive employment in an integrated setting; and
WHEREAS, before redefining what constitutes an employment outcome recognizable in the vocational rehabilitation program, many state vocational rehabilitation agencies limited their blind clients’ opportunities to sheltered, nonintegrated settings, relegating them to working in positions that pay less than their sighted counterparts receive in the competitive labor market, to poor opportunity for career advancement, and to work settings with little opportunity to work alongside their sighted peers; and
WHEREAS, National Industries for the Blind (NIB) has recently requested that RSA issue guidelines stating that an employment outcome recognizable by the vocational rehabilitation program include placement of individuals who are blind and are working in NIB’s AbilityOne network of agencies; and
WHEREAS, NIB’s primary purpose for requesting a change in the definition of “employment outcome” is to give state vocational rehabilitation agencies the ability to count placement in NIB programs as successful employment outcomes for purposes of meeting RSA’s mandatory standards and indicators; and
WHEREAS, although at present NIB’s policy is that the blind should be paid at least the minimum wage, several NIB workshops do not adhere to this policy, and NIB officials maintain that they cannot require the workshops to do so; and
WHEREAS, blind people must be allowed to determine for themselves whether an NIB program is their desired employment outcome and not be subjected to a vocational rehabilitation system incentivized to achieve easy placements: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization condemn and deplore National Industries for the Blind’s campaign to change the definition of an “employment outcome”; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration to retain the current definition of “employment outcome,” which will continue to place the emphasis of rehabilitation on employment in integrated settings rather than on easy closure of cases or the support of National Industries for the Blind.
WHEREAS, the ability of blind computer users to use fully the functions available in word processors, email clients, database programs, Web browsers, and other Windows-based applications requires screen-access software to have the information it needs to provide meaningful information in speech, refreshable Braille, or magnification; and
WHEREAS, despite a tremendous amount of information published by Microsoft about developing accessible applications, the accessibility guidelines and recommendations promulgated by the Worldwide Web Consortium through its Web Access Initiative, and the standards and guidelines implementing Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, not enough information is available for the well-intentioned Windows application developer who poses the question to the screen-access software developer, "What can I do to make my application accessible to the blind users of your program?"; and
WHEREAS, by contrast, developers of applications designed to run on Apple platforms such as the Macintosh and the iPhone are provided a rich set of guidelines and application programming interfaces designed to maximize accessibility to end users of Apple products who rely on access technology; and
WHEREAS, experience has shown that, from the perspective of the blind computer user of Windows software, the most accessible application is the one that can pass meaningful information directly to the screen-access program--either through a well-documented application programming interface or by painting the screen in a way that is calculated to generate meaningful output from the screen-access technology: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization call upon the manufacturers of Windows-based screen-access technology for the blind to do one or both of the following to enable application developers to maximize the accessibility of their software to the blind: (1) develop a well-documented application programming interface (API) through which application software can exchange meaningful information with screen-access technology; and (2) publish clear and definitive guidelines for application developers that will enable them to make their applications truly accessible to the blind end user.
WHEREAS, standard medical treatment for diabetics calls for the patient to monitor blood glucose levels so that he or she can make adjustments in the amount of insulin needed; and
WHEREAS, certain health insurance plans dictate what brand of diabetic equipment a member must use to comply with the treatment regimen, claiming that this strategy controls costs for both the insurer and the insured; and
WHEREAS, most insurance companies contract strictly with one manufacturer, who typically provides only inaccessible blood glucose meters and inaccessible insulin injection devices, presenting a serious obstacle to complying with the testing regimen for tens of thousands of blind people with diabetes; and
WHEREAS, the failure to place accessible blood glucose meters and accessible insulin injection devices on the insurers’ formulary lists not only is a barrier to independence for blind diabetics, but also adversely affects their quality of life because of the added difficulties they must confront in attempting to manage and control their diabetes; and
WHEREAS, the only way blind diabetics can acquire an accessible blood glucose meter or accessible insulin injection device is through a long and complicated process of submitting extensive medical documentation, and approval is not guaranteed; and
WHEREAS, blind people have the same right to health care as their sighted peers; and
WHEREAS, insurance companies must no longer be allowed to discriminate against blind people because of their need for specialized equipment; and
WHEREAS, the denial of accessible equipment by insurance companies undermines the emphasis on preventive care set forth in the 2010 federal healthcare reform legislation: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization strongly urge the secretary of health and human services to eliminate discrimination against the blind by requiring that Medicare, Medicaid, and all other medical insurance programs under the secretary’s jurisdiction cover accessible equipment for diabetics; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge state legislatures and regulators to eliminate discrimination against the blind by requiring private medical insurance companies to cover accessible equipment for diabetics.
WHEREAS, science classes have presented access barriers to the blind for decades; and
WHEREAS, these barriers have been created by a lack of accessible equipment and materials and by misconceptions held by science faculty and teachers of the blind about the capabilities of the blind in these curricula; and
WHEREAS, these misconceptions have contributed to a significantly lower percentage of blind students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); and
WHEREAS, increasingly school districts across the United States have replaced hands-on science learning with online virtual laboratory experiences; and
WHEREAS, many of these virtual laboratory experiences are not accessible using the access technology employed by blind students, thereby denying them the experience of scientific exploration and discovery; and
WHEREAS, this lack of educational experience and opportunity will further decrease the number of blind students seeking to enter STEM professions; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind is creating greater understanding among teachers by offering challenging STEM-related programs that serve as a demonstration of the techniques that can be used to integrate the blind into STEM courses: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization urge the United States Department of Education to mandate that all hands-on and virtual laboratory learning experiences be accessible to blind students so that they can have the same educational opportunities as their sighted classmates; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization promote legislation as part of the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to provide parents and blind students with legal recourse provisions in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) to require that a school provide a hands-on science learning experience if an accessible virtual one cannot be offered; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge technology companies to work with the National Federation of the Blind to eliminate the accessibility barriers to virtual laboratory learning experiences, making them more accessible to the blind of this nation.
WHEREAS, in an age in which the Internet increasingly dominates the way business is conducted, air carriers usually make their lowest fares and deepest discounts available only to those customers who book travel through airline Websites; and
WHEREAS, while booking air travel online can be convenient, blind passengers cannot always take advantage of this service because of accessibility barriers on airline Websites; and
WHEREAS, in recognition of this fact the Department of Transportation issued regulations requiring that, if a passenger with a disability cannot use an airline Website to book travel because it is inaccessible and instead calls the airline’s customer service number, the airline must offer the passenger the same air fares and discounts available on the Website over the telephone and must waive any fee for the use of the telephone service; and
WHEREAS, a recent study conducted by Dr. Jonathan Lazar, director of the Universal Usability Laboratory (UUL) at Towson University in Maryland, and some of his students found that Websites operated by four out of the ten U.S. airlines that were studied--Alaska Airlines, JetBlue Airlines, United Airlines, and US Airways--contain accessibility barriers that prevent blind users from booking travel on these Websites; and
WHEREAS, this study, which will be published in Government Information Quarterly, further found that, when the call centers of these four airlines were contacted by study participants who identified themselves as blind people needing to book travel by telephone because they could not access the airline’s Website, the airlines did not always follow the Department of Transportation regulations requiring them to offer the same air fares to blind customers who call their customer service lines and to waive the fee for using their call center instead of their Website, even when specifically informed by the caller of these regulations; and
WHEREAS, the most egregious violators of these regulations were United Airlines and US Airways, which failed to follow one or both of these regulatory requirements in at least a third and as many as 46 percent of the calls placed to them; and
WHEREAS, the results of this study are a textbook example of why government agencies and businesses must not rely on a philosophy of separate-but-equal access for blind customers, since in reality separate is never equal; and
WHEREAS, the only way to ensure truly equal access by the blind and to prevent discrimination is to require air carriers to maintain accessible Websites that allow blind customers to perform all of the functions that sighted customers can perform, particularly the booking of air travel: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization urge the secretary of transportation to issue regulations requiring all air carriers to maintain accessible Websites that allow blind customers to perform all of the functions available to sighted customers, including the booking of air travel; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that the four airlines whose Websites were identified as having accessibility barriers take immediate steps to remove those barriers and allow blind customers full and equal access to their Websites and specifically to the ability to book air travel online.
WHEREAS, the Randolph-Sheppard Act applies to all federal contracts and permits for cafeteria and food services on federal property; and
WHEREAS, the Randolph-Sheppard Act takes priority over the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act in contracts for cafeteria and food services; and
WHEREAS, notwithstanding the Randolph-Sheppard Act’s priority, the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled routinely seeks to add cafeteria and food services to its procurement list without notice to the Rehabilitation Services Administration or the affected state licensing agencies; and
WHEREAS, the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled also routinely seeks to add mess-attendant or dining-facilities-attendant services to the procurement list without notice to the Rehabilitation Services Administration or the affected state licensing agencies and without providing information from which it can be determined whether the services fall under the Randolph-Sheppard Act; and
WHEREAS, the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled has refused to respond to requests for information about services proposed for addition to the procurement list: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization condemn and deplore the actions of the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled in continuing to place on the procurement list services that fall under the Randolph-Sheppard Act; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization condemn and deplore the refusal of the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled to follow appropriate, transparent, and accountable practices to determine which contracts should be placed on the procurement list; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled and other federal agencies to provide full details about the services proposed for addition to the procurement list so that all interested stakeholders can be assured that the addition complies with all applicable laws; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions to take such actions as will require the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled to comply with the law.
WHEREAS, many school districts throughout the country are now using online test preparation sites, such as Study Island by CTB/McGraw-Hill, to aid their students in readying themselves for the assessments used in their states to determine progress in meeting the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act and other end-of-course requirements; and
WHEREAS, Study Island and other preparation and testing sites have failed to incorporate adequate accessibility features to allow blind or visually impaired students to access all of the needed information to prepare for and take pretests; and
WHEREAS, this inaccessibility is evidenced in designs that convey essential information to the student by using color, strike-throughs, unlabeled graphics, and split frames, all of which create barriers for the blind student; and
WHEREAS, these barriers result in blind test takers’ being evaluated more on the accessibility of the computer programs used to administer the pretests than on the content the test is intended to measure; and
WHEREAS, cooperation with organizations of and for the blind can result in software solutions that ensure equality of opportunity to blind students preparing for these all-important tests: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization call upon the United States Department of Education to ensure that any test preparation company receiving a contract to produce statewide or national tests or study materials build accessibility features into its software and make its Websites accessible to the blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that until such time as electronically administered tests and study materials are as usable by the blind as they are by the sighted, this organization insist that all materials be made available in hard-copy Braille, large print, and such other alternative formats as may be necessary to ensure that preparation for and administration of tests are equally accessible to blind people.
WHEREAS, on January 28, 2010, Senators Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and John McCain of Arizona introduced the Blind Persons Return to Work Act of 2010 (S. 2962), the Senate companion to the Blind Persons Return to Work Act of 2009 (H.R. 886), introduced in the House last year by Congressman John Lewis of Georgia; and
WHEREAS, this legislation would encourage blind people to reach their full employment potential by reforming the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program so that blind beneficiaries will lose only one dollar of benefits for every three dollars earned over the monthly limit, instead of losing all benefits when they exceed this limit; and
WHEREAS, this legislation will also relieve administrative burdens for both the Social Security Administration and blind beneficiaries by changing the monthly earnings test to an annual test and by setting a fixed deduction for impairment-related work expenses; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has worked tirelessly for well over ten years to remove the disincentive to work in the SSDI program so that blind beneficiaries can transition from SSDI to the workforce without being penalized for doing so; and
WHEREAS, in 1999 Congress recognized this problem and passed Ticket to Work legislation that was supposed to establish a demonstration project to test the viability of a two-for-one earnings-to-benefit reduction program; and
WHEREAS, despite over ten years’ having elapsed, the demonstration project has yet to begin because of changes in leadership and disagreements among actuaries; and
WHEREAS, with a 70 percent rate of unemployment and underemployment for the blind, we cannot wait for the stalled demonstration project to begin; and
WHEREAS, the United States Senate is working on a jobs bill to address the high unemployment rate across America, which affects people with disabilities even more than the rest of the population: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization urge the United States Senate to include provisions of the Blind Persons Return to Work Act of 2010 in the Senate jobs bill to ensure that blind people can successfully enter the workforce and reach their full employment potential; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this organization urge Congress to pass this jobs bill, thus passing the Blind Persons Return to Work Act; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this organization commend Congressman Lewis and Senators Dodd and McCain for their longtime championing of the Blind Persons Return to Work Act and loyalty to our cause.
WHEREAS, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress (NLS) has a long history of providing reading materials in Braille and recorded formats to its patrons; and
WHEREAS, NLS is able to produce only approximately 2,000 books per year, a mere fraction of the number of books published in the U.S. each year; and
WHEREAS, in recognition of the dearth of books available to its patrons, NLS has in the past offered materials recorded by libraries and producers outside the United States through interlibrary loan; and
WHEREAS, although NLS still permits patrons to borrow Braille materials from producers outside the U.S., in 2008 following the conversion to digital audio format and the development of the Braille and Audio Reading Download program, NLS discontinued interlibrary loan of digital audio materials from foreign producers; and
WHEREAS, one of the principal reasons for this discontinuation is the incompatibility of file formats with the NLS system, which requires features not available to international producers; and
WHEREAS, the expectation of greater access to materials created by the digitization of books is now being curtailed because of the new NLS policy on digital audio books from foreign producers: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the City of Dallas, Texas, that this organization urge NLS immediately to work with foreign producers of digital audio materials to fulfill the real promise of access made possible by today’s advanced digital technology.
WHEREAS, the advent of refreshable Braille technology has made Braille more portable; more flexible; and, best of all, more widely available than ever before; and
WHEREAS, refreshable-Braille technology is becoming increasingly necessary in educating blind children because a rapidly increasing portion of the reading material is available only in an on-screen format; and
WHEREAS, the failure to provide blind students with a Braille interface reduces their opportunity to acquire literacy skills because they are forced to listen to the material using computer speech output; and
WHEREAS, personal data assistants with refreshable Braille displays (more commonly known as electronic notetakers) include the ability for the user to handle word processing, email, and Web browsing, providing potential for seamless communication between those who use Braille and those who use print; and
WHEREAS, despite the advertised claims that these devices are compatible with mainstream word processors, the reality is that none of them allows a Braille user the security of knowing they can author, read, or collaborate with sighted peers who use current versions of today's popular applications, even though the Braille devices cost three to four times as much as the hardware and software used by the general public; and
WHEREAS, while all of these Braille notetakers advertise access to the Internet and feature some version of a browser, most do not allow communication with even the most basic Java scripts used to gain access at airports and hotels, and they are not compatible with Aria and other technologies currently being deployed by businesses, Internet providers, and even social-networking sites; and
WHEREAS, many of today's mainstream computers, phones, and PDAs can be accessed in Braille by connecting them to a type of refreshable Braille display that is not itself a notetaker, giving the user access to the power and integration of the mainstream device but sacrificing some of the convenience of an all-in-one device (as are the notetakers): Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization urge the designers and manufacturers of notetakers with refreshable Braille displays to give top priority in their future development to providing better integration with mainstream devices, applications, and data; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly encourage school districts and others involved in the purchase of educational access technology to acquire refreshable Braille technology for blind students and to consider the need for integration with mainstream devices, applications, and data when choosing which devices to purchase.
WHEREAS, diabetics must measure the level of glucose in their blood accurately and draw the correct amount of insulin in order to control their diabetes and to reduce the risk of diabetic complications; and
WHEREAS, tens of thousands of diabetics need nonvisual access to equipment such as blood glucose meters and insulin-injection and infusion devices because diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among adults of working age in the United States with thousands losing their vision each year; and
WHEREAS, the need for nonvisual access is even greater because many blind and visually impaired senior citizens become diabetic and many diabetic senior citizens lose vision either temporarily or permanently from causes other than diabetes; and
WHEREAS, nonvisual access means that a blind person can use all features, functions, and navigation aspects of a given device, and merely providing speech output does not constitute true accessibility; and
WHEREAS, some manufacturers of diabetic equipment incorporate true nonvisual access features in their devices, but more companies must be encouraged to follow this practice; and
WHEREAS, to meet the goal of emphasizing wellness programs in the 2010 healthcare reform legislation, the federal government should encourage manufacturers to ensure true nonvisual access to their devices; and
WHEREAS, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is currently promulgating regulations for health information technology programs, but the scope of the regulations should be broadened to include medical devices as well: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization strongly urge the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to incorporate true nonvisual access requirements for the manufacture of diabetic devices in its health information technology regulations; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization insist that the secretary of health and human services create incentives that will lead to greater accessibility of current and future diabetic equipment.
WHEREAS, more and more manufacturers are introducing basic cell phones and smartphones with an ever increasing number of capabilities such as call management, contact management, text messaging, Internet browsing, and e-mail; and
WHEREAS, some of these phones even have the capability to function as social networking content aggregators for Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Windows Live; and
WHEREAS, despite the requirements of Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act and best industry practices, as demonstrated by Apple, for making cell phones accessible to the blind out of the box, too many manufacturers release cell phones without any way for blind users to access many of their features; and
WHEREAS, many companies advertise their commitment to accessibility but ignore our needs, despite the fact that blind consumers are now, and have been for many years, purchasers of basic cell phones and smartphones: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization condemn and deplore the release of these inaccessible basic cell phones and smartphones by manufacturers in flagrant disregard of both their legal obligations and their obligation to provide equal access to their products for all consumers, including the blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that manufacturers follow the lead of Apple and immediately take steps to provide equal access for the blind to all current and future basic cell phones and smartphones.
WHEREAS, Sirius XM Radio, Inc., is the sole provider in the United States of radio programming delivered by satellite to paid subscribers using receivers specifically designed to receive these satellite transmissions; and
WHEREAS, the service provided by Sirius XM offers a wide variety of audio programming, including most genres of music, live sporting events, news, talk, comedy, and both classic and contemporary radio drama; and
WHEREAS, despite the fact that Sirius XM is a radio service, the units that subscribers must purchase in order to receive the service have visual displays to convey information to the listener such as the title and artist of the current song being played or the score of the sporting event to which the listener is tuned; and
WHEREAS, Sirius XM also transmits some information exclusively to the visual display such as the latest stock quotes and the current temperature and weather conditions when a user is tuned to its traffic and weather channels; and
WHEREAS, sighted users of the service can perform a number of tasks such as viewing the current time, date, signal reception, and battery status of the receiver; setting the receiver to record a scheduled program; viewing what is playing across the service without switching stations; organizing recorded music and programs; creating, organizing, and navigating a list of favorite channels; and much more, but these features are not available to blind users because they cannot read the visual display; and
WHEREAS, like many other consumer electronic products, Sirius XM radio receivers increasingly rely on touch screens and interactive visual interfaces to accomplish all tasks, rather than traditional buttons, switches, or knobs, making it difficult for blind users to access even the basic features of these receivers; and
WHEREAS, despite these barriers to full access to the Sirius XM satellite radio service, many blind Americans have purchased subscriptions to the service because of its wide variety of quality radio programming, and it is likely that many more would do so if Sirius XM were to make its radio receivers accessible; and
WHEREAS, the technology to make these receivers accessible already exists and has been implemented in other personal entertainment devices such as Apple’s iPod and iPhone product lines and the DICE ITR-100-A HD radio; and
WHEREAS, accessible Sirius XM receivers that allow users to access all functions nonvisually would not only benefit blind consumers, but would also be ideal for older Americans who are losing vision, for those with other disabilities that prevent them from reading print, and for the many subscribers who use the service in their cars, since they would be able to control their satellite radios with less distraction from driving: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization urge Sirius XM Radio, Inc., to make its receivers fully accessible to blind subscribers.
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has led the way in advancing the rights of the blind to gain access to published works on the national and international levels; and
WHEREAS, the Federation’s national efforts resulted in passage of the Chafee Amendment to U.S. copyright law, which permits authorized entities to reproduce published works in accessible formats without permission from the copyright holder; and
WHEREAS, the vast majority of the countries of the world do not possess such laws or possess laws that are much weaker; and
WHEREAS, generally speaking, international copyright law does not currently permit the sharing of accessible texts across international borders, with the result that blind people in the United States cannot get access to hundreds of thousands of works in accessible formats produced in other countries, and blind people throughout the rest of the world cannot get access to the United States collection, creating a worldwide book famine, in which less than one percent of all published works are available to the blind in accessible formats; and
WHEREAS, this inability to share accessible books across borders and the international inconsistency in copyright law lead either to needless duplication in the conversion of published works into accessible formats or to no access at all; and
WHEREAS, to address this book famine, the National Federation of the Blind worked with the World Blind Union (WBU) to draft a proposed treaty that would legalize the cross-border sharing of accessible works and also harmonize copyright exceptions to create an atmosphere in which even greater numbers of accessible works can be produced; and
WHEREAS, in 2008 the WBU brought this proposed treaty before the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), an entity of the United Nations, through original sponsorship by Brazil, Ecuador, and Paraguay, and later by Mexico; and
WHEREAS, from June 21 through 24, 2010, WIPO’s Standing Committee on Copyright (SCCR) conducted its twentieth regular session (SCCR 20) in Geneva, where the WBU-proposed treaty and three other proposals on the same topic received extensive consideration; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind received official standing as an authorized non-governmental organization (NGO) and gave an intervention in favor of the WBU-proposed treaty and/or some other binding international legal instrument; and
WHEREAS, the SCCR cannot make recommendations unless all nations present agree; and
WHEREAS, after years of negotiation between governments and NGOs, it appeared that a proposal would go forward at SCCR 20 that would have led to binding international legal instruments within a definite time; and
WHEREAS, at the last minute, despite the Herculean efforts of the WBU community, the U.S. government delegation, and the Latin American block of countries, the African Union countries withdrew their support for the negotiated proposal, stating that one of their issues (gaining copyright exceptions for educational, research, and archive purposes) must proceed at the same pace as the issue affecting the blind, even though the African Union’s proposal addresses an entirely different subject and is not as well developed at this time: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization reaffirm its support for the World Blind Union’s proposed Treaty for the Visually Impaired; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization express its great outrage and disappointment that the African Union chose to hijack the proposed WBU treaty and related proposals, an action needlessly delaying relief from the worldwide book famine for blind people; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization commend the U.S. government delegation’s efforts in Geneva to keep the process moving forward; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the U.S. government to work closely with the National Federation of the Blind, the WBU, and other governments to find a way forward to the adoption of binding international norms and legal instruments that permit cross-border sharing of accessible works and harmonize copyright exceptions as part of the overall effort to secure the right of blind people to read published works on the same terms as the rest of the world population.
WHEREAS, the purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is “the removal of the legal, social, and economic barriers faced by the blind” so that we will achieve “full integration into society on terms of equality”; and
WHEREAS, discrimination by places of public accommodation is one of the barriers faced by the blind, especially among those who choose to use a guide dog as their mobility tool; and
WHEREAS, state laws vary in the protection from discrimination that they offer to their blind citizens; and
WHEREAS, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public accommodations and offers greater protection against discrimination than many state laws; and
WHEREAS, many states have laws that contain provisions that are incongruent with the ADA such as requirements that service animals wear specific gear, provisions for muzzling, requirements for documentation, language concerning certifications that do not exist, and prohibitions of service animals in zoos, all of which are considered discriminatory under the ADA; and
WHEREAS, although the ADA has been in existence for twenty years, many states have not bothered to change their laws to conform to the ADA; and
WHEREAS, a large majority of states provide criminal penalties for discrimination on the basis of disability, allowing law enforcement to intervene, generally resulting in an immediate resolution of such access issues while providing appropriate penalties for more serious infractions; and
WHEREAS, criminal penalties allow a more expeditious resolution of such access issues (benefiting the disabled community in general and society as a whole) by addressing discrimination at the local level, while relieving individuals from the burden of costly litigation and prolonged civil processes: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2010, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization call upon state legislatures to examine their statutes for parity with the ADA, removing provisions that are not in conformity with this federal law; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the remaining states that do not provide criminal penalties for discrimination against blind guide dog users to promote and protect the equal rights of their blind citizens more effectively by creating criminal penalties for acts of discrimination; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge all states to protect the civil rights of the blind by vigorous enforcement of the law.
Race for Independence Report:
Here is Parnell Diggs’s report listing the Medallion recipients in the Race for Independence.
Now that the 2010 Imagination Fund campaign is in the books, I want to say thank you again to all of those who participated in the Race for Independence and thereby helped to generate funding for Federation programs at the national, state, and local levels. The following is a list of medallion winners for the 2010 campaign. They raised $1,000 or more, demonstrating just how easy it is to make the ask.
2009-2010 Medallion Recipients
Mary Ellen Jernigan
Jack and Pat Munson
You can be on this list next year if you can do what these dedicated Federationists did, but you need to start now. Come on: let's race!
At the 2010 NFB convention a number of divisions conducted elections for one or two years. Here are the results we have received:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
On July 5, 2010, the NOPBC conducted elections at its annual meeting. The following officers and board members were elected: president, Laura Weber (TX); first vice president, Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway (GA); second vice president, Carlton Walker (PA); secretary, Andrea Beasley (WI); treasurer, Pat Renfranz (UT); and board members, Jean Bening (MN); Jim Beyer (MT); Wingfield Bouchard (MS); Carol Castellano (NJ); Lety Castillo (TX); Denise Colton (UT); David Hammell (IA); Zina Lewis (VA); Barbara Mathews (CA); and Sally Thomas (TX).
Sports and Recreation Division
The Sports and Recreation Division officers elected at the 2010 convention were president, Lisamaria Martinez (CA); vice president, Tyler Merren (MI); and treasurer, Jason Holloway (CA).
National Association of Blind Office Professionals
The NABOP elected the following officers: president, Lisa Hall (OH); vice president, Mary Donahue (TX); secretary, Kevin Ledford (UT); and treasurer, Debbie Brown (MD).
National Association to Promote the Use of Braille
NAPUB conducted its election at the 2010 convention with the following results: president, Sandy Halverson (VA); first vice president, Peggy Chong (IA); second vice president, Linda Mentink (NE); secretary C. J. Fish (VA); and treasurer, Steve Booth (MD).
National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science
Elections were held, and the following people elected to office: president, Curtis Chong (IA); vice president, Steve Jacobson (MN); secretary, Louis Maher (TX); treasurer, Susie Stanzel (KS); and board members, Brian Buhrow (CA), Lloyd Rasmussen (MD), and Mike Sahyun (MN). D. Curtis Willoughby (CO), a charter member of the organization and its first president, and Mike Freeman (WA) both decided not to run for office this time.
National Association of Guide Dog Users
NAGDU conducted elections for half of its officers on July 3 at the convention with the following results: president, Marion Gwizdala (FL); secretary, Sherrill O'Brien (FL); and board members, Tina Thomas (CA) and Meghan Whalen (WI).
The Performing Arts Division
Here are the results of the Performing Arts Division elections: president, Dennis Sumlin (NY); vice president, Jordi Stringer (IN); secretary, Beth Allred (CO); and board members, David Dunphy (NY), Joanne Stark (WI), and Anthony Evans (MD).
National Association of Blind Merchants
The merchants division held its annual business meeting at the Dallas convention. The division discussed its expanding mission to provide continuing education, advocacy, and exploration for blind people in Randolph-Sheppard and beyond. The NABM will continue its mission to protect and expand the Randolph-Sheppard program but will add a robust component to bring additional opportunities for the blind seeking a variety of small business options. Officers elected to carry the Federation merchant mission forward were president, Nicky Gacos (NJ); first vice president, Kim Williams (TN); second vice president, Harold Wilson (MD); secretary, Sharon Treadway (TN); treasurer, Kevan Worley (CO); and board members Art Stevenson (OR), Scott Young (TN), John Fritz (WI), and Jim Farley (AZ).
2010 Braille Book Flea Market:
Peggy Chong sent us this report following this year’s Braille Book Flea Market:
On Monday, July 5, at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, another successful Braille Book Flea Market sent home thousands of Braille books to many blind children across the country. Although we had only about 70 percent of the books that we had last year, we still provided Braille books to many children and young adults, who were thrilled to have a Braille book of their own. Over 400 boxes were filled and prepared for mailing by our UPS volunteers, several of whom were veterans of past flea markets held in Dallas. Many attendees left with armloads of books they did not want to wait to read until they got home. Those same UPS volunteers sent off the books through the U.S. Post Office the next day. Some of the boxes even beat conventioneers home.
We never know just what books and materials will be available until the boxes sent by hundreds of generous people and organizations across the country are opened and sorted by the volunteers who begin their work just five hours before the market opens. This year we had several text books that found new homes with families that home school. This year we had many fewer Twin Vision® books, the most popular item. They all were taken in the first thirty minutes of the flea market. But we had a good number of books for grade-school children. There were several books of poetry, craft books, cookbooks, tactile math supplies, Braille maps, and Braille music. After ninety minutes the books were well picked through, and little was left on the tables for those who came late.
Colorado author and Federationist Ann Cunningham was on hand to give one of her own books to a young flea market attendee. Volunteers assisted participants by boxing their books while they continued to shop. The volunteers also helped write address labels to speed up the process at the mailing station. Thank you to everyone who helped make this year’s flea market a big success.
Many left promising to send back any books that could be used by another reader next summer. Parents are already looking forward to 2011.
New Publication Available:
“Parenting Without Sight: What Attorneys and Social Workers Should Know about Blindness” is a new pamphlet prepared by the Blind Parents Interest Group and released for the first time at this convention. It provides introductory, commonsense advice and information to those potentially involved in assessing the competence of blind parents to care for their offspring or other children in their charge. The pamphlet promotes the view that with proper training and opportunity blind parents are equal to this responsibility. The pamphlet includes statements of blindness philosophy and practical examples of ways blind people parent successfully.
Free print copies can be ordered from the Independence Market. Because it is aimed at the general public, it is not in large print. The text and photos can be viewed online at
Technology Committee Reports from Convention:
The Webmasters met on July 4 to discuss how best to highlight the work of the NFB. Our challenges include ensuring that the information we present is up to date, that the sites we run are screen-reader friendly, and that what we display is visually attractive. Plans for the coming year include online seminars to discover together the best Web-authoring tools, how to stream conventions successfully, and how to work with systems that can let many different people update affiliate sites for their areas of responsibility. To learn more about the activities of the affiliate and division Webmasters, join our list by going to <www.nfbnet.org> and subscribing.
The committee for the promotion, evaluation, and advancement of technology (PEAT) hosted its annual showcase, where technology exhibitors had an opportunity to make a short presentation about what they were selling and their location in the exhibit hall. Immediately following was a business meeting, in which we discussed how to become more involved in the evaluation of products, how to increase the number of exhibitors attending the showcase, and how to divide the work of the committee so the chairman doesn't carry most of the load. Before next year's convention we will conduct and publish several technology evaluations and will see that all technology exhibitors know about and attend our showcase. To follow the work of the committee and get updates on new blindness technology, join our list by going to <www.nfbnet.org> and subscribing to our PEAT list.
Report of the NFB in Computer Science Division Annual Meeting:
President Curtis Chong reports that the division had an excellent presentation by three Apple Macintosh users called “The Macintosh as a Tool of Productivity by the Blind.” The presenters were Earle Harrison from Handy Tech North America; Steve Sawczyn, president of the NFB of Maine; and Jason Fayre, an adaptive technology specialist at the Colorado Center for the Blind. All three presenters agreed that Apple has made tremendous progress with the VoiceOver program and that the Macintosh can be used productively by a blind computer user to accomplish everyday tasks.
Deborah Lovell, former president of the Association of Information Technology Professionals, told the group that information technology professionals of today are not competitive if all they do is sit around and generate programming code. They are more desirable employees in corporate America if they demonstrate an understanding of the problems and concerns that drive the business and explain to the business how technology can be used to solve business-related problems. During our discussion with Ms. Lovell, we talked about how important it is for information technology professionals like her to understand that the blind can be a part of the competitive workforce. In the general scheme of things, the blind are so little regarded that most potential employers do not even consider that a blind person can be a competitive and contributing member of their organization--let alone an information technology professional. Ms. Lovell indicated a deep understanding of this principle and expressed her willingness to promote our interests within her organization.
Rob Sinclair, chief accessibility officer at the Microsoft Corporation, told the group that at Microsoft accessibility continues to be an ongoing challenge. While Microsoft has made strides to improve the accessibility of Windows and Office products, many of its newest offerings are not accessible--nor does the company seem to have a blueprint for how to make them accessible. Mr. Sinclair wanted to know whether the group favored Microsoft’s building a speech program into Windows the way Apple built VoiceOver into its Snow Leopard operating system. We were unanimous in saying that Microsoft must make it possible for a blind person to upgrade Windows and rebuild the system without sighted help and that blind people are not unanimous that Microsoft should develop and implement a built-in, powerful screen-reading program for Windows.
We also heard from Bernard Maldonado, president of Solona, a company in Dallas that is operating a CAPTCHA-solving service provided free of charge to the blind. Mr. Maldonado is dedicated to help us solve the visual CAPTCHA problem, and to that end he has operated (largely as a volunteer) a nonprofit corporation that, among other things, helps the blind to solve CAPTCHAs and also to interpret visual images that might be transmitted electronically to Solona. Mr. Maldonado did indicate his understanding of the need for Solona to have a long-term strategy to ensure its financial viability. He said that he is giving this considerable thought. He also mentioned some tactile screen protectors that he is making available to help blind people use the iPhone more efficiently.
Report from the Research and Development Committee:
One of the longstanding interests of the NFB research and development committee has been the development of a refreshable Braille display that is considerably less costly than the Braille displays on the market today. The piezoelectric technology used to move the dots on today's Braille displays has been around since the mid 1970s with very little cost reduction or technological improvement. Just before the research and development committee meeting held on Wednesday, July 7, Curtis Chong, the committee’s chair, talked with Peichun Yang “Paul” Chang, PhD, a blind researcher at North Carolina State University, who is working on a project to use electroactive polymer technology to drive a multi-line refreshable Braille display.
Dr. Chang's story is interesting. In 1992 he came to the United States from China to study at North Carolina State University's materials science and engineering department. After five years of study he obtained his PhD in 1997. For seven months he performed post doctoral work in the campus microelectronics laboratory. In 1998 he lost his sight as the result of an accident. After he got out of the hospital, he spent a year receiving training in the alternative techniques of blindness--learning Braille, nonvisual access to the computer, and independent travel. During this period it became apparent to him that a refreshable Braille display could be a very useful tool for someone who is blind. He communicated with many people around the world in an effort to come up with a lower-cost Braille display. He even met with Deane Blazie, a pioneer in technology for the blind. In 2003 he attended an international conference on electroactive polymer actuators and devices in San Diego. At this conference Dr. Chang demonstrated the concept of a model Braille cell using a hydraulic latching mechanism in the EAP-In-Action (electroactive polymer in action) section of the conference. After a few years of trying to secure grant funding, in 2007 he and others at North Carolina State University secured a three-year field-initiated projects grant from NIDRR. Two years into the grant they had an experimental breakthrough that was published in a paper presented at the twelfth International Conference on Electroactive Polymer Actuators and Devices in San Diego. Dr. Chang told Curtis that in five years he expects to have a working prototype.
In layman's terms this is what Curtis understood from talking with Dr. Chang: if electroactive polymer technology can be used to drive refreshable Braille displays, the cost per cell should be reduced by a factor of ten. The piezoelectric reeds driving today's refreshable Braille displays have to be cut using a diamond saw. The plastic used in electroactive polymer technology can be cut using something as simple as a razor blade. The intriguing thing is that Dr. Chang is himself a user of refreshable Braille technology. He uses it every day and clearly understands the importance of readable Braille dots and fast response times with refreshable Braille. Here’s hoping that this is the breakthrough we have been hoping for.
We regret having to report that on Thursday, July 8, 2010, just as the banquet was beginning, Patricia Maurer’s father, LaVerne Schaaf, died quietly in hospice after an illness of many weeks. The Maurers had flown to Iowa the weekend before the convention to spend time with Mr. Schaaf. He was deeply loved by his family and friends and will be sincerely missed.
ARTICLE I. NAME
The name of this organization is the National Federation of the Blind.
ARTICLE II. PURPOSE
The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is to serve as a vehicle for collective action by the blind of the nation; to function as a mechanism through which the blind and interested sighted persons can come together in local, state, and national meetings to plan and carry out programs to improve the quality of life for the blind; to provide a means of collective action for parents of blind children; to promote the vocational, cultural, and social advancement of the blind; to achieve the integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality with the sighted; and to take any other action which will improve the overall condition and standard of living of the blind.
ARTICLE III. MEMBERSHIP
Section A. The membership of the National Federation of the Blind shall consist of the members of the state affiliates, the members of divisions, and members at large. Members of divisions and members at large shall have the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities in the National Federation of the Blind as members of state affiliates.
The board of directors shall establish procedures for admission of divisions and shall determine the structure of divisions. The divisions shall, with the approval of the board, adopt constitutions and determine their membership policies. Membership in divisions shall not be conditioned upon membership in state affiliates.
The board of directors shall establish procedures for admission of members at large, determine how many classes of such members shall be established, and determine the annual dues to be paid by members of each class.
Section B. Each state or territorial possession of the United States, including the District of Columbia, having an affiliate shall have one vote at the National Convention. These organizations shall be referred to as state affiliates.
Section C. State affiliates shall be organizations of the blind controlled by the blind. No organization shall be recognized as an "organization of the blind controlled by the blind" unless at least a majority of its voting members and a majority of the voting members of each of its local chapters are blind.
Section D. The board of directors shall establish procedures for the admission of state affiliates. There shall be only one state affiliate in each state.
Section E. Any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division of this organization may be suspended, expelled, or otherwise disciplined for misconduct or for activity unbecoming to a member or affiliate of this organization by a two‑thirds vote of the board of directors or by a simple majority of the states present and voting at a National Convention. If the action is to be taken by the board, there must be good cause, and a good faith effort must have been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If the action is to be taken by the Convention, notice must be given on the preceding day at an open board meeting or a session of the Convention. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause," or whether the board made a "good faith effort," the National Convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the board's action is reversed by the National Convention, the ruling of the board shall continue in effect.
ARTICLE IV. OFFICERS, BOARD OF DIRECTORS, AND NATIONAL ADVISORY BOARD
Section A. The officers of the National Federation of the Blind shall be: (1) president, (2) first vice president, (3) second vice president, (4) secretary, and (5) treasurer. They shall be elected biennially.
Section B. The officers shall be elected by majority vote of the state affiliates present and voting at a National Convention.
Section C. The National Federation of the Blind shall have a board of directors, which shall be composed of the five officers and twelve additional members, six of whom shall be elected at the Annual Convention during even-numbered years and six of whom shall be elected at the Annual Convention during odd-numbered years. The members of the board of directors shall serve for two‑ year terms.
Section D. The board of directors may, in its discretion, create a national advisory board and determine the duties and qualifications of the members of the national advisory board.
ARTICLE V. POWERS AND DUTIES OF THE CONVENTION, THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS, AND THE PRESIDENT
Section A. Powers and Duties of the Convention. The Convention is the supreme authority of the Federation. It is the legislature of the Federation. As such, it has final authority with respect to all issues of policy. Its decisions shall be made after opportunity has been afforded for full and fair discussion. Delegates and members in attendance may participate in all Convention discussions as a matter of right. Any member of the Federation may make or second motions, propose nominations, serve on committees, and is eligible for election to office, except that only blind members may be elected to the national board. Voting and making motions by proxy are prohibited. Consistent with the democratic character of the Federation, Convention meetings shall be so conducted as to prevent parliamentary maneuvers which would have the effect of interfering with the expression of the will of the majority on any question, or with the rights of the minority to full and fair presentation of their views. The Convention is not merely a gathering of representatives of separate state organizations. It is a meeting of the Federation at the national level in its character as a national organization. Committees of the Federation are committees of the national organization. The nominating committee shall consist of one member from each state affiliate represented at the Convention, and each state affiliate shall appoint its member to the committee. From among the members of the committee, the president shall appoint a chairperson.
Section B. Powers and Duties of the Board of Directors. The function of the board of directors as the governing body of the Federation between Conventions is to make policies when necessary and not in conflict with the policies adopted by the Convention. Policy decisions which can reasonably be postponed until the next meeting of the National Convention shall not be made by the board of directors. The board of directors shall serve as a credentials committee. It shall have the power to deal with organizational problems presented to it by any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division; shall decide appeals regarding the validity of elections in local chapters, state affiliates, or divisions; and shall certify the credentials of delegates when questions regarding the validity of such credentials arise. By a two‑thirds vote the board may suspend one of its members for violation of a policy of the organization or for other action unbecoming to a member of the Federation. By a two‑thirds vote the board may reorganize any local chapter, state affiliate, or division. The board may not suspend one of its own members or reorganize a local chapter, state affiliate, or division except for good cause and after a good-faith effort has been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause" or whether the board made a "good-faith effort," the National Convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the board's action is reversed by the National Convention, the ruling of the board shall continue in effect. There shall be a standing subcommittee of the board of directors which shall consist of three members. The committee shall be known as the subcommittee on budget and finance. It shall, whenever it deems necessary, recommend to the board of directors principles of budgeting, accounting procedures, and methods of financing the Federation program; and shall consult with the president on major expenditures.
The board of directors shall meet at the time of each National Convention. It shall hold other meetings on the call of the president or on the written request of any five members.
Section C. Powers and Duties of the President. The president is the principal administrative officer of the Federation. In this capacity his or her duties consist of carrying out the policies adopted by the Convention; conducting the day‑to‑day management of the affairs of the Federation; authorizing expenditures from the Federation treasury in accordance with and in implementation of the policies established by the Convention; appointing all committees of the Federation except the nominating committee; coordinating all activities of the Federation, including the work of other officers and of committees; hiring, supervising, and dismissing staff members and other employees of the Federation, and determining their numbers and compensation; taking all administrative actions necessary and proper to put into effect the programs and accomplish the purposes of the Federation. The implementation and administration of the interim policies adopted by the board of directors are the responsibility of the president as principal administrative officer of the Federation.
ARTICLE VI. STATE AFFILIATES
Any organized group desiring to become a state affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind shall apply for affiliation by submitting to the president of the National Federation of the Blind a copy of its constitution and a list of the names and addresses of its elected officers. Under procedures to be established by the board of directors, action shall be taken on the application. If the action is affirmative, the National Federation of the Blind shall issue to the organization a charter of affiliation. Upon request of the national president the state affiliate shall provide to the national president the names and addresses of its members. Copies of all amendments to the constitution and/or bylaws of an affiliate shall be sent without delay to the national president. No organization shall be accepted as an affiliate and no organization shall remain an affiliate unless at least a majority of its voting members are blind. The president, vice president (or vice presidents), and at least a majority of the executive committee or board of directors of the state affiliate and of all of its local chapters must be blind. Affiliates must not merely be social organizations but must formulate programs and actively work to promote the economic and social betterment of the blind. Affiliates and their local chapters must comply with the provisions of the constitution of the Federation.
Policy decisions of the Federation are binding upon all affiliates and local chapters, and the affiliate and its local chapters must participate affirmatively in carrying out such policy decisions. The name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof is the property of the National Federation of the Blind; and any affiliate or local chapter of an affiliate which ceases to be part of the National Federation of the Blind (for whatever reason) shall forthwith forfeit the right to use the name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof.
A general convention of the membership of an affiliate or of the elected delegates of the membership must be held and its principal executive officers must be elected at least once every two years. There can be no closed membership. Proxy voting is prohibited in state affiliates and local chapters. Each affiliate must have a written constitution or bylaws setting forth its structure, the authority of its officers, and the basic procedures which it will follow. No publicly contributed funds may be divided among the membership of an affiliate or local chapter on the basis of membership, and (upon request from the national office) an affiliate or local chapter must present an accounting of all of its receipts and expenditures. An affiliate or local chapter must not indulge in attacks upon the officers, board members, leaders, or members of the Federation or upon the organization itself outside of the organization, and must not allow its officers or members to indulge in such attacks. This requirement shall not be interpreted to interfere with the right of an affiliate or local chapter, or its officers or members, to carry on a political campaign inside the Federation for election to office or to achieve policy changes. However, the organization will not sanction or permit deliberate, sustained campaigns of internal organizational destruction by state affiliates, local chapters, or members. No affiliate or local chapter may join or support, or allow its officers or members to join or support, any temporary or permanent organization inside the Federation which has not received the sanction and approval of the Federation.
ARTICLE VII. DISSOLUTION
In the event of dissolution, all assets of the organization shall be given to an organization with similar purposes which has received a 501(c)(3) certification by the Internal Revenue Service.
ARTICLE VIII. AMENDMENTS
This constitution may be amended at any regular Annual Convention of the Federation by an affirmative vote of two‑thirds of the state affiliates registered, present, and voting; provided that the proposed amendment shall have been signed by five state affiliates in good standing and that it shall have been presented to the president the day before final action by the Convention.
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.